The Sins of His Grandmother

By Jeremy Francis All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Thriller

Untitled chapter

Chapter 1

Years had passed since she had last seen him; months had gone by since she had sent him an “I Love You” letter; but on the last day of each month, Sondra made it an obligation to place a call to her only child Presley. Having virtually been out of his life for the past nine years as a result of her own careless and selfish actions, her monthly dial-up was the least she felt she could do to maintain some sort of parent-child relationship.

“I love you so much, Presley,” she muttered as her emotions began to get the best of her during one of these calls, “and I promise I’m going to see you this upcoming month.”

“I’ve been hearing that same story for the past several months now, mom. When are you really gonna visit?” the boy retorted in an understandably angered and elevated tone of voice.

“Don’t you dare raise your fucking tone at me, Presley,” his inebriated mother blared back, the clangor of her finished alcohol bottles adding to the discord as she slammed an open palm onto a nearby coffee table. “Now, if I promised you I’ll be there, I’ll be there,” she repeated, only to have her over-the-top jeremiad earn the response of a distinct chuckle.

“Hand your grandmother the phone,” she ordered, her instruction accompanied by a heavy sigh, a clear indication of her regret over making her usual call this particular month.

“Sondra - ”

“Why can’t I just get this parenting thing right, mom?” a frazzled Sondra queried, cutting off her mother at the very sound of her voice.

“My darling Sondra,” her mother carried on, “raising a child is never an easy task, particularly when you’ve been out of the child’s life for so many years.”

“But I call my boy every month. Why can’t he just understand how much I love him?”

Her mother broke a gentle laugh. “My dear daughter, it takes more than just a monthly phone call to build fondness. The day you left that boy at my doorstep was the day that you lost both his love and respect. Sadly, it appears that you want to lose him altogether. I can foresee it already: if this bickering and quarreling between you two continues, soon enough he’ll no longer want to take your calls. He has your exact temperament, you know. Give the boy a visit, Sondra. He’s 15 now; you’ve had him waiting long enough.”

“I will, mother,” Sondra promised yet again. “And thanks so much for stepping up to the plate in my absence. I’ll talk to you guys later,” she said, slow to hang up the phone, fully cognizant that the end of the call meant the beginning of her lonesome misery for another 30 or 31 days.

“That bitch I gave birth to will never see the light,” her mother murmured to herself as she hung up the telephone receiver and slowly turned to the boy in the kitchen. “Thank you for your assistance this evening, Joshua,” she said as she handed him a crinkled 20-dollar bill she had retrieved from a dusty cookie jar that sat atop an otherwise empty kitchen counter. The entire conversation her daughter was engaged in a few seconds ago had been nothing more than an elaborate charade.

“No problem, Mrs. Sillow,” the terrified young boy replied as he simultaneously plucked the money out of her hand and darted out the kitchen door to his adjacent home. He had swung open the screen door with such force that the velocity it returned to the house with conjured a breeze strong enough to flare the bottom of Ms. Sillow’s floor-length nightgown and left the door hanging on just one hinge. Wary of his parents’ strict instructions regarding their strange next door neighbor, Joshua never spent more time in her home than was necessary. In actuality, had his father not ordered him to spend some time at her place on a monthly basis, he never would have dreamt of being in such close proximity to her. She spooked him more than any fictional horror character his parents had told him of as he was growing up ever could. She was all too frighteningly real. He did his best to appear to be a brave young man while in her presence, nonetheless. He would answer her questions in a loud, clear tone of voice which he had craftily altered with unnatural bass, careful not to allow his pitch to tremble; and for as long as he possibly could - 10 seconds tops - he would make eye contact with her. Every time that he made it home safely, he considered his valorous tactics a huge success.

“That boy reminds me so much of my grandson,” the delusional old hag said to herself as she hoisted the lolling screen door to an even level, slammed it closed, and locked it behind him. “I can’t wait to see him next month.”

Then she began to recite her most beloved eulogies.

Chapter 2

Daylight broke as a steady light breeze rattled several of the wooden slats on the deteriorating structure that was Ms. Sillow’s unkempt Massachusetts Cape Cod cottage. It was a home her daughter had not seen since a blistery cold winter morning in 1978, the very same morning that little Presley begged his mother to stay with him at the cottage’s front door - at least until his grandmother opened it up to let him in. “Pl… pl… please don’t go yet,” young Presley stammered, his lips quivering under a dense six-below

cloak of air. But, she left despite the boy’s beseeching teary blue eyes and heart-tugging pleas. She left and never looked back. Perhaps it was the inconvenience of her mother’s cottage being tucked away too deeply in Yarmouth’s upper-Eastern region. Or maybe it was her unconditioned greater love for spirits and hypodermic needle tips that impaired her affinity for those she couldn’t go a day without seeing at one point in her life. Whatever the reason for her disconnection, she was now thousands of miles away in Idaho, immobilized in a seemingly irreversible stupor. Daily she awoke with thoughts of suicide on her mind, and during the day she yearned to feel the sensation of a human’s touch rather than the buzz her substance intake created. How deeply she had allowed herself to be swallowed in her own iniquity. Now, self-loathing and self-pity were the only emotions known to her. Joy, happiness, euphoria, and all other similarly-related feelings of felicity had evaporated from her mélange of emotions well over a decade ago. In the confines of her own comfortless world, life was equivalent to death. Sondra was nothing more than a walking zombie.

With an appearance more contemptible than her mother’s century-old home, she hadn’t felt the passion of a man inside of her since her impregnation some seven years ago. Needless to say, her choice in a sperm donor was less than subpar. The dad was some addict named Jack. His name, that was all she knew about Presley’s daddy, who passed from none other than an overdose eight months and three weeks into her pregnancy. His death hadn’t affected her in the least. She knew that he wasn’t going to help support her with the baby, anyway. The only time she would actually see him was when he wanted some money to get high. In order to obtain these donations from her, his excuses ran the gamut from needing something to eat, to having to catch up on overdue bills, or needing to make some urgent home improvements, amongst countless other white lies. A hobo with bills and a home - how ironic. More hysterical was the fact that he considered his spur-of-the-moment fabrications believable despite never receiving more than $12.49 from Sondra on any occasion. Reluctantly, Sondra would hand him a few rumpled dollar bills and pour an assortment of, quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies into his trembling outstretched hands. Although she so badly wanted to keep the money to purchase drugs for herself, she was a softhearted individual who found it very hard to say no. That was the way her mother had raised her to be before things at home went awry. Jack would inadvertently lick his lips - which were by now at this stage in his drug usage neatly folded up against his toothless gums - as he walked away counting the bills and coins, dropping a few of them along the way thanks to his badly damaged nervous system. If she was to continue down her self-destructive drug usage path, Sondra knew that there was a strong possibility that she too would end up just like - or even worse than - the man she pitied; but she just couldn’t kick the habit.

Meanwhile, over 2,000 miles away, dear old Ms. Sillow had been facing some demons of her own; demons whose revelations of their deeds would undoubtedly shake the normally placid town of Yarmouth to its very core.

Chapter 3

Though stress had added an extra 20 years to Ms. Sillow’s elderly features, one would assume without a second guess that she naturally should look the way she did being that she was 106 years old. Her thin white strands of hair were always in disarray; her bent and twisted frame and joints symbolized her lost battle versus arthritis; her silver eyes, both outlined with crow’s feet, were dim and glossy; and her skin sagged. However, for a woman who had lived for over a century and who appeared as fragile as untempered glass, her strength was inexplicable. Maybe she was possessed; or maybe her years of fighting off an abusive husband afforded her the strength she retained at an age when most others would certainly be incapacitated. Whatever the reason was behind her potency, she was able to perform most of the physical tasks that many a Good Samaritan would have jumped to help her with.

On one particularly bitter cold winter morning, she stood statuesque in front of her kitchen sink, staring out of the window just above it, moving only to raise a glass of water poured from the slow-streaming tap to her lips. Strangely, she was so wrapped up in deep cogitation that she didn’t pay a second thought to the brownish-tinged, raw-flavored water filled with floating particles she had been sipping on for the past eight minutes or so. But what could be weighing so heavily on a person’s mind that would cause them to overlook the fact that their water lines had been infiltrated by septic waste? Clearly, Ms. Sillow was a deeply disturbed individual. Her immune system worked twice as hard as the average person’s, but it was quite competent: the only time that she had ever been inside of a hospital was on the day of her birth - an instance she obviously had no control over.

What joy it had brought to Graham and Bronze Toffers’ lives to hear the doctor say that all was well with their newborn daughter Amanda upon her arrival into this world at New York City’s Lincoln Medical Center. On the contrary, what great sorrow it placed in their hearts to witness her mental state begin to ebb throughout her adolescence once she started seeing a man who claimed to love her. The warning signs of a disastrous union were flashing right in front of her face from the get-go, but she chose to ignore them. Her love for him had blinded her. As her mother lay on her dying bed, she warned her daughter with utmost sternness to get out of the portended tumultuous relationship. But even her mother’s last wish wasn’t enough to get her to change her stubborn mind. The fact that her parents didn’t believe in her decision-making abilities had created a deep fissure between her and them; and just one day after her mother’s death - which was in part due to the stress brought on by Amanda - her father would fall victim to the diabolical schemes being bred in the pits of his daughter’s deluded mind. The verbal threats that she had always directed towards him during their occasional arguments had come to fruition. Frail and withered, he was helplessly unable to defend himself against the frequent barrage of slaps and punches she would subject him to. His survival depended on one disheartening decision: he had to ask her to leave his home. At his age, she was supposed to be tending to his every need; not abusing him. As much as he didn’t want to lose his only child, she had left him no choice. So, late one night when her internal voices gave her their customary list of mischievous tasks to carry out and she began her assault on him while he was resting, he put his plan into motion. “Get out! Get out now, you little witch!” he hollered. Although he was being sadistically beaten, he felt his greatest pain the moment he blurted out those regrettable words to his daughter. Sadly, getting vocal turned out to be more of a liability than a help to his situation, with the brazen demand only further infuriating the uncontrollable teenager. Taken aback by his unanticipated courage, his daughter picked up his heavy oak wood walking cane that was situated beside his bed and mercilessly drove it into his cranium, leaving him lying unconscious with a noticeably-visible indentation in his forehead in the wake of her swing. “That’ll teach you how to talk to me,” she said to her father’s unperceiving body. Having no other family members in Yarmouth or even a neighbor to turn to, the nonagenarian had no choice but to endure his sole caretaker’s mistreatment. Then, out of the blue, it all stopped one day - for he would mysteriously disappear.

Chapter 4

With her father now out of the picture, Amanda’s boyfriend could move in. She was 14 years old with a home all to herself, a situation that her 39-year-old lover took full advantage of. Living together with the man “old enough to be her grandfather,” according to her parents, wasn’t as bad as they had made it out to be. Oftentimes she would cry internally, for they had never taken out the time to get to know him like she had done. He was caring; he was compassionate; he was a man of integrity. Of course, she was looking at her boyfriend from a child’s point of view. The derelictions her parents - who were far more seasoned in the game of life - had observed included his inappropriate contact with a minor; his abuse of alcohol; and, regardless of the fact that he himself was a grown man, his lack of respect for his elders. And those were the only negative traits that they had picked up on. The secrets of his life could easily make for a very intriguing exposé.

He had turned his back on wife and nine children for a young woman who hadn’t even yet seen her first period. His morals were misaligned. A man of few words, it was quite a task connecting with him on an emotional level, something his wife had managed to do for the past 20 years. She appreciated and loved everything about the man she wed. But, as is often the case, men tend to take a good woman for granted. He didn’t show much concern for his kids (who were between the ages of five and 17) either. He would leave home early and reach home late. The little time that he did share with them was spent disciplining them. He could care less about how their day had gone, how they were doing in school, or what basic necessities they needed on a day-to-day basis. It seemed as though all he wanted to do was beat. For a small, defenseless child, facing an enraged man who stood six feet, five inches tall and weighed a solid 289 pounds armed with any one of his several homemade beating apparatuses or the belt he wore to work was a daunting enough image to make their heart stop. More dreadful was the fact that he didn’t know when to quit his battery. He would strike them repeatedly to the point where they would have to be bedded for weeks following the ordeal. His wife was no exception. As beautiful and caring a woman as she was, still he would bearishly attack her. As ugly and callous a man as he was, he didn’t deserve her nor his kids. His departure from the household was actually the best move for all parties. A young, unsuspecting Amanda would now have to deal with his myriad of issues.

Once he had transferred all of his belongings over to his new home and had settled in, his change in personality came at the drop of a dime, just as Amanda’s late mother had previsioned. Amanda’s immaturity didn’t allow her to bond with the man she thought so highly of just a few weeks earlier. But, of course, this was of no fault of her own. The poor, young loverstruck girl really and truly had no idea who she had gotten herself involved with.

Frederickstein Sillow had been raised in a household with two gay parents. He wouldn’t understand the ramifications of his family makeup until he hit high school. Already much taller than the other students in his grade, overweight, clumsy, and goofy, his schoolmates further pulled down his self-esteem by labeling him gay solely based upon his biological father’s choice in a partner. As many of the senior males walked past him in the corridor, they would droop their wrists, sway their hips in an exaggerated motion, and laugh amongst one another; and he would hear the girls gossip about him behind his back. Full of emotion at that stage in his life, he would go home and disclose the events of the day to his parents in precise detail. Week after week, his description of his schoolmates’ troubling behavior became more licentious. Mindful of a child’s inability to know where to draw the line, the boy’s parents determined that they would have to step in in order to neutralize the matter at hand. Like any good parents would, his fathers went into the school to discuss the grave harassment issue with the principal in an attempt to extinguish their son’s increasing languish; but their plan backfired. Principal Marks promised Frederickstein’s parents that he would be vigilant of their son throughout the school week during the meeting, but as scorned students gathered around the trio, throwing jeers in their direction upon their exit from the office, all the principal could do was helplessly look on from behind his locked office door as the unruly mob voiced an invective protest against faggots. From that day on, Frederickstein never stepped foot in school again, nor did he ever look at his parents in the same way. The traumatic incident encouraged him to make a personal vow to be the toughest man ever born. With his hatred for both of his parents at an immeasurably high level and stress eating away at his brain, about a week after dropping out of school, he left his parents’ home late one night as they were busily engaged in anal intercourse and retreated to the wilderness. Almost immediately he was tempted to return home. For a domesticated teenage boy, living in the wild wasn’t the best fit for him. Coincidentally, he had learned in his health class several days before dropping out of school that humans are, in truth, creatures; so, he trained his mind to think in a feral manner. With endless daily practice, he developed into a superb hunter. His newest diet consisted of rabbit, white-tailed deer, locusts, perch, earthworms, pumpkinseed fish, wild berries, and nuts. Having found a way to master the art of survival, he had gained rather than lost weight living in the wild, moving up to 162 pounds from 144 in the space of three months. His weight gain would come in handy for the fast-approaching winter season, but it wouldn’t be enough to carry him through its entirety. Only an Eisenhower jacket, a bottle of whiskey he had stolen from the pantry before leaving the house, and a tattered wool blanket kept him alive during the beginning of the season. With the fatal possibility of hypothermia insistently racking his brain, instinct told him that it was time to find refuge indoors. His proclivity to live would lead him to make a decision that only the mind of a desperate man could contrive.

Chapter 5

He was mightily uneasy about his next course of action. He juggled the baleful thought in his head for hours as he trudged through the dense forestry. With each step he took, the confrontation between his good and evil conscience became more deeply embroiled in disagreement. Not only was it extremely cold, but his water sources were in the process of freezing over and the thought of drinking melted snow wasn’t the least bit appealing. To make matters worse, precipitation had dampened his blanket the previous night. Taking a chance at sleeping outside another night with only a jacket serving as protection against the elements was out of the question. His evil conscience was gaining a significant edge over its opponent. After a while of walking parallel to the pathway that would lead him to his desired destination, his gnawing stomach finally broke up the contentious conference being hosted inside of his head. With time working against him, he hurriedly dropped to one knee, slid his knapsack down his arms, and pulled out a leftover portion of roasted deer. Once he had briefly devoured his meal, he resumed his journey through deep, mushy snow. By noontime he had 15 miles left to trek. After three more hours of non-stop walking, 11 miles were left to go. By now the inside of his boots were soaked, making his migration on two sore feet even the more arduous, but he would not allow a little pain to deter him from accomplishing his mission. Another three hours drifted on by, and he was now six and a half miles away from where he wanted to be. He had picked up his pace. No longer was he contemplating whether or not he should go through with what he intended on doing once he would have arrived at where he was going. At this point in his outdoor sojourn, his mind-set was to just get it over and done with. With darkness now controlling the sky and hunger, thirst, and fatigue all taking their toll on him, his brisk tread turned into a jog. He was adamant about not making anymore stops. His grit paid off. At around 1:30 a.m. the following morning and after several months of solidifying his manhood outdoors on one of the U.S.’s most unforgiving terrains, Frederickstein had made it back home. It was now time to put his master plan into effect. But first he had to take a break. Once he had cleared the last tree, he hunched over, cupped his hands over his kneecaps, and began a life-or-death struggle to catch his breath. The density of the atmosphere - brought on by the initial phase of what would turn out to be a record-setting winter in Yarmouth - made it seem as though oxygen had been turned into a solid. Then, suddenly, he was struck with a lightning bolt of reality. No longer was he unnoticeable beneath the cover of foliage. As he tilted his head up and saw that he was just a few hundred feet away from neatly lined off rows of inhabited households, his head began to swing. His era of hermitry had come to an end. He was once again under the scrutinizing eyes of a judgmental society and felt naked. This was his Garden-of-Eden moment. Overcome with unwarranted fret, he crouched down and quickly began a mad scramble towards his parents’ home, fighting through severe asthma-like symptoms. Fortunately for him, their house was located on the block directly in front of him. He wouldn’t have to clandestinely roam into the thicket of the subdivision and increase his chances of the cops being called on him. Once he was approximately 15 feet away from the house, he proceeded to slow down and walk the rest of the way, making sure to remain as unnoticeable as possible in his crouched posture. His only thought as he steadily made his way towards the house was to get inside by any means necessary. Once at the side of the house, he rapidly spun around, pressing his back against it, and furtively sidled his ginormous frame around to the back of the house, where his parents’ room was located. The snow made long crunching sounds beneath his apprehensive footsteps. He was dreadfully uneasy about acting out the images that he had been visualizing in his head whilst making his way through the forest. He still had time to change his mind, nonetheless. He could simply ditch his plan, knock on the door, and ask his parents if he was welcomed back home. Of course their answer would have been “Yes!” but he wanted to murder them for the pain and suffering that he immaturely blamed them for putting him through the past several months. They never endured the burden of feeling as though they would be prey for some savage beast. They never experienced outdoor temperatures so cold to the point where it felt as though the air was permeating each and every one of their pores. Why should they live when they would have loved nothing more than to see the vultures, buzzards, and crows of the northeastern welkin encircling the sky above his carcass? The more he allowed his misleading thoughts to play out inside his head, the more disdain he instantaneously garnered for them. Turning around so that his stomach now faced the home, he inhaled a substantial amount of air and exhaled with enough force to cause his cheeks to expand as the air passed through the narrow spacing between his lips. He was nervous, but he felt as though he had to carry out his plan in order to prove that he could be honest with himself. Rolling up the bottom of his right pant leg, he gripped the handle of the hunting knife that was a key component in keeping him alive in his time of desolation and paused. He pondered how he had taken the lives of countless species of wildlife but had never deprived a human being of the privilege to breathe. After telling himself over and over that he would no longer place any thought on whether or not he would take the lives of his parents, here he was yet again contemplating what to do. Disappointed in himself, he yanked the blade of the hunting knife up out of his boot and drew a vertical slit down the inside corner of each one of his eyes. The tears of blood that gushed down his face symbolized the draining out of all his emotions. He now felt mentally capable to commence with the macabre slayings of his fathers. Ready to get out of the cold and beneath a source of shelter, he slowly stood up from his crouched position and peered into the couple’s bedroom window. In those days, families didn’t find it necessary to put up curtains or blinds in their homes. Everybody knew, trusted, and genuinely loved one another; hence, crime in the area was non-existent. Frederickstein was on the brink of eradicating a town’s primitive way of thinking once and for all. But just before he was able to do so, he encountered a setback: It was much too dark to see inside of the house at that kind of time. He couldn’t take the risk of breaking into the house not knowing whether or not his parents were asleep. As much as he didn’t want to, he would be forced to spend several more hours outside in the cold.

The glitch in his plan sent him over the edge. He recollected how his father would leave home for work promptly at 8:30 a.m. every weekday morning while his partner, the housekeeper, would remain asleep. So, while pacing around the house in an attempt to avoid getting sleepy and to keep warm, he drew up a plan B inside of his head.

At dawn’s breaking, it was time to execute his new idea. He made his way back around to the back of the home and turned on the clock inside of his head. The sun would rise there at approximately 7 a.m. each morning, so he was faced with the task of guessing when one and a half hours would have ticked on by. The more he counted, the farther his eyelids fell. But he had already managed to calculate an hour passing by. No way would he allow himself to fall asleep with only about 30 minutes left to go before he could take his first hot shower in months. He placed his hands onto the back doorstep for a few seconds and then pressed them firmly against his face in hopes that the cold sensation would revive him. It worked. “One, two, three….” He was back to counting in his head. Ten minutes left to count. Five minutes. Two minutes. He was now situated in a position at the back of the house that would allow him to see his father exit the home and begin his trot to work. But he never did. Another quarter of an hour passed by, and there was no still no sign of him. Frederickstein figured that he must have miscalculated his hour-and-a-half count inside his head. Besides, he had no idea what time it actually was when he began counting anyway. Furthermore, there was also the possibility that it could’ve been the weekend. His father never worked on weekends. He decided he would give him 30 more minutes to step outside the house. When those minutes passed with still no sign of his father, Frederickstein knew that something was definitely not right. His father would have at least stepped outside by now to smoke a cigarette had it been a weekend morning. With the sun now aiding his eyesight, he scurried back to his parents’ bedroom window and peeked inside once more. What he saw made him realize why his father never came outside. The room was completely empty. Not even a hanger remained inside the closet. Stunned, his curiosity almost led him over to a neighbor’s place to find out what had become of his parents, but presently he just wanted to keep to himself. Making his way to the back door, he attempted to open it, only to find out that the house had been unlocked all along as well. All the tired and stressed young adventurer could do was hang his head down and laugh to himself. At this point, he was far too weary to lose his composure yet again. After removing his heavily-moistened articles of clothing, he drifted straight to sleep on the cold, bare wooden floor.

Chapter 6

He arose the following afternoon feeling hungry, cold, and sore; but at least he was well-rested. His 28-hour slumber was without a doubt the best sleep he had ever gotten in his life. As he stood in front of the living room window with his eyes fixated on the woods he not too long ago called home, his mind was encumbered by a million and one thoughts, quelling his hunger and other related physical discomforts. Where were his parents? Did anybody even bother searching for him in his absence? Could he remain in the neighborhood undetected? And if detected, how would he act amongst people with his faith in humanity having been marred? Why did he ever leave home in the first place? Was he really going to carry through with his plan to kill his parents? Why couldn’t his father just stay with his mother instead of altering his sexual preference? These were just some of the burning questions on Frederickstein’s mind. Only a few of them would be answered. He would never see his parents again, nor would he gain knowledge of their whereabouts. That being the case, he was never able to find out from his father exactly why he left his mother. Everything in the boy’s life at the moment was just a blur of confusion. After a personal inquisition, he couldn’t come up with a legitimate reason for leaving home; but he did admit to himself that his decision to fly the nest was of his own volition and blaming his parents for his doltish actions was merely a cop-out. And who was to say whether or not he would have slit his parents’ throats. That was one of those “What if?” scenarios. But what did become crystal clear was the fact that he couldn’t avoid people forever. More shocking was that he was the one to actually initiate interaction with someone else. He really didn’t have much of a choice, though. Power at the house was off and his blanket was still damp, so he had absolutely no way of warming up; water to the house was also off, making it impossible for him to quench his thirst or to at least try and make himself feel clean with a pure water bath; he had nothing to wear, since the only set of clothes he owned had yet to dry; the blisters on his feet had started to succumb to infection; and the little food that remained inside his knapsack was much too cold and hard for him to eat. Two days after his return to civilization, Frederickstein found himself at the front door of his neighbor Mr. Garrett.

Richard Garrett had been a long-time family friend of Frederickstein’s family. Frederickstein and his parents would spend most holidays and weekends over at Mr. Garrett’s place primarily because he insisted on them doing so. Over the course of several years, with their relationship strengthening, Mr. Garrett began to see Frederickstein as an adopted son of his and affectionately gave him the moniker of Fred. For a man who was such a people’s person, the boy often wondered why he lived alone. Whenever they needed assistance of any kind, Mr. Garrett was the first person they turned to in the neighborhood. Mr. Garrett’s generosity was what Frederickstein had remembered most about him, and he was now in dire need of the philanthropist’s benevolence. This morning’s emergency was one that Mr. Garrett wouldn’t be able to ignore. Frederickstein had made his way over to his neighbor’s place wearing only a pair of underwear in near subzero temperatures. Following two hard knocks, the door was opened to him, just as he expected it would be. Mr. Garrett, who had already seen who was standing outside after taking a quick glance through his peephole, opened the door with tears cascading down his face.

“We searched so diligently for you,” he disclosed to the boy whilst his left forearm tightly clasped his neck. Mr. Garrett wasn’t a big man - just a little stout - neither was he left-handed, but his squeeze was tight enough to render the recipient of his impassioned chokehold both silent and breathless. Frederickstein was grateful to know that at least somebody actually gave a damn about him, but when symptoms of hypoxia began to set in, he reached his arms behind his head and loosened Mr. Garrett’s carking grip on him.

“Nice to see you, too, Mr. G,” he whispered sarcastically while gingerly massaging his tender throat. Though the boy was focusing his attention on his aching larynx, Mr. Garrett couldn’t help but notice his convulsing body and dark purple cheeks.

“I am so sorry. Forgive me,” he pleaded with his prodigal neighbor as he pulled him out of the cold and into his home’s much warmer climate. “I’ll be right back, Fred,” he informed him after seating him on the living room settee. He returned seconds later with a huge comforter that he blanketed over the boy’s shoulders. Ahhhh, comforting warmth. At that moment and time, Frederickstein had never felt more enraptured. Existence as he knew it became ethereal as he temporarily transitioned from a world of woes to the comeliness of nirvana. His brief high was interrupted by the clanking of a teacup against its accompanying saucer that Mr. Garrett was bringing for him. “This will do you good,” Mr. Garrett promised his guest as he rested the cup of tea on a table that was situated directly in front of him. Instantly Frederickstein clasped the hot cup in his hands for several minutes before consuming its contents. In no time the combination of his internal and external warming agents had his body temperature regulated. For the first time in months he was able to feel sensation in his body’s extremities. Now that he was comfortable, he was ready to have his queries addressed.

His first question: “Where is my father?” Mr. Garrett, who was seated across from him in an armchair in the small living room, looked down without saying a word for nearly five minutes. He was visualizing his friend going through the agony of not knowing where his son could possibly be, and his reminiscing caused tears to well in his eyes once more. He recalled how hopeful his former neighbor was during the intense search and rescue effort that was only launched after he and his partner brazenly barged into Police Commissioner Howswell’s office, bypassed his secretary, and demanded that he either employ the services of special dogs to sniff out the missing boy’s trail or he personally get down on all fours and track down their son himself. Mr. Garrett was then forced to recall Mr. Sillow’s despair when the search and rescue mission came up empty. Too much time had passed between Frederickstein’s fleeing and officials’ hunting.

“Your dad did the same thing you did,” Mr. Garrett finally came out with. His head jerked back as he let out a guttural “hmph”. He found the father and son disappearing acts to be a bit too coincidental. “He vanished without saying a word. He had even left your stepfather with the house. He just didn’t care about anything anymore.”

“So where is he?” Frederickstein then inquired of his stepfather. Although his stepfather had always shown him unlimited amounts of love and kindness, Frederickstein didn’t really care too much for him after the bullying at school had started. He just wanted the question answered so that the mystery of where he was wouldn’t be an annoying lingering thought in his head in the future.

“Don’t know,” Mr. Garrett answered with a shrug. “Neither he or your dad was ever the same once you left. I guess he must’ve gone back to his family in Colorado.”

Now Frederickstein was the one in deep thought. He sat motionless, just staring at the empty tea cup resting on the table in front of him until Mr. Garrett asked him if he was alright. “I’m fine. I’m just a little unhappy with myself right now.” The number of lives he had affected as a result of his selfish and asinine act was setting in with every word that Mr. Garrett spoke. Too embarrassed to let his host see him cry, the boy placed the comforter over his head and broke down. His puling, coupled with his bouncing shoulders, were clear indicators of what he was doing, though. And this time around, his tears were 100 percent real - not made of blood that was luridly extracted from his eyes.

Naturally an emotional person, when Mr. Garrett saw Frederickstein crying, his heart secreted empathy. He knew all too well what it was like to lose touch with a loved one. Obviously the young man presently sitting across the room from him was an example of such a case, but Mr. Garrett had also dealt with the ordeal of losing his only child nearly 20 years ago. At that time in his life, he was a single parent who was out of work with no place to lay his head. He and his boy roamed the town of Yarmouth surviving exclusively off of the compassion of the town’s gracious residents. Much of the donations they received were credited to the boy’s charm. “I haven’t eaten all day. Can you kindly give me some silvers so that I may afford a can of corn?” six-year-old Danny would beg of pedestrians. He was barely able to pronounce all of his words properly, but nearly everybody he sought assistance from seemed to get the message quite clear. His supplication usually earned him much more than the mere silvers he would ask for. One time he ended up receiving a donation of $279.23. The donator was so moved by the young boy’s humility that she reached into her purse and gave him every bit of legal tender that was at her disposal. Mr. Garrett couldn’t be any more proud of his little abettor. On any given day he was capable of bringing in anywhere between $300 and $400. The money that he had earned his father could have easily had them in a comfortable apartment in a very short period of time. Unfortunately, all Mr. Garrett did was squander the funds. Little Danny would be lucky if his father was actually able to afford a can of corn for him at the end of the day. Spending on prostitutes ranked the number one reason why Mr. Garrett could never achieve stability. His inability to properly manage the funds and get himself together resulted in his “everything” being taken away from him by social services. So appalled by Mr. Garrett’s absolute contempt for his parental duties, the agency never bothered disclosing any information pertaining to Danny’s new family with him. That being the case, he would never see his son again. His days of gallivanting had come to an abrupt end. He hadn’t seen it coming. Suddenly, he was left to rove through this cold, unforgiving world all alone; so that was exactly what he did - but not before picking up the pieces of his broken life. The loss of his son was the last straw in a string of unfortunate events he had been victimized by for the past several years. The occurrence sparked an epiphany in his world. Instead of moving around looking for a handout all day, Mr. Garrett opted to put his hands to work. A skilled electrician, he independently resumed work in the field. But townsmen found it extremely hard to let bygones be bygones. He was castigated for months on end for using his innocent little son as a pawn, and jobs were slow to roll in. His pursuit of self-reliance wouldn’t be an easy journey by any means. It was only after months of witnessing his unshakeable resolve and unwavering dedication to his business that locals began to support his endeavor. It took longer than he had anticipated, but eventually Mr. Garrett was able to put a roof back over his head. He was never able to get over the stigma that his own townspeople had placed on him, however. The very people he had known for so many years, the very people he had done work for in the past, these were the same persons who had made him feel like an outcast who was afflicted with some highly contagious disease. The affect that such treatment had on his psyche inhibited Mr. Garrett from being able to establish a meaningful relationship with anyone ever again, and neither did he care to. But that all changed when Mr. Sillow, his lover, and Frederickstein moved into the neighborhood six years ago. Somehow, Frederickstein reminded him so much of his lost son. That was why Mr. Garrett always wanted them around at every possible moment. And now that Frederickstein was without a family, Mr. Garrett felt a strange urge to step back into the fathership role that had been stripped away from him. He relocated from his armchair to the settee where Frederickstein was mewling. “It’ll be alright. Let it out, boy,” Mr. Garrett encouraged him as he alternately massaged one of his shoulders and slapped him on the back. His incitation caused the vulnerable boy to begin lamenting. Frederickstein’s large, formidable exterior was merely a façade that made it easy for one to overlook his true childlike nature. Mr. Garrett knew within his heart that it would be remiss of him to let the boy return home. No way would he be able to continue surviving on his own. It was a wonder he had made it out of the woods alive. After he had gotten through letting out his emotions, Mr. Garrett pitched Frederickstein an offer to move in with him. Without hesitation, the boy accepted. The two just had a mutual unspoken love for one another. And after so many years of heartache, pain, and despondency, Mr. Garrett felt that he had finally regained custody of his son.

Chapter 7

The bond between Mr. Garrett and Frederickstein eventually forged into a stronger relationship than the relationship once shared by the boy and his actual father. The two became virtually inseparable. After a lengthy deliberation in his mind, Mr. Garrett concluded that he wouldn’t try to force the boy to return to school if it wasn’t what he wanted for himself. So, at age 14, Frederickstein started working. Mr. Garrett took him under his wings, teaching his new business partner everything that he knew about the electrical trade. Had Frederickstein decided to return to school, Mr. Garrett was certain that he would have been at the head of his class, because he caught on to things quickly. In little more than the span of a year’s time, he was wiring homes without any supervision. And after three years of saving, the 17-year-old was in a home of his own. Of course, all of the house’s wiring had been taken care of by him and his acting father. The money that he was able to save as a result of personally handling that aspect of the building phase afforded him the opportunity to give what would have been an otherwise normal and boring abode a dash of panache. Okay, perhaps more than just a dash: the house was absolutely opulent. His mini palace consisted of five bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, a library, a bar, an outdoor pool, and a patio. And juxtaposed to his property was an equally decadent carriage house. Anybody who knew the 17-year-old knew that he had built such a grand home as a cover-up for his slew of insecurities. There was no conceivable need for a single individual without any kids to be in a home of that scale all alone. But that was what made him happy. At least he thought it did. He got lonely fast and contemplated putting his home on the market and moving back in with Mr. Garrett. No longer was the magnitude of his property able to fill the gaping void in his life. He needed something else, something more potent than a cocktail of wood and bricks and fancy rooms erected atop an ample plot of land. After years of being alone, his premeditated decision to remain to himself began to change. The innate desire for a man to feel the love and affection of a woman had been building up inside of him. As much as he tried to delay the inevitable, nature would eventually run its course. One day as he was handling a small electrical issue in the dining room of a client’s home, Frederickstein laid eyes on his beautiful wife-to-be, Almara, for the first time. She had just returned home from the grocery market and was putting away her purchases in the dining room’s adjoining kitchen. Her father, who was keeping the boy company as he worked, noticed Fredrickstein’s focus begin to shift away from their conversation as well as his task. With seemingly blatant irreverence for the girl’s observing father, he allowed his eyes to take in a good view of every section of her body; and for the first time in his life he experienced an erection. His hormones made it quite clear to him that she was someone whom he wanted to at least lay with. Her aura was drawing him in until her angelic features caused him to receive one hellish shock. He had broken a cardinal rule of electricians by not placing undivided attention on a job involving live power. Mr. Garrett would have been so disappointed with his rookie mistake. But his err was through no fault of his own. The object of his desire possessed the kind of beauty that couldn’t be ignored. Working with her around was next to impossible. She was simply far too much of a distraction.

“How old are you, young man?” her father asked him after his concentration had been restored by way of his sobering electrical jolt.

“Nineteen, sir,” Frederickstein replied as he rapidly flapped his wrist up and down in an effort to lessen the pain in his afflicted hand.

“I was once your age a very, very long time ago. And I know what’s running through your mind right now,” Almara’s father lectured. But I think my daughter is just a tad bit too old for you, son.”

His last statement made the pain in Frederickstein’s hand seemingly dissipate. His hand was now still and his eyes were connected with her father’s. “How old is she?” he asked with a look of disappointment upon his face.

“My daughter’s 25 years old, yet she already has an ex-husband. Can you believe that? That bastard who broke her heart almost felt the repercussions of my double barrel. Luckily for him, Almara pleaded with me to spare his soul. She’s a good girl, and I’d be damned if I allow some worthless man to walk into her life and take advantage of my little girl ever again. I swear he won’t be as fortunate as the last bum, no matter how much Almara begs me to have mercy on him. She doesn’t deserve those kinds of things happening to her. She’s a good woman.”

“I swear I would never break her heart if I had the opportunity to be with her. She’s much too beautiful for me to even think of mistreating her in any kind of way. I know I’m only 19, but my parents raised me to be a respectable young man with principles….” The boy blabbered on until Almara’s father interrupted his bid to take his daughter out on a date.

“You never allowed me to finish saying what I was going to say, young one. I’ve only spent the past 30 minutes with you, but I like you already. You’ve gat a great personality; you’re a hard worker; you carry yourself well; you’re quite mature for your age; and apart from lusting after my princess with your eyes right in the front of me, you seem to be a pretty respectable kid. I definitely have a feeling you would be a good match for her. Besides, she doesn’t need a man older than she is who thinks he can just order her around and do to her as he pleases. I’ll arrange a date for the two of you.”

In those days, had it not been customary for parents to match their daughters with a suitor whom they deemed to be a potential lifelong partner, Frederickstein would have never had the opportunity to take Almara out on a date, for he never would have been able to muster up the courage to ask her out himself. And, hypothetically speaking, had he somehow made up his mind to come on to her, she never would have responded to his unsolicited advances. He appealed to her senses in no shape, form, or fashion. That being noted, their compulsory outing was awkward, to say the least. It was only out of respect for her father that Almara put up with his “poor pick”. However, it would have been wise for her to stick with her gut instincts from the beginning. All she had to do was let her father know that she wasn’t happy with his selection in a partner for her and wait for the next candidate to stroll along. But many years into their relationship, it was far too late to change anything. All she could do was regret. The man her father had introduced her to transformed shortly after their youngest child had been born. After she had forced herself to love him, after wedding him, after giving birth to all of his children, she considered his personality shift - which brought out animalistic-type behavior in a once mild-mannered man - a slap in the face. Where this sudden changed stemmed from, nobody knew; but one thing was apparent: his behavior mirrored that of a madman’s. Her desperate pleas with him to visit an alienist fell on deaf ears; hence, whatever he was going through in his head continued to linger on undiagnosed. Presumably he wasn’t suffering from a mental deficiency at all. Even in his earlier years of life, he had always been quite a strange individual. Who he truly was was just becoming more prevalent in this latter stage of his life. His father-in-law had passed away several years before this new personality of his reared its ugly head, leaving his wife feeling that much more vulnerable and trapped. Her father was the only person she could turn to in time of need. Now, she too was on the fringe of going insane as a result of not being able to figure out a way to get her innocent children out of a situation that she accepted full responsibility for placing them in. But nothing lasts forever. All of her misfortunes began to turn around after Frederickstein laid eyes on an innocent young girl at a local town fair one day. Though the child didn’t know this as yet, their encounter that day would play a big role in the outcome of her unborn grandson’s life years down the road.

Chapter 8

Dozens of the event’s patrons noticed the husky predator following and keeping a close eye on the young girl. It was especially hard for witnesses to see a scenario like this playing out right before their eyes since the occurrence of such oddities were next to none in their town. The majority of the fairgoers had no idea how to even react to the situation. Sadly, by the time a citizen who was thinking clearly enough to do something about Mr. Sillow’s distasteful behavior brought police back to the area she had last spotted the stalker, both he and his nescient victim were already long gone. They had gotten a substantial three-block head start on authorities by then. Getting the little girl off the fairgrounds had turned out to be quite an easy task. All it took was a simple fib and the credulous teenager followed her new silver-tongued friend straight out of the gate.

“I wonder if this next fair you’re taking me to will be as good as the one we just came from,” the naïve child mentioned as she skipped down the pathway with her twisted companion tailing her close behind her. His amber eyes remained fixated just below her waistline. He was fascinated by the glimpses he got of her periwinkle underwear that was being exposed to him each time she elevated off of the ground with a frolicsome hop. But it wasn’t predominantly a desire for sex that had driven him to begin stalking the young girl. (He forced his wife to have sex with him at least five times a week.) There was just something about the way she was behaving at the fair that grabbed his attention. She was extremely fidgety, happy-go-lucky, and devoid of a care in the world. All of those characteristics were a direct reflection of his intrinsic childlike nature.

After several minutes of being distracted by the undergarment, Mr. Sillow finally snapped out of his trance and responded to the young girl’s remark. “Um, yea, it’ll be even better than the fair we just came from,” he assured her. And she believed him. She was gullible. Indeed, she was everything the predator had hoped she would be. She was the type of prey that would yield to the beast without the beast having to exert any energy whatsoever.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” she clamored as she ran over to him and hugged him tightly. With her arms outstretched as far as they could reach around his sizeable waist and her head pressing into his belly, Mr. Sillow was unable to continue moving. The temporary halt prohibited him from creating more separation from the fairgrounds. In no time the area they were in was sure to be running over with police in search of the teenager and the questionable man she was in the company of. He had to get going, and he needed to do so at a faster rate than they had previously been moving at. So, with such an easy victim at his disposal, he simply picked her up into his arms and began moving at a quickened pace down the pathway.

“You’re welcome,” he replied cheerfully while playfully shaking her from side-to-side in an attempt to make picking her up seem like nothing more than an innocent spur-of-the-moment move. It worked. She was extremely comfortable up in his arms as confirmed by the resting of her head upon his broad shoulder and the warmth with which she embraced his neck. As Mr. Sillow made his way further away from the area, he continuously looked over his free shoulder to make sure that no officers were on his trail. He was in the clear. He turned off onto a pathway on the left. After two minutes of brisk walking down the pathway, he turned off onto another pathway on his left. And before the young victim had realized she was in actual danger, she was inside of the villain’s second home. Sweet old Mr. Garrett had by now relocated to his home in the sky and had left his earthly abode to his inherited son.

“This isn’t the fair, Mr. Can we please go where you promised me you would take me?” Traces of fear and concern could now be picked up in the Amanda’s crackling voice.

“Oh, we will. And, please, call me Fred. I’m your friend. I just came home to get some money so that I can buy you a few items while we’re there.”

“Yay!” she exclaimed. And as quickly as that, she allowed her guard to drop.

“Just give me a sec.” Before she once again grew suspicious, Mr. Sillow determined that it would be in his best interest to make his move. He rushed off into his bedroom, made several quick scribbles on a piece of paper, and ran back into the living room, where his guest was waiting. Nervously, he handed the piece of paper over to her.

“What is this?”

“Go on, read it,” he insisted. Obediently, she directed her eyes onto the paper, which contained the three words “I love you.”

“What does this mean?” she asked curiously.

With seemingly no logical way of explaining such an intense expression to someone he had known for less than an hour, let alone a minor, Mr. Sillow stood in one spot scratching his head for a while before eventually taking a seat beside her on the very same settee Mr. Garrett used to engage in intimate conversations with him on. “Well, I guess what I’m trying to tell you…” Mr. Sillow began chuckling embarrassingly while looking around in a dither. “What I’m trying to say is that I like you.”

“Ohhhhhhh!” his guest responded. Though she still didn’t understand what he meant, the way that he was acting at the moment made her very uncomfortable.

Judging from her facial expression, Mr. Sillow knew that she was on the brink of losing her calm again if he didn’t do something quickly. “Okay, so now that I got that off of my chest, are you ready to head out to the fair?” he asked enthusiastically, instantly resolving the tension in the room. The way that she hopped up out of her seat was enough of an indication to let him know that she was more than ready to head out to the purported event. After leaving the house, Mr. Sillow aimlessly led his young companion through the town for 45 minutes in the opposite direction of the fair he had manipulatively taken her away from. As they strolled along idly, he spent the entire three quarters of an hour speaking of his admiration for her and befriending her further until finally arriving at an unoccupied park.

“Shucks!” he remarked. “I forgot that the fair isn’t going to be held until next month. I’m so sorry, Amanda. Please forgive me. But it’s getting pretty late, anyway, and we wouldn’t have had much time to enjoy everything that the fair had to offer. Darkness will be upon us any minute now. Allow me to walk you home to ensure that you get there safely.”

Too disappointed to think straight and still completely oblivious to his true motives, she granted one of his main wishes with a nod of her head. “But,” she declared, “walking isn’t the best option. We will be in need of a cabriolet. The distance from here to my home is a bit far to cover on foot.” So, at the soonest opportunity, Mr. Sillow was eagerly flagging down an approaching hansom cab.

“Quickly, tell the cabman where we’re headed before we get inside,” he instructed her. Once the directions were given, Mr. Sillow helped her into the cab before he climbed aboard and immediately concealed them from the view of the public by drawing all of the cab’s curtains closed. Regardless, being hidden out of view wouldn’t be enough to ease his nerves. He grew more and more uneasy as the cab drew closer to the fairgrounds where he had met his young victim earlier on in the day. Slightly sliding back the curtain at the front section of the cab and peeking outside, his fret was not in vain. Just as he had suspected, the pathways in immediate proximity to the fair were inundated with officers in search of the abducted girl. More nerve-wracking for Mr. Sillow was the sight of the officers conducting searches of all cabs in the area. “You should have given the cabman another route to your house,” Mr. Sillow nervously whispered to his fellow passenger. Without uttering a word, she looked up at him with a bemused look on her face. She had no clue what he was talking about.

Unaware of Mr. Sillow’s predicament, the cabman reduced his horse’s lope to a threateningly slow walk in preparation for his cab to be inspected by authorities. Mr. Sillow had to think quickly if he wanted to leave the area a free man. Sliding open the trapdoor located on the back wall of the cab, he said to the cabman: “Time really isn’t on my side right now. Kindly, sir, avoid this nettlesome police check and I shall pay you very handsomely.” His promise was enough to get the cabman to put his horse into a canter, stirring up the suspicions of the prying officers. The officer standing nearest the approaching cab made an effort to bring it to a halt. With his billy club outstretched, he screamed at the cabman: “Stop this cab at once or have us do it for you.”

“I’m afraid I can’t. My wife is in labor and she must be delivered to the hospital as quickly as possible,” was the self-possessed cabman’s response to the officer’s threat before adjusting his horse’s speed to a full-out gallop. The rate of speed with which he left the area made the policeman’s last set of orders unable to be made out clearly by neither him nor his passengers. Glancing back, the cabman could see the livid officer mouthing off until he was made invisible by distance. Mr. Sillow had avoided an extremely close call. Nevertheless, he was well aware that he wouldn’t be able to run from the law forever. The town was too small for that. It was only a matter of time before he was in police custody and defending himself against very serious eyewitness allegations.

Chapter 9

Everything about the interrogation room disgusted Mr. Sillow. From its nauseating smell, to its bland brown walls, to the arousal of claustrophobia that was brought on as a result of being inside the dinky room, he hated the room’s overall atmosphere. At any given moment, he felt as though he would throw up. Making his precarious situation even more unfavorable, he was surrounded by two truculent detectives who wanted him to transmit answers to them that they wanted to hear. Their main objective was to place enough pressure on their disheveled man in question in hopes that he would inadvertently commit self-incrimination. With opportunities to drill suspects hardly ever arising, for some disturbing reason, the detectives wanted nothing more than to see Mr. Sillow behind bars by the end of the interrogation. Looking at the subject, they knew that their objective was on the cusp of being achieved. All they had to was get a little meaner, a little louder, and just a tad more aggressive. Not only was Mr. Sillow sweating bullets, but he was stammering throughout the entire questioning process. Being a very private and demure man by nature, he was completely out of his comfort zone as the officers used whatever coy tactics they could to retrieve information out of him. One of these methods involved sheer physical force, a practice that was widely considered acceptable by a police squad that was adamant about keeping their town free of malefaction. Both detectives, on numerous occasions, choked, slapped, and punched the considerably large, yet mousy subject. Mr. Sillow’s visible fear of them gave them more reason to believe that he would crack under the pressure at any second. With every flinch, twist, and jerk of his body, the detectives reveled in their authoritative positions. But their power trips would also be their downfall. It took a little while, but their battering eventually knocked some sense into him. Livid about the unprofessional manner in which the two detectives - who appeared to be more like ruffians rather than members attached to an organization that was established with the intent of upholding justice - were handling him, their subject went tight-lipped after declaring that he would not speak another word without his lawyer being present. “You cannot do this to us,” one of the detectives angrily protested. “What you are doing is against the law.” His fraudulent statement fell on deaf ears. Mr. Sillow had already caught on to their scheme and remained speechless. It was as though his lips had been tightly glued together. “Just answer this last question for us, then.” The attitude of the detective had by now completely changed, and he was acting quite civilized. “For God’s sake, what did you do with the body of the girl that you kidnapped from that fair?” Just as the detective had expected, Mr. Sillow didn’t break a sound. With their subject no longer cooperating, the interrogation was officially over and done with. And with no confession or evidence pointing towards any sort of foul play, Mr. Sillow walked out of the police station a free man. Nevertheless, up until the day of his death, he blamed his brush with the law on Amanda.

He now moved through life a bit more cautiously. All of his actions were planned with extreme care before being carried out, and his time in the public’s eyesight was but a fleeting moment. Firm in his belief that the young who girl he had stupidly decided to stalk in the presence of hundreds of people was responsible for his run-in with the law, he promised himself that he would never allow anybody to place him in harm’s way ever again. That meant that he would possibly never see his little friend again. But of course that was if he wasn’t so mystifyingly attracted to her. With paranoia controlling his day-to-day actions and a strong feeling that he was under 24/7 police surveillance, Mr. Sillow would wait two months before returning to the address where he had escorted his young crush on the day they had met.

Chapter 10

The hour was 11:00 p.m. After months of believing that he was being kept under close watch by authorities, Mr. Sillow figured that they would quit spying on him by now. But as an extra measure of precaution, he methodically chose to venture out beneath an unlit sky. With his wife and children fast asleep, he made his way over to the carriage house, tacked up his favorite horse, and outfitted his buggy with lanterns. Concerned about the sun rising before he made it back home, he instructed the horse through its reins to move with pep. He had gone too long without bringing any unwanted attention upon himself since his fiasco at the fair to falter now. Since the occurrence, he made special efforts to avoid further condemnation from a slow-to-forgive community. His intent was to lie low if he wanted any chance of returning to the good graces of his fellow townspeople. That being the case, any of the monthly responsibilities that required having to head out amongst the public were taken care of by his wife. Eventually, his fear crippled him so badly that he refused to step foot outside of his house altogether. His round-the-yard chores of maintaining the lawn, patio, and swimming pool; feeding the horses; keeping the carriage house tidy and in order; collecting the newspaper each day; and taking out the trash; were all passed on to his children. But it was his sabbatical from work that was his most profound measure. With bills mounting and daily arguments between him and his wife now prevailing their already-fickle relationship, his life was beginning to take a horrendous downward spiral. He was sick of hearing his wife argue about the escalating arrears on their monthly utilities, not having enough money to purchase necessities for the household and their children, and his alleged interaction with the underage girl. In order to preserve the little that remained of his sanity, he had to remove himself from his present environment temporarily and return to his only source of happiness. His late night venture to find the 14-year-old girl whom his aching heart repined for would surely appease all of his discontent.

The light rhythmic chuffs made by the horse’s hooves over the dirt-covered path, coupled with the buggy’s creaking wooden wheels, made Mr. Sillow wonder how long he could proceed on his journey before cranky residents trying to get some sleep made their way outside and asked him to hurry along. Fearing for the safety of their innocent children, word of his behavior at the fair had been dispersed around town as a measure of precaution. He was certain that everyone in the community knew about what he had done by this point and was even more certain that the repercussions of being detected so far from home at such a late hour would surely result in fed up residents calling for his head. His nerves were starting to take a profound toll on him. Checking his pocket watch after a while of riding, he was taken over by a brief attack of hysteria. Just as he was about to abandon his journey and turn back for home, his better judgment spoke to him. It was 11:15 p.m. Despite his anxiety, none of the terrifying scenarios that had been playing out inside of his head had occurred: No absurd townsman had approached his buggy, neither was there a horde of outraged residents wielding axes and scythes surrounding him and imploring town officials for his public execution. Furthermore, having already calculated his expected travel time, he was actually ahead of schedule. He had already covered two miles of his nine-mile expedition within a quarter of an hour, a significant increase from the singular mile he had predetermined he would have covered within such time. His objective of making it to the teen’s house and reaching back home in a timely manner was guaranteed to be a success. This realization allowed him to allay his fears just enough to continue on; and before long, he had come to the last mile of his journey. But this was where things got confusing and uncertain for him. The evening he had escorted Amanda home in the hansom cab, he had kept a tab of where they were going with restricted visibility due to low light conditions and a slightly retracted privacy curtain that he had pulled back just enough with one of his hands to observe his surroundings with the aid of just one eye. The other obstacle that he faced was that the home was situated in the middle of nowhere. There were no signs or any other residences in the area of her household. Had he not encountered Amanda on the day of the fair and personally witnessed where she resided, he never would have imagined that a home had been erected in such a location. “Make a right turn right here…” he had remembered Amanda instructing the cabman through the cab’s trapdoor once they had arrived at a dilapidated cathedral situated on the left side of the pathway which they had been travelling along. The direction that she had instructed the cabman to head in led into Yarmouth’s forest. Closely-situated Eastern white pine trees lined off the right side of the pathway, but upon careful inspection, an entrance point could be seen. Once behind the initial barrier of trees, however, vegetation was sparse enough for the hansom to maneuver comfortably through this particular area of the forest. With the point of entrance forever etched in his mind, finding it once more was the easy part. Mr. Sillow was presently in the forest and making his way towards her home. The second part of Amanda’s instructions to the cabman that evening was: “and proceed straight ahead for about a half mile. From there I’ll tell you where to head.” After she had made her statement and closed the trapdoor, Mr. Sillow specifically remembered her mentioning to him that it was safe to draw the privacy curtain open. “No one will see us in this area,” she told him. But he wasn’t taking any chances. Instead, he insisted that she continue peering out from behind the cover of the curtain, just as he was doing. And that was exactly what she did until it was time to give the cabman the final set of directions he would need in order to reach her home. Quickly spinning around and sliding open the trapdoor once more, she informed him to make a left turn and head straight for another approximate half mile until he arrived at “the only home in the area.”

Thinking back, Mr. Sillow regretted having not listened to his co-passenger when she had advised him to draw the privacy curtain fully open. She had seen something en route to her home that made it possible for her to know exactly when it was time to instruct the cabman to take that final left turn. But what? he wondered. Trudging along with no clear sense of direction, Mr. Sillow began coming to the realization that his search attempt could be chalked up as just another one of his life’s many failures. Had her home not been in the midst of such a vast forest, he would have had a much greater chance of reconnecting with her. But as it stood, his hunt for the minor would have to be called off. On the verge of turning his horse around and heading back home, something hit him. Something memorable had revisited one of his senses. Persisting in the air was the distinct aroma of golden buttons. He had vividly remembered smelling the pungent odor the instant Amanda had given the cabman the order to make his final left turn. The patch of flowers directly in front of him must have been the landmark Amanda had used to help her make her way home. Making an abrupt left cut, Mr. Sillow excitedly flicked on the horse’s reins, sending the horse dashing dangerously across the forest’s dew-dampened and uneven ground. Despite the high risk of the buggy flipping over and potentially injuring or killing him, a crazed Mr. Sillow maintained the high rate of speed. Fortunately for him, his deadly haste wasn’t for naught. As he maniacally sped through the woods, slowly beginning to form in the backdrop of a fog-laden night sky was the cottage of Mr. and Mrs. Toffer.

Chapter 11

“Easy, boy,” he yelled out to his adrenaline-charged steed once he had pulled up at the cottage. Quickly hopping out of the buggy, he began a futile attempt to calm the unsettled creature. The horse’s loud, uncontrollable neighing was sure to disturb everyone inside of the residence. Sure enough, before he could bring his buck under control, the front door of the cottage had been opened. It was Amanda’s elderly father who stuck his head out to see what the commotion outside of his house was all about. As a show of courtesy, Mr. Sillow’s natural reaction at the sight of Mr. Toffer was to remove his trilby from his head. Had the sun been up, Mr. Toffer would have noticed him nervously squishing it together in his hands. He also would have picked up on signs of fear emanating from the impromptu visitor’s widened eyes. Everything about the stranger’s persona warranted red flags. But to his credit, on a whim, Mr. Sillow quickly snatched up a teddy bear that one of his daughters always left in the back-row seat of the buggy and briskly began walking over towards the curious Mr. Toffer while annunciating: “Hello, good sir, my name is Thomas Zimmers. Your granddaughter forgot to collect her prize from my booth at the fair a few months back, and I’ve been searching all over to find her and put it in her hands.” Not only had Mr. Sillow adorned himself with an alias, but he was now speaking with a speedy, exaggerated Southern-like twang and was replicating the actions of a vivacious fair vendor - a far stretch for the generally coy individual. “Now, I know how special these things are to children, so I wanted to personally deliver it to her. I do understand that it’s late and all, but my children can’t get a wink of sleep unless they have their teddy bear underneath of ’em. So if you don’t mind calling her to the door for me, I’d truly appreciate it. I know that she’s awake and thinking about this little guy right here in my hand as we speak.”

Once he had made his pitch, Mr. Sillow eagerly anticipated a wary Mr. Toffer’s response to his schtick. A look of disapproval could be seen on the old man’s normally impassive face before he even spoke a word. “Oh, really, Mr. Zimmers?” he asked the shady visitor incredulously. “Tell me, exactly how did you even know to look in this part of the town to find her?”

The fact that such an eccentric man who stunk of alcohol was at his front door soliciting to see his precious little girl at 1:00 o’clock in the morning made Mr. Toffer eerily uneasy. Having relocated from the city of New York to shield his newborn daughter from the many social ills that were synonymous with a highly populated society, he settled his family down in Yarmouth just days after her birth in perhaps the most remote area of the town. His real estate agent had procured for him and his family a splendid Cape Cod cottage situated on a spacious clearing in the town’s far-stretching forest that once belonged to a high-ranking public official. Numerous other steps were taken to ensure that his baby girl’s life remained as untainted as possible. She was homeschooled, was only allowed to play in the immediate vicinity of her dwelling, and was brainwashed to believe that only her and her parents existed in this world. However, life as she once knew it seemingly changed overnight when the physical health of her parents began to take a turn for the worst. Her mother, a chronic smoker, was stricken with emphysema and her father came down with muscular dystrophy. When she reached 11 years of age, her overly-concerned parents were inevitably forced to introduce her to society, for she would now have to take on the responsibility of running errands around town. Needless to say, her introduction to the real world was quite overwhelming. Though it took her a while to catch on to how things operated in society, she enjoyed every minute of the experience and quickly developed a disturbing fondness for strangers. Mr. Toffer was convinced that Mr. Sillow had pried the location of their residence out of his green daughter while she was out and about in the town area one day. Perhaps Mr. Toffer and his wife were the only residents in Yarmouth who hadn’t yet heard of Mr. Sillow’s inappropriate interaction with their daughter at the fair. His name had become notoriously synonymous with pedophilia. Unfortunately, nobody in the community even knew who the poor child’s parents were to enlighten them about the disturbing incident.

As Mr. Sillow swished his eyes around while attempting to find a plausible answer to give to Amanda’s father, his eyes ran across her, causing an inadvertent smile to break out on his face. The little girl had been awaken by the horse’s bruit as well and was standing just behind her father at the front door to see what was going on for herself. “What are you smiling at?” a confused Mr. Toffer asked him as he followed his eyes and spun around to glance behind him. Realizing that Mr. Sillow had spotted her, the young girl squirmed her way around her feeble father, who was blocking the doorway, and darted outside to greet her old friend.

“Fred!” she yelled gleefully as she jumped up into his arms.

“I thought you told me that your name was Thomas,” Mr. Toffer angrily shouted out as loudly as his shrinking voice would permit. “And get down out of that man’s arms right now, Amanda.”

As though he was no longer even in existence, both Mr. Sillow and the girl completely ignored Mr. Toffer’s latest statements. Instead, being the uncouth character that he was, Mr. Sillow carried the little girl over to his buggy to speak with her in private. “Amanda, I have missed you so much, and I’ve travelled miles upon miles just to take another look at your pretty face,” he expressed to her. He had set her down on the front bench’s edge inside of his buggy and purposely positioned himself directly in the front of her so that her gawking father could only see his broad back from his position in the cottage’s door. Mr. Sillow’s words to his underage friend were now spoken with confidence, unlike on the first day that they had met. And for whatever reason, Amanda hadn’t grown uncomfortable upon hearing such a suggestive remark come out of his mouth (something that could possibly be attributed to her having knowledge that her father was watching Mr. Sillow quite intently). Regardless, her father’s presence didn’t stop Mr. Sillow from making his next move. Placing his hand on the young girl’s thigh, he slowly began to massage it while looking directly into her eyes and said: “I ain’t gonna write it on no piece of paper this time; I’m just gonna come out and say it. Amanda, I genuinely and truly care about you. Amanda, I love you.” Just by glaring into his passion-filled eyes and hearing the fervor in his voice, the meaning of those three words was finally understood by her. Though he was out of earshot of her father, when the old man saw Mr. Sillow’s elbow bend and his arm begin to slide back and forth in a salacious manner, he rushed into action. Clutching on to his walking cane, he made his way over to the buggy with great difficulty.

“You disobedient little girl, get inside right now. And as for you, Tom, Fred, or whoever you may be, leave this area and don’t you ever let me see you around here again, or else!”

Mr. Toffer’s message to the unwelcomed visitor was clear and succinct, but his threatening statement to the man who had fallen deeply in love with his impressionable young daughter would adversely seal the fate of his future.

Chapter 12

Just as he had anticipated, the time when he would be completely out of work had come around. Mr. Sillow’s once-waning cash flow had now completely dried up. Residents of the town had had enough of his sporadic antics, and they didn’t hide their feelings about it. Although he hadn’t actually been sighted, a resident of the town had spotted Mr. Sillow’s buggy speeding past her home at around 2:30 in the morning a few months earlier as he frantically made his way back home following his visit to Amanda’s residence. His oversized midnight blue buggy hinted with ornamental gold bulbs on the four corners of its roof was unmistakable. The sighting had caused a whole slew of new speculations to arise. Some of the townspeople believed that Amanda was on the inside of the buggy with her overly-obsessed lover and was making an exodus out of Yarmouth with him in the wee hours of the morning. Others believed that he just gotten through meeting up with another one of the town’s innocent young girls. And some went as far as to say that he was speeding away from the burial plot he had just dug for his wife. Their belief was that he was planning to snuff Mrs. Sillow so that he could move Amanda into his home with him, a theory that law enforcement officials didn’t hesitate to follow up on. Just as before, however, with no evidence supporting the allegations, Mr. Sillow was released from custody.

With no foreseeable source of income in sight, having lost the respect of his family, and living in a community whose residents were now literally calling for his head, a dejected Mr. Sillow had reached rock bottom. It would have been in his best interest to just leave Yarmouth. He could move on and start his life anew in a town where he wouldn’t be judged or despised. But as intriguing as the thought was, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do such a thing without Amanda at his side; and he was willing to take the risk of losing his life to be with her. Thinking back, he recollected seeing a sparkle in her eyes when he mentioned to her that he loved her. His gut feeling was that she loved him as well.

By now the union between Mr. Sillow and his wife was unofficially null and void. They no longer had sexual intercourse and didn’t bother speaking to one another - not even making an effort to throw malicious comments in one another’s directions. His wife’s last words to him had been: “If you ever lay a hand on me or one of my children again, I am calling the police on you. And this time around I’ll personally see to it that you wind up behind bars.” Though tempted to choke the life out of her at that very instant, the short-tempered miscreant was left with no other option but to exercise self-restraint. The austere manner in which his wife had warned him let him know that she would indeed follow through with her threat. He was never the same from that day forward. Having taken heed of his wife’s word, Mrs. Sillow finally felt as though she had been freed of the mental chains her husband had bound her with for so many years. This newfound freedom afforded her the opportunity to do things the way she saw fit. She had resigned from her duties as a housewife and had taken up employment at a popular eatery in order to provide for herself and her nine children. But he house’s new breadwinner’s paycheck in conjunction with her tips wasn’t nearly enough to comfortably keep her and her dependents afloat, and she was compelled to find a second job. Not a penny of her hard-earned money was spent on her contemptible, good-for-nothing husband. In her mind, however he provided for himself was his business. With the moneys he had hidden from his wife when business for him was on the up-and-up rapidly dwindling, Mr. Sillow would have to take a gamble and turn to the treacherous underground world in order to sustain himself.

Chapter 13

Although many individuals never would have suspected it, there was indeed a black market operation in existence in the small, irenic town of Yarmouth. Amongst the recondite activities’ most notable indulgers were high-ranking government officials (who were on average able to add an additional $35,000-plus to their annual salaries by way of their underhanded dealings); wealthy bankers; crooked judges; and nefarious clergymen. Because of the town’s pristine reputation, the underground market there was a highly secretive and organized one, with the town’s administrator, Kiffering Dwelling, filling the role of chairman. The good name of every man or woman involved in the covert crime ring hung in the balance. Discovery of their illegal exploits by any ordinary citizen of the town would be detrimental to their societal and/or political repute. Hence, anybody affiliated with the crime ring had been introduced to the organization by one of its already-existing member. Furthermore, an individual would only be initiated into the organization after passing a stringent test of loyalty and street smarts. As a further method of precaution, a minute number of the organization’s dealings took place within Yarmouth. The mecca for all of the organization’s business transactions was the state’s bustling capital city, Boston. And now that Mr. Sillow was out of work - at least in its legal form - Boston was where he planned on making a trip to in order to make ends meet.

The once well-liked Mr. Sillow had an enigmatic ability to quickly connect with most persons he crossed paths with. He had that special trait that the vast majority of individuals in society disadvantageously lack: he excelled at listening. Persons could blather on about their life’s endless issues to him for hours on end without once being interrupted by the astute listener. Such was the case one day when Mr. Sillow was doing some work at the business place of a particularly unforgettable client of his.

Cora Marshall was a well-off grocery store owner and one of Yarmouth’s most recognizable faces. Each Sunday she could be found in the front pew of any one of the community’s various churches - guaranteed. And on any other given day of the week, she would be either heading or participating in charitable events around town. Her candid outlook on politics made her extremely well-liked by her fellow townspeople, who on multiple occasions had entreated her to join the political arena to conciliate their concerns, which were minimal but still common nuisances nonetheless. In their eyes, she was the “perfect candidate, role model, and human being for the job.” Yet, internally she was hoping that somebody would pick up on the slightest inkling of her “Ms. Goody Two-shoes” facade. Being seen as this irreproachable citizen in the eyes of all was becoming irritatingly deflating to her ego. “Do I have to paint my dark side on a white canvas for these morons in this town?” she once vented to her cohorts during one of the criminal organization’s meetings. “I reckon if they’d lift their heads up out of the soil that they’re cultivating all day and night and wipe some of that dirt off of their faces they’d be able to see things a bit more clearly.” Her desire to be seen for who she truly was would come true as she haughtily decried the residents of Yarmouth during her banter with the unassuming electrician just several days before he would suffer his reputation-damaging plight at the fair.

“…. Please, tell me again, Mr. Sillow, will you be charging me by the hour, or is this a job based upon a flat rate? I’m asking because it’s come to my knowledge that your fees tend to be exaggerated, just like the fees of goods and services on the taxpayers’ competing market,” the duplicitous Mrs. Marshall stated. “Now, I am well aware that you provide some of the best electrical service around town - I’m not disputing that at all - but in all fairness, sir, could you look inside your heart and be lenient with your price for such an old lady as myself?”

No response. Greed was the basis of all of Mrs. Marshall’s actions, and Mr. Sillow had come across many the like. A few things he had learned quickly - and, unfortunately, the hard way - in the world of business were to never allow persons to owe him pelf for services rendered and to disregard the cries of those claiming to be unable to make payments. More times than not, their complaints belied their financial statements.

“Fine,” Mrs. Marshall said superciliously while twiddling her glasses, “nevermind what I just asked you. I’ll see to it that Mr. Dwelling has Shepherd (Yarmouth’s treasurer as well as the treasurer of the criminal organization she was affiliated with) come up with a few new ways to boost up my capital in the capital. If the people here only knew the ochlocracy they were living under….

“You know, Mr. Sillow, as much as I do for this community, as much as I do for these people, how do you think they repay me?” Mrs. Marshall asked rhetorically. “They look in my direction for more help. That’s how they express their appreciation for all that I do. I’m sure that you can relate to what I’m saying. You’re a pretty affluent man. You’re probably just as tired of these bloodsuckers as I am. Each week they store away their earnings and find their way to our doorsteps to beg us for every cent of the money which we work so diligently to attain. It’s hardworking citizens like you and I who have made this town what it is. Our blood, sweat, and tears are the quintessential elements of Yarmouth’s geographical makeup. Homage should be paid to us.

“I don’t know, maybe I’d have an entirely different outlook on this matter if I were to try seeing things through the eyes of these meager peasants; but I’d rather not. I’m just going to stick it out here for a couple more years before I get up out of this here hellhole of a town once and for all. By such time, the investments I’ve made outside of this town will have generated enough of a turnover so that I never ever have to depend on the people of Yarmouth for anything again.

“Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it already, it’s been a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Sillow.”

Chapter 14

No more time could be wasted. Thoughts of death by starvation weren’t sitting too well with Mr. Sillow. In his crazed mind, he had come to the conclusion that he would begin to eat his very flesh if need be. But first, he had to pay a return visit to Mrs. Marshall as a means of preventing having to resort to such an extreme length in order to survive. Revisiting her was a notion that had been swirling around in his head for the past few months. Ever since his finances had began to freeze up, Mr. Sillow, who possessed a genius-level IQ, often ruminated over Mrs. Marshall’s tirade against Yarmouthians. Though he wasn’t able to definitively piece together her allusions to the city of Boston, he reflected on context clues to piece together the gist of what she was saying. What he came up with: She was somehow making money there - illegally - a whole dray load of it. His hope was that she would enlighten him as to how she was making all of this extra dough.

Travelling by horse and buggy to see her was out of the question. The sight of his buggy was sure to incite a riot. Though his uniquely massive frame was a dead giveaway of his identity, travelling on foot would allow him much greater mobility and conspicuity than his bulky, ostentatious carriage. Having this freedom of movement would lead him to venture underground. He determined that it would be in his best interest to travel throughout the town by way of its sewer system from now on.

Mr. Sillow’s eyes had opened on this particular morning before the sun had arisen in the sky. He had awoken with the mind state that he was going to put his persisting thoughts in motion on this day. So, once his children had left for school and his wife had headed out to work, he lingered around the house for a little while until he felt certain that his neighbors would have also left their homes for the day. Then, at around 10:30 a.m. that morning, Mr. Sillow began putting his thoughts into motion. After carefully surveying the four sides of his home through its second floor windows to ensure that the coast was clear, he bolted outside, sprinted over to the manhole that was situated several feet over from his home, hastily pried up its cover, and courageously dove into the unknown. The sewer’s smell was otherworldly and its aura ghastly, but Mr. Sillow was apparently unfazed by the conditions. Determined to make a better life for himself and the young lady he planned on winning over, he dedicatedly plodded through gunks of shit and fermenting urine on to his destination. The light from his lantern sent the roaches and rats of the netherworld scampering to find refuge as he made his way deeper into their rarely-visited territory. Using nothing but his mental recollection, he had painstakingly drawn up a map highlighting all of the city’s manholes the previous night and was utilizing it to make his way to Mrs. Marshall’s downtown store. He could hear an unsettling quantity of activity going on above ground as he passed beneath several manhole covers on his way to the downtown area. It was a Friday afternoon, and downtown was sure to be teeming with persons cashing their paychecks and shopping for necessities for the upcoming week. As much as he wished that their preoccupations would afford him the good fortune to just pop up amongst them unnoticed, he knew that it would be impossible to make his way to the surface via the manhole nearest Mrs. Marshall’s store. It was located in the heart of downtown. Making his emergence there would be equivalent to committing suicide. Instead, he had marked an X on an alternate manhole on his map through which he would surface. The site he had designated for this was a tranquil, affluent residential area that was less than a quarter-mile away from Mrs. Marshall’s grocery store. As he trudged along, he was beginning to hear the dissonant sounds of clamorous street music and indiscernible chatter in the distance. Suddenly, he was struck with exorbitant elation. His makeshift map had been completely on the money thus far. He was just minutes away from downtown. The sound of so much activity taking place above him excited him. He was now zipping through the poorly-lit tunnel system. Once he was directly beneath Yarmouth’s business district, he detoured down a tunnel to the right and ran as fast as he could until he arrived at the manhole through which he would ascend to earth’s surface. Glancing upward, he smiled wryly as the sun’s golden rays that had snuck through the pick holes integrated into the manhole cover shimmered across his face. Grabbing on to the heavily rusted ladder in front him, Mr. Sillow carefully pulled his heavy frame up ’til he could proceed no further, removed the cover of the manhole with the mighty thrust of a single forearm, and inhaled his first breath of fresh air in the past two hours.

Just as he had anticipated, the residential area he had emerged in was completely quiet and void of activity. Everything for him thus far was going according to plan. His only wish at that point and time was that the rest of his mission would go as smoothly. Once he had climbed back up to ground level, his next order of business was to make a swift change of clothes in some nearby bushes. He was wise enough to have brought along with him an extra shirt, pant, cloak, and pair of shoes inside of a haversack as he knew that his journey through the septic system would leave an unpleasant odor lingering on his garments. A bottle of cologne had also been brought along to ensure that any traces of malodor that may have persisted after he had changed outfits would be masked.

Mr. Sillow was now at a crossroad. Doubt hindered him from making any further progress. It was as though he had jeopardized his health in vain in the bowels of the unsanitary underground tunnels. Not even his boundless infatuation for Amanda was reason enough for him to risk stepping a foot anywhere near the pullulating downtown area. He knew better. But he couldn’t just abort his mission, and he admitted to himself that he should have planned out every single aspect of his venture more thoroughly. The minutes were quickly passing by, and his mind was being inundated with dubitable ways to get in touch with Mrs. Marshall before she would have left her workplace at 5:00 p.m. Then, in the middle of his thoughts, he heard something, something his distressed mind translated to be salvation. Coming from his left were what seemed to be the sounds of horses inside one of the residential area’s carriage houses that had been left wide open. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Perhaps it was too good to be true. He had to make an inspection. In seconds he had made his way over to what was indeed an unlocked carriage house. Jackpot. Wasting no time, the desperate rambler tacked up the horse nearest to the wide open carriage house door and affixed it to a sleek carriage. He also threw some carriage lamps that were hanging up on the back wall of the carriage house into the carriage just in case…. Moments later, he was racing to meet Mrs. Marshall downtown for their unscheduled meeting.

Chapter 15

Apart from the brief glances at the stylish white carriage he was surreptitiously tucked away inside of, Mr. Sillow was completely free of suspicion as he made his way deeper into downtown. All of the curtains on the carriage’s side windows and back glass had been drawn closed, and the privacy panels located at the front had been pulled together as closely as possible to obscure the public’s visibility inside. But despite his obscurity, being amongst a thicket of people who detested every fiber of his being made him understandably uneasy. Everything now seemed to be moving in slow motion. Inside of the carriage, he had broken out in a cold sweat and his trembling hands were starting to send the horse conflicting commands. The confused creature suddenly darted to its left and then just as quickly veered sharply to the right; accelerated to a gallop and then came to an abrupt halt. Now the carriage was beginning to garner unwanted attention after nearly bulldozing down several pedestrians. Its jittery operator had to regain his composure immediately or suffer the consequence of his cover being blown. Wisely, Mr. Sillow allowed the horse to remain at a standstill by releasing its reins to inhibit any further wrong moves. He just needed a few minutes to calm down. The cessation of movement provided the furious residents who witnessed the near accidents an opportunity to approach the carriage and confront whomever was at the helm of the reins. But before any of them could get close enough to take a peek through the partially-open privacy panels at the front of the carriage, Mr. Sillow had pulled them completely closed. His brazen reclusion sent the town-goers into a tizzy as they began banging on the carriage’s frame and insisting that its driver reveal him- or herself at once. Inside, Mr. Sillow was certain that he was spending his last few minutes alive. At any moment he was expecting the rabble to forcefully gain entrance into the carriage, drag his body out, toss him onto the dusty pathway, behead him, and hold his head high as a trophy symbol. Despite being a steadfast atheist, Mr. Sillow was fearful of the unknown realm that succeeded the cessation of one’s mortal existence. In fact, he was so terrified about being on the brink of death that he was compelled to press his hands together in his time of despair and call upon the name of God. Though his prayer wasn’t spoken with sincerity of heart, he figured that he would be delivered out of his pickle, citing that Mrs. Marshall, a devote churchgoer and self-proclaimed Christian, was a fairly blessed individual. “Dear, God, allow me to overcome this troublesome time in my life and I swear I shall become a changed man,” was his taunting supplication to the Almighty Father. He may not have prayed earnestly, but his petition helped, serving as a placebo to his anxiety. In two swift motions, he cracked open the privacy panels and took a firm, confident grip of the horse’s reins. He then sped away from his censurers to catch up with the woman he regarded as responsible for helping him overcome his harrowing dilemma.

Chapter 16

Throngs of individuals could be seen parading in and out of the front doors of Mrs. Marshall’s grocery store as Mr. Sillow approached the busy shop, forcing him to have to find an alternative entrance into the building. With no doors located on either side of the store, his only other option was to enter through the back of the establishment. Since pathways lined all four sides of the store, Mr. Sillow parked the carriage as close as he could to the back door so that he could quickly slip in and out of the building without being spotted by persons who happened to be passing by. Paying no mind to the sign on the door which read “No unauthorized personnel beyond this point.” he defiantly barged into the store as if he were an employee there and immediately began scanning over the signs on the administrative office doors to find out which door Mrs. Marshall was behind. Once he had spotted the room he was in search of, he rudely entered without knocking and quietly closed and locked the door behind him. Upon seeing the high-profile intruder, Mrs. Marshall froze in place behind her desk while Mr. Sillow remained near the door insisting that he came in peace and at the same time tried to explain to her that everything being said about him for the past several months were purely rumors. His words obviously weren’t registering with the scared-stiff woman. For the few minutes that he had been inside of the room, Mrs. Marshall hadn’t once blinked her eyes. Additionally, her pupils had dilated to a rather abnormal size and her mouth hung ajar. Concerned that she had possibly been stricken with a fatal heart attack, Mr. Sillow’s bid to convince her that his visit was in good nature ceased as he began to express concern for her well-being. “Mrs. Marshall, are you alright?” he asked worriedly as he slowly began inching his way over to her. She remained both silent and motionless. But after making it halfway across the room, it became evident that she was far from alright. With Mr. Sillow being too close for comfort, Mrs. Marshall’s pupils widened a tenth of an inch more, she grew pale in complexion, and her body began to shake violently. She was still alive after all. She then began making murmurs that eventually escalated into full-fledged screams for help, sending the man who was so concerned about her well-being a minute ago into a rage. Mr. Sillow bolted over to her, covered her mouth with his large hand, and warned her to calm down immediately or suffer the consequence of her neck being wringed. Mrs. Marshall fearfully looked up into the alleged murderer’s cold eyes as her bosom expanded and contracted rapidly with each terrifying breath she took and signaled that she understood him clearly with a few swift nods of the head. But Mr. Sillow wasn’t so quick to believe her. He kept his hand draped over her mouth until her breathing had returned to a normal rhythm. “Now, I’m going to let you go,” he said to her after he had felt her trembling stop, “but don’t you make a sound unless you’re answering one of my questions. Gat it?” Again Mrs. Marshall concurred with a nod.

Mr. Sillow was now in full control of the situation as he sat on the edge of Mrs. Marshall’s mahogany wood desk with his arms folded and his legs crossed. He stared straight ahead at the wall in front of him without saying a word to her. He wanted to be sure that she had regained her full composure before questioning her to increase his odds of receiving clear and succinct answers. But his odd behavior only made her more nervous.

“I know you’re probably wondering why I’m here,” he finally mentioned after he saw her begin to tremble again from the corner of his eye.

“I am very curious,” she replied in a low, shaky voice, followed by a sniffle. She was crying.

“Oh, for goodness sakes, cut it out, Mrs. Marshall. You seemed to be so tough when I met you for the first time several months ago. It’s not like I’m going to kill you or anything,” he said with a sinister look upon his face. “That is, unless you don’t give me what I’ve come here for.”

Mrs. Marshall let out an inadvertent shriek before quickly covering her own mouth with both of her hands as she instantly remembered her uninvited guest’s stern previous warnings.

“Now, let’s get down to business,” Mr. Sillow continued while leaning in closer to his shivering hostage. “Is there anything you would like to tell me about Boston?”

Chapter 17

By the time the meeting between Mr. Sillow and Mrs. Marshall was through, the highly intellectual academic was equipped with all the necessary information that he would need to begin amassing an illegal fortune of his own. With no time to waste, he opted to prematurely ditch his plan of travelling by way of the time-consuming sewerage system and took the risk of keeping the horse and carriage he had stolen earlier on in the day. As he pulled off from the grocery store, his aching stomach alerted him that dinnertime was drawing nigh; but with his funds running low, he decided to sacrifice spending any of his remaining moneys until after he began to see some sort of income.

He didn’t bother stopping home that evening. He shot straight past his house and began retracing the exact route that was responsible for almost landing him in the calaboose several months ago. As the beautiful, luxurious carriage made its way deeper into the lesser-developed and lesser-populated eastern part of Yarmouth, it garnered stares from locals out and about in search of pre-weekend entertainment before making its disappearance into the vast Yarmouth forest. Nobody suspected that he was behind the reins. Mr. Sillow was so glad that he had decided to keep that carriage after all. He was now just minutes away from reuniting with Amanda so that he could introduce her to a side of life that should under no circumstance ever be exposed to a child. He arrived at her house at the perfect time of the day. It was a late enough hour that ensured her parents would be fast asleep and yet still early enough for the peppy teenager to be wide awake and alert. Just as Amanda had instructed him to do on his return visit, he parked his horse and carriage at the back of the cottage - far away from her parents’ bedroom window, which was situated closer to the front of the home than the back - to reduce the chances of her parents being alerted that he was there again if his horse was to become discomposed. He then walked around to her room on the side of the house. Fearing that some of the residents he had seen prowling the streets just moments earlier may have followed the sumptuous carriage into the woods out of curiosity, Mr. Sillow cautiously looked over his shoulders as he made a few nervous taps on the young girl’s room window. Amanda immediately knew who had come to see her.

“Fred, I thought that I would never see you again,” she blurted exuberantly as she opened up her room window. “Why did you take so long to come back?”

“Because that old man gave me the creeps the last time I was here.” They both shared a laugh together over his facetious remark. “But I’m not ever gonna leave you for so long again; and from now on we are going to be spending a lot of time together. I promise you that. As a matter of fact, we can begin spending some valuable time together right now. I need you to come somewhere with me.”

“Where are we -?”

“Don’t ask me any questions, Amanda,” Mr. Sillow interrupted. The smile on his face was now gone and his expression was unnerving. “Now, pack some clothes inside of a bag - preferably some dresses that you’ve outgrown and some skirts - and meet me at the back of the house when you’re through. Oh, and bring enough food out of the kitchen to last us for a few days as well.”

Chapter 18

“Fred! Fred!” Amanda yelled hysterically from her bedroom window. Mr. Sillow came darting back around to the side of the house to find out why his little friend sounded so jittery. “Here, grab this bag,” she ordered. After reaching up and hastily tossing the suitcase to the ground, Mr. Sillow grabbed Amanda beneath her armpits and lifted her out of the window. Once her feet had touched the ground, he grabbed her by the hand and began running her over to the carriage while toting the tattered piece of luggage in his other hand.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to rush you, Amanda, but we are so late. We have to hurry, my dear.” More than anything, Mr. Sillow just wanted to be out of the area of her home. His body was shaking like the leaves on the forest trees that surrounded him, for based on his past experiences, something dreadful was guaranteed to come out of his latest visit to the cottage. But as of the moment, everything was smooth sailing as they began travelling northwest for the city of Boston.

“Fred, where are we going?” Amanda asked after they had arrived in a section of Yarmouth that she had never before seen in her life.

“You, my friend, are going to the city of Boston. I’m pretty sure you will like it there,” Mr. Sillow uttered while slovenly chomping down onto a piece of unleavened bread that Amanda had packed inside the suitcase. “It’s a really historic place, you know. From that city sprung some of the most memorable moments to ever take place within any of this beautiful country’s given 50 states. Such instances include the Boston Tea Party and the all-important American Revolution. Resilient people those…” Mr. Sillow stopped midway in his sentence after shooting a glance over at Amanda and seeing the ambiguous expression upon her face, a look that said she was either confused or highly uninterested in what he was saying to her. “Uhh emmm….” After embarrassingly clearing his throat, Mr. Sillow said to her: “Forgive me, Amanda. It’s just that I sometimes forget that I’m talking to a teenager. You are so developed and mature and pretty for your age.” His statement got his passenger to blushing. Childish flattery was the trump card he would always pull out on her whenever he said or did something off-putting. “But, um, it’s growing quite late, and we ought to be getting some rest right about now. But I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t pack a blanket when I looked into the bag that you brought along. I will have to tuck you near to my heart on the inside of my cloak tonight in order to keep you warm.” Amanda shook her head in compliance while letting out a huge yawn, completely ignorant to what she had just agreed to in her state of drowsiness. “Go ahead and climb over into the backseat, then.” Reluctantly, Amanda hoisted her tiny body over the back of the front row seat and flopped onto the plush padding of the backseat, belly-first. While making her way into the back of the carriage, the ever-watchful eyes of Mr. Sillow couldn’t help but notice that the young girl wasn’t wearing any underwear beneath her short nightdress. He was instantly aroused.

Amanda quickly began to fall asleep without the aid of Mr. Sillow’s bodily warmth. She had been up all day tending to her sickly parents and was completely exhausted by the end of the day. “Don’t worry, I’m coming to warm you up right now,” Mr. Sillow shouted from the front seat of the carriage, struggling to contain the excitement in his voice. His intention was to keep her awake for as long as he possibly could. He had plans for her. So eager was he to get beside her before she closed her eyes that he didn’t even bother properly pulling the carriage off of the pathway for the night. “Are you still up, Amanda?” he asked as he climbed over into the back of the carriage. A yawn was her reply. She was still awake, but just barely. Mr. Sillow quickly unbuttoned his cloak and lay down beside her, completely enshrouding her. Now both cocooned beneath the sweeping cloak, he allowed his hand to stray from the middle of her back to the bottom of her buttocks, where her thighs met, wedged his hand between her legs, and casually slipped a finger into her never-before-explored vaginal canal. Amanda flinched. No longer was she in a state of inertia. In contrast, she was now wincing and making light, sensual moaning sounds. Despite having never received the speech about the birds and the bees from her parents, Amanda’s God-given instincts let her know that Mr. Sillow had ventured into a cavity of her body that he shouldn’t have.

“What are you doing to me?” she managed to ask through soft groans.

Her fondler’s tone of voice had now been reduced to a romantic whisper. “Shhhhhhh, honey. Don’t you worry about what I’m doing. Just lie still and enjoy the moment.” And that was exactly what she did.

“Mmmuuuggghhhhh, uyyuuhhhh.” Amanda was now squeezing tightly onto Mr. Sillow’s wrist as he slowly manipulated his middle finger around inside of her. The warmth of her vaginal canal relayed intense erogenous signals from his moistened finger to his brain, inevitably culminating his desire for penile penetration. Her senses heightened, Amanda distinctly heard the chinkle of his belt buckle as he loosened his belt with his free hand. After tenderly stroking himself for several minutes, Mr. Sillow slid his finger out of her and coaxed her over onto her back. Looking upon her face, he began to wonder if he was actually the first person she had had sexual contact with. Her head was tilted back, her eyes were fully closed, and she was biting down on her bottom lip. She seemed experienced, like someone who was more than ready for what was about to come next. That was until he inserted his stout, uncircumcised penis into her.

“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Stop! Stop it, please!” Amanda cried out in great agony as her hymen was repeatedly stretched to its farthermost point and then searingly torn inside of her body. The sight of her virgin blood draining down his shaft and balls farther fed Mr. Sillow’s sadistic fantasies.

“You… know… that… I… always… wanted… this… young… tight… pussy,” he grunted in unison with his torturous stokes. Concerned that anybody happening to be passing by at such an inopportune time would hear the damsel’s cries of distress, Mr. Sillow covered her mouth with one of his hands while she continued her attempts to get him off of her. But her weak pushes against his chest moved him nowhere and her kicking efforts were suppressed by his heavy weight burdening down on her crotch. The 92-pound girl endured close to two hours of unforgiveable rough sex. Making matters worse, a load of sperm was deposited inside of her at the end of the traumatic ordeal. She never did get to sleep that night. How could she fall asleep on a seat that was now permanently stained with her very blood? Instead, she sat up all night with wide, daffy eyes just staring at her attacker as he slept comfortably. Mr. Sillow awoke the following morning to her meshugge glare.

“Amanda, about last night,” he began to explain while picking away at the dried up rheum in the corner of his eyes and sitting up, “what we did was really quite normal. It’s something that people do when they love one another. I wasn’t hurting you like you may have thought I was. I care about you, remember?” Amanda didn’t reply, and the expression on her face didn’t change, obligating Mr. Sillow to carry on with his therapeutic speech. “I understand that the whole experience may have been a little uncomfortable, but you will get used to it once we begin doing it more often. I promise.” Staring back into her eyes, Mr. Sillow slowly began to stretch his hand out towards her head. She didn’t budge. Soon his hand had made it to the crown of her head, and he was gently stroking it. And with this final gesture of concerned sincerity, the tears began to stream from Amanda’s eyes.

“I love you too, Fred!” the unstable teenager exclaimed as she snapped out of her paralytic state, crawled closer to the cretin who had just raped her a few hours ago, and sprang into his arms. Her capricious act left Mr. Sillow dumbfounded, but he just went along with the flow.

“You know that I’m willing to do absolutely anything for you, Amanda; just as long as you would be down to do anything for me. And you would do anything for me if you really love me like you say you do.”

“I swear that I will please you in any way possible, Fred. And don’t you ever question my love for you,” Amanda replied with utmost fervor. Mr. Sillow immediately began to shed tears knowing that he had finally gotten the one thing in life that he had sacrificed everything for: Amanda’s heart. The new couple then exchanged several passionate kisses and bawled their eyes out together until Mr. Sillow’s mind wandered back on the purpose of their road trip. Peeling her hands from around his neck, he advised her to get some sleep, for she was going to have to be very active within a few hours’ time.

Chapter 19

By the time Mr. Sillow had crossed over into Boston, Amanda was still catching up on the sleep she had missed out on the previous night, allowing him to place all of his attention on locating one of the vital contacts he had drawn out of Mrs. Marshall without being distracted by his inquisitive passenger’s onslaught of questions about the foreign territory they had just entered. The directions he had obtained from Mrs. Marshall were as simple as they could get for an individual who had never before ventured beyond Yarmouth’s border. All he had to do was take the first right turn off of the road that he had ventured into Boston by and continue riding straight down until he would have arrived at a three-storey auberge on the right-hand side of the street. Although Mrs. Marshall had a significant number of contacts established across Boston’s four cardinal and ordinal points, Mr. Sillow had made sure to only take down the information of her fellow miscreants operating out of the city’s southern region. For one, this strategy would save him a lot of time and energy when it came down to locating these individuals. And secondly, if he was to ever come under any heat from authorities, his proximity to the familiar turf of Yarmouth would greatly increase his chances of escaping their efforts to seize him. In a worst-case scenario, he had predetermined that he would leave Amanda behind in Boston if he had to in order to save himself. Even though his love for her seemed to be genuine, when it all boiled down to it, Mr. Sillow concluded that life was really all about self-preservation.

Despite his reserved nature, Mr. Sillow was a very proud man. As he travelled through Boston in the one-of-a-kind, eye-catching carriage, he did so with the privacy panels drawn fully open and with his head held high. He was thoroughly enjoying the multitude of attention being paid to him, even if that attention was coming from the agglomeration of impecunious illegal immigrants who made up much of the region’s population. The excited chatter taking place outside on the streets eventually wound up stirring Amanda out of her sleep.

“Have we arrived in Boston as yet, Fred?” she asked groggily from the carraige’s backseat while rubbing her eyes with the heel of her palms. But Mr. Sillow was so enthralled by the overwhelming amount of adoration being showered upon him that he didn’t even hear her question. Sitting up and leaning in close to his ear, she asked her question again with a little more volume to her voice this time.

And just like that, Mr. Sillow’s pompous entrance into the city turned into a very mortifying moment for him. At that point and time, his world stopped. It was as though everything taking place around him ceased to exist anymore and all he could hear was Amanda’s question reechoing inside of his head. How could he have been so careless to have forgotten that he wasn’t alone inside of the carriage? “Amanda!” he said startlingly. “Lie back down! Yes, this is Boston, and it really isn’t safe here! You must lie back down!” His fret was easily channeled into her, and she dropped back out of sight immediately. Mr. Sillow’s heart was thumping at a rate of a million and one beats per minute as he began frantically cutting off the public’s view into the carriage. But were his efforts too late? What if somebody had spotted the young girl? Was it still safe to carry out what he had come to Boston to do? He couldn’t help but think that he had ruined his last shot at survival due to his selfish desire to be glorified. The fact that it was evening time, however, helped to subdue his mental anguish. She just may have gone unnoticed, camouflaged in the shadow of the carriage’s light-deprived rear compartment. But one close call was one too many. He decided that he wouldn’t let his guard down again at any other point during his stint in the city. If he was to succeed at what he had set out to do, he would have to treat Boston as if it were Yarmouth and remain as inconspicuous as possible. Besides, he had come much too far to concede to failure.

At present, he was parked outside of the establishment Mrs. Marshall had given him the directions to. By now the crowd that had regally welcomed him into the state had dispersed; but out of precaution, Mr. Sillow waited patiently inside of the carriage to ensure that he hadn’t been followed by anybody who may have found his actions earlier to be worthy of an inquisition. In the interim, he had selected an outfit - minus the undergarment - out of Amanda’s bag for her to throw on. “You’re beautiful, darling,” he said to her with a smile. He could see everything beneath the short dress he had picked out for her to wear as she sat with her legs uncrossed in the backseat of the carriage. “I’m just going to step inside of this building really briefly. Sit tight until I get back.”

He returned nearly an hour later with a man who made a curt inspection of Amanda before retiring back into the auberge with Mr. Sillow following closely on his heels, apparently trying to plead some kind of case to him. After almost another hour had gone by, Mr. Sillow returned outside to the carriage alone, ordered Amanda to get out, and hastily ushered her into the auberge. Once inside, he lifted her up into his arms, passed through a door situated behind the front desk counter, and began descending carefully down the short, downward-angled stair treads that led into the basement of the building. There, the gentleman who had quickly glanced over Amanda earlier in the evening was waiting for them. Handing Mr. Sillow a key, the man said to him in a heavy Sicilian accent: “Go. I’ll take care of the girl from here. Your room is on the third floor as you requested.” With that said, Amanda wouldn’t see Mr. Sillow again until the following week.

Chapter 20

As Mr. Sillow and Amanda made their departure out of Boston, Mr. Sillow could sense an uneasy ambience dominating the young girl’s spirit in spite of his inebriated state. But getting into the details of what she had endured over the course of the past week was a topic of discussion that he intended to stay far away from. With the help of Giovanni Paparazzo, the procurer he had handed her over to at the auberge, Mr. Sillow now had enough money in his pockets not only to support his drinking mores but also to carry him over for months on end. As it turned out, Amanda was a cash cow. Her tender age resulted in a hefty fee being levied against her interested bedmates. Word quickly spread around the area of the availability of the rare underage prostitute, and by the end of the week, Amanda had lain with almost 50 men. Less than an hour into their trip back to Yarmouth, Mr. Sillow’s inebriation got the better of him, and he began sympathizing the magnitude of what Amanda had been putting up with while he had been patronizing speakeasies, gambling, meeting up with some of the other contacts he had obtained from Mrs. Marshall, and trying to convince Mr. Paparazzo to give him a greater percentage of Amanda’s overall earnings. Reaching into his right pant pocket, he pulled out an unorganized wad of bills that messily spilled over from his unsteady hands to the floor of the carriage. At once he brought the carriage to a stop, rapaciously snatched up every note that had fallen, placed them back together as neatly as he possibly could, and secured them away in his shirt pocket. Then, digging back into the same pocket from which he had retrieved the bills, he pulled out a fistful of coins and rested them in Amanda’s lap.

“Why are you giving me this money?” the girl asked with furrowed brows.

“Because I love you,” Mr. Sillow replied drunkenly.

“Yea, you and all those other men, huh?” Amanda shot back contemptuously before jumping over into the backseat of the carriage, where she burst out into tears. Her breakdown was a sign of growth and maturity. No longer was she mommy’s and daddy’s precious little girl. Her eyes had been fully opened to the realities of an unsavory world by the wicked deceit of a man - just as was the case with Eve when Lucifer had persuaded her to lie down with him in the beginning of days.

“Haven’t we already been through this on the way here? You specifically told me that you would do anything for me. Yet, here I am trying to do everything in my power to provide a better life for you and me, and you just can’t seem to see it.” Mr. Sillow was growing more and more irate as he went on with his reprimand. His ebullition provided Amanda with yet another glimpse of the man he would permanently transform into in the future. His rant had instilled so much fear into her that the tears she had been shedding had dried up and she was now on her p’s and q’s in the back of the carriage. “Your grandfather is dying. Have you ever thought about who’s gonna look after you once he passes away? You must start thinking like a grown-up now. You just need to do what I say, and everything is going to work out fine, okay?”

Stricken with fear, Amanda’s nerves prohibited her from making a response. “Fine, ignore me. I oughta stop this carriage right now and teach you a lesson, little girl. I’m much older than you are, so show some respect and treat me as though I am. I’ve gat kids your age, you know.

“Anyway, by evening time I’ll have you back home to your grandfather; and, in all honesty, you look like a total mess. You need to lie down right now and take a nap.” Amanda didn’t hesitate to lay her body down in the seat, and in a few minutes’ time, she had fallen off into a deep sobbing-induced sleep.

Amanda’s peaceful rest was abruptly interrupted by an extremely flustered Mr. Sillow. “Wake up, baby, you’re home. Get up so that I can put you inside through your room window.” When she opened up her eyes, the sun was in the process of tucking itself away beneath the horizon. Mr. Sillow had once again parked his carriage around at the back of the cottage and was fighting to snap her out of her grogginess. The sooner that he could get out of the area of her home, the sooner he could regain some peace of mind. The last thing that he wanted again was to become a suspect of interest in connection to the little girl’s latest disappearance. “Amanda, hurry up, for God’s sake! I’ve gatta get going!” And with his latest urging, the cumbersome child began moving at a more quickened pace. Once he had helped her into her room, his last order to her was to be prepared for another trip to Boston in the next seven days. Not surprisingly, the girl’s father had all intentions of thwarting her pedophile lover’s plans.

Amanda was awoken the morning after her return home by a sharp blow to her rear end from Mr. Toffer’s walking cane. In the past, she would have complained to herself in her head about such an incident, but today was different. The frustration that had been mounting up inside of her over the past week brought her to lash out against her father.

“What in the world is your problem, old man?” she asked while clutching onto her throbbing butt cheeks.

“And exactly who do you think you’re talking to, young lady? Where have you just gotten home from? All of this has something to do with that crazy man from the fair, doesn’t it?”

“Don’t you dare talk about Fred in that way. You don’t know him. He’s not just some crazy man. He is my boyfriend. I love him and he loves me very much. And where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing is none of your damn business.”

“Oh noooo!” Mr. Toffer wailed as he dropped down to one knee in tears, “my daughter’s sacred virginity. My God! why? So all along you’ve been off being some man’s slut while your mother and I have been here worried sick about you.”

“Maybe that’s because the two of you were already actually sick,” Amanda quipped. Discomfited by her last remark, the raging battle of words between the two ended with the old man gripping onto his chest and struggling to catch air. It was impossible to get through to his young daughter, who now considered herself a woman. She had returned home with an obscured outlook on life, and the more time that she spent with Mr. Sillow would only further worsen her mentality.

Chapter 21

Just as he had promised, Mr. Sillow returned to retrieve Amanda in exactly seven days. As was his MO, he parked his carriage at the back of the cottage, walked around to her room on the side of the house, knocked on her window, and nervously began looking over his shoulders while waiting for her to acknowledge his arrival. When he hadn’t gotten a response after nearly 30 seconds had passed, he balled his fist up and began motioning to make another several taps on her window. But when he lifted his head up this time, he was looking directly into the fiery squinted eyes of Mr. Toffer.

“Jesus!” Mr. Sillow said in his normal voice, forgetting that he had been in character the first time the two of them had met one another, “you scared the crap outta me!”

“So where did that annoying twang of yours disappear to… Fred?” Mr. Toffer asked the astonished visitor angrily, but with an eerily calm demeanor. Mr. Sillow couldn’t even fix his mouth to try and lie. His hoax was up. “I thought I told you that I didn’t want to see you around here anymore. My daughter’s told me everything about you, and I’ve been sleeping in her room awaiting your return ever since you brought her back home last week. But I’ll tell you what, since I’m not getting through to you, perhaps Yarmouth’s police officers will be able to. The next time you decide to return here, you can expect to be handcuffed, prosecuted, and buried beneath this town’s jail.”

Mr. Sillow was just about to make a dash for the carriage and head back into seclusion indefinitely when Amanda came strolling outside, suitcase in tote, from around the front of the house. “Oh, quit bitching, daddy.” She then dropped her bag to the ground, jumped up into Mr. Sillow’s arms, and kissed him on the lips before adding: “And when I get back home, I’d really appreciate it if I can have my room back. Thanks.” Mr. Toffer knew that there was nothing else he could say that would affect his daughter’s decision to leave. All he could do was stand motionless in her room window and look on helplessly as Mr. Sillow rode off into the night with his young child.

“The way you handled that situation back there was really amazing, Amanda.” Mr. Sillow was pouring unlimited amounts of praise onto her as they headed up to Boston. Her bold stance had guaranteed him another handsome sum of earnings at the end of the week. “I had no idea that the old guy was your father, though. All along I’ve been calling him your grandfather, yet you’ve never corrected me.”

“Well, he always acts like a strict, grumpy old grandpa, so I never found it necessary to clear that up.”

As if he were bipolar, Mr. Sillow’s chuckle was just as quickly replaced by simultaneous emissions of anger, ecstasy, and remorse. “Baby, I wanna talk to you about something really serious right now,” he said as he tightly clinched one of his fists and made a wincing expression. “About your father, that old geezer is threatening the very foundation of our future. Now, I don’t know about you, but there’s no way in hell I can put up with this for too much longer. His actions are really starting to get to me now, and I’ll be the first person to tell you that I hate your father. If this idiotic and immature behavior of his continues, I’m going to have to ask you to do something that I know you’ll feel a little bit uncomfortable about having to do. But no matter what, just don’t back out on me.”

“I’ll do whatever you need me to do, Fred,” Amanda promised. “Trust me, I hate my father too.”

One hundred percent certain that the hate he had for Amanda’s father was mutual, Mr. Sillow took the threat that Mr. Toffer made towards him before he made his departure for Boston very seriously. Hence, on his return from the capital, he rode Amanda only halfway through the woods to her home out of fear that officers would be at the cottage waiting to apprehend him at Mr. Toffer’s request. The spot where he dropped her off also became the area that he collected her from each week from there on in. And although police officers weren’t waiting at the house to lock anybody up on that particular day, Amanda once again had to put up with her father’s unbearable excoriation. After breaking into her home that night through its faulty back door, her father repeatedly brought up the issue of his wife’s rapid health declination as a result of Amanda not being in place to pick up the necessary medications for her throughout the week.

“Your mother is so disappointed in you, little girl,” Mr. Toffer irately revealed to her. “I really don’t think she has much longer to live, and you just abandon her for some strange man when she needs you most. You really oughta be ashamed of yourself, Amanda.”

“What the hell have you been planting into mom’s head about me? Maybe now you can understand why I hate you so much. I’ve honestly lost absolutely all respect for you from this moment on, and I will never forgive you. I’m going to clear things up with mom right now.”

Just as she was about to head out of the room, her father scurried over to the doorway and stood inside of it, hindering her from exiting. “Oh no you won’t. Your mother specifically told me that she doesn’t want to see you. But she did ask me to present you with this very straightforward ultimatum: ‘Fred or us.’ The choice is yours. If you get rid of Fred, we can be a family again. What do you have to say to that?”

“Hmmm, let me think. How about you get out of the doorway or I break every bone in your frail and withering body to get you out of my way?” The argument escalated from there without Amanda resorting to any physical violence, but a wealth of physical abuse would be soon to befall her.

For months Mr. Paparazzo had sat in on every one of Amanda’s sex sessions due to her vulnerability. But eventually after a period of time, her regular clients began requesting private sessions with her in exchange for an additional fee. When Mr. Paparazzo presented Mr. Sillow with their proposal, Amanda’s money-hungry lover didn’t hesitate to take them up on their offer and readily set the rate for the special privilege. That decision opened the door for the barbaric cretins who found sex with a minor acceptable to even further compartmentalize the adolescent’s vitiated outlook on life. All alone with their mere sex object in the basement of the auberge, the majority of Amanda’s disturbed clients fulfilled their sick sexual desires by choking her until her face turned dark purple and her eyes rolled up in the back of her head while ramming her. Of course, the condoms were off too. And as was the case with most women involved in the dangerous practice of prostitution, she would suffer a fair share of injuries over the course of her career. Injuries she sustained included a broken nose, cracked ribs, a fractured pelvis, chipped teeth, skull fractures, and numerous burns and lacerations about her body. But her streak of bad luck wouldn’t end just there. Amongst her wealth of horny clients, sexually transmitted diseases were rampant. Amanda’s perpetually itchy and irritated vagina as well as her other STD-related symptoms and signs were a result of the herpes simplex virus, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis A and B. Only God alone knows how she evaded the incurable fatal disease of AIDS. Well, indeed He was the one who must have spared her from it. But it seemed that even He was powerless to deliver her from the hands of her beastly boyfriend. After nearly a year of unprotected sex with her growing clientele and continual intercourse with Mr. Sillow, Amanda finally conceived a child. Of course her father went berserk after witnessing her stomach begin to bulge out in the front of her, but it was Mr. Sillow who went over the top with his reaction to the ordeal. A far five months into her pregnancy and afraid of how her unappealing appearance and clumsy movements would affect the sale of her body, he one day repeatedly punched her belly until the fetus became detached from her womb and fell dead to the ground. All the once-expecting mother could do was stand over the still body, abhorred, bewailing her precious loss. “Whenever you become pregnant, I must be sure that the child is mine,” Mr. Sillow insouciantly divulged to her just seconds before he carried out the inhumane abortion method. Now aware that the girl was able to bear children, the next time that Mr. Sillow took her to see her medical practitioner for the treatment of her STDs, he insisted that the doctor also prescribe some pregnancy-preventing herbs that should be incorporated into her diet. And with a promising solution for any future unwanted pregnancies having been put in place, it was back to business as usual for Mr. Sillow’s juvenile doxy.

Chapter 22

When Amanda made her latest return home from her trip to the capital, the mood inside the cottage was unusual, to say the least. Surprisingly, there was no shouting contest to be had between her and her father. As a matter of fact, Mr. Toffer was nowhere in sight. More uncustomary, all of the lights inside the house were off, and the only form of illumination was coming from a plethora of lit candles inside of her parents’ bedroom. Curious as to what was going on, Amanda began making her way down the hall to their sleeping quarters at tortoise’s speed, moving as carefully as she possibly could in an effort to avoid bringing the senescent wooden flooring to life with creaks and groans. As she got closer to their room, she could hear her father crying lightly and begging her mother for forgiveness for things he had regretfully done in his past. The troubled teen also overheard him promise her mother that he would never give up on trying to “expunge that evil Fred out of Amanda’s thoughts and completely blot him out of her life.” Then, just when she had made it close enough to their door to peek her head inside of the room, one of her feet made an erroneous step, sending a disquieting, prolonged groan down the entire length of the hallway. Startled, Mr. Toffer, who was kneeling down beside his wife’s dying bed and clasping one of her hands in between his, spun his head around and found himself glaring directly into his daughter’s terrified eyes.

“I always told you that this time was nigh, didn’t I?” her father said to her with an evident tone of ire in his voice. “Now you decide to show up when it’s much too late.”

“I told you months ago to let me see my mother, you wicked man. You should be the one taking your last breaths of air in that bed,” Amanda yelled back disrespectfully with tears streaming down her pale face and her body trembling with rage.

“You just wait until I get-”

“Graham, Amanda, you two need to cut this nonsense out right now!” the dying Mrs. Toffer shouted out, breaking up the two’s untimely tiff. “Amanda, come nearer to me, my child.” Mrs. Toffer’s bosom, which had reached an abnormal proportion due to her ailment, was moving up and down at an alarming rate. It had pained her heart to witness such dissension between her husband and her daughter. Well aware that she would be leaving them behind in short order, she wanted to make amends between them before her soul made its emigration to a better place. Once Amanda had arrived at her mother’s side, Mrs. Toffer requested a hug and a kiss.

“Oh, how I’ve missed my little girl so much,” the dying woman expressed while holding on tightly to her daughter, an embrace that lasted close to five minutes. “Every single day that I’ve been restricted to this bed, all I’ve been doing is thinking about you. My bedsores, my bodily aches and pains, my illness, all of these things have taken second, third, and fourth place to your overall well-being.” Tears of both sadness and elation began falling from Amanda’s eyes as she pondered on just how much her mother loved and cared for her despite her mother’s unfathomable decision to communicate with her through her father for the past several months. “As you know, your father has been telling me a whole lot about this influential man who’s made his way into your life and has completely possessed you. From the very start I’ve made it known that I wasn’t too fond of the relationship. I obviously haven’t gotten through to you, though. Your unwillingness to stop seeing this Fred gentleman left me no other choice than to virtually cut you off. Hopefully now I can convince you to change your life around with my last breaths. The relationship between you two isn’t a healthy one, Amanda. Let that man go. He is not the one for you. I’m looking at you right now, and you’re just as gaunt as I am. You used to be a hale, beautiful young girl, and you’ve allowed somebody to destroy you. You gave somebody the power to choose your destiny, a sure shot way to live in misery until the day you die.” Ironically, after mentioning the word die, Mrs. Toffer began making strained breaths and her eyelids flickered rapidly, prompting a frightened Amanda to violently shake her mother’s fragile body in an attempt to stabilize her vitals.

“No! You can’t leave me now! You won’t leave me now! Give me a little time! I’m going to run into town this very second to fetch some meds for you!” Amanda cried shrilly.

Her urging paid off. Her mother’s breathing slowed down considerably and she was once again responsive - though just barely.

“Hang on, mom, I’m going to rush out to pick up some medications for you.”

“No, my child, there’s no time for that. Stay put. There’s no saving me now. I’m going to die tonight. Amanda, before I go, I need you to heed my words.” Mrs. Toffer was now struggling to speak through a spate of harsh, blood-producing coughs. “Based on what your father’s been telling me and looking at you right now, I’d be surprised if you live to see another year. I can assure you that that man you’re seeing is going to kill you. Very shortly I’m going to be looking down on you from Heaven, and I would love nothing more than to see you grow up and get happily married and bring forth a brood of beautiful children in wedlock. In the time being, I need you to keep your legs closed and give yourself some more time to grow before you even think about settling down in a relationship. Can you do that for me?”

“Of course, mother. I will do whatever you ask of me.”

“Well, there’s just one other thing that I need you to do for me, even though I know that this may be a little harder for you to live up to. Turn and face your father while I make these next few statements to you.” Once Amanda had reluctantly locked eyes with Mr. Toffer, her mother carried on. “Amanda, your father loves you very, very much. In fact, he loves you and cares for you just as much as I do. He’s cared for you all his life; but right now he’s in need of your assistance. For the past several months you’ve catered to my needs sporadically. I need you to promise me right now that you won’t neglect your father’s needs at all from here on in. I need you to be here for him full time. So, I need to hear you tell him that you are going to make provisions to be in place to look after his every need until he decides to come home to Heaven with me.”

“Dad, I promise that I’m going to help you with everything you need until the day that you croak.” Amanda had made her statement so hastily that her mother hadn’t registered the snide shot at the end of her pledge.

“Now give him a big hug and kiss for me.” Amanda couldn’t hide her discomfort following her mother’s latest request, but there was no way that she could shirk her dying mother’s final wishes. As she squirmed closer to her father, she broke eye contact with him and placed her focus on her mother’s face. Mrs. Toffer’s eyes had by now drooped to a semi-open level and appeared cloudy. Amanda was just about to place her arms around her father’s body when she observed her mother’s last breath of air leave her body. Spurning the dead woman’s last wishes, Amanda stood up without hugging or kissing her father, looked him square in the eyes, and announced to him that he would be joining her mother sooner than he thought.

Chapter 23

Mrs. Toffer’s cadaver was instrumental in bringing placidity back into the always-contentious household. After sleeping her anger from the previous night off, the morning following Mrs. Toffer’s passing, both Amanda and her father spent a significant portion of the day beside the body in silence as they paid their last respects to a woman whom they had loved, cherished, and admired without boundaries. It seemed as though the late Mrs. Toffer had succeeded in bringing Amanda and her father closer together after all. The two had somehow managed to subdue all of the tension and animosity that they had for one another until Amanda innocently asked her father what his plans were for her mother’s remains. In his present state of emotional instability, Mr. Toffer went into a hissy fit. That was when she hit him for the first time. Stunned, Mr. Toffer gazed at his daughter in disbelief before going into a tizzy over the unexpected strike. That was when she hit him yet again… and again… and again. All of the anger and frustration that had been accumulating inside of her ever since her life-altering encounter with Mr. Sillow was being taken out on her disabled father. So far, Amanda was breaking the promises she had made to her mother less than 24 hours ago. She would eventually end up breaking all of those promises when she found herself on her way back to the capital with Mr. Sillow before the month was even up.

Chapter 24

Since her father had been unable to give her a clear answer regarding what would be done with her mother’s remains, Amanda had taken it upon herself to make arrangements for the body. When Mr. Sillow came to collect her from her designated pick up area in the forest on the weekend following her mother’s passing, she instructed him to take her back to the cottage before they began making their way up to Boston. On the way to the cottage she explained to him what was going on.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, Amanda. You have my deepest condolence,” Mr. Sillow said to the news of his girlfriend’s painful loss. “But I’m sure you’ll be feeling much better by the time we make it to Boston?”

Though his question was rhetorical, he happened to get a disconcerted “Yeah.” out of the grieving girl. Once back at the cottage, Amanda brought Mr. Sillow inside and started leading him down the hall to the room where her mother’s body lie in repose. The smell of putrefying flesh had reached Mr. Sillow’s nostrils well before he had even made it within 10 feet of the room. The staunch scent of death was like nothing he had ever smelled before, and his solution for coping with the foul odor was to hold his breath and breathe through his mouth. But the unsavory taste of death on his tongue was even more perturbing than its scent, forcing him to cover both his nose and mouth with the crook of his left arm. Though breathing became extremely difficult at that point, he was at least able to proceed deeper into the house towards the fetid source. There was absolutely nothing he could have done to cope with what came next, however. After about a week’s time, nature had taken its course on the body. The corpse of Mrs. Toffer had swollen up to almost twice her normal size, her skin was an unpleasant kaleidoscope of dull colors, and hundreds upon hundreds of maggots were feasting on the corpus’ carrion and internal organs. The sight immediately brought up the contents of Mr. Sillow’s weak stomach. Once he had regained his composure, he quietly hyped himself up enough to go and grab the body up off of the bed. That was where he witnessed a sight that was sure to be lodged in his memory bank for the rest of his life. Literally hanging on to what remained of the body was a severely grief-stricken Mr. Toffer. Unfazed by the legion of maggots crawling all over his own body, Mr. Toffer’s main concern was to remain by his wife’s side “in sickness and in health; in life and in death,” a promise he had made to her at the altar more than half a century ago.

“No, please… leave her be,” Mr. Toffer pleaded as Mr. Sillow sympathetically pulled the body slowly out of his grasp. The old man’s voice was weaker than usual as he had hardly eaten or drank anything since his wife’s death.

“She must be given a dignified burial, Mr. Toffer,” was the only thing Mr. Sillow could think of saying to provide the melancholic widower with some sort of solace. “We’ll let you know exactly where we bury the body so that you can go and visit her anytime you wish. For now, give your wife your final goodbyes.”

“I don’t have to say goodbye if you would just rest her back down on our bed.” Realizing that Mr. Toffer was in a helpless trance-like state, Mr. Sillow turned his back on the elderly man and walked out of the room as he continued to carry on with his puerile plea to have his wife’s body returned to his side. Seconds later, the remains were carted up in the back of the carriage and on its way to its final resting place.

“So where are we carrying this body, baby?” Mr. Sillow asked Amanda, who was struggling to come to grips with the fact that she would never see her mother again following the unceremonious burial presently being planned for her.

“Ummm, we uhhh, we’re gonna lay her to rest in New York.”

The highly unexpected response made Mr. Sillow strike Amanda with a stern look of disapproval. Although he could clearly discern that she was out of it, the chimera that had been drawn up in her head was still a bit too farfetched for him. “I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. She needs to be buried somewhere that doesn’t take us off of our course to Boston.”

The fact that Mr. Sillow was audacious enough to tell Amanda what should be done with her own mother’s remains incensed the addle-minded teenager, and the atmosphere inside the carriage immediately turned disorderly. “Are you serious?” Amanda asked lividly. She wanted to be sure that Mr. Sillow wasn’t just pulling her leg.

“Of course I’m serious, stupid. Does it look like I’m joking with you?” As much as Mr. Sillow empathized with her loss of a parent - he vividly remembered how devastated he was when Mr. Garrett had passed away - he didn’t want to jeopardize his booming business that he had established in Boston. “You’ve gat dozens of clients anxiously anticipating your arrival this weekend, and we’re already running late thanks to this minor setback with your mother’s death - God rest her soul. Allow the dead to bury the dead, Amanda.”

“What the fuck does that even mean? Okay, that’s not even important right now. I want to bury my mother in the state of New York. She was born there, raised there, and I’m damn certain it’s where she would have wanted her remains to be placed.”

“Maybe if you weren’t running away from home all the time being a disgusting little slut she would have had the opportunity to tell you exactly where she wanted to be buried. I know that if I were your mother I personally would have hated you,” Mr. Sillow spitefully shot back. Not surprisingly, the argument only got more heated from that point on until Mr. Sillow eventually had had enough of Amanda’s back talk. Pulling over onto the side of the pathway, he retrieved her mother’s remains from the back of the carriage and heartlessly heaved the corpse into an adjacent brook. “The stench of your mother was becoming too overbearing anyway,” Mr. Sillow said upon his return inside of the carriage. He was rubbing his virulent act into the distraught teen’s face, and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. Following the imbroglio, Amanda quickly learned that she was to choose her words more carefully when dealing with a psychopath.

Chapter 25

What Mr. Sillow had put Amanda through in such a short period of time would surely have altered the psyche of any normal 14-year-old girl. As a direct result of the brute’s negative influence, within the space of less than a year, Amanda had revolted against parental governance; had begun talking to herself aloud, as a madwoman would do; had recklessly allowed her body to be both sexually violated and physically pummeled; and had lost all hope and faith in the deity that her parents had raised her to believe in no matter what she was going through. But perhaps her most deranged act played out when Mr. Sillow at last gave her the order to do away with her father. Mentally intoxicated, she listened. Clinically, young Amanda was a lunatic.

The night of the incident was a memorably cold one. The last bit of leaves that remained on the autumn-stripped trees surrounding the cottage were rustling wildly, and the eerie howling wind was seemingly trying to give Mr. Toffer warning of his imminent demise. But not bothered by nature’s commotion outside, Mr. Toffer found himself sound asleep at around 7:30 p.m. His obtrusive snoring was the cue that Amanda had been waiting on all evening long. The first stab wound that she inflicted upon him was a direct perforation through the chest cavity. The long blade that she had selected for the murder passed easily through what felt like dissolvable breastplate. The implement touched his heart, instantly killing him. The second, third, and fourth puncture wounds were to his abdomen. The fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth stabs were driven into his face. And her final butcherly act was the ear-to-ear slitting of the deceased’s throat. Judging from the extent of her savagery, it was evident that Amanda vehemently resented her father. Even if the murder hadn’t occurred at the behest of Mr. Sillow, the rage with which it was done substantiated that it was going to be carried out at some point or another. The following weekend she was able to tell Mr. Sillow of the successful kill when they rendezvoused at their usual spot in the woods.

“I’m so proud of you Amanda,” Mr. Sillow said upon receiving word of his nemesis’ slaying. “What did you do with the body?”

“I left it on the bed. I’m gonna need you to dispose of it, just as you had done with mom’s body.” And at that, the two sped back to the cottage to collect the remains of the curmudgeon. When Mr. Sillow saw firsthand the degree of Mr. Toffer’s injuries, he couldn’t help picking Amanda up off of the ground, twirling her around, and kissing her profusely. He couldn’t have been any more pleased with the job that she had done. After setting her back down to the ground, he snatched the body of Mr. Toffer up off of the bed, inelegantly toted it outside, and insolently tossed it into the back of his carriage as though the deceased hadn’t been made by the same Creator that had lovingly and mercifully given him life. Then, he headed back inside and engaged in passionate sex with Amanda on the bed sheets bearing the blood of both of her parents before they headed out on their weekly mission.

Less than 15 minutes into their journey to Boston, Mr. Sillow stopped the carriage, got out, and ordered Amanda to step out of the carriage as well. Mr. Sillow then grabbed up Mr. Toffer’s body out of the back of the carriage, and he and Amanda walked over to a nearby manhole. After removing the cover off of the manhole, he said to Amanda: “This sewer system is exactly where this piece of shit belongs.” Then, focusing his attention on the lifeless body that he was holding over the uncovered manhole by the shirt collar with one hand, he enunciated with great pleasure: “Rot in hell,” as he impertinently released his grip on the carcass, sending it plummeting several feet down to its biochemical grave. The couple then commenced their trip to Boston without an ounce of guilt for their reproachable acts resting on either one of their consciences.

Chapter 26

A faithful servant Amanda was to Mr. Sillow, for she had without question been more of a slave than a companion to him over the years. Now seven months into yet another pregnancy, Amanda had recently been given her first break from prostitution in nearly 50 years only because Mr. Sillow believed that the baby being lugged around inside of her this time belonged to him. To her astonishment, he was actually in favor of having this child. Had she been impregnated by him earlier on in their relationship, she may have deemed his joy over his impending fathership plausible; but after being with him for so many years, she had come to see his true colors. She had learned everything about the man she had once loved in innocence, and nothing about him was desirable. The truth was he was a selfish, egotistical, conniving, abusive slave driver. Her years of resentment towards him made her contemplate getting rid of the child inside of her day in and day out, but she knew that the consequence for such a stupid move would more than likely be a fatal one.

But day-to-day life with the man who had completely ruined her life wasn’t always bad. There were still times - though rare - when he would display acts of benevolence, actions that let her know that he still possessed a heart after all. One such incident came about during the sixth month into her pregnancy. Concerned for the well-being of his baby, not only did Mr. Sillow refrain from taking Amanda to Boston to be some unappreciated sex object to legions of disease-infested perverts, but he also took her to be his wife - though he didn’t wed her in traditional fashion. There was no pastor presiding over the junction, nor was there anyone present, for that matter. It was just the two of them, all alone in the cottage’s musky living room (which served as a chapel in this instance), Amanda dressed in all white, Mr. Sillow dressed in dark grey. Without even a pair of rings on hand to consummate the occasion, it was a union based purely upon a simple vow. Despite its informality, Amanda still considered her nonconformist lover’s exploit to be a huge step in the right direction.

“I, Frederickstein Sillow take thee, Amanda Toffer, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; thereto I plight my troth,” Mr. Sillow recited to his teary-eyed soon-to-be missus. “I now pronounce us man and wife and declare my marriage to the previous Mrs. Sillow to be null and void. From this day forth, you shall be referred to as Mrs. Amanda Sillow.” And with their unofficial makeshift nuptials now set in stone and their souls now bound as one, the newly wed Mrs. Amanda Sillow hadn’t merely just acquired her husband’s last name; she had also unknowingly taken on the sociopath’s battalion of hellacious demons.

Chapter 27

Yes, she was a woman, but nobody had ever taught her what being a woman entailed. Before her mother could get around to teaching her daughter the intricacies of what being a woman was all about, both Amanda’s innocence and family time had been filched by the selfish, greedy, low-down Mr. Sillow. So it was no surprise that when amniotic fluid began draining down her legs as she was eating breakfast in her kitchen early one morning she had mistaken it for urine and believed the ensuing labor contractions to be the result of some recently-ingested food that her stomach didn’t agree with. Unable to move due to the immense pain that had suddenly taken a paralyzing grip on her, Mrs. Sillow remained seated, slumped back in her chair at the kitchen table. About 20 minutes later, with the pain only worsening, she felt as though she was sitting on something. Strange. There was some kind of object situated in between her vulva and the hard wooden seat. After fighting through her discomfort to raise her body into an upright seated position, Mrs. Sillow reticently pulled up her nightgown into the fold between her stomach and thighs. Slowly looking down between her legs, she saw the crown of her infant daughter’s head jutting out of her. As though she had lost all sensation to the throes of childbirth, the startled Mrs. Sillow sprang up out of the chair and confusedly made her way to the bathroom in a dizzying haste, where she immediately took a seat upon the commode and began aiding her body in its natural attempt to expel the child out of her. The pain was exorbitant, and Mrs. Sillow desperately wanted to chuck her delivery efforts, but the baby’s torso was already visible. She only had half of the baby’s body left to push out. Finally, after about 10 more minutes of heavy panting and grueling grunts, there was a light sploshing sound in the toilet. Mrs. Sillow’s first proper sighting of the placenta-covered specimen sent her into a panic, and the new mother frantically began washing her baby off right inside of the germy toilet bowl that she had been delivered in. Then, after making a thorough inspection of the body for any irregularities, the proud new mother gave her daughter the name of Sondra Mayleeyala Sillow.

After noticing how much money his wife’s snatch was making for him back in the day, Mr. Sillow rarely bothered dabbling into other aspects of the black market. However, he was busy tending to some illegal matters on the morning of his daughter’s birth. Upon his arrival home later that day, the despotic brute was brought to tears at the first sight of his little girl. It was one of the few times that his wife had ever seen him shed a tear for anything. That was when she knew without question that he truly was ready and willing to be a good father to his tenth child. Deep down inside, beneath all of his belligerent bullshit and his idiosyncrasies, Mr. Sillow had to have regretted walking out on his dependents many years earlier. All his life he had thought of himself as a failure, and he was sick and tired of disappointing everybody he was presently or had ever been associated with at one point or another. Apart from his nine oldest kids, he had also been a let down to his father and stepfather; the two of his wives; his high school teachers and principal; and, most regrettably, he had let down his well-beloved Mr. Garrett. Now in his mid-80s, he was bent on not being a disappointment to Sondra. He felt that he had to make good on his last chance to have a healthy and meaningful relationship with somebody, and that desire drove him to want to be the perfect father and friend to his little girl starting from the very beginning. On the first night of her birth, Mr. Sillow tended to the newborn until daylight broke the following morning while his wife had been occupied with sewing up some garments for the infant to wear. Once little Sondra had been clothed, he then taught his wife that the baby was to be nourished with the thick, yellow, snot-resembling colostrum that she had begun to notice leaking out of her breasts late into her pregnancy and gave her a stern warning to bathe the baby only in lukewarm water. Indeed, had it not been for Mr. Sillow’s previous parental experiences with his nine other children, little Sondra would not have survived beyond the first several days of her life, a frightening realization for the fanatic father. That being the case, his wife’s lack of maternal experience, coupled with his old age, brought the shrewd Mr. Sillow to retire from his involvement in the black market to be a full-time stay-at-home father. Too bad he just couldn’t change his ways.

Being around one another all day, every day was the worst thing that ever could have happened in the newlyweds’ already-fragile relationship. The two butted heads over the most nonsensical things. But the biggest pet peeve that Mrs. Sillow had with her husband was his desire to be both the mother and the father in the relationship. He had completely taken over the day-to-day tasks of dressing little Sondra; bathing her; cuddling her; playing with her; and once his wife’s breast milk had started flowing freely from her breasts, he even insisted that she squeeze it out so that he could feed the baby. Mrs. Sillow had basically become a non-factor in her own child’s life. Although she didn’t think that it was possible to hate her husband any more than she already did, that was exactly what was happening ever since he had begun limiting the interaction that she was able to have with her daughter. How dare he? she angrily thought to herself. After all that she had done for the asshole and after enduring every single thing that he had put her through, she couldn’t fathom how he could still be so insensitive to her sensitivities. No other woman would have put up with his insanity; that was for sure. But, everyone has a breaking point, and Mrs. Sillow came to the conclusion that she was finally going to make a change in her disastrous 30-year relationship.

Chapter 28

The story of Mrs. Sillow’s life seemed to be based upon Murphy’s Law; and in her heart she knew that her future with her oppressive husband would be just as morose as the years she had already painfully suffered under his iron-handed regime. But out of the blue one day, the emotionally-damaged vixen was visited by a life-changing epiphany. Lately, her mother had been haunting her from the watery grave in which she had been discarded. “You gave somebody the power to choose your destiny, a sure shot way to live in misery until the day you die.” Those words of wisdom that her mother had imparted unto her just minutes before she passed away were all that Mrs. Sillow had been hearing inside of her head in the wake of her husband’s unexpected retirement. And now, for the first time in her life, she was witnessing exactly what her mother had been talking about with her very own eyes. The enlightened new mother would be on the brink of tears every day as she watched her husband diligently work on manipulating little Sondra’s destiny from early on in her life. Mrs. Sillow would be damned if she was to let him control her daughter as if she were some sort of manufactured wooden puppet, though. She was resolute on not seeing the female progeny of her lineage be typecast as brainwashed, gullible, and dependent. At nightfall she would make her escape from the cottage with her baby girl. She didn’t know where they would be going; all she knew was that they had to leave.

After years and years of prostituting her body, Mrs. Sillow - at least Mr. Sillow - had amassed a fortune. Just lying around in the cottage’s basement were bales upon bales of dirty money. Some of the bills had been sitting around for so long that they had succumbed to rotting and were no longer spendable. Mrs. Sillow was going to steal some of that money that she had risked her life earning in order to provide for her and her child once they had made their break from the cottage and started living out their rogue lifestyle.

At present, it was shortly after 1:00 p.m. Mrs. Sillow had just gotten through squeezing her breast milk into a bottle, and her husband was now occupied with feeding the hungry child in the kitchen. This gave her the perfect window of time to grab a large bag of hers out of her and her husband’s bedroom, scramble down into the basement, and stuff the bag to the brim with money. She then carefully tiptoed back upstairs, dashed into the room, and hid the bag full of currency beneath the bed. Now, all that was left to do was wait on nightfall.

Mrs. Sillow had never been the type of person who was good at remaining composed when doing something that she knew she shouldn’t be doing. Making matters worse, time was crawling. It was only 3:00 p.m., and her husband, who knew his wife even better than her own parents had known her, could already tell that she was up to something based on the sudden change in her mannerism. But exactly what she was withholding from him was all that he could think about as he watched her roam around the house like a nervous, hyperactive child. Mrs. Sillow was about to be in some deep trouble.

Chapter 29

Barbarity was all that Mr. Sillow had ever used over the course of his life to get what he wanted out of people. Why? Because it worked. It had become the cornerstone of him and his wife’s relationship, as it was the only way that he had ever known to keep his sometimes unruly missus in check. And to now see her holding something back from him instantly triggered him off, because she knew that secrets and lies were two things that he detested with a passion. Furthermore, she knew that whenever her husband got riled up he would lose all consciousness of the world around him and zone in completely on his target. Now, the couple’s newborn baby lie on the cold living room floor wailing while her father’s hands - which little Sondra were gently being held in just seconds ago - were viciously being used to try and pummel a confession out of her mother. Although the stubborn Mrs. Sillow didn’t crack under the physical abuse and come out with what she was concealing from her husband, she received a beating so injurious that she would no longer be able to make her nighttime escape from the cottage with her child - no matter how bad she wanted to. Adding insult to injury, the bag of money that Mrs. Sillow had stashed beneath the bed was discovered by her husband. The discovery automatically let him know that his wife was planning on getting out of their unhealthy relationship. That was something that he couldn’t afford. He had invested too much time into her, and as far as he was concerned, she wouldn’t be going anywhere. While Mrs. Sillow lay in bed recuperating from the beating that she had sustained at the hands of her out of control husband, Mr. Sillow had taken it upon himself to place metal bars over the cottage’s windows and change all of the house’s locks. Methodically, he had placed the metal bars on the inside of the house, making it impossible for his wife to even touch the cottage’s easily-breakable glass windows with outstretched hands. He had created a prison that he was sure his wife would be unable to escape from. With only him having access to the house’s new set of keys, Mr. Sillow’s intention was for his wife to never place her feet on the soil of the earth ever again.

Chapter 30

Sondra was basically being raised under the exact same conditions that her mother had been raised: she was being schooled at home and believed that her and her parents were Earth’s only inhabitants. And now that the locks to the house had been changed, she too would be ignorant of the real world that existed beyond the cottage’s doors for a very long time. Really, the only thing that differed between the growing-up experiences of the now six-year-old child and her mother was the fact that Mrs. Sillow never once saw her parents quarrel and fight with one another. The late Mr. and Mrs. Toffer had done their absolute best to set a good example for their daughter with every action that they made. Sadly, in Sondra’s case, the same thing couldn’t be said. Every day she would observe her parents engage in a tug-of-war battle for her love and affection, with their jejune arguments sometimes developing into full-fledged physical combats. To see her mother take such verbal and physical abuse for as long as she could remember, Sondra’s pure heart went out to her. No longer was she the oblivious neonate that knew nothing of what was taking place around her. She had developed into a highly intuitive, loving child who found her father’s actions to be nothing short of reproachable. But as much as she loathed her dad’s Neanderthal-like behavior, Mr. Sillow would always have an alibi to give her that he honestly believed justified his reasons for putting his hands on her mother. Not knowing any better, the innocent child would readily swallow every word that came out of her father’s mouth. Seeing how gullible her child was would absolutely burn Mrs. Sillow up inside. With each passing day, she was beginning to hate her own daughter more and more. She could see that her husband was slowly but surely turning her own flesh and blood against her. Mrs. Sillow determined that her daughter would have to be punished for always taking her father’s side over hers.

Chapter 31

As much as he tried, Mr. Sillow couldn’t keep his daughter away from her mother every minute of every day. One afternoon as he was sleeping in him and his wife’s bedroom, Mrs. Sillow got the perfect opportunity to take vengeance against her cruel husband by hurting the only person who he gave a damn about besides himself in the entire world: his precious little girl. Of course there had been numerous other times when Mrs. Sillow could have interacted with or beheaded Sondra if she had so chose, but fear of her husband’s retaliation hindered her from even looking at her daughter’s shadow. Now fed up with life on the whole, the embattled abused wife had reached the point where she had started not to give a damn and stopped fearing the consequences - despite being well aware that she could potentially lose her life for making the wrong move. “Pssssttt!” the on-edge mother sounded from the living room to get the attention of her daughter, who was down the hallway lingering in the doorway of the room that her father was asleep in. Once Sondra’s attention was focused on her mother, Mrs. Sillow hysterically began signaling for her to make her way over to her; but her frisky movements made the young girl extremely apprehensive. Her father had filled her head with an abundance of fictional statements regarding her mother, making little Sondra deeply fear the rumored “witch” who was now desperately trying to lure her over to her side. Picking up on her daughter’s fret, Mrs. Sillow had to quickly come up with a new plan to coax her daughter over to her before the terrified girl decided to disappear into the room with her father and possibly wake him up to tell him about what was going on. As she began bending her head down towards the ground to try and quickly think up a new idea to get her daughter over to her, her eyes happened to stray upon something that was very dear to her little girl’s heart. Lying on the floor beside the chair that she was seated in was Sondra’s favorite toy, a doll baby. Snatching it up off of the floor, the wily Mrs. Sillow began to cuddle and caress the doll baby as though it were her own. The unconventional method of manipulation worked; little Sondra came running down the hallway to retrieve and protect the doll that she considered to be her daughter. That doll was her responsibility, and she refused to let any harm befall her. The way that Sondra reacted to the situation let Mrs. Sillow know that her child was being deeply affected by the unwholesome actions of her and her husband. All of a sudden, she began to feel an immense sense of guilt for the way her daughter was behaving. “I promise I won’t let that witch hurt you,” was all the little girl kept repeating as she cradled her beloved doll in her arms. There was no way that Mrs. Sillow could physically harm her child after seeing her exhibit such disturbing behavior. She realized that what her daughter needed was some serious guidance and counseling; not a severe beating just so her selfish desires could be appeased. Although ailing mentally and in dire need of help herself, Mrs. Sillow took it upon herself to be her daughter’s counselor.

“Sondra, I wasn’t going to hurt your doll, you know,” her mother disclosed to her after grabbing her by the shoulders and turning her around to face her. “And shame on you for even thinking that I would ever harm you in any way. You have no idea just how much I love you, because your father refuses to allow me to be the mommy that I would like to be to you. Please don’t believe everything that he says to you. I love you just as much as he does.”

That was the first time that Mrs. Sillow had shared such an intimate moment with her daughter since the day she had given birth to her. Having felt a strong connection with her mother’s words, the congenitally softhearted girl dropped her doll baby and wrapped her arms around her mother. “I love you too, mommy,” Sondra said with tears in her wide, believing eyes. “I love you, but dad told me that if he ever saw me around you he would treat me as though I were a dog.”

Now Mrs. Sillow’s gloves were off. Her husband hadn’t carried that little girl around inside of him for nine months. He had no idea how much pain she had endured over the course of her pregnancy. He had no clue that she had almost died on that toilet the day that she brought their little girl into the world. Realizing that she was wrong to have wanted to hurt her daughter herself, Mrs. Sillow decided to join forces with her if there was to be any chance of making changes inside of the broken home. She had some really important things to impart to her daughter, and she had to do it before her husband woke up. She didn’t want to put her daughter’s safety in limbo, for she knew that Mr. Sillow would follow through with his threat to the innocent child. At the end of Mrs. Sillow’s succinct heart-to-heart with her daughter, a plan to secure a better future for the both of them had been established. The only question now was: How well would Sondra be able to execute this plan?

Chapter 32

Wintertimes in Yarmouth certainly weren’t the coziest time of the year. The adverse weather conditions outside would turn the Sillows’ poorly-insulated Cape Cod cottage into a giant freezer, a typical problems with homes of that architectural style. Making matters worse, there was no heating inside of the house, and for the past several years, Mr. Sillow had for whatever reason refused to go out and gather wood for the fireplace in preparation for the dreadful season.

Anyone with common sense could look at Sondra and see that the girl needed sunlight. Six years of sheer imprisonment had drastically paled her skin. Although she was happy-go-lucky on the inside, externally, her appearance suggested severely poor health and discomfort. The most telling sign that she needed to get outside and bask in some sunlight for the first time in her life was her badly knocked knees. The inability of the sun’s ultraviolet rays to seep into her skin year in and year out stymied the production of the essential vitamin D in her body. Rickets resulted. Getting around was a tough chore for the poor child. With her mother’s urging, Sondra was about to use her disability to her advantage and prey upon the sympathy that her father was feeling for her.

“Father,” Amanda said in a most humbling tone of voice, “I really need to have a word with you.”

Mr. Sillow, who was presently in the middle of washing himself off, immediately sat up straight in the bathtub and began giving his daughter his undivided attention. “Sure, Sondra. What’s on your mind, princess?”

“Life is on my mind, daddy. I’ve never been this cold before in all the years that I’ve lived. My vision is blurring; I can feel death taking its chilling grip on my bones.” The astute Sondra was repeating everything that her mother had coached her to say the day before down to a tee. “Please don’t let me die, daddy. Please go out and get some wood so that I may get warm by the fireplace this year.” Crocodile tears were now accompanying her recital. “Please remove these encumbering metal bars from over our windows; I would like to slide the sashes up and breathe in some fresh air from time to time. Open up the front and back door of the cottage every now and again; I am ready to explore the vast world that awaits me beyond these desolate woods. Don’t you see how you’re crippling my well-being and my future?”

Sondra’s emotional outpour left her father speechless. Water rings were now being formed in abundance in his bathwater as those rare tears poured out of his tear ducts. Once he had finally regained his composure and was able to respond to the touching statements his daughter had just made, Mr. Sillow - who astonishingly claimed that he had no idea what his daughter was going through - made a sincere apology to the little girl. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” he finally managed to get out. “You know, for years I’ve always wanted to do what I thought was best for you. I never wanted you to step out into that crazy world filled with all those snakes, vultures, and wackos. But I always knew in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t be able to protect you from the outside world forever. Time simply won’t allow that. It’s just that when your mother tried to escape from the house with you when you were just a baby, that triggered off something inside of me. I had stolen her innocence when she was only a little girl, and to think that you could end up in a similar predicament as she did drove me to take some drastic measures. I always wanted to know that you were within close proximity to me, because if anything bad was to ever happen to you at the hands of another human being, Sondra, I would kill that person. I swear to God I would kill that person. Furthermore, I would never be able to live with the guilt of knowing that I was the reason that something terrible had happened to you.

“But you’re a pretty intelligent girl. You have a good head on your body, and based on what you just explained to me, you know exactly what you want out of life. So, when the spring season rolls around, I’m going to take you out and introduce you to the world for the very first time. I know that it’s something that should have been done a long time ago, but better late than never. Nevertheless, I take full responsibility for what I’ve put you through, and I would really appreciate it if you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Can you?”

Although she didn’t quite understand what her father’s incidental mention of “another human being” meant, she pretended that she did in order not to jinx the positive direction the conversation was going in. “Of course I forgive you, daddy. You mean the world to me. I would never want feelings of regret to stand in between our relationship.” The savvy young girl’s way with words had an unusual affect on Mr. Sillow. She knew just how to wrap him around her little fingers.

“Thank you so much, baby,” her normally-catatonic father gushed. “I truly appreciate that. If only your mother could have been more like you… Anyway, I’m gonna need you to leave the room now so that I can get out of the bathtub and get dressed. I hope that you don’t cause me to become a permanent snowman while I’m out there scouring through several feet of snow for a couple pieces of wood,” he said jokingly. “And when I get back, you can personally help me remove the bars from over the windows.”

Chapter 33

When Mrs. Sillow received word of the successful coup de maître her daughter had pulled off, she was invigorated. For her, it felt as though a six-year prison term had just come to an end. At first she didn’t want to get too excited and believe that things were about to change as soon as her husband walked back in through the front door, but as of late, she had made it her duty to think nothing but positive thoughts; and as far as she was concerned, she was going to see the light of day again before she left this Earth and joined her mother in Heaven. (At least she was hoping to make it into Heaven with her life’s deplorable track record.) But with something promising now on the horizon, Mrs. Sillow would have to tread extra cautiously. If her husband was to find out that she and Sondra were in cahoots, the repercussions were sure to be unbearable for both of them. Needless to say, there was no way in hell Mrs. Sillow was going to screw up her chance of regaining freedom - even though she was well aware that that freedom would be both limited and monitored. Hence, in the midst of her and her daughter’s celebrating, she had the presence of mind to instantly bring herself back down to earth and instruct Sondra to head into her room until her father got back home.

As hard as she was trying to think positively, when her husband hadn’t made it back home after 30 minutes had gone by, Mrs. Sillow’s head began filling up with doubts. Her worst fear was that something tragic had happened to him and she and her daughter would be stuck inside of the cottage until they eventually died of starvation. However, those thoughts of distress were quickly snuffed out when she heard keys being pushed into the lock of the front door. The arrival of the pieces of wood seemingly served as a Christmas gift for Sondra, who excitedly came running out of her room to help her father set them in the fireplace. So far Mrs. Sillow’s ruse was coming together perfectly.

With bodily warmth came inexplicable rhapsody. The trio was now bunched together in front of the fireplace like one big, happy family. And true to his word, Mr. Sillow and his assistant got to work taking down the bars from over the windows inside of the cottage later on in the day. While doing so, Sondra continued campaigning to her father, appealing to him to look at situations with an open mind and becoming overly-emotional as she implored him to try and see things through the eyes of her jaded mother. The young girl’s exhortations worked yet again. Something clicked inside the whimsical mind of Mr. Sillow, making him more determined than ever to make a complete 360-degree turnaround for the sake of his daughter’s soundness of mind and overall happiness. And just like that, things inside of the Sillow household grew kosher. Literally overnight, differences between Mr. and Mrs. Sillow were being handled in a civilized and orderly manner; their sex life had been rekindled; and Mr. Sillow had made it possible for Sondra to openly interact with her mother for the first time since her birth. Taking full advantage of this unforeseen privilege, Mrs. Sillow did everything in her power to turn her and her daughter’s relationship into an unbreakable, rock-solid bond.

Being able to communicate with her child without retribution was the best thing that ever happened in the hag’s wretched life. Maybe there was something substantive to the late Mr. and Mrs. Toffer’s maxim to their daughter to “always keep faith alive” after all. But Mrs. Sillow was now faced with the challenge of having to restructure Sondra’s entire train of thought. She had major issues with everything that her husband had instilled in her daughter’s impressionable young mind, and there was no way she was going to allow her misinformed child to be caught off guard when she was introduced to the real world within a few months’ time. Knowing firsthand how it felt to be kept in the dark about life’s truths, Mrs. Sillow vanquished all of her inhibitions and started to come out with everything she felt was necessary for her daughter to know about the world in which she lived, amongst a slew of other touchy subjects.

“Sondra, when your father takes you out into the world in the next few months, don’t be surprised when you see other people walking around. Contrary to what you believe, we aren’t the only people on this planet. Just do your best to act as normal as you possibly can so that these other people - who are exactly like you and I - don’t think of you as strange.”

“So there are more of us here in the world!?” the flabbergasted, highly-inquisitive child asked, pointing at herself and her mother simultaneously with the pointer finger on either one of her hands.

“Lots more,” her mother confirmed.

“Ohhh, so that’s what daddy was talking about when he said that thing about ‘another human being’ while I was speaking with him in the bathroom the other morning.” All the pieces of a very complicated puzzle were starting to come together for Sondra.

“That’s exactly what he was talking about, darling,” her mother confirmed. “Another thing … you have a disability, Sondra. Your legs aren’t as straight as everyone else’s, and that makes you walk funny. Don’t get upset when people stare at you. They’re simply being curious. And if they ask you why your legs are that way, just tell them that you suffered a terrible accident as a baby, nothing more.” Mrs. Sillow then carried on trying to dissipate other falsities she had overheard her husband imbue into her little girl’s head over the past six years.

When the time finally came for Sondra to make her debut to the outside world, her mother’s only hope was that the lessons and oracles she had passed on to her daughter would stick, given the constrained amount of time with which she had to work. She nervously looked on from the front doorstep of the cottage with her overlapped hands pressed firmly against her bosom and a countenance of despondency limned upon her face as Sondra disappeared behind the forest’s semi-dense vegetation with her father.

Even though Mr. Sillow was more nervous about the embarkation than his wife was, his lack of expression made it impossible to tell. Heading back out amongst the people of Yarmouth after so many years had passed was a ginormous undertaking for a man who had made up his mind to never again step out amongst the town’s residents ever since they had turned on him. You see, Mr. Sillow had long ago transformed his family’s living quarters into a self-sufficient autonomy. When he had moved into the cottage following Mrs. Sillow’s slaying of her father, the first thing he had done was exploit the house’s electricity supply, a simple task for a man who had been an electrician for well over half of his life. Next, he doctored the house’s water supply. And when the telephone system came into existence, he found a way to illegally tap into that network as well, despite the fact that he and his wife had absolutely no need for the device. With meters at the home no longer moving, there was no reason for meter readers to continue coming around the cottage and no need for Mr. Sillow to have to disguise himself to head into town to pay the house’s bills. Whenever he and his wife were in Boston, he would stockpile on enough food while there to last them for months once they returned home. And after his wife had gotten pregnant with his child and he had slowed down on his visits to the capital, Mr. Sillow used his hunting prowess to survive off of the wildlife and natural vegetation that the forest surrounding the cottage provided. As far as residents of Yarmouth knew, Frederickstein and Amanda Sillow had vanished from the face of the Earth, thanks to Mr. Sillow’s ingenuity. But indeed they were both alive and well; and Mr. Sillow knew with conviction that his re-emergence amongst members of the community with another young girl was about to incite pandemonium. Yet still he had opted to leave himself naked. He had purposely chosen to venture out on foot instead of travelling by horse and carriage so that he could familiarize his daughter with the various types of plants, flowers, fruits, nuts, and wildlife they would be passing by as they made their way out of the woods. Sondra didn’t deserve to suffer anymore than she already had because of his past mistakes. He had made her a promise to introduce her to the world, and nothing was going to make him break his word.

“Daddy, what’s this? What are those? Ohhh, there’s something flying above me. Wow, everything I’m seeing is just so pretty.” Needless to say, the young girl was full of both questions and awe, and her father was having a hard time satiating her endless curiosity until she learned that those bunny rabbits she adored so much were what she was eating mostly every night for dinner. Immediately the girl was overcome by a spirit of dolefulness and went completely silent. Though he was disappointed that he had disaffected his daughter’s good nature, Mr. Sillow was grateful for the silence that coincided with her dejection. Now that he was able to think clearly without any interruptions, the realization that déjà vu was about to occur in just a matter of moments made him feel eerily uneasy; and his dread was for good reason. As the now-silent pair made their way closer to edge of the woods, Mr. Sillow suddenly froze in place. There was something drastically different about the area compared to the last time he had seen it some seven earlier. What he was seeing forced him to reconsider his promise to his daughter. His unusual behavior caused Sondra to break her silence. “What’s wrong, daddy?” she asked while vigorously shaking his hand that was holding hers. But her prodding had no affect whatsoever on her unstrung father. Soon afterwards, with his nerves getting the best of him, Mr. Sillow inadvertently began to squeeze down tighter and tighter on his bemused daughter’s tiny hand. It was only when she let out an earsplitting yelp of discomfort that he snapped out of his mysterious trance. Immediately he released his grasp on her hand and gestured to her to quiet down with a shaky finger that he struggled to keep centered over his lips. His main concern was that none of the residents inside of the homes which now occupied the immediate area of the point from which he used to make his exit from the woods had heard the little girl’s squall.

After purposely having gone into seclusion for so long, Mr. Sillow had inarguably been clueless about the major historical events that had drawn up the sociodemographic blueprint of present-day Yarmouth. Although America was in the thick of the Great Depression - which had started up several years well before his decision to permanently recede into the woods - Yarmouth’s residents hadn’t felt its pinch since much of the town’s monetary circulation didn’t revolve around the importation and exportation of commodities. Yarmouth was very much so self-sustaining, a feat that was rewarded with the issuance of regular governmental subsidies to a considerable number of the town’s employers in an effort to preserve the town’s independence. Naturally, the allure of the town’s prevailing economy appealed to individuals who had hit rock bottom and were in desperate need of work - any sort of work. Much of Yarmouth’s newest settlers within the last 10 years had happened to come across the haven by chance as they wandered hopelessly from state to state with all of their worldly belongings tied up inside of a bindle. As the years went by and more and more individuals trickled into the town, another significant occurrence brought a vast number of individuals into Yarmouth all at once. The attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941 by the Japanese brought about the advent of the U.S.’s participation in World War II. Having previously declared neutrality to combat between the war’s participants by virtue of the nation’s military non-interventionism policy, Japan’s surprise attack on the Hawaii-based naval base brought about swift congressional action that made retaliation against them possible. Immediately, mandatory jobs were created as persons were needed ‘round the clock to work in factories nationwide that were churning out airplanes, tanks, battleships, submarines, cargo vessels, and other war-related necessities in large quantities. Yarmouth fit into the war’s whole equation in that it was a major supplier of agricultural goods for the more than 10 million deployed military personnel. Tons upon tons of pounds of organic animal meat and bright-colored, indefectible crops that the town’s nutrient-rich soil brought forth provided meals for thousands of United States servicemen and -women around the globe. With the demand for food production at an all-time high, throngs of farmers simultaneously honed in on Yarmouth in the early 1940s in an effort to seize unoccupied plots of farmland, as high quality crop yields yielded lucrative returns. Pretty much every corner of Yarmouth was now blanketed with persons of every race, color, and religious denomination. What Mr. Sillow had stumbled upon that morning appeared to be a metropolis in comparison to the demure Yarmouth of years past. He had to abort his promise to his little girl. He would no longer be taking her directly into the community and showing her what life in society was like. It was just too big of a risk for him to take. His traipse through the woods had been in vain. However, Mr. Sillow did give his daughter the option to proceed further on her own and meet him back at the spot where he was currently standing once she had gotten through with her sightseeing and interactions. As the baffled child mulled over her father’s bizarre last set of words, she gave the endless row of homes situated in front of her a long, hard glare, tilted her head upwards and looked her father square in his unreadable eyes, then returned her attention back to the formidable row of strangers’ houses. Moments later she was endeavoring on to a noteworthy accomplishment in her life as her father proudly looked on from his elected waiting spot in the wilderness.

Chapter 34

Even Sondra’s wildest child-like imagination could not have prepared her for what she walked into. Just beyond the hushed woods, a bustling area of commerce subsisted. Her senses were instantaneously blitzed by unfamiliar sounds, sights, and smells. The intensity of the whole experience immediately incapacitated her, leaving her standing frozen in place. Street merchants who were screaming at the fear-smitten youngster to purchase their schlocky artifacts only became cognizant of the adverse affects that their pushiness was having on her when she fell prostrate to the ground and began bawling her eyes out. Though the vast majority of them automatically jumped to the conclusion that she was retarded, that still didn’t hinder them from trying to make a quick dollar off of her. But the child had no mental deficiencies whatsoever; her brain was actually in overdrive at the moment in an effort to help her perceive and make sense of all her new encounters. The organ’s dire efforts would go without reward, however. Sondra was simply overwhelmed. There were too many individuals speaking at once, and the decibel level in the area was much too harsh for her tender little ears to even attempt to make sense of anything that was being said to her. The English that these seemingly-possessed merchants were speaking came off more as a foreign language to her ears. The competing sellers spoke almost as swiftly as an auctioneer would, completely muddling the young girl’s already-traumatized mind. Her mother and father spoke much differently than these people did; and even though she knew that her family had its own substantial share of issues, she couldn’t help but think in the moment that the residents of Yarmouth were an extremely dysfunctional bunch of people. She had to get away from them. Using all the might that remained within her shell-shocked body, Sondra pulled herself up off of the ground and hobbled back into the woods to reunite with her awaiting father. She was more than ready to return to her home, which had surprisingly been an at-peace domicile for longer than a quarter of a year now.

Chapter 35

One thing that a dysfunctional family can never be is normal - at least not without any intervention of some sort. No matter how much effort is placed into being a cohesive unit, some member of the family is bound to falter, giving preeminence once more to infighting and dissension. At the center of trying to keep the peace and serving as mediator in her deeply troubled family for as long as she could remember was Sondra. Now age 13, she had long ago given up hope of ever having a normal family life. The structure of her family was a complete and utter mess, and each member of the trio was at odds with the other. Ever since Sondra’s father had given her the choice to enter society at her own discretion some six years ago, for the past several years, she preferred spending most of her time outside of the cottage. No, her father hadn’t let his guard down; he was simply balked by age and the debilitating effects of Crohn’s disease. Though Mr. Sillow’s voice was still powerful and intimidating, physically he was withering away. Sondra knew that there was absolutely nothing he could have done to stop her from doing whatever she so pleased. Looking at him, he probably couldn’t even hurt a fly. And since he wasn’t on any kind of medications for his illness, he was living out the rest of his days in helpless misery. But what Sondra couldn’t wrap her mind around was why her mother wasn’t taking full advantage of such an opportune situation. Mrs. Sillow had been so programmed and brainwashed over the years by her husband that she was sure to be his thrall until the day that he died. Although she now had the free will to roam about just as freely as her daughter, the only time Mrs. Sillow would dare to step foot beyond the cottage’s front doorstep was when her husband wasn’t feeling well enough to go out and hunt down dinner. Apart from taking on the responsibility of being a huntress when she had to, Mrs. Sillow remained a cowardice homebody. To see her mother continue to live her life in fear of a physically incompetent man made Sondra feel sick to her very core. If she was to stay inside of the cottage while most of the drama between her parents was unfolding, she was absolutely certain that she would have snapped on her mother even worse than her father was prone to doing.

Being the social creatures that we humans are, Sondra had grown quite close with several families within the woods’ abutting community in spite of the traumatic experience she had suffered her very first time amongst them when she was seven years of age. Just months following the incident - which was around the same time that the symptoms of Mr. Sillow’s Crohn’s disease began to manifest themselves - her father had for no good reason resorted to being a scrooge once more, forcing her mother to readopt a sullied demeanor. From that point, the atmosphere inside the Sillow household reverted right back to its former, more familiar state: chaotic and infested with hatred and dark, evil spirits. The harsh remarks that were once exchanged exclusively between Mr. Sillow and his wife were now also being shot in the direction of their handicapped little girl. And when their verbal and emotional abuse towards her inevitably became exacerbated by physical abuse, Sondra had had enough. So that she could clear her head and gather her thoughts, she began to take full advantage of the fact that her father had begun leaving the cottage’s doors unlocked. Whenever she had endured all the mistreatment that she was capable of withstanding in a single day, she would stealthily slip out of the nearest available exit to take a relaxing stroll through the forest. During these solo walks, she would tell herself over and repeatedly that she would never mistreat her child whenever she had one and would do her best to convince herself that she wasn’t going to lose her young mind and wind up like her kooky parents. But after a while of serving as her own counselor, loony was exactly how she was beginning to feel. Having to resort to talking to herself made her feel unwanted, stupid, and worthless. What she was craving and needed more than anything in her life at the time was some reassurance. She wanted to feel loved. She wanted to be a part of a normal family. But the only way that she would be able to attain any of the aforementioned desires was by heading back out amongst the same rowdy populace that had shown her no form of pity, kindness, or compassion only a few months earlier. She knew that she would have to take a different approach to entering the community on her next visit there.

One afternoon, Sondra had found herself walking further into the woods than she normally would. It was the day that the resolute young girl was going to take her life into her own hands and shape her own future, since it seemed as though neither of her parents had her best interests at heart any longer. On the day that her father had served as her tour guide through the woods, Sondra had incredibly memorized the exact route that they had taken to arrive at their destination. Though it may have seemed that she was only interested in the things that were moving around on four legs or soaring high above her head in the sky that day, she had somehow managed to absorb the minutest accounts of the entire experience. That same cluster of perennial golden button flowers that her father had used to help him locate the Toffers’ cottage many years ago was the same distinct landmark Sondra was now using to get as far away from the cottage as possible. And once the determined young girl had made her way back to the homes within the community, she quickly devised a plan that would ensure she wouldn’t end up becoming the public’s spectacle yet again. Instead of stepping out from behind the protective barrier of homes this time, Sondra determined that it would be in her best interest to just randomly knock on one of the multitude of back doors that were facing her.

“Hello, young lady.” A beautiful, middle-aged white woman wearing a welcoming smile on her face had greeted Sondra at the door of the first home she had selected. “How can I help you?”

Sondra had to think fast if her outlandish plan was to have any chance of working out the way that she was hoping for it to. “Well, ma’am, I … I … I ….” Less than 10 words into her pitch, Sondra went completely blank. That was the first time that she was speaking one-on-one with somebody other than one of her parents, and the situation got the best of her. But to her surprise, she suddenly found herself securely wrapped up in the arms of the compassionate homemaker, who had gotten down on bended knees to try and console the crying and trembling mysterious young girl who had popped up at her back door out of the blue. When the kindly lady had first laid eyes on Sondra, her primary concern was Sondra’s appearance. Apart from readily noticing the girl’s apparent physical disability, she was also troubled by how frail and dirty she was. As the homemaker was doing her best to pacify Sondra, she couldn’t help but catch a whiff of the child’s noxious body odor. The immense stress brought on by the constant quarreling that took place inside of the Sillows’ disputatious household had dramatically suppressed Sondra’s appetite and deprived her of her sparkling childish gaiety. She had almost altogether quit eating and was neglecting her personal hygiene. Subsequently, her skeleton began to protrude through her thinned out flesh and clusters of ringworm patches had broken out across her contaminated skin. Being a mother of five, the housewife’s heart automatically went out to the in-need child. She felt compelled to do something. Once she had gotten Sondra calmed down and was finally able to get her name out of her, the caring lady brought her into her home and formally introduced herself to her before feeding her, cleaning her up, and applying a thick paste of mashed garlic cloves to her lesions.

She was Olivia Peck. She, her husband, and their five children were like most other Yarmouth residents who had recently set up new lives there to take advantage of the town’s beneficial soil. Her husband toiled long hours as a farmhand and she took care of everything else. Having been a resident of Yarmouth for more than a year now, Mrs. Peck was curious as to why she had never seen Sondra around such a small area of the town before. But apart from divulging her name to Mrs. Peck, Sondra remained otherwise taciturn. Even though Mrs. Peck fit the criteria for the kind of person Sondra was hoping to have run in to, the bashful little girl wasn’t quite ready to just open herself up to a complete and total stranger so soon - at least not to a strange adult.

When Mrs. Peck introduced Sondra to her children, she was surprised to see how quickly the muted child’s countenance completely changed. All of a sudden Sondra felt the inclination to play and chatter. But what was most surprising about the whole situation was the fact that Sondra had the most resounding voice out of all of the children in the bunch. Mrs. Peck never would have guessed that the timorous girl would have been such a live wire. Wherever Sondra had come from, Mrs. Peck’s extrasensory perception told her that the environment there wasn’t a stable one. So to see how happy the child was in the moment compared to her hapless demeanor earlier on in the day unwittingly brought a smile of satisfaction to Mrs. Peck’s face. Sondra’s joviality was cut short, however, when Mr. Peck arrived home from a hard day’s work in the field. His arrival was an indicator that darkness would soon be setting in; and in those days, being that it wasn’t good custom for a visitor to be in the home of a host after a certain hour, Sondra was informed that she would have to return home to her dwelling. The news instantly evoked tears from the saddened girl’s eyes. She was nowhere near ready to part ways with the Peck children, whom she had so quickly gotten attached to. But Mrs. Peck did, however, give her an invitation to return the following day. She wanted to continue tending to the child’s ringworms until they were completely eradicated. And sure enough, Sondra returned the next day… and the following day… and then the day following that. She even continued coming around once her skin had cleared up. After a period of time, she became just like a blood-relative to the Peck family.

Her new brothers and sisters - Carl, 15; Timothy, 13; Alicia, 12; Brenda-Lee, 10; and Miles, seven - were the ones who showed her the ropes of life early on in their budding relationship. They were the ones who had showed her how to counteract the roughneck street merchants’ sales tactics; they were the ones who introduced her to money and taught her how to make purchases with it and count change; they were the ones who christened her taste buds with its first ever sugar treat: a jumbo rainbow-swirl lollipop; they were the ones who taught her how to be confident and accept herself for who she was. For the most part, Sondra’s brothers and sisters were her everything. As their newest sibling’s keeper, the Peck children also felt that the onus was on them to show Sondra not only the good things that life had to offer, but also the negative things that fell under the umbrella of reality. As peaceful a place as Yarmouth was, it did contain its elements of danger (some being real and tangible threats, while other, more entrancing dangers abounded in folklore).

Chapter 36

Sondra’s relationship with the Peck family wound up running on significantly longer than she had expected it would have. One day with the family somehow turned into days; then days turned into weeks; weeks turned into months; and months turned into years. Not that she minded, or anything. The way that the Peck family had welcomed her into their abode with open arms seemed all too surreal. Verily, each day that she spent with the close-knit family had a feel of surrealism attached to it. Being able to communicate with persons and not have tempers flare felt good for a change. Sondra was much obliged to the family for their unending display of kindness and hospitality towards her. But what she found most admirable about the Pecks was their well-founded family structure. The heads of the household, Mr. and Mrs. Peck, were on one accord. Consequently, their children followed suit. The Pecks exemplified what a perfect family was all about, and Sondra sincerely believed within her heart that she couldn’t have stumbled upon a better family when she had set out on her journey through the woods in pursuit of happiness. Not surprisingly, over the years, the contented child’s time at home with her conflicting parents slowly but surely began to wane. She had finally found peace in her young life, and there was no way that she was going to trade that serenity in.

After the first several months of getting acquainted with one another, the Peck family had practically allowed Sondra to move in with them. Mr. and Mrs. Peck didn’t mind her spending the nights over at their place after Mr. Peck had coerced her into finally disclosing who assumed guardianship of her as she dined with the family at the dinner table early one evening.

“Sondra, our family has gotten to know you and have come to love you very much since you walked into our lives several months ago,” Mr. Peck began saying as he set his fork down on his plate and hit the child with an unnerving glare. “Now, Mrs. Peck and I have been having some very important conversations in regards to you, and there’s something in particular that’s been troubling us for quite some time now.” Just by the way that Mr. Peck was looking at her, Sondra could tell that something was seriously wrong. In anticipation of some devastating news, tears had begun to roll down the tense child’s cheeks. “My wife has told me how she’s already tried finding out from you on numerous occasions whose child you are, but you refuse to open up to her about that. Did you know that whenever you’re here inside our house, Mrs. Peck and I become fully responsible for you? Do your parents even know where you are right now? If something was to ever happen to you while you were in our care, we would be too disappointed with ourselves to know that we can’t get in touch with your parents because we have no idea who they even are. I really don’t think you understand how serious of a situation this is, so let me put it to you this way: either you tell us who your parents are right now or I’m afraid you won’t be welcome to come here anymore after today.”

Once the ultimatum Mr. Peck had presented Sondra with had sunk in, it was only a matter of time before her streaming tears were joined by unrestrained hollers. In the aftermath of her breakdown, the name that she eventually divulged to Mr. Peck drew a collective gasp out of the entire family.

Chapter 37

Nobody at the dinner table moved, spoke, or even blinked for at least one minute following Sondra’s unthinkable confession. As each member of the Peck family sat frozen in disbelief, their jaws almost hanging down into their barely-touched plates, all they could do was shift their wide eyes around the table at one another, each of them knowing exactly what the other was thinking in the moment: Did she really just say the name that we think she said?But of course their ears were not deceiving them; they had indeed heard her correctly.

Breaking the awkward silence, Mr. and Mrs. Peck’s oldest child, Carl, announced on behalf of himself and his siblings: “We’re really sorry, Sondra. My brothers and sisters and I honestly had no idea that he was your father.”

Sondra immediately hung her head down without responding to the apology in hopes that the unanticipated topic of discussion that had arisen at the table would be switched. And perhaps the subject would have been changed had Mr. Peck not been so curious as to exactly why his son had just apologized to Sondra.

“Carl, how many times have your mother and I asked you to set a good example for your brothers and sisters?” Mr. Peck lashed out at the stubborn boy, who was known to be a nuisance to the public from time to time. “I know that you haven’t been bothering Mr. Brendle now, have you?

Without making eye contact with his fuming father, Carl just timidly nodded his head.

What did you do to that poor old man?”

“We-”

“I didn’t ask you what your brothers and sisters did to him; I asked you what you did to him, because I’m sure you were the ringleader in whole ordeal.” Mr. Peck was coming down particularly hard on the boy not just because he had over and repeatedly asked him to cut out his troublemaking antics in the past, but also because he was now of the belief that one of the many victims of his son’s mischief was in actuality Sondra’s father.

Before Carl even had the chance to reply to his father, Sondra once again became the center of attention at the dinner table when she inexplicably burst out into a demented fit of laughter. Here she was being felt sorry for by an entire family that she had just completely duped: Her perverted accomplishment was highly amusing to her. She got off on making people feel sorry for her pitiable young life. Her need to play on the sensibilities of others was an unslakable addiction of hers. She had inherited some of her biological parents’ insanity traits, after all. While nobody at the table felt remotely comfortable enough to address her on her weird and spontaneous mood shift, the unconventional young girl continued to revel in her deranged thoughts for a little bit before picking up her fork and resuming dinner as though nothing out of the ordinary had just transpired. Mr. and Mrs. Peck simply allowed the strange occurrence to blow over, concluding that her eccentric behavior must have been reflective of the unimaginable atrocities that went on inside of the Brendle household.

Aurelius Brendle, a single, off-kilter gentleman, was perhaps the community’s poorest resident. Of the great number of individuals who had in recent years taken up residency across eastern Yarmouth, he was one of the very few who simply could not gain a strong financial footing during the lucrative wartime period. But perhaps that was entirely his fault; he preferred to keep to himself. Had it not been for the fact that he had to earn money to purchase food and drinking water from within the community, the chandler more than likely never would have made his rare trip into the bustling market area to hawk his second-rate wax candles and soaps.

His jerrybuilt shack had purposely been erected quite a ways away from the community’s overpacked 500 square-foot homes and obsessively-tended farms and was only visible to those nosey enough to travel three quarters of a mile to catch a glimpse of the magnetizing eyesore. The lengthy trip was one that Carl felt was worth the risk taking at least twice a month. Before embarking on any of these treks, he would get into a huddle with his brothers and sisters and make them promise him two things: 1) that they would make it back home with him safely and 2) to not break a word of what they had done to their parents. When Sondra unexpectedly walked into the Peck children’s lives, she too had to act in accordance to the laws of Carl. The same rules that applied to the bullheaded boy’s younger siblings applied to her as well.

The first time that the crew made their journey to Mr. Brendle’s residence with Sondra tagging along took a significantly longer period of time than Carl would have liked for it to have taken. Her inability to keep up with the rest of the gang put her at risk of being captured by Mr. Brendle if he was to make his usual brief dash after the young rascals to get them to clear off of his property. Although a voice inside of Carl’s head was telling him to call off this particular trip, his inclination to cause trouble overshadowed his better judgment. He continued to dauntlessly lead his platoon on to their destination over rocky, dusty, leafy, watery, and hilly terrain. The boy’s confident comportment and moxie transformed into sheer angst, however, when the rusty corrugated iron roof and termite-infested pieces of plywood that made up Mr. Brendle’s hovel came into view. But, in all fairness to the doughty young boy, anybody’s composure would have been flustered knowing that they were invading the space of an unpredictable, bilious hermit. Making Carl’s desire for a thrill even the more perilous was the lack of trees or tall underbrush within approximately 300 yards of Mr. Brendle’s house. The coy old man had found himself a rare glade in the vast Yarmouth forest to call home. Once beyond the cover of the dense forestry surrounding the well-hidden glade, trespassers made themselves vulnerably visible to the strange gentleman (as he could see all around his windowless efficiency through areas of the plywood that had been eaten through by termites) and became susceptible to whatever form of punishment he so chose to impose upon them. Mr. Brendle didn’t waste any time making it known to the scoundrels that he was out for blood. Once the first set of stones that Carl and his siblings had tossed at the rickety home had made contact, the intolerant recluse was instantly outside of his residence wielding a formidable ax. Carl was the first member of the pack attempting to escape Mr. Brendle’s wrath. As Carl made a quick glance behind him to make sure that all his brothers and sisters were right running with him halfway into his beeline dash for the distant forest, he saw Sondra being accosted by the fed up old man. For some reason, she was the only member of the gang who had remained behind. Stopping in his tracks, Carl spun around suddenly and yelled out: “Run, Sondra, run! You promised me that you would make it back home safely with me!” But to his dismay, the girl made no reaction whatsoever to his vehement urging, automatically placing him at a dangerous crossroad. The stark reality was that either he or Sondra was about to lose their life today. The instinct to live told him to leave her to fend for herself since she was stupid enough to just stand frozen in place in the face of danger. Then, abruptly hitting him like a ton of bricks, it reoccurred to him that Sondra wasn’t standing there out of fear - well, fear may have had something to do with her inaction - but she was physically incapable of getting away from the beleaguered ax-wielder no matter how bad she wanted to. It was clear to Carl at that point that his life would have to be the one that was laid down. He had put Sondra in that predicament; he would have to get her out of it. He would have to figure out a way to distract Mr. Brendle just long enough so that the girl could catch up with the rest of their brothers and sisters, who had by now made it to the safety of the forest’s edge and were looking on in complete disbelief and horror.

As the rays of the afternoon sun glared off of the blade of the ax’s sharp steel wedge, Carl quickly reconsidered his decision to save Sondra. He didn’t have too long to think, though: Mr. Brendle was now in striking distance of the helpless little girl, and he was readying his body to split her in two. Besides, if Carl had chosen not to go back to save her, his father was going to have his head when he got home. Either way he was a dead man walking.

As Carl galloped over to Sondra’s rescue, yelling and throwing his arms up above his head wildly to impede the hacking, a moonstruck expression took over the hideous face of Mr. Brendle. The boy was who he truly wanted to whack. Mr. Brendle had had more than enough of the brash kid’s shenanigans over the course of his residency in Yarmouth. To know that he had purposely constructed his home so far away from persons in an effort to avoid such unwelcomed and unwanted incidents of harassments like the one that just occurred gave him more than enough rights to go ballistic. His intention was to chop off Carl’s head and hang the crude taxidermic creation up inside of his shack. Smiling at the thought, the four discolored teeth inside of his mouth (one at the bottom and three spaced out teeth in the top row of his diseased gums) were made visible to Carl, who interpreted the smile to be Mr. Brendle’s way of smugly inviting him to his death. The sheer audacity of the odd man’s effrontery caused all of Carl’s fear to dissipate. If anything, he was the one who was going to be doing the killing now. Turning his attention away from the helpless girl, Mr. Brendle, who was no taller than five feet and no heavier than 100 pounds, utilized all of his upper body strength to hoist the ax up above his right shoulder in preparation to behead the fast-approaching young hero. At the same time, Carl reached into the right pocket of his britches and retrieved several of the stones that were originally intended for Mr. Brendle’s home. When he felt that he was close enough to toss the stones accurately at his target, Carl let them fly. But, unfortunately, he had been too concerned with his throwing accuracy and had gotten much too close to Mr. Brendle for his own good.

Carl’s breathing stopped and his pupils dilated when he realized that the ax’s blade was going to make contact with his vulnerable, defenseless body. In the heat of the horrific moment, he also suffered a slight panic attack which sent his heart into cardiac arrest.

Yup, it was the end. Carl had died. The brave hero had lost his life at the hands of the villain, just as he had envisioned he would have moments before he decided to attempt to save Sondra’s life. But in the end, his plan had failed miserably. He had failed to provide Sondra with ample enough time to get over to the edge of the forest where Timothy, Alicia, Brenda-Lee, and Miles were desperately counting on her to reach so that they could assist her with making it back to their parents’ home in one piece. Mr. Brendle was going to get himself two kills for the price of one. But the blade had yet to make contact with Carl; his bodily vitals only implicated death. His still-functioning brain was processing every image that his widened eyes were capturing. With the axe just seconds away from gruesomely severing him, time in Carl’s world slowed down dramatically. What his eyes captured next would have been a perfect reenactment of the showdown between David and Goliath had Mr. Brendle not been such a diminutive man. The lightweight stones struck Mr. Brendle about his face just split seconds before the axe was about to slice Carl in two. The forceful impact of the stones slamming into his hideous face knocked him off balance. The blow, coupled with the weight of the sizeable weapon, sent him tumbling to the ground, out cold. Taking full advantage of this good fortune, Carl turned his back towards Sondra, knelt down, and instructed her to wrap her arms around his neck and place her legs on either side of his body. He would have to serve as her pair of legs in this instance. Getting her arms around his neck was the easy part, but Sondra was having a bit of trouble getting her legs to do what she needed them to do. While she struggled with the abnormal limbs, Carl horrifyingly observed Mr. Brendle begin to recover from seeing stars.

“What’s taking you so fucking long to do something so simple, sis?” Carl shouted out nervously as he watched Mr. Brendle slowly start to move his head from side to side while massaging his eyelids with two of his stubby fingers.

“I’m trying really hard, Carl. Please don’t be mad at me.”

The boy was now sweating profusely, knowing that Mr. Brendle would be coming after them with even more vengeance than before once he got his axe back in his hands. Just moments following the dreadful thought, the boy’s daymare began to play out right before his very eyes. Mr. Brendle slowly began to pull himself up from off of the ground, prompting Carl to immediately spring up out of his crouched position and make a break for it. But his sudden, unexpected take off caused Sondra to lose her grip around his neck. She was about to fall and be left alone with the infuriated Mr. Brendle yet again. This time, Carl would be left with no other choice than to let her meet her demise. Luckily, the boy’s heightened reflexes immediately sensed her arms sliding apart. Quickly reaching up, he grabbed on to her forearms and pulled her arms back together, saving her from certain doom for the second time in less than five minutes. Had Sondra been able to get her legs to open up wide enough so that the crook of her knees married into the crook of Carl’s elbows, the boy’s attempt to reach the forest would have been a speedy one, but the extra weight on his back that her dangling legs created had greatly encumbered him. Looking back to see how far behind him Mr. Brendle was soon after he had started running for his life, Carl was quite satisfied with the distance he had put between himself and the maniac. When he took another look behind him about half a minute later, his stomach dropped. Somehow, someway, Mr. Brendle had significantly lessened the gaping space between himself and his two prospective casualties. Although he was already moving at his fastest pace, Carl found one final bit of divine energy inside of him and was able to push himself just beyond his maximum output. He was moving even faster than he was just a second ago, and all roads pointed to freedom. But the boy’s last-effort push was no match for Mr. Brendle’s sheer determination. When Carl pushed himself a bit, the old man pushed himself twice as hard. His legs were moving almost three times as fast Carl’s, and the long, thin, grey shoulder length strands of hair that encircled the bald spot of his abnormally large head flailed about wildly in the wind generated by his incredible speed. With the forest still a great distance away, common sense told Carl that Mr. Brendle was going to catch up with them any second now. He could no longer fool himself; he knew that Mr. Brendle had won the war. “Go on! Get home!” he yelled out to his brothers and sisters when he had made it halfway across the glade. “We’ll meet you guys at the house!” Fatigue had set in by this point, and Carl knew that he wasn’t going to make it much further. He didn’t want his younger siblings to witness the looming murders. Although his brothers and sisters didn’t always appreciate the way that Carl would treat them, they respected him. He didn’t have to tell them to leave twice.

Once they were out of sight, Carl shouted over his shoulder to Sondra that he was “no longer able to carry on.” That was all. He said nothing else to her. He figured that she was sensible enough to know what was coming next, especially since she had just stared death in the face a few minutes ago. His run for freedom had turned into an infelicitous saunter of defeat. From there, the burden of the load on his back caused his legs to give out. He fell down to the earth, with only one throbbing knee and two shaking arms keeping his body from collapsing flat to the ground. The intrepid young warrior wouldn’t dare allow himself to fall prostrate - not even in his most feeble moment. He was going to be a soldier until the very end. As he lie there on the ground on bended knee, he purposely stuck his neck out as far as he possibly could from his body, his posture suggesting that he wanted Mr. Brendle to do whatever he had to do quickly. Carl’s only wish in that moment was to be taken out first so that he wouldn’t have to hear Sondra’s useless pleas for help as she was hacked to death. To have her haunting squalls be the last thing running through his mind before he died would surely cause him to ask his Maker to eternally burn his soul in hell for the misfortune he had caused to come upon an innocent, defenseless child. In spite of the great amount of pain he was in at the moment, had Sondra still been attached to his back, he more than likely would have attempted to reach the woods one last time just so that he could have the satisfaction of knowing that he did everything that he possibly could to try and save a life. Now, all his final thoughts consisted of were regret and remorse.

The impact of Carl’s fall had once again caused the grip that Sondra had on his neck to loosen up, but there was nothing he could have done to save her this time; he himself was completely helpless. When Sondra had fallen off of his back, she ended up rolling over a few times before eventually winding up on her back, about a foot away from him. Paranoid, she immediately propped herself up on her elbows and began swiveling her head around frantically in an effort to locate Carl, whom she was banking on to protect her from the lurking Mr. Brendle. Locating Carl was easier than she had thought it would be, but when she saw the condition that he was in, that was when she really went into panic mode. She imagined herself being dragged from where she was resting back to the creepy shack at any given time now to be brutally murdered. But where was their pursuer? Hadn’t he just been behind them? The whole scenario was getting a little too weird for Sondra now. But one thing was certain: he couldn’t have just vanished into thin air. Then, in the distance, several bright flickers of light caught the girl’s eye. The light was being produced by the sun bouncing off of the wedge of Mr. Brendle’s ax. He was returning to his home. Mr. Brendle, who suffered from a rare form of dwarfism, had overexerted himself by engaging in such arduous physical activity. Moments before Carl had collapsed, he had to abandon his chase.

The mischievous Carl had dodged a close call. After recuperating from his fatigue, he sincerely apologized to Sondra for what he had just caused and promised her that he would never put her in harm’s way again. But most importantly, he beseeched her to keep her promise about not breaking a word of what had just taken place to his parents. Yet, here he was at the dinner table sticking his foot in his own mouth.

Since such little information was known about the peculiar Mr. Brendle, Sondra’s made-up fib about being his daughter was indeed plausible. What Sondra knew her surrogate family wouldn’t have found believable was her proclamation of who her actual family was. The story of Mr. Sillow and his innocent young victim Amanda had been a long-standing urban legend within the small town for decades, and Sondra had quickly been apprised of the fear-inducing tale by the Peck children shortly after meeting them. Nobody within the community had seen Mr. Sillow ever since he determined that his life was in jeopardy, and not a single soul had laid eyes on Amanda since her disappearance when she was just a young girl. Popular belief within the community was that the two were living together in an underground bunker. It was the easiest explanation for their disappearances. Although Sondra felt guilty about withholding the truth from The Pecks since she cared about them so much, she knew that she had to do what was in her best interest. If she was to come out with the truth, she was sure that she would have been banished by them. Instead, Mr. and Mrs. Peck told her that it would be okay if she moved in with them after agreeing that their household surely had to be a more beneficial one for a child rather than the household of Mr. Brendle. Not surprisingly, Sondra didn’t turn down their proposal. However, wary of the fact that she was living a lie and deceiving a family that was gracious enough to accept her as one of their own, she never again spoke of family matters with them out of fear that she would accidentally say something that she shouldn’t have. Thankfully, the Pecks never brought up the topic of her family again, either. But the startling urban legend that the Peck children had shared with her regarding her parents’ pasts remained a burning thought on her mind for years. In one of her last encounters with her mother, Sondra would try and get to the bottom of everything. No matter what it took, she wasn’t going to settle for anything less than the truth.

Chapter 38

The amount of time that Sondra had been spending at her mother and father’s place over the years since moving in with Pecks had grown so infrequent that she sometimes had great difficulty locating her parents’ cottage whenever she would decide to make one of her rare trips to see her mother. She had completely cut her father off after hearing those hard-to-swallow tales about him. Even though most of the things that she had heard about her once-doting father sounded a bit too unbelievable, Sondra couldn’t deny that there were some elements of truth to the urban legend. For instance, there was that big, ostentatious midnight blue buggy with the gold bulbs on top of it that never moved from the back of their cottage. According to the urban legend, that was the same buggy that police officials were trying to locate for investigative purposes after it was alleged that Mr. Sillow had been carrying around his first wife’s dead body inside of it. Of course Sondra had no way of knowing for sure whether or not her father had actually killed his first wife, but she definitely did find his refusal to use that blue buggy to be a little fishy. Also, according to the legend, Amanda was still somewhere in Yarmouth, alive and well; and wherever she resided, it was said that Mr. Sillow resided there as well. Lo and behold, Sondra was presently on her way to the much-speculated-about couple’s dwelling. There were simply too many parts of this perturbing urban legend that was making perfect sense to her. She had resisted the urge to bring the matter up to her mother for years. Now older and wiser and seriously interested in the history of her parents, she could no longer ignore her desperate need for answers.

Today the 13-year-old girl was heading home to have a frank one-on-one conversation with her mother. With so many questions floating around in her head, she was hoping that Mrs. Sillow would be straight to the point with her responses. She didn’t want her mother withholding any information from her or covering up for her father just because she was so afraid of her own husband. She was more than prepared to hear the brutally honest truth; and if she wasn’t satisfied with the answers that came out of her mother’s mouth, she wouldn’t have a problem with cutting her off as well.

Based on what Sondra was hearing - or rather what she wasn’t hearing - as she pressed an ear up against the front door of her parents’ home, all was quiet inside of the house. Maybe her mother and father had learned to get along since she had moved out. Or maybe even better yet, her father had passed away. The last time that Sondra had been to the cottage to pay a visit to her mother, he appeared as though he would be taking his last breath at any moment. He was creepily standing in the corner of the living room as she sat conversing with her mother on the living room’s rustic, neutral-colored settee, perhaps wondering why his daughter wasn’t paying him any mind. His eerie, sickly features, combined with his death-like stare and his refusal to express what was on his mind, was too much for Sondra to put up with. She ended up leaving the house almost as quickly as she got there. As she slowly turned the knob to enter the house today, she was earnestly hoping that he would be confined to his bed as a result of his ailment. Once she had opened the door to a certain point, she stuck her head inside the house to scope out the scene. As her head swiveled around the living room, she noticed her mother sitting in her usual spot on that smelly, heavily soiled, old beige settee. There was a frantic expression on her mother’s face as she sat with her arms fully extended out in front of her and her palms opened wide, a signal for her daughter to stop pushing on the door. When Sondra did stop, Mrs. Sillow turned her attention down the hallway momentarily. When nothing out of the ordinary happened, she placed her focus back on her daughter. Placing one of her pointer fingers over her mouth, she gestured to Sondra with her other hand to proceed with entering the house. Carefully, Sondra pushed the door open just a little bit wider instead of all the way open to prevent the door’s rusty hinges from creaking more than they needed to and slipped her slender body inside of the house through the small opening. Without closing the door behind her in order to make her exit from the house less clamorous, Sondra joined her mother on the settee. Before either of them had a chance to say a word, Mrs. Sillow grabbed on to her daughter and hugged her tightly. She had truly missed Sondra’s company around the house. But the love wasn’t reciprocated. Angered about how her mother had never shared the truth about her past with her, Sondra disrespectfully pushed her mother off of her. Not that it was any of her business, or anything, but Sondra would have at least felt better knowing the reason behind why her mother always acted so strange as she was growing up. In the heat of the moment, she began to think that it was no longer necessary to even ask her mother the questions that had come to get cleared up. She could pretty much piece everything together. Sondra had already come to a conclusion in her head as to why her mother never left the house and why she was so afraid of her husband, but she really wanted to hear the answers directly from the horse’s mouth.

“We need to talk,” Sondra said sharply, seemingly forgetting that her mother had gestured to her to be as quiet as she possibly could just a few seconds ago. Once again Mrs. Sillow implored the child to keep the noise level down, but the anger and frustration that had been building up inside of Sondra over the years wouldn’t allow for her to be quieted simply because her mother was too chicken to stand her ground against her tyrannical husband. “Then, we’re just going to have to carry this conversation outside,” Sondra stated, the decibel level of her voice still unchecked.

Certain that her daughter’s defiance would end up waking her husband up from his sleep, Mrs. Sillow quickly hopped up off of the settee and waltzed her way outside, with her livid daugther following closely on her tail. Sondra’s poor attitude had transferred over to Mrs. Sillow, who ranted: “We haven’t seen each other in forever, and this is how you greet your dear old mother? I try to hug you, and you push me away; I ask you to keep the noise down, yet you only get louder. Shame on you, young lady. That tells me a lot about the poor caliber of people you’ve associated yourself with since leaving this house. It pains my heart as a mother to see my daughter’s life heading down such a treacherous path. Anyway, what the hell is it that you want?”

“It ain’t like your life is or was any better than mine. Your past is so shameful, it’s no wonder you never told me about it. And by the way, you have no idea how kind and wonderful that family that accepted me as one of their own is. Don’t speak about them if you don’t know them.

“But I really didn’t come here to argue with you. I only came here today to let you know that I know the real story behind your life, mama. I feel like you should have told me certain things about yourself without me having to confront you like this. Now, if it was anybody else, I wouldn’t have cared about their plight; but you’re my mother. I came from you. And, in all honesty, I do care about you very much. But why doesn’t daddy care about you? Why did he steal your childhood away from you?”

The first thought that came to Mrs. Sillow’s mind was to tell her daughter a lie, but Sondra was no longer that naïve little six-year-old girl who would be quick to believe whatever was thrown at her. Moreover, the way that she had said what she had to say was too concise and devoid of uncertainty. Mrs. Sillow knew that she had no other alternative but to come clean. “Your father’s twisted,” she replied softly, while breaking eye contact with her sagacious daughter. “He’s always only cared about his wants and needs. You used to live here; you know that. When he came into my life, Sondra, I was young, innocent, and naïve. He selfishly snatched my future away from me with a few very manipulative and persuasive sentences. He’s continued his manipulation tactics straight through our relationship. For years that man made me feel as though I loved him when I really didn’t. Some of the things that I’ve done for him, I can never forgive myself for. I got caught in a web that I just couldn’t escape from. What’s worse, it feels as though I’m gonna be stuck inside of this web of disaster and misery for an eternity.”

To hear her mother be so open with her and not stray off topic made Sondra break down in tears. The only thing that Sondra wanted at that point was for her mother to be brave enough to remove herself from her current situation.

“Mother, you really don’t have to be in this predicament, you know,” Sondra counseled. “Sure daddy made life extremely hard on you. When he met you, you didn’t know any better. But you’re a grown ass woman now. You don’t have to put up with his crap any longer.”

“Where on Earth am I going to go? Who can I turn to?” Mrs. Sillow questioned, befuddled. I have nobody, my dear child.”

“But you’ve gat me,” Sondra said with assurance to her insecure mother, simultaneously extending her hand out for her mother to take a hold of it. “Come on, let’s get out of here. From this day on, I promise you that all of your worries and woes are over.” Mrs. Sillow stood motionless; staring intently at her daughter’s outstretched hand of salvation. Sondra’s proposal was one of the most tantalizing offers that had ever come her way in her entire life. Immediately, thoughts of a new life began to flash through her mind. She thought about being able to wake up without a punch or a kick or a glob of spit to the face on a daily basis. She thought about what it would be like to not be forced to clean, cook, or to have sex. She thought about never being hit again in her life. She thought about interacting with other persons besides her degrading and demeaning husband. She thought about exploring a community that she was certain had drastically changed since she had last walked through it as a child. She thought about revisiting the spots where her mother and father had been buried. She thought about doing all of the things that she had never gotten the chance to do after falling into the clasp of her lover.

All of the thoughts running through Mrs. Sillow’s mind had caused her to completely disconnect from reality. As Sondra glared into her mother’s face, she could tell that she wanted to leave with her. Mrs. Sillow’s eyes, which contained a look of unadulterated exuberance, were fixated on the trees of the forest. It was as though she was trying to mentally envision what was beyond them. Sondra could tell that her mother wasn’t going to be snapping out of her trance anytime soon, so she had to coax her out of her spell. Quickly reaching out and grabbing her mother’s hand, Sondra attempted to pull her mother away from the cottage by force. As though she had anticipated being tugged, Mrs. Sillow’s feet remained planted firmly on the doorstep.

“Why are you resisting, mother?” Sondra eventually asked after her repeated efforts to get Mrs. Sillow to budge had failed. “I can see how bad you want to get away from here.”

“I do, but I’m afraid that someone out there is going to recognize me.”

“Nobody is going to recognize you, mother. The last time you were spotted, you were a teenager. You look so much different now. Come on, let’s go,” Sondra insisted, still tugging sharply on her mother’s hand.

“I really need some time to think about this, Sondra,” Mrs. Sillow said while prying her hand loose of her daughter’s vicelike grip. “I’m sorry. But you ought to get going now, my child. I must have dinner prepared by the time my husband wakes up.”

“Mom, if I go, I promise you that you won’t be seeing me for a very, very long time. You know what, I won’t be returning at all, for that matter.” Sondra was trying to remain as calm and composed as she possibly could, but her frustration couldn’t be hidden. Her unhappiness was written all over her face.

“I’ll just have to hope that you change your mind and return to see your dear old mother. Goodbye for now, my child.” But just in case Sondra was indeed serious about not ever returning to the cottage, Mrs. Sillow gave her the telephone number to the house before stepping back inside and shutting the door in her face.

“I thought you loved me,” were the last set of words that Mrs. Sillow heard just before everything in her world went completely black.

Chapter 39

When Mrs. Sillow regained consciousness, she was still lying in the spot where her husband had knocked her out cold. Mr. Sillow had been eavesdropping on the conversation between his wife and his daughter long enough to hear certain things that highly displeased him, and, as usual, his wife paid a brutal price for her slipup. Sadly, Mrs. Sillow had become so accustomed to such random acts of abuse being taken out against her that the attack didn’t faze her in the least bit. Once she felt that she could stand up without her legs giving way from underneath of her, she simply picked herself up from off of the floor and made her way into the kitchen to begin preparing dinner. Mr. Sillow wasn’t through with disciplining her, though.

“The last time that my daughter was here, you saw the way that disrespectful little bitch ignored me,” he vented to his wife the moment she stepped foot into the kitchen area, where he had been guzzling down some cold water in an effort to try and suppress his anger. But the cup of water didn’t help him in the least bit. Perhaps it would have had the majority of the water ended up in his system instead of on his chin and on his dark green pajama shirt. “I raised her from she was nothing because you didn’t have enough sense to perform your basic motherly duties, something that is a natural, God-given endowment. Yet, she comes here to see you. Why all of a sudden am I no longer of any significance to her? What have I done to her that’s so horrible that she can’t even just say hello to me anymore?

“Anyway, that’s beside the point right now. After she left, I specifically told you that I didn’t want her around my house anymore. Now today you have the gall to stand outside of my front door with her and tell her that you don’t love me. Amanda, if I was still in possession of just a half of the physical strength that I had a couple years ago, I would have beaten you to death right here in this kitchen this evening. There were so many things that you’ve done in the past that I’ve wanted to kill you for, but what you did a moment ago really crossed the line. I don’t care for the little girl anymore, but don’t you ever bad-mouth me to my child again.”

“Yes, my dear husband, I apologize. I guarantee you that you won’t be seeing that little bitch around here anymore. I don’t know why she continues to come here when I’ve asked her not to. If she feels that it’s okay to come and visit me once every few years, she’s gat another thing coming.” With every word that came out of her mouth, Mrs. Sillow was beginning to ponder heavily upon what her daughter had been saying to her. Perhaps she didn’t have to be in the predicament that she was allowing herself to remain stuck in. Despite having become accustomed to mistreatment over the years, she was absolutely sick and tired of being her husband’s puppet. Every action that she made and everything that she said was to please him. If he would just show her some kind of appreciation and respect every now and again, she would be more than happy to put up with his bullshit. Yet, she was giving her all to someone whom she got absolutely nothing from in return. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Apparently, wisdom hadn’t accompanied her aging process.

She realized that she had made the biggest mistake of her life several days later. Mrs. Sillow was beating herself up inside for not taking Sondra up on her offer. Unfortunately, there was no second chance to be had at receiving a similar offer at freedom, for Sondra had vowed to never return back to the cottage. She didn’t lie. Mrs. Sillow had allowed her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slip away.

Chapter 40

About two years following Sondra’s last visit to her mother, Mr. Peck decided to relocate his family out of Yarmouth. With the war finished, money was no longer coming in the way that it used to be. Fearing the possibility that he could return to being piss-poor and unable to provide for his family - as it was in those trying, unforgettable days of the Great Depression - Mr. Peck made his exodus out of town before the little bit of savings that he had managed to accumulate over the years ended up completely withering away.

Sondra’s head was perched against the inside canopy of the Pecks’ prodigious custom-built family wagon as Mr. Peck eagerly prodded his horses to begin getting a move on. The only thought running through her mind at the moment was how perfect it would have been if her mother could have been a part of this migration out of the state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Mr. Peck’s decision to just up and leave town was a spontaneous one. He hadn’t told anybody in advance (not even his wife) that today would be their final day in Yarmouth. He had seemingly just awoken with thoughts of a better life in a new environment on his mind. As the family pulled all of their belongings - excluding articles that were much too hefty to carry behind them - out of their tiny dwelling and stuffed them into the back of the Brobdingnagian wagon, Sondra was tempted to ask to be excused so that she could navigate her way through the woods as quickly as she possibly could for one last time to try and convince her mother to do what she knew was right and muster up the guts to get out of her distressing situation. Sondra knew that she would have had a great deal of explaining to do if she was to return hand-in-hand with the strange elderly lady, but she was more than ready to lie her ass off so that her mother could experience life in a way that she never before had the opportunity to. But, of course, this was all just a fantasy floating around inside the head of the teenage idealist. She would have no such chance to go and collect her mother. Mr. Peck was pushing her too hard to get her belongings into the wagon as fast as she possibly could. It was impossible for her to stop and get a drink of water if she wanted to. Mr. Peck’s mind was set on getting out of Yarmouth pronto.

As Mr. Peck crossed state line after state line, Sondra’s fears pertaining to the future of her mother’s well-being intensified. Still a young child who had yet to experience a quarter of the adversities and misfortunes that life would eventually end up throwing her way, Sondra didn’t walk around with too many regrets. Without a doubt, however, her biggest regret to date was telling her mother that she had no desire whatsoever to ever see her again. Was she ever wrong. The further away that Mr. Peck moved the family away from Yarmouth over the following days and weeks, the more disdain Sondra felt for herself, and it showed. In fact, the effects of her newly-adopted sulkiness threatened to poison the attitudes of everyone around her. She wasn’t eating; she was missing out on copious hours of sleep; she wasn’t communicating with anyone in the family; her eyeballs were always alarmingly red and moist with tears; and she felt as though the only set of persons that she could depend on in the whole entire world were turning their backs on her. Her brattish antics had eventually struck a nerve with the entire family, and halfway into their migration, the Pecks eventually started coming down extremely hard on her. She was placing everyone on edge and at the same time self-nominating herself to be the black sheep of the bunch. In order to raise her spirits every now and again, she would create an image of the number to the cottage in her head and promise herself day in and day out to give her mother a call as soon as she came across a telephone.

She had chosen to camouflage herself deep in the back of the wagon amongst the family’s furnishings, articles of clothes, and other miscellaneous items, while the rest of the Peck children all crammed themselves together quite uncomfortably directly behind their parent’s wooden two-seater bench at the front of the wagon, which was the only area in the wagon from which a view of the outside world could be captured. Apart from sometimes stepping out of the wagon and getting a brief glimpse of her surroundings during the occasional rest stop Mr. Peck made every four hours, Sondra was so uninterested in the world around her that she didn’t have the good fortune of taking in the wondrous scenery of Pennsylvania’s rich green, lush foliage or its breathtaking waterfalls and gorges. The wagon went past a few of the majestic castles of Illinois without her having the slightest knowledge of it. And she didn’t bother taking but a quick glance at South Dakota’s awe-inspiring rolling prairies or its canyons that were so deep that their floors appeared to pervade into the depths of hell and mountains that were so high that their tips had to have presumably been stopped from reaching any higher due to their abutment with the floor of Heaven itself.

The family was heading in a westerly direction. As the downturn in farming in Yarmouth began to manifest itself, an indefinite number of the farmers there, many of whom in the past had grappled with extreme poverty, just like Mr. Peck, felt eerily compelled to immediately find an alternative source of income, be it in Massachusetts or out of the state. What Mr. Peck wanted was to find work in a field that would provide him with a stable, adequate income so that he would be able to provide for his family for years and years to come, especially since he and his wife were now expecting another child. That desire led him all the way across the northern U.S. to Idaho. Through the grapevines, he had heard that gold; precious and semi-precious stones; copper; garnets; tungsten; clay; silver, lead, and zinc deposits; and a slew of other important minerals resided beneath the soil of the “Gem State”. Mr. Peck felt within his heart that he was finally following a lead that would result in him striking it rich. The allure of such a wealth of natural resources all for the taking in one place sounded much too enticing for him to not make his way to the state.

Work, he found easily; and this time around, he was his own boss. Even though everything he had heard from his source wasn’t exactly the way that things were once he arrived in Idaho, Mr. Peck still held on to the hope that his “American Dream” would be realized. Hell, he had no choice. He had travelled too far to allow his mind to be taken over by doubts. But it was really a gold rush that had northern Idaho’s Silver Valley rife with activity at the time of Mr. Peck’s arrival. The gold rush had brought hopeful miners to the area in droves. Included in this immense number of fortune seekers were Mr. Peck and his seven employees. Yes, he even had his pregnant wife panning for gold along the mineral-rich rivers and streams in the region. Every day Mr. Peck would have her get up and get out, from the break of dawn until the sun’s setting, in search of ounces of gold. The competition for the highly sought-after material was too numerous to not have every member of the family be hands on in the search process. There was just too much at stake to lose if everyone didn’t pitch in. For one, Mr. Peck was hoping that the family would soon pool together enough gold so that they could afford to build a home and quit having to live out of their wagon. Additionally, with another baby on the way, he wanted to make life for that child much more comfortable than he had made life for his existing children. His attitude to obtain what he had set out to obtain was so intransigent that the only time that any member of his team was able to take a break was when they needed to relieve themselves. Mr. Peck would provide each of them with a canteen of water at the beginning of the day and would deliver a meal to them that they could eat with just one hand, so that they never stopped working, twice during the day (once at 9:00 a.m. and again at 12:00 p.m.) Once dark fell, the family would all convene together inside of the wagon for an unpalatable dinner that Mr. Peck had prepared for them. The dulcet atmosphere that used to be so tangible around the dinner table back in Yarmouth had been replaced with a repugnant ambience at dinnertime in Idaho. After a long, hard day’s work, everyone just wanted to fill their stomachs as quickly as they could and rest their weary bodies in preparation for the following day. There was no speaking to one another and everyone’s eyes remained fixed in their plates, and Mr. Peck knew that it was all because of him.

He was working his family too hard, as if they were farm animals or pieces of machinery. He had evolved into a completely different man in a matter of weeks. It was weird. It was an especially tough transition for Sondra to put up with. Out of everyone, she received the worst of his treatment. Her crooked leg bones were not fond of being in the incessant bent position that the job of gold panning required them to be in. That being the case, most of the time that Mr. Peck came around to see how many fragments of gold she had collected throughout the course of the day, she was either walking around in a small circle to get the kinks out of her wobbled joints or sitting with her feet submerged in the body of water that she was working from. The gentle flow of the stream of water soothingly passing over her legs was therapeutic to her pained limbs. The jar that she had been given to deposit her gold findings in was usually empty when Mr. Peck came around. Not a single ounce of gold inside of it. But Mr. Peck was not sympathetic to her physical constraints. Her lack of productivity resulted in him raising his voice at her and telling her some extremely harsh things on a countless number of occasions. He didn’t care that dozens of other persons were around. He needed Sondra to realize the magnitude of how important her daily task was to him. The way he saw it, if she wanted to remain affiliated with his family, she would have to earn that concession. Their inability to see eye-to-eye and Mr. Peck’s unceasing antagonizing eventually caused Sondra to purposefully refuse to search for any pieces of gold. In her mind, if he could carry on and treat her with such disrespect, it was only right that she gave him a dose of his own medicine. Poor little thing… she should have known better. The first time that she disrespected him would also turn out to be the last time. When Sondra back talked Mr. Peck in front of some of the other miners down at the riverside one day, he lost it. After knocking the potty-mouthed young girl half senseless with a plangent backhand slap, he grabbed her by the hair and dunked her head inside of the nearby water, pushing it down so far that her face met with the mucky river floor. He would have drowned her too had it not been for the gallant actions of several of the miners who were brave enough to beard the barbarous assailant.

Once Sondra had regained consciousness following the ordeal, the first person she saw after opening up her eyes was a fellow miner by the name of Jonathan Platt. Her head was resting in his lap as he applied some kind of ointment to her sore, reddened cheek. All of the other miners had already gotten back to their treasure hunt, as if the near murder of a disabled teenage girl was something that they saw take place every single day. Their main concern was their pockets; but Jonathan had a heart. The 21-year-old, who had made his way to Silver Valley from Louisiana in pursuit of nothing more than a thrill and a more than welcomed life-threatening adventure, had, however, happened to amass a substantial amount of earnings from his gold mining exploits. And what he was about to offer Sondra was far more enticing than a grubstake.

Chapter 41

Fair to say, Sondra was at an age when nature more than likely would have already imposed an interest in the opposite sex upon her.

“You know that you don’t have anyplace to sleep tonight, right?” Jonathan asked her as she intently stared up into his immersing light brown eyes with a wry smile that had somehow broken through the grimace on her face. The boy was just beautiful. His long, cascading strands of hair, which reached down beyond the middle of his back, were neatly bound together in a ponytail, and every word that came out of his razor-thin pink lips was like music to her ears. “I could tell that that guy was nuts from the first day that he arrived here in Idaho? I mean, who goes running into a river, scraping its floor with their bare hands in hopes of coming up with a handful of gold nugget chunks? What a goose.”

“Yea, that’s my dad for ya,” Sondra said in a bit of pain as she sat up and gently rubbed her tender face. “Which way did he go, anyway?” she asked. Now that she was in an upright position, Jonathan quickly picked up on signs of fear and worry in her body language.

“Don’t worry; three guys escorted him away from this area after he attacked you. The only way you’ll be seeing him again today is if he decides to come looking for you to finish off what he started.”

Sondra sat quietly, soaking in everything that Jonathan had been saying to her. “Oh goodness, this man is going to kill me! I must get out of this place! But where in the world am I to going to go!? Where the hell am I going to stay!?” she uttered frantically after she had played out her life as a vagabond inside of her head. “There’s nobody here who I can turn to!” Sondra was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to come to grips with her new reality. But before she completely freaked out, Jonathan intervened and allayed her concerns.

“Ummm, I live all by myself; and I would be too wrong to not offer you a place to rest your head. So, with that being said, do you wanna stay with me?” he asked her.

Just when Sondra thought that nothing could have topped having her cheek touched by his hands, Jonathan sent her to heaven with the last set of words that came out of his mouth.

Sondra’s mind had already been made up from the moment that she heard his question, but she pretended to think it over in her head so that her secret crush wouldn’t feel as though she was imposing the responsibility of taking care of her on him. All the while Jonathan sat looking at her with an eager expression covering his face. “Yea, I think I just am gonna move in with you,” Sondra eventually came out with.

“Alright, well, if we’re going to be living together now, I think it’s a good idea if you at least knew my name. I’m Jonathan…”

Introductions out of the way, the two would end up forging an extremely close relationship - a sexual relationship; a drug-using relationship.

Chapter 42

The drug quickly became the most important thing to her in the whole entire world. Her brain cells thirsted for it every single second of every single day, and Jonathan regretted having ever introduced her to the “white devil”. Over the years, he guiltily watched Sondra succumb to that devil’s every irrational command. There was nothing that she wouldn’t do to dance with that devil. Nothing. When Jonathan had quit supplying Sondra with her heart’s desire in an effort to rehabilitate the far-gone teenage junkie, she quickly learned that she could solicit her body to continue supporting her habit without having to depend on his funds in order to do so. In essence, she no longer needed him. Even though he did provide her with a roof over her head, she would have been content living out of a nature-made cove as long as she could have the devil take over her soul whenever she felt like having him do so.

As much as it pained Jonathan to keep the drug away from her - a hard drug user himself, he knew the ramifications of stopping usage of such a potent drug all of a sudden - he refused to ease up off of his no-tolerance stance. The effect of his decision: Sondra turned to the streets of Indiana to quell her fix. Despite doing everything that he possibly could to keep her inside of his life, the relationship between Jonathan and Sondra eventually fizzled. All she was concerned about was that goddamn high. She wanted to always remain in that realm where her mind wasn’t concerned with the abundance of problems in her rueful world. She loved the way that the devil escorted her to heaven. In her state of temporary mental euphoria, she wasn’t concerned about the cataclysmic way in which her and Mr. Peck’s relationship had come to an end (something that she thought about far too often when she wasn’t high); she forgave herself for being a contemptible young slut to get what she wanted; she could care less about how her biological mother was faring back in Yarmouth with her bellicose husband; she felt no remorse whatsoever for having put Jonathan through what she put him through; and she had absolutely no reservations about being a homeless young woman with no clear goals set for her future. But whenever the effects of the stimulant would begin to wear off, Sondra’s mind would focus three times as hard on everything that she was taking the stimulant to avoid thinking of in the first place, and she would damn near lose it. The dysphoria she experienced when sober, coupled with all of the bullshit running through her mind and actually going on in her daily life, was enough to keep in a slump for days at a time if she didn’t have sufficient funds to remain constantly high. But the truth of the matter was: cocaine wasn’t a cheap drug.

The price of the drug was particularly exaggerated in Silver Valley due to the high probability for persons living there to strike it rich at any given time or day. Once residents there had attained a certain level of financial success, it was customary for them to be extremely profligate in their spending. For the region’s affluent, maintaining a healthy cocaine diet was a way of showing off one’s financial accomplishments. Sondra was out of her league in Silver Valley. She couldn’t afford to maintain her addiction there. She would have to relocate to an area of the state where the drug was sold cheaper on a more competitive market. In order to reunite with the devil, Sondra would have to make her way down south.

Chapter 43

Boise, Idaho gave Sondra her first taste of city life; and if she thought life had taken her on a crazy journey thus far, things in her world were about to spiral completely out of control.

Although she had lived amongst a diverse ethnic population back in Yarmouth, everyone there got along. Here in Boise, whites were at odds with blacks. They blamed the race for every criminal offence that was committed in the area and accused them of being responsible for all of the maladies and STDs that were going around. Weary of the race, the white population was adamant about getting the undesirables out of the state. But across the entire United States, particularly in the South, there was great civil unrest between the two races. There was really no place for the black residents of Boise to go. Even if they did decide to leave, no matter where they went, they were pretty much guaranteed to run into the same issues that they were facing in Idaho. During this era of societal warfare, prominent African-American activists across the country such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. were slaving to ensure that the future for all black Americans would be one that was free of oppression and racial discrimination. But until that time manifested itself, Sondra observed individuals of color endure brutal beatings at the hands of police officers for absolutely no reason at all; she watched as lines were drawn outlining which businesses blacks could and couldn’t patronize; she noticed a dramatic difference in the quality of education between the races; she witnessed a black teenage boy get publicly lynched for defending himself against a gang of white boys who had physically assaulted him and threatened to take his life; and she realized the way in which government officials were scoffing at duties they had sworn to fulfill when they had taken their oath into office. Idaho’s capital had opened her eyes to things that she wished she had never seen before. At times she wanted to pluck her eyeballs right out of her head.

Inherently, she knew that holding malice in one’s heart for another human being simply because of the hue of their skin was not only morally wrong, but also unjustifiably stupid. And to see how the whites had formed organized consortiums to assert their hatred for the minority race was plain ludicrous to her. Watching Ku Klux Klan members march up and down Main Street in their pure white robes and gloves, capirotes, and face masks while toting hoisted conflagrant crosses and promulgating white supremacy made Sondra ashamed to be of white descent. Ah, but then again, the whites were the majority there, and human nature does confoundingly tend to make preponderant groups of individuals resent those who are not of their kind. But Sondra refused to allow her mind to be convoluted by popular culture. She reprobated offers from Boise’s Caucasian brotherhoods to join their organizations and have indelible swastikas and Confederate flags ingrained into the dermic layer of her skin in exchange for promises of a family that would never forsake her and would provide her with eternal financial security. As enticing as their troths sounded, there was just something about these organizations that didn’t sit well with the strong-minded young woman. For one, she always wondered why when making public appearances KKK members would conceal their faces if they were so proud and unashamed of what they believed in. Furthermore, she had heard of several cases in which individuals who had come to the conclusion that they no longer wanted to be affiliated with these organizations and tried breaking ties with these groups were executed citing treason. For those who had managed to get out alive, they were shamefully forced to live with the racist symbols that they had tattooed into the skin of their legs, arms, torsos, faces, and heads for the rest of their lives. Based on mere observation alone, Sondra knew that this wasn’t the type of lifestyle that she wanted to associate herself with. If Boise’s black population had ever gotten fed up to the point where they could no longer put up with the current state of events and the vast majority of them decided to up and leave the region, Sondra was almost certain that she would have made the exodus with them.

She was magnetized to the black race. In fact, she loved the black race. The blacks were the group of people who always had a rock for sale at a more than reasonable price. And even when she didn’t have sufficient funds, certain black dealers would sometimes allow her to barter her pussy for her rocks. Sondra really loved those kinds of trade-offs. For her, intercourse with black men became almost as addicting and deadly as the drug itself.

Chapter 44

Years passed on by, and Sondra was absolutely astonished that she had lived through them. Since moving to Boise nearly two decades ago, several murder attempts had been made on her life because of her conspicuously licentious affiliation with members of the Negro community. Those attempts to have her blotted out followed her behind prison walls, as she had numerous hits put on her head while serving out a number of stints behind bars for petty crimes ranging from theft to possession of drugs to vagrancy. Additionally, her hard drug usage had landed her in the hospital in critical condition several times over the course of those difficult and trying years. For her to still have breath in her body could be summed up as nothing less than a miracle. Now bordering age 40, she felt compelled to completely change the way that she had been living, especially now that she was pregnant with child.

She had been doing her best in recent years to bring about a positive change in her parlous life. After settling down in her first committed relationship since breaking up with Jonathan, she had retired from selling her body for money and had gotten herself a modest job as a saleswoman at a local shoe store. Once she became knowledgeable of how much money she would be bringing in on a weekly basis, Sondra was able to begin budgeting her finances. In turn, after nearly 20 years of meandering, Sondra was able to finally get herself off of the tough streets of Boise and into her very first apartment. But there was a catch. Sondra’s job didn’t pay all that well, and she was forced to remain in the same godforsaken environment that she so longed to one day make an escape from. As long as she was around drugs, she was going to use - pregnant or not. Making matters worse, her boyfriend, the baby’s father, was a junkie. Jack MacGillam, a slick-talking street hustler who had swooned Sondra one evening after observing her purchase a gram of coke from the back door of a dealer she lived several blocks down the street from, broke off their year-and-a-half-long relationship after accidentally depositing his semen inside of her. He did, however, continue to maintain a casual and sometimes misleading relationship with her in order to have her continue pay for his perpetual drug habit. But unbeknownst to mother or father, it was his incessant need for drugs that saved the life of their child. The more money that he duped Sondra out of to get himself high, the less money she was left with to satiate her crack cravings. She was forced to resort to a much cheaper drug: alcohol. Ergo, on the evening of May 18, 1972, she welcomed a healthy baby boy into the world.

Jack wasn’t around for the birth. His excessive drug usage had claimed his life just a week before Sondra went into labor. The only individuals offering their support to her at the time of the birth were the nurturing doctors and nurses of St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center. They had treated Sondra so many times over the years that they had become like a second family to her, and they did all that was in their power to ensure that the experience of childbirth was as comfortable an experience as possible for the first-time mother. Their efforts paid off; the delivery went off without a hitch. But there were complications following the delivery that were of great concern to the hospital’s staff. Everything was fine with the baby - thankfully - but Sondra was plagued with severe depression, irritability, and bouts of mental incoherence in the wake of the birth, actions that could be directly attributed to her scant usage of her drug of choice over the course of her pregnancy. Doctors decided that it wouldn’t be safe for her to be left alone with her son without supervision of some sort. Because the staff at the hospital shared such a special bond with Sondra, they decided not to involve Child Protective Services in the matter. Instead, the hospital took matters into its own hand and separated mother and child at birth. Sondra was detained in the psychiatric ward of the hospital while her son was kept in the pediatric ward of the establishment. With time, her overall status improved; and after undergoing several months of intensive therapy, she was finally deemed healthy enough to take her son home. As it would turn out, the hospital’s diagnosis of the patient’s well-being was wrong - way wrong.

Chapter 45

She loved that boy. God knows she loved that little boy. The connection that she felt with him was so strong that she would get goose bumps all over her body whenever breastfeeding him, singing a song to him, bathing him, changing his diaper, or just watching him sleep peacefully. Without a doubt, Presley Pirajon Sillow had filled a void in his mother’s once-hopeless existence. Ever since his birth, she put nothing before him - not even herself. But there was always that one thing in the back of her mind that was fighting to grab her attention; and, no matter how much she tried, she didn’t have the mental fortitude to ignore it. There was just one other thing on planet Earth that she loved almost as much as she loved her son. In fact, she loved it so much that she would end up turning to it again, despite having told herself that she wouldn’t for her son’s sake. Nevertheless, her mental weakness easily allowed her to succumb to her vice. And this time around, the devil planned on finishing her off for good.

The reunion between the needle and her vein immediately took its toll on her jaded vital organs. The poison the she had just shot into her bloodstream almost instantaneously sent her body into violent convulsions. Next, things in her world began to spin around at an extreme rate of speed. After that, Sondra remembered nothing. She fell to the ground in an awkward position, her skull bouncing up off of the cold, hard tile floor upon impact. The recur addict was suffering a seizure, and there was no one around to stick a finger in her mouth so that she didn’t swallow her tongue or to tilt her head forward so that she didn’t end up aspirating her emesis. Fortunately, neither of those things happened. Some three minutes after she fell into her epileptic fit, Sondra regained consciousness. Her eyelids flickered almost mechanically as her brain struggled to make out the moldy living room ceiling of her run down apartment from the unusual position she was lying in on her back. Then, the immensity of what had just happened hit her. She had come out victorious against yet another face off with death. Some higher authority had been gracious enough to smile down upon her and bring her out of her seizure. She quickly got up to her feet after wrapping her brain around the fact that she was in a state of perceivable consciousness.

Because of her inability to exercise self-control, Sondra had inadvertently placed both the lives of her and her son in jeopardy. Had she died during that seizure, her son would have eventually starved to death if no one was to drop by the apartment to check up on her within a few days after she would have passed away. Had she died, no longer would she have had that chance to prove to herself that she could overcome her addiction once and for all. Had she died, she would have, by default, forfeited her dream of proving to other addicts they could turn their lives around if she was capable of doing so. But, of course, all of this was suppositional. The fact of the matter was that she was alive and breathing. Grateful to have been given yet another lease on life, Sondra rushed into her bedroom and scooped Presley up off of the bed as she reveled in the fact that she was still able to see him, kiss him, and hold him. But most importantly, she was grateful that she still had the opportunity to raise her boy into a fine young man, for the last thing she ever wanted was for his growing-up experience to be anything like hers.

Knowing that Presley appreciated the job she had done as a parent was the one thing that Sondra wanted to make sure of before she died. Not long after Mr. Peck had uprooted his family out of Yarmouth, Sondra was surprised to find out how she really felt about her own parents. For a long time she had hated her father. That was no surprise. But Sondra was surprised to find out that she had such a great deal of hatred stowed away in her heart for her mother. Those feelings of resentment were what had always held her back from picking up a phone to make a call to the cottage like she had told herself she would. The more that she reminisced on her upbringing in the weeks that followed the move out of Yarmouth, the more she actually tried to forget that telephone number. She was disgusted as she recollected how her mother had become so complacent in such a hostile relationship with her father. What bothered her even more was the fact that her mother remained in that kind of a relationship when she had a child at the center of all of this mayhem to protect. Looking back on things, Sondra felt as though her rights as a child to be nurtured in a wholesome, loving, and caring atmosphere had been blatantly violated. Stricken with an enormous sense of guilt for having just violated her own child’s rights, Sondra cast the blame for her inexcusable actions a few minutes ago on her mother. In her mind, had her mother set a better example for her as she was growing up, what had just taken place in her apartment more than likely never would have happened. But that was just the typical mind-set of a druggie. They would blame everybody in the world except themselves for their problems and their irresponsible decisions. No matter how Sondra looked at it, though, she was still the one who would have to make things right in the aftermath of her debacles. Even though she wasn’t capable of keeping promises that she would make to herself, as she held her child in her arms, she said to him: “Presley, baby boy, I know that you don’t understand what I’m saying to you right now, but I need you to listen to me for a moment. Your mother can be pretty fucked up at times, ya know; but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love you with all my heart and soul. I put your life at risk a moment ago.” As she made that difficult confession to her boy in her state of highness, Sondra wept. “I will never ever be able to forgive myself; and I would completely understand it if you were unable to forgive me as well. But, what I can promise you is that a situation like that will never rise again. Before I put cocaine in my system again I would give you up for adoption. You can put my life on that.”

Either Sondra was full of shit or she the worst mother in the world. Or maybe she was both. About 20 minutes after making her convincing promise to her boy, she was tying a torn T-shirt tightly around her arm in preparation to make another injection in any vein that would pop up. She would inevitably go on to become the type of parent that she was desperately hoping she didn’t turn into all because she couldn’t shake that darn devil. She had turned out to be no better of a parent to Presley than her mother or father had been to her. The only thing Sondra truly cared about in this world was cocaine.

Chapter 46

She had been a widow since the mid-1960s. Though Frederickstein Sillow, a brute, contumelious son of a bitch, had been out of her life for sometime now, the damage had been done: Ms. Sillow was a wreck. Although the relationship that she had with her husband wasn’t in the least bit a healthy one, once he had passed, Ms. Sillow realized that she would have given anything to bring him back. Being all alone in that big old creepy house wasn’t exactly what she had envisioned for the latter years of her life. She had at least wanted to have a house full of happy, rambunctious grandchildren around her until it was time for her to make her departure over to the other side. And even though she had never forgiven Sondra for her behavior during her last visit to the cottage, Ms. Sillow would have liked it if her daughter could have still been a part of her life in some way. On several occasions, the long-time recluse had even heavily contemplated taking a visit into the community, as Sondra had begged for her to do time and time again. When her daughter had told her many years earlier that no one in society would have even recognized who she was if they were to see her face after so many years, those words stuck with her. If the widow’s loneliness was to get her any more down in spirits than she already was, she was going to see if her daughter’s statement had any truth to it at all. In fact, as of late, Ms. Sillow had been thinking of not only heading into the community of Yarmouth for a visit; but she was considering relocating altogether from her dwelling in the woods to live within the community. The thought alone was one that would have flustered the nerves of anyone who had been sequestered from the general public for as long as she had been, but as it stood, the woman desperately coveted human interaction. Then, as though an angel had been keeping a tab on her despondent thoughts over the years, there was a gentle succession of tapping noises heard coming from the front door of the cottage out of the blue. Impossible. Nobody had knocked on that door in ages. Struck with exorbitant curiosity and ecstasy, Ms. Sillow lost her grip on her excrement-laced glass of water, sending it crashing to the wooden kitchen floor, and scuttled across her living room to get the door. “I’m coming,” she yelled, half out of breath, making her statement inaudible to whomever was outside. (Another several taps.) Her visitor was freezing outside. Suddenly, the door flew open, and Presley was greatly startled. But it wasn’t so much the manner in which the door was opened that stunned him; rather, it was the grotesque figure that stood before him.

Chapter 47

An awkward stare down between the two went on for a little while until Ms. Sillow’s eyes caught notice of a letter resting beside the boy’s feet. Seemingly aware of the affect her unsightly appearance was having on her young guest, she gingerly inched her way towards the letter, bent down with great agony, and scooped it up off of the doorstep, her crippled body quivering all the while. Once back in an upright position, she tore open the flap, pulled the letter out, and jolted her squinted eyes across the piece of paper, which read:

Mother,

I know that you don’t know the young man standing before you right now, but his name is Presley Pirajon Sillow; and he’s your grandson. He was born on May 18, 1972, yet he has already outgrown my parenting capabilities. Besides, he’s always asking about you, so I thought it would be in his best if he spent some time with you.

I know that you and I have had our share of difficulties in the past, but I forgive you for everything, and I want to use this letter as an opportunity to apologize for any stress I ever may have caused you as a result of my decision to enter this world. But please look after the boy in better fashion than you looked after me. I know that dad placed a heavy burden on you, causing you to treat me the way that you did; but I’m quite sure he’s out of the picture now. I feel that I’m now in the same predicament that you were once in: my baneful drug addiction and a broken life’s compass have made me a very unsuitable caretaker. I really need your help with the rearing of my child while I take out some time to work on myself. Once I’m back on my feet, however, I will be back for my boy. In the meantime, I will call the house regularly to check up on him - once the phone number hasn’t been changed.

Your Loving Daughter,

Sondra

P.S. I apologize for not being able to face you this morning. I’m really not in the best condition (physically or mentally). Hell, I don’t even know if you’re alive or not. But I couldn’t face the guilt of you thinking that I’m simply using you now after all these years. I know, shame on me.

Once the letter had clarified things for her, Ms. Sillow let it drift to the ground, hastily knelt down with seemingly no bit of discomfort impeding her movement this time, and drew the boy tightly into her bosom. With tears in her eyes, she forewarned him: “You’re my child now, and I’m never letting you go.”

Chapter 48

Familiarity with his new environment and latest caregiver inevitably allowed Presley to break out of his shell and be himself. He quickly learned that the personality of the woman who had greeted him at the front door nearly a month ago didn’t match her hideous exterior. He was a free-spirited young boy who lived with no boundaries, a stark contrast compared to the diffident demeanor that he possessed when he lived at home with his mother. Full of energy and always joyful, he quickly won over the heart of his grandmother; and for the first time in a very long time, Ms. Sillow actually felt normal again. Most surprising to her was the fact that the muscles in her face still recollected how to formulate a smile. Presley indeed made her a proud grandmother; and like any good grandmother would do, she made him quite elated to be her grandchild. For the first time since his birth, he had somebody to tuck him in at night, somebody to read him stories, somebody to cuddle with, and somebody to open up to with whatever was on his six-year-old mind - no matter how trivial the topic.

It was a wonder the boy could even talk: his mother hardly ever said anything to him and had never bothered enrolling him in school. What’s worse, despite virtually spending every single minute of every day in the house with him, she would be too spaced out to ensure that he even got a sensible meal in his stomach at least once every 24 hours. All she ever did was slouch in her living room couch, drinking booze and shooting, snorting, and smoking cocaine for dangerously long periods of time. Following these occasional binges, she would fall asleep for days on end.

The events of his life before he was dumped off in Yarmouth were incidents that would affect Presley for as long as he lived. No child should ever have to see a parent go through what he witnessed his mother go through. The first time that he observed his mother lying on the living room couch emitting strange groaning noises and making slow, uncomfortable movements, the four-year-old instinctively went into a state of panic. Curious as to what was going on with her, he made his way over to the couch - being careful so as to not get stuck in the foot by one of the many needles that were strewn about on the floor or to tip over any of her uncapped alcohol bottles - only to be insensitively instructed to “fuck off.” Seeing his mother in a sloth-like state pretty much became the norm from that day forth. As sad a scenario as this was, Presley wasn’t just going to roll over and die. With no father and pretty much no mother, the boy had practically adapted to life as it was and raised himself. Television shows served as his English language guide; he utilized chairs to climb onto the countertops and dig out whatever foods - many of them rotting and occupied by maggots - that didn’t require cooking from the back of the cupboards; and after a brush with death following a near-drowning incident in the bathtub, he instantly learned how much water was sufficient to bathe with. I dare say that Sondra had given birth to a survivor.

Chapter 49

Her attitude didn’t depict that of a concerned parent’s, but after relinquishing custody of her son temporarily, Sondra was suffering from recurring pangs of maternal withdrawals. At 4:00 a.m. on the last day of the same month that she had ditched her son on her mother’s doorstep, Sondra was calling to check up on him.

“Hello, Sondra,” Ms. Sillow whispered a split second after the phone had begun to ring. It was almost as though she had been anticipating her daughter’s call.

“Mother, Presley, how is he!?” she inquired anxiously. The high-pitched, crackling tone of her voice, coupled with random snorting, bore evidence of her mid-morning drug buffet. “And how did you know it was me?”

“Not important,” her mother replied snappily. “The child’s lying right here beside me… asleep. You know it’s much too early to be calling for him. And listen to yourself. You’re a mess. Turning to drugs after I spared no efforts to instill proper values into you…. Shame on you, Sondra. Dropping this child off here to me was the best decision that someone as stupid as yourself could have ever made.

“You always thought that this parenting thing would be easy, didn’t you? By you bringing this boy to me, I think that I’ve proven to you that you will never be as good of a parent as I was. I even think that my grandson already loves me more than he loved you. Anyway, if you want to talk to the boy, call back at seven tonight.” (Click.) Ms. Sillow abruptly hung up the telephone on her daughter.

Not surprisingly, Sondra never called back that day. The manner in which her mother had spoken to her (Ms. Sillow never took a breath while scolding her) had struck a chord. For the remainder of the day, she sat balled up in a corner of her dwelling, hitting drugs to cope with her anxiety.

Chapter 50

On the last day of the following month, Sondra once again attempted reaching Presley. This time around, however, her calling time was much more reasonable. She called precisely at 7:00 p.m., just as her mother had instructed her to do the previous month.

“So now you want to follow my orders,” Ms. Sillow stated upon taking her daughter’s call. Bitterness could be heard in her voice, heinous bitterness that made Sondra’s entire body tremble in concern. “You know, if you had been this obedient as a little girl, our relationship would have been rock solid.”

“I know, mother. I was a terrible little girl, and I feel like shit now that I’m thinking back on how much grief I’ve caused you.” Whatever was going on with her mother tonight, Sondra wasn’t too sure of; but she knew that she was going to have to hold her tongue, as the wrong choice of words would jeopardize her son’s well-being.

“Hmmm,” her mother breathed.

There was an awkward silence. “The… the boy, where is he?” Sondra eventually asked.

“He’s right here on my lap,” her mother informed her. “Just a second.”

Ms. Sillow positioned the telephone receiver near Presley’s mouth. “Hello,” Presley said softly as his eyes wanderingly zipped around the room, curious as to who was on the other end of the line for him.

“Presley,” his mother yelped. “How are you?”

“Mommy,” he shrieked.

Before the conversation between the two went any further, Ms. Sillow yanked the receiver away from Presley’s ear. “Sondra, I was just in the middle of telling the boy a story, and now you have caused him to completely lose interest,” she stated ballistically.

Though she was able to keep her temper in check earlier, Sondra could no longer bridle her tongue. “Put my son back on the phone now, you demented ass bitch,” she demanded.

“Have I upset you, Sondra?” her mother asked calmly, as though the temporary loss of her cool a second ago was purposely done just to rile her daughter up. “I really didn’t mean to. It’s just that you always call at the wrong times. Now, I see that you’ve established a pattern of calling on the last day of the month, and I did tell you that seven p.m. was an appropriate time to call here. So, from now on, on the final day of every month, you can call around this same time, and I will ensure that the boy will be able to take your calls. Good night, Sondra,” she said while simultaneously hanging up the phone on her.

Ms. Sillow was a jealous woman who meant every bit of what she had told Presley on the morning she collected him off of her doorstep.

Chapter 51

Sondra’s attempt to reach her son that night would turn out to be a grave mistake. Although his mother had never paid him much attention when he was in her care, she was the only person that he had ever known before he was involuntarily placed in the care of someone who was a complete and total stranger to him. And though he did come to love his grandmother very much, hearing his mother’s voice over the phone naturally made him long to be reconnected with her. As his hankering for his mother grew greater with each passing day, Ms. Sillow noticed a drastic change in the boy’s behavior. With each day that went by following that phone call, Presley became more and more rebellious. He no longer was the sweet, innocent little boy she had fallen in love with from the first day that she had taken him into her home as though he was her very own child.

Presley’s behavioral declination wound up bringing out a different side of his grandmother. The sweet old lady who once cherished and adored him was gone. Her insides had turned rotten, and her entire being was the epitome of evil. Story-time hour had been replaced with an hour of scolding; cuddles with grievous nightly beatings. And after a spirit of sorrow would have taken over her entity in the wake of all of her misdeeds, Ms. Sillow would stay up all night earnestly praying for forgiveness, all the while washing her entire body vigorously in her bathtub as a means of washing away her sins. The following day, the events of the previous day would be reenacted.

Chapter 52

Sondra’s usual end-of-the-month call was anything but usual this month.

“Hi, mommy,” was the unexpected greeting that she received on this particular night.

“Presley?” she replied unsurely.

“Yea,” he answered.

“Where’s your grandmother?”

“She’s not feeling too well, so she disconnected the phone line from the wall in her bedroom and told me to wait on your call out here in the living room.” Sondra could hear an immense amount of worry in her son’s voice as he explained to her what was going on inside of the cottage. How terrified he must have been to be in a strange household having to yet again look after himself, his mother thought to herself. “I’m gonna go lie back down beside her in her bed once I get through talking to you,” he quietly informed her.

As best as she tried to keep her emotions in check so that she didn’t make her son any more uneasy than she could tell he already was, Sondra couldn’t control herself. She panicked. “Oh, my God! Are you alright!? Is she alright!?”

“Yup, she’s okay. Me too, mommy.”

Sondra suddenly began feeling nauseous. She was already suffering from the guilt of leaving her son with her mother knowing that her mother had numerous psychological issues. Now she felt like a complete failure for overlooking her mother’s potentially poor health status given her age.

Sondra felt an all-too-familiar urge come on. “Presley, be a big boy and go make sure your grandma’s okay,” she ordered. “Mommy loves you, and I’ll talk to you later.”

“I love you too, mommy,” he reciprocated. “Bye.”

“You didn’t sound convincing enough, boy,” Ms. Sillow conveyed to him as she clutched tighter onto a thick, cracked up leather belt that her husband used to brutalize her with. She had been standing a mere few inches away from Presley as he spoke to his mother from a dusty, torn, mold-infested chair that was positioned in the darkest corner of the cottage’s living room.

Ms. Sillow simply wasn’t in the mood to speak to her daughter that evening, so she had concocted a story of her being falsely ill for Presley to present to his mother. Unfortunately for him, in his grandmother’s mind, he had failed at making the tale plausible. Moments after he got off of the phone, he paid the price for his debacle with an excruciating beating. Ms. Sillow lashed away at her grandson until she broke skin and drew blood.

Chapter 53

When Presley’s behavior towards his grandmother turned disrespectful, it was really because he didn’t know any better. He was merely conducting himself in a way that any other child his age would have reacted given the circumstances. He had been placed in the care of an erratic guardian, in a new environment without his consent and was expected to behave normally. Although this was asking a bit much from a boy who had never before been away from his mother (apart for the first few months of his life, which he had absolutely no recollection of), his behavior was more than exceptional in the days and weeks that followed his new beginning in Yarmouth. Everything that he was instructed by his grandmother to do, he did; he was fun; he was charismatic; he was mannerly; he was loving. He was everything Ms. Sillow could have asked for in a grandchild, and more. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined that her mild-mannered angel of all people would transform into a totally different person.

Things would have been so much better for the boy if his mother had actually forgotten the telephone number to the cottage after all. He had been doing so well up until the point when he heard her unmistakable shrill voice for the first time in several months. As a matter of fact, her call had come on the cusp of when his mind had almost completely expelled all recollections of her altogether. Even though he was only hearing her voice over the phone, it felt so good to have contact with his mother in some way.

Despite shirking her maternal duties, Sondra was always going to possess that innate motherly love for her child. Too bad her mother couldn’t, or just plain refused to, see that. Ms. Sillow assumed that there had to be some kind of guileful motive behind her daughter’s phone calls. She was convinced that Sondra was jealous of the job that she was doing raising Presley and surmised that her calls were being made with the sole intention of trying to convince the boy that she was a terrible grandmother. She concluded that that could have been the only reason why her grandson’s attitude was getting so poor. As a result of her unfounded beliefs, the boy would undeservingly suffer for these harmless phone calls.

The first time that Ms. Sillow ever laid her hands on her grandson, the severity in which her method of punishment was carried out didn’t bother her one bit. She felt no ounce of pity for the boy as she watched him desperately slither into a corner of the kitchen and curl himself up into a compact ball as he made a futile attempt at protecting his fragile body against her unrestrained rage. No matter how much that little boy cried or appealed to his grandma to discontinue her vicious attack, Ms. Sillow just kept driving her fists and the soles of her feet into the helpless child’s chest, skull, and groin area. Sadly, occurrences like this became the norm inside of the household, with similar brutish acts being carried out regularly against the poor boy throughout the course of the week.

Following Ms. Sillow’s latest assault against him for the dialogue with his mother that she had highly disapproved of, she was able to sleep comfortably that night and didn’t wake up the following morning with the flogging that had half killed the boy weighing down on her conscience. Instead, what her ferine behavior did do was give her a feeling of supremacy. Never before had she felt more in control of a situation in the last God knows how many years than at that moment when she had her grandson at her complete and total mercy. As the hard, dried out, gritty surface of that old leather belt pulled off pieces of the boy’s skin with each lick that she inflicted upon him, Ms. Sillow got an increasingly sickening sense of gratification out of the whole ordeal. She had always been her husband’s punching bag; so to be the one dishing out the abuse now instead of being the individual on the receiving end of it gave her the preposterous urge to beat until she was too exhausted to beat anymore. Her main objective was for the child to endure all the pain that she had gone through in her adolescence and in her adult life. She wanted him to suffer the very same way that her husband used to make her suffer. His torturous beatings used to seem as though they would last forever, and the only reason that she had quit flogging her grandson that day was because he had become unresponsive to her strikes. The unbearable pain of the flesh-breaking lashes had rendered him unconscious. For Ms. Sillow, the satisfaction that she got out of remorselessly abusing her grandson could be likened to the tremendous pleasure that her daughter got from hitting coke. And that only meant one thing: Presley’s abuse and mistreatment was going to continue until his mother decided to come and take him off of his grandmother’s hands.

Chapter 54

His hatred for his grandmother had gone up yet another level. Theirs was the perfect example of a relationship gone bad - fast. As he made a slow, painful, and lonely recovery from his extensive injuries in a cold, barely lit room of the cottage that his grandmother had placed him in, he lost a significant amount of weight off of his already-runtish frame over the course of his month-long convalescence. Being completely alone for the most part of his recovery process made it seem as though he had been inside of the room for a much longer period of time. The desolation was excruciating. At most, he saw his grandmother five times over the course of the seven-day week. At whatever time she chose on any given random day, the capricious old lady would pop into the room only to assist him with ingesting a bland but nutritious drinkable soup that she hadn’t put much effort into preparing for him. Although the soup wasn’t the tastiest of meals, Presley was grateful for the warmth that it temporarily brought to his algid body. Accompanying his soup would be a tall glass of water. Every other day of the week, he would go unfed and he would go without drink. Worst of all, being that he was incapable of moving, he was forced to urinate on himself, defecate in his vestments, and sleep atop a blood-macerated sheet. He was irritated, he was dehydrated, and he was in a state of emotional despair. But his grandmother’s main concern wasn’t to keep him comfortable and tidy; she was only concerned with keeping him alive. The deranged hag despised the boy, but at the same time, she loved him with all her heart.

As if his tattered body wasn’t enough for him to be gloomy about, being submersed in his body’s waste matter throughout his recovery process made things that much worse. The adverse reaction of urine combining with feces created a toxic chemical cocktail inside of his garments. The constitution of the skin on and surrounding his genitalia were literally being changed as he lay stagnant in bed. The damage to the sensitive skin in that area of his body was so extensive that Presley was never going to be able to produce children in his lifetime.

The boy was a born fighter. It was just in his blood. From the moment he had regained consciousness following the virulent beating that his grandmother had put on him, he was trying to get up and walk. His initial attempts at pulling himself out of the bed turned out to be pointless. He was simply in too bad of a shape to move a muscle. But after about two weeks had gone by, he discovered that he was able to move his arms and legs further than he could have in comparison to his discouraging previous attempts. The following week, he realized that his physical condition had improved even more. He felt little to no pain as he repeatedly moved his arms up and down and spread and shut his legs over the bedsheet. This significant physical improvement essentially inspired him to attempt to get up and walk once again; but when he tried removing himself from the bed, he fell back flat on his back. His torso still needed a little more time to recuperate from the deep wounds that that section of his body had sustained. But on the bright side of things, it wouldn’t be too much longer before he could fulfill his dream of getting back up on his little feet. In the meantime, all he could do was lie there on the sordid bedsheet and cry. Rare for a child his age, the boy often daydreamt of no longer being in existence. While bedridden, all he thought about was why his mother had left him in the care of such an evil woman. What he wanted more than anything in the world was to go back home.

Chapter 55

Ms. Sillow was sound asleep in her bedroom when she was awoken in the wee hours one morning by a loud stream of water filling up the bathtub in the bathroom down the hall from her room. Certain that an intruder had made their way into the decrepit cottage - perhaps mistaking it for an abandoned building in the middle of the woods - she scooped up the oak cane that used to belong to her father from beside her bed and hurriedly made her way down the hall to beset whomever was inside her home uninvited. When she entered the bathroom with the cane raised high over her head, fully prepared to protect the lives of her and Presley; the culprit spat out these words speedily in self-defense: “Please don’t beat me again.” Ms. Sillow stopped instantly in her tracks. Her jaw almost touched the ground when she saw her grandson with his arms crossed over one another in the front of his face in the form of an X, quaking at the thought of being battered like an animal once again. After all, all he was guilty of was trying to set some water so that he could take his first bath in a little over a month’s time. He didn’t think that something so trivial should warrant a lashing.

His grandmother surely would have struck him with the cane repeatedly for disrupting her sleep if she hadn’t seen what she saw upon entering the bathroom. With all of her grandson’s clothes removed, Ms. Sillow was mortified to see just how badly she had damaged that little boy’s body. For a woman who had been so apathetic to sympathy as of late, she couldn’t help but be moved at the sight of the ghastly alterations she had made to his exterior. Her facial features cringed as she saw large blue and purplish circular welts splotched all over his body as a result of her overly-forceful blows to his fragile frame. Also clearly visible were half-healed areas of flesh where she had ruthlessly torn his skin away from with the dry, cracked leather belt. But the most horrendous thing of all that Ms. Sillow observed was the damage to her grandson’s private parts and its surround areas. After steeping in his bodily waste for so long, fungal and bacterial infections inevitably made their mark. Nasty-looking blemishes that had initially covered Presley’s lower body had by now spread all the way to the middle of his stomach. Had he been bedridden for a bit longer, his face and scalp would have inevitably been covered in rashes, too.

When the cane had fallen out of Ms. Sillow’s hands, she hadn’t even realized it. Seeing her grandson in the condition that he was in, she couldn’t help but want to assist him in any way that she possibly could. And that was exactly what she did. That morning, she bathe him and began tending to his numerous bodily detriments. Crazy or not, she just wanted to help a child in need. She just wanted to do the right thing.

Presley wasn’t too enthused about the act that he believed his grandma was putting on, though. He kicked and screamed and hollered and cussed as she bathe him, convinced that at some point or another she was going to try and drown him. His erratic behavior didn’t change as she treated his wounds and skin infections. He plain didn’t trust the woman. And who could blame him? Certainly Ms. Sillow couldn’t. She knew that she had screwed up, but she was adamant about making the relationship between her and the boy a good one once more.

She restrained herself from getting riled up when he would call her names or shoot derogatory comments her way. She made it her duty to tell him that she loved him every so often. She was preparing him meals that she knew he would have enjoyed rather than feeding him what she wanted to feed him. She was doing everything that she could have possibly thought of to win her grandson’s love back over. But there was one thing that Presley would do that would make her efforts seem all for naught. There was that one thing that Ms. Sillow had great difficulty tolerating: Anytime that Presley made mention of his mother, she would have to work extra hard at keeping herself from overreacting. Sometimes she just couldn’t help herself, though. On occasion she would find herself involved in little back and forth tiffs with her grandson concerning Sondra’s capabilities as a parent. From there, things escalated to the point where if she heard anything in regards to Sondra, it was sure to get some sort of fervid reaction out of her. Once Presley found this out, he made light of the situation and would bring up his mother’s name on purpose just to piss his grandmother off. Revenge was the most gratifying feeling in the world for the boy. That was until he got socked in the mouth one day after repetitively speaking about his mother for that whole entire day. And just like that, Presley learned the hard way that he had to maintain a level of respect for his fickle grandmother.

Chapter 56

If his grandmother was going to expect for respect and order to be the cornerstones of their disaffected relationship from now on, Presley determined that it would be in his best interest to limit the amount of interaction that he had with her altogether as they moved forward. His young, developing brain had finally comprehended that him and the bizarre woman would never get along. For such an elderly woman, she was more immature than he was; and Presley wasn’t too keen on going through a phase of being loved followed by a phase of being abhorred over and over again. Serious about limiting the amount of interaction that he had with his grandmother, nowadays Presley’s days went a little something like this: After waking up in the mornings, he would lie down in bed for a while so that he wouldn’t cross paths with her once he left the room. When he believed the coast to be clear, he would dash into the bathroom to brush his teeth and bathe his skin before heading into the kitchen, where he would find a plate of food already waiting for him on the kitchen table. Once gobbling down breakfast, he would slip outside through the back door of the cottage, since he didn’t want to walk past his grandmother, who was habitually seated inside of the living room from sunup ’til sundown. At 12:00 p.m., he would be summoned inside to eat lunch. This was the only time of the day that afforded the boy and his grandmother the opportunity to interact with one another, but Presley would always hastily devour his food and then excuse himself from her presence. He would head back outside until his grandmother would call him inside to have dinner. This was a meal that he would always opt to skip, however. Instead, he would take a quick bath before locking himself away in the room that he had recently recovered from his injuries inside of. He preferred sleeping on that smelly, filthy, blood- and shit-stained bedsheet rather than to sleep in the same room as his grandmother.

After following the same daily routine for quite some time, something caught Presley off guard when he woke up one morning. When he opened up his eyes on this particular morning, he was looking directly up into his grandmother’s frightening silver eyes. In fact, it was the warmth of her breath on his face that had woken him up from his deep sleep. She was that close to him. Immediately panicking once he saw his grandmother’s unsightly face just inches away from his own, Presley scurried backwards on his elbows and back up against the bedroom wall adjacent to the bed. But Ms. Sillow insisted that she had come in peace. And this time, she meant it.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, boy,” she lightly chided as she stretched her arms out in front of her, indicating to him her desire for a hug. Presley didn’t budge from his spot up against the wall, leaving his grandmother with no choice than to come up with a solution to this latest quagmire. But the boy already knew exactly what defiance to his grandmother’s orders would result in. After thinking briefly to herself, Ms. Sillow tucked the lower end of her nightgown in between her legs, climbed up onto the bed, and began walking over to her grandson on her knees. As she got closer, it appeared as though Presley would have a heart attack at any second. He was panting heavily, and his chest was moving in and out in an irregular manner. But this didn’t stop his grandmother from inching her way closer and closer to him with that cold, expressionless look on her face that would always rouse trepidation inside of him. Once she had gotten close enough to make physical contact with him, she briskly grabbed hold of his shoulders with her bony hands, pulled him from against the wall, and hugged him extremely tightly. Her python-like hug was accompanied by kisses all over his face and salutations of good health, long life, and prosperity, leaving Presley completely thrown for a loop. He had absolutely no idea what had gotten into his grandmother, but nonetheless, today’s events brought a rare smile back to his face. Ms. Sillow’s hugs and kisses and kind words felt extremely good. And the boy hugged and kissed her back. It’s amazing how children possess such an uncanny ability to forgive.

They ate breakfast together that morning for the first time in weeks. While basically seated directly beside one another at the small circular table, Ms. Sillow took this opportunity to remind Presley of how elated she had been ever since he had come into her life - just in case he had forgotten. Even though she didn’t think her words would mean that much to him given the up-and-down nature of their relationship, everything she said had directly touched Presley’s heart. Once he had gotten through eating, he made a few steps over to where his grandmother was seated and hugged her. While embracing her, he got up on to the tip of his toes so that his mouth reached her ear and told her how much he loved her before he made his way outside.

Ms. Sillow continued to shower the boy with love and words of kindness during lunchtime; and by now he was on cloud nine. This was without a doubt shaping up to be the best day that he had ever had since his mother had dropped him off in Yarmouth.

As soon as Presley made his way back outside after finishing his lunch, his grandmother immediately got back to work inside of the kitchen. For the boy, who has having a blast playing outside in the front yard, evening time came much too quickly; but for Ms. Sillow, it couldn’t have come any sooner. She was completely exhausted after expending all her energy in the kitchen all afternoon.

“Come inside now, Presley,” she yelled from the front door after she had finally finished up doing what she was doing inside of the kitchen. Once inside, his grandmother gently placed her hands on his shoulders, looked him square in the eyes, and kindly pleaded with him to join her at the kitchen table once he would have gotten through washing himself up in the bathroom. Since the day had been going so perfectly thus far, tonight the boy decided to comply with his grandmother’s request instead of running off to his room.

True to his word, he returned to the kitchen table after cleaning himself up, and he was all smiles. His spirits were raised even higher when Ms. Sillow placed the cake she had been working so diligently on all afternoon before him. Today he turned seven years old. What a perfect way to cap off such an unbelievable day, the surprised birthday boy thought to himself. It was the first time that he had ever had anything of the sort done for him on his birthday, and he was a little overwhelmed, to say the least.

Noticing how eager her grandson was to dig in to the florid vanilla cake that had taken her so many grueling hours to prepare, his grandmother told him to close his eyes and make a wish as he blew out the candles before he could have a bite. “But, you must tell me what you wished for,” she further instructed as her eyes gave him an uncomfortably hard stare.

His wish shouldn’t have come as a surprise to her.

Chapter 57

The flames atop the seven candles inside of the cake flickered wildly as Presley nervously attempted outing them. The uneven gusts of air that were coming out of his mouth just weren’t getting the job done. This went on until his grandmother suggested that he focus on blowing out each candle individually instead of trying to extinguish them all at once in one sweeping motion. Ms. Sillow’s idea worked. Even though it took a bit longer than she would have liked, the candles were eventually all unlit. Once he had gotten through blowing out the final candle, the boy immediately began dabbling into his cake.

“Presley,” his grandmother interrupted. He froze in place before slowly raising up his head to look at her. He knew exactly what she wanted, and it terrified him. “What did you wish for?” she asked. After acting so normal earlier in the day, all of a sudden his grandmother was being really creepy again. Her squinted eyes appeared to be peering right into his brain. It was as though she had already seen his wish in his mind and was only waiting to see if his answer would match what she already knew.

Full of honesty, like only a child could be, Presley divulged: “My mother. I wished that my mother could be here with me.”

Ms. Sillow snapped. The chair that she was seated in ended up halfway across the room as a result of the velocity she arose from it with, and her hands - one around his throat, the other cupped over his mouth - were instantly attached to him. Once a firm grip had been established, Ms. Sillow heaved him up out of his seat and suspended him in the air while meticulously tightening her grip around his jugular. The boy kicked his legs frantically as his need for air became more critical. Realizing that her grip was slipping as a result of her grandson’s intense efforts to live, Ms. Sillow exited the kitchen and hastily began carrying him down the dimly lit hall. Presley continued his fight for survival in the hallway as he sank his fingernails deep into the wooden walls. But his grandmother was moving with much way too much momentum for him to even slow her down just a smidge. As she dashed through the hallway, a few of Presley’s nails ended up breaking off, remaining lodged inside of the walls that he were so desperately trying to grab on to. Once his first attempt to halt her progression down the hallway had failed, he grasped on to her wrists with his tiny hands and tried prying free of his grandmother’s octopus-tight grip; but she was much too strong for him. By now, he was slipping in and out of consciousness, his hope for survival diminishing. Eventually his grandmother turned off into a room full of dolls, wigs, and young girls’ clothing. It was the room her daughter had occupied when she used to live there. Ms. Sillow drove him onto the bed with tremendous force before turning her gaze to the heavens. With eyes full of sorrowful tears, she cried out:

“May the days of my grandson’s life be a keepsake in the memories of all who have known him. May the sins of his tender years be not held against him.” Presley continued his valiant struggle to live, kicking his legs about wildly and outstretching his arms in an attempt to grab her face… but his fists clutched nothing but air. Unfazed by his thrashing, Ms. Sillow carried on with her sacrificial declamation. “Cursed be the days of the woman who brought him into this world to suffer. May the guilt of her sin forever haunt her; and may my act of mercy be viewed as holy in Your eyes. As I have said, allow it to be manifested.”

The struggling had by now ceased. Ms. Sillow cast her eyes back upon the boy. He was just a shell. Cause of death: asphyxiation. Stroking his head gently, his grandmother kissed him on the forehead and said in a whisper to the lifeless body: “I love you so much, Presley.”

His mother loved him also, though, and would be calling for him in a few days’ time. Ms. Sillow needed an alibi.

Chapter 58

Years of being mentally stifled had caused Ms. Sillow to become reclusive; but due to her circumstance, that was about to change. Just one day after murdering her grandson, the deranged old woman was forced to step out of her comfort zone in order to recruit a young boy who would have to receive her daughter’s end-of-the-month phone calls on Presley’s behalf. Fortunately for her, she wouldn’t have to look too far.

On one side of Ms. Sillow’s cottage lay acres and acres of forestry that stretched back as far as the eyes could see. On the other side of her home was a set of neighbors. Stuart and Ann Cople and their eight-year-old son Joshua had been neighbors to Ms. Sillow for quite some time now. Construction on their home had started a year or two following the passage of her husband. Although she didn’t remember exactly when construction on the home had gotten under way, what she was certain of was that she wasn’t too fond of the idea of gaining a set of neighbors; and she made her feelings known very early on into the home’s construction phase. Just a week after construction on the Coples’ quaint little abode had started, one of the men involved in the building process witnessed something that he would never forget. Jebediah Kelk, a soft-spoken, white-haired and -moustached gentleman in his mid-to-late 60s, was a renowned carpenter in Yarmouth whom Mr. Cople had specifically requested to work on his house. One morning as Mr. Kelp was going over the house’s plan, he decided to take a seat on a tree stump situated between Ms. Sillow’s cottage and the spot where the Coples’ ranch house was being erected. Nothing was out of the ordinary that day. The skies were clear, the birds of the forest were making beautiful music, and the natural ventilation of a light northerly breeze made working conditions on this particular morning extremely pleasurable. After he had gotten through looking over the blueprint, he sat staring at Ms. Sillow’s cottage and began thinking to himself how he could use his carpentry expertise to restore the dilapidated structure to its former luster. After all, once completed, the beauty of the Coples’ brand-new ranch house was going to be overshadowed by the imposing two-storey eyesore that was in such close proximity to it. Mr. Kelk knew that this was something the Cople family wouldn’t be too thrilled about, but there was nothing that could be done about the matter. The belief of everyone working on the Coples’ home was that the cottage next door was unoccupied… just an abandoned home with no one living inside of it to make a refurbishment offer to. But as Mr. Kelk tilted his head back to take a drink of water from his vacuum flask, he noticed an eerie figure standing in one of the windows of the cottage’s attic. Taken aback and a little confused by the sight, he froze in place. Some of the water inside of his vacuum flask continued to go into his mouth while the rest poured out onto his shirt. At first, what he was seeing in the window was unclear to him; but as he remained focused on the object that was approximately 100 yards away from where he was seated, he was able to make out that it was a woman… a woman wearing a spectral black apostolnik on her head and a black nightgown. It was none other than Ms. Sillow herself. The angry scowl upon her face as she glared down on him made his very skin crawl, and a sudden gasp inadvertently resulted in some of the water he was drinking going down the wrong pipe. Mr. Kelk immediately hunched over on the stump, as the water that had gone down his trachea instantly induced a violent bout of coughing. Once his lungs had expelled all of the water out of it, he raised his head to see whether or not he was still under surveillance; but Ms. Sillow was by now long gone. Regardless, the spooky sighting was the carpenter’s cue to call his break off early.

Up until that point, no one would have ever dreamt that someone was actually living in such indigent conditions. Ms. Sillow’s cottage was literally falling apart. Its windows were all smudgy and dirty; its paint was badly chipped; and its roof was in total disrepair. And if the outside looked that shabby, one would naturally assume that the inside was just as run-down, if not worse. Apart from the terrible physical condition of the cottage, it was also believed to be unoccupied due to Ms. Sillow’s exceptional ability to stay low-key. From a distance, the workers spotted no sign of life in or around the decrepit cottage. Those horses that her husband once owned, following his death, she poisoned them. But there was something else that she had done after her husband had passed away that really allowed her to continue to fly under the radar. After Mr. Sillow’s long battle with Chron’s disease had finally claimed his life, a bereaved Ms. Sillow dragged his corpse all the way from their bedroom to the backyard and made that big midnight blue buggy with the ornate gold bulbs on top of it his final resting place. After saying a brief prayer for his soul, she went inside, retrieved several black bedsheets from the attic, returned to the backyard, and draped the sheets over the makeshift casket, making it one less traumatizing object from her past for her to ever have to lay her eyes on again. She then similarly covered up the stolen white carriage that was situated next to it. Out of respect for her late husband, she wanted to conceal anything that would have made her think of him in a negative light. Call it a stroke of luck or sheer good fortune, but had Ms. Sillow not covered up that blue buggy before construction on the Coples’ home had gotten under way, workers would have immediately reported its sighting to local authorities. Up to that point, the majority of residents in Yarmouth still believed that the notorious midnight blue buggy was something that only existed in popular folklore. Had the construction workers actually seen it with their own eyes and reported it, an investigation of the cottage would have ensued - since authorities were still of the belief that wherever Mr. Sillow resided, so did Amanda - and the mystery of that innocent little girl who had been abducted so many years ago would have finally been unraveled. And yet Mr. Kelk had no idea that he was actually looking directly into the eyes of Ms. Sillow herself just moments ago.

Ms. Sillow had intentionally made herself visible to the carpenter that day, making it the first time that anyone besides her late husband had seen her in over 20 years. Her hope was that he would have been filled with so much dread that his apprehension would have automatically been transferred over to his co-workers, causing work on the Coples’ home to immediately cease and desist.

Part one of Ms. Sillow’s stratagem worked perfectly. When Mr. Kelk had gotten back over to where his co-workers were, his startling appearance was the first thing that they noticed. He looked as though he had just seen a ghost. All of the workers immediately dropped their tools and raced over to him to find out exactly what the matter was. The elderly gentleman went into a complete frenzy as he engaged in a heated back-and-forth argument with some of his co-workers regarding what he had just witnessed. At one point, he had gotten so heated that he even threw his vacuum flask at one of the men contesting his assertion. As much as he insisted that he wasn’t “bullshitting” them, Mr. Kelk’s co-workers just didn’t buy his story of the strange woman in black standing in the attic window. Their disbelief meant that part two of Ms. Sillow’s ploy would turn out to be an utter failure. Work on the Coples’ ranch house wouldn’t be halted. Instead, the foreman on the site, Theodore Brable, wound up giving the perturbed Mr. Kelk the rest of the week off.

Once Mr. Kelk had left the job site, his outrageous claim was the hot topic amongst the workers for the remainder of the work day. After picking up and examining the empty vacuum flask that he had hurled during the contentious argument, some of his co-workers claimed that whatever was inside of the container was spiked, while others went so far as to assert that the old man always seemed to be a little off of his rocker. But whether or not they felt sorry for Mr. Kelk, all of the men got a good laugh out of his risible claim. However, no one’s teeth could be seen the following day when they reported to work and saw that black curtains now covered every single window of Ms. Sillow’s cottage.

Mr. Kelk never returned to the job site after his week off was up.

Chapter 59

Mr. Kelk had been telling the truth all along. The workers who had been embroiled in a tense argument with him over his claim that a woman was living in the cottage next door were too ashamed to ever seek him out and apologize after witnessing with their own eyes that the cottage was indeed occupied. The weird turn of events that had occurred so soon into what was supposed to be a normal three-month construction project had been extremely traumatic for each and every single one of the men working on the Coples’ home. In fact, most of them ended up quitting the job, just like Mr. Kelk had done, and a new crew of unassuming workers had been hired to finish off the project. With intense pushing every day from the project’s foreman - who too had heavily contemplated quitting the job - the home ended up finishing two weeks ahead of schedule. This was a huge accomplishment within itself considering that the entire project had almost been scrapped by Mr. Cople.

Stuart Cople, 34, was Yarmouth’s city planner and a highly successful entrepreneur. As the city’s planner, he had access to drawn-up plans of the town’s entire layout. It was from these plans that he learned of the vast clearing in the middle of the forest that had been created as a direct result of timber theft many years ago. The illegal logging exercise was one that a number of government officials had actually condoned for quite some time. But they wouldn’t get away scot-free. Their involvement in the illegal act was subsequently brought to light and placed on record, and all officials involved in the scandal were forced to resign from their posts and ordered to pay a fine. And now that Mr. Cople had knowledge of the expansive tract of land that had been created as a result of those government officials’ greed, he planned on cashing in on what he considered to be a “virtual goldmine” that they had brought into existence.

Being the astute businessman that he was, Mr. Cople’s mind instantly got to drawing up a business idea for what he thought was a completely vacant tract of land. After giving it much thought, he had decided upon developing an exclusive subdivision that would only be available to Yarmouth’s most affluent residents. His home was supposed to be the first home erected in the subdivision, and the rest of the homes would come one after the other. The idea was a good one, but the hitches in his plan threatened the project’s continuation. When the construction project’s foreman enlightened him of Mr. Kelk’s resignation and his unanticipated neighbor, Mr. Cople went berserk. He was irate over the fact that Mr. Kelk could just get up and walk off a project which he had personally requested that he work on without first getting his permission and was even more pissed that he wasn’t going to be the first person taking up occupancy on the land, which he blamed Mr. Brable for.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this person taking up space on my property, Mr. Brable?” Mr. Cople shouted at him after being apprised of what was going on at the jobsite. “You know that I didn’t have the opportunity to take time out of my busy schedule to come and take a look at this property before building got under way. I trusted you, Theodore. You were supposed to be my eyes and ears. I was gracious and merciful enough to choose a poor man like yourself to work on what I’m sure is your highest-paying project to date and you betray me. Why?”

“I swear that I had no idea that someone was living in that house in the woods, Mr. Cople. I was of the belief that we could just demolish it once we got through with putting up your home or even fix it up and resell it.”

“Well, you should have at least said something to me first, you dumb fool.”

But no matter how many excuses he received from Mr. Brable and no matter how angry he got over the situation, Mr. Cople knew that it wouldn’t change anything. The only thing that prevented him from changing his mind about moving forward with his dream was thoughts of the money. He had projected that he could essentially triple his net worth in ten years’ time as a direct result of his investment. Mr. Cople was young, rich, haughty, ambitious, and had an ego that was as big as the state of Massachusetts itself. He decided to go with another highly regarded carpenter to work on his home and had concluded that he would just get the woman living in the cottage to move by making her a financial offer that she wouldn’t be able to resist.

Chapter 60

At last the time had come for Mr. Cople and his wife to move into their new home. It was a Saturday morning, and a light drizzle of rain was falling down from the sky. Mr. Cople had the entire weekend off to just relax and enjoy the comfort of his new place, since all of the furniture had already been placed inside the house and arranged by the building crew. Given this morning’s weather conditions, it would have also been the perfect occasion for the couple to heat things up inside of their new bedroom for the first time. But money and business were what made Mr. Cople’s world go ’round, and the closer he got to his new residency, the more eager he became to close a deal with the mysterious woman in the cottage next door.

Ms. Sillow heard the noisy combustion of the engine under the hood of Mr. Cople’s sparkly red car as it approached what once was her very own peaceful domain. Nowadays the rich folks got around by the horsepower of an engine as opposed to the much slower horse and carriage. Ms. Sillow pulled back the curtain from over the window on the side of her house that was closest to her front door just enough to see the homeowners pull up to their brand-new home for the very first time. As she spied on them, she observed that the driver seemed to be more concerned with her home than he was with his own. First, he had almost driven his car into his porch because he was too busy focusing on her home, and he was now outside of his vehicle standing akimbo and looking her home up and down. Mr. Cople simply couldn’t believe what he was seeing. As he stared at the cottage, reality sank in. It was absolutely enormous… far bigger than he had anticipated it would be. Sure, he could afford it, but the cost of purchasing the immense home combined with renovating it on the inside and out was guaranteed to chew up at least half of his wealth. This was one time that he would have to put his huge ego aside and concede failure. Yeah, right! An ego like Mr. Cople’s own was much too big to be squelched. For all he knew, he was the one and only Stuart Cople. What couldn’t he accomplish, right? He was going to get what he wanted. With his checkbook in the pocket of his fancy tailor-made suit, he started making his way over to the home with a confidently brisk walk.

Ms. Sillow instantly had feelings of aversion towards Mr. Cople from the instant she saw him. He reminded her of those arrogant married slimeballs who used to have their way with her back in the day in Boston. And when she saw him instruct his wife to head inside their home just before he began making his way over to her place, her fucked up mind automatically went into self-defense mode. She was not going to allow herself to be victimized again.

The front of Mr. Cople’s home lined up with the middle section of Ms. Sillow’s cottage, so he had to walk at a horizontal angle to get to her front door. When he arrived at her doorstep, he saw his neighbor standing just inside of her door with a chillingly uncongenial expression on her face. The sight of the hag scared the shit out of Mr. Cople, who let out a slight shriek upon seeing her.

“Well, well, well, somebody’s having a bad day, obviously,” he said snottily, upset with himself for allowing such a harmless little old lady to scare him, but even more upset that he had let her pick up on his fear. “Anyways, the name’s Stuart Cople. And you are?” he inquired with a hand extended out to her for a cordial shake.

To this Ms. Sillow only squinted her eyes even further and asked him with the same virulence that he had come on to her with: “With all due respect, sir, what on God’s earth do you want?”

Mr. Cople dropped his hand and cleared his throat, embarrassed by the little old woman’s blatant display of antipathy towards him. He wasn’t used to being treated in such a menial manner. Everyone he came into contact with either sucked up or bowed down to him. As biggety a man as he was, he had finally met his match. Getting what he wanted just might not be so easy after all, he thought to himself.

“Well, my wife and I just moved next door to you, and we couldn’t help but notice how grand your home is. Needless to say, this is the biggest Cape Cod cottage that I have ever seen in my entire life. (Ms. Sillow’s cottage occupied at least 5,000 square feet of land.) It looks like it’s worth about 20,000 dollars to me,” the savvy businessman stated very quickly from the back of his throat in a guilefully low voice. “What made you decide to go so big?” Mr. Cople’s tone was now amicable, and he was meandering his way into business discussions with his neighbor before things only got further out of hand between the two of them. But despite his new approach, Ms. Sillow’s standoffish demeanor didn’t change. She didn’t respond to his question. Mr. Cople was going to have to continue yapping away to try and get her more comfortable with him.

“Your home, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. You know, ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always dreamt of living inside of a mansion, and this cottage of yours just makes that dream of mine seem as though it could be made possible. I can see my wife and myself growing old together comfortably inside of a place like this. I want it.” By this point, Mr. Cople was standing as close as he could possibly be to the cottage’s entrance with his neck fully outstretched, glancing around at the house’s interior. Not satisfied with his view from outside, however, he decided to take it upon himself to welcome himself inside of the home. “Do you mind if I come in?” he asked Ms. Sillow rhetorically as he boldly began to take a step forward into the house.

Given that Ms. Sillow had immediately picked up on some bad vibes from him from the instant he had hopped out of his car, when he attempted to barge his way into her space, she became extremely erratic as her agoraphobia kicked in.

“Stop!!!” a paranoid Ms. Sillow screamed at the top of her lungs. “Are you crazy!?” she asked as she eyed him from the patented leather shoes on his feet to the crown of his mousse-slicked head. “How dare you think that you can just step foot into my house!?” Mr. Cople had finally succeeded at getting Ms. Sillow to communicate with him, but he wasn’t hearing the words that he would have liked to have heard from her.

Ms. Sillow’s unforeseen outburst automatically placed the silver-tongued Mr. Cople on the defensive. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, ma’am, calm down!” he pleaded with her. “I simply wanted to get a better look at the inside of the cottage because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m interested in buying it from you.”

“Liar! You want my pussy! That’s why you’re trying so hard to get into my place.”

“What in the world are you talking about? Are you mad, old woman?” Ms. Sillow’s unforeseen remarks had left Mr. Cople completely flabbergasted and sick to his stomach.

“Tell me, what makes you different from any other man? I saw you tell your wife to go inside of your home before you started making your way over here. But, unfortunately, I have some sad news for you, Mr. Cople. I am a married woman. Although he may be in poor health, I still love my husband very much; and I have no desire for any other man. I am proud to be Mrs. (she made sure to place especial emphasis on the Mrs.) Sillow.”

At the sound of that last name, Mr. Cople’s entire body shuddered. He knew… he just instantly knew that his unusual neighbor was the individual who had been abducted in broad daylight as a young girl many years ago by alleged statutory rapist Frederickstein Sillow. Amanda Sillow, who was believed to have virtually vanished into Yarmouth’s stratosphere, was actually still alive and breathing; and Mr. Cople found himself looking her dead in her eyes in the middle of the woods. What he saw in those cold silver eyes of hers was pain. He could tell that despite her age, she was still that innocent young girl who was in need of answers. He could tell that she had never experienced much happiness. But most importantly, he could tell that she would be completely lost if she was to be uprooted from the serene sanctuary of the woods. Though his heart rarely felt compassion for the circumstances of another human being, Mr. Cople knew that he couldn’t carry on with his desire to obtain that poor woman’s cottage. Instead, he felt obligated to help her.

“No, Mrs. Sillow, I don’t want your pussy. As your new neighbor, I simply wanted to come over to formally introduce myself to you. My wife, Ann, is over at our place making sure that everything is in order. I’ll give her your greetings, and you be sure to give your husband mine.

“And if there’s anything, anything at all that you ever need, don’t hesitate to let us know. Mrs. Sillow, it’s been an absolute pleasure meeting you. You have a nice day.”

And at that, Mr. Cople was off to his home. Although Ms. Sillow was hoping that the sound of her name would have caused him to pick up and abandon his new house, Mr. Cople’s decision to stay put as her neighbor would end up being extremely beneficial to her many years down the road.

Chapter 61

Following his unexpected traumatic encounter with Yarmouth, Massachusetts’ legendary Amanda Sillow, Mr. Cople’s life changed entirely. His chance meeting with the mentally-troubled woman ended up inspiring him to take a deeper look at who he was as a person; and at the end of his self-evaluation, he was ashamed of the individual that he had developed into over the years. Reflecting upon his early life, Mr. Cople had vivid memories of growing up in a privileged household with a mother and a father who loved him unconditionally. Whatever he wanted, all he had to do was say the word and his parents made sure that he got it. He never once experienced a hungry day in his life; he had always had more than enough clothes to wear; his parents ensured that he received a top-notch education; and when he left home to be on his own at the age of 17, his mother and father had blessed him with a sizeable financial donation to carry him through until he was able to find himself a job so that he could provide for himself. Life had always treated him kindly.

On the other hand, Mr. Cople thought of how there were so many individuals in the world like Ms. Sillow; persons whose lives had been so unfairly different than his own. He did his best to try and imagine the kinds of thoughts that would run through the mind of an abducted teenager. He then tried to imagine what it would have been like to have been led on by a much older person as he was growing up only to later become the source of that man’s - or woman’s - twisted pleasures. The more he pondered on the despicable things that he presumed Ms. Sillow had gone through throughout the course of her life, the more he realized how he had so much to be thankful for in his own. Now equipped with a totally new perspective on things, Mr. Cople virtually became an entirely new man, a reinvention that could be likened to the dramatic transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. Nobody noticed this change in him more than his wife did. Mrs. Cople was absolutely stunned when her husband informed her that he would no longer be moving forward with the development of the exclusive residential community that he had envisioned for Yarmouth’s wealthiest residents. Knowing how passionate the man she had married was about anything that he set his mind to, this was the first clue that her husband was going through something very serious in his life. On the heels of this announcement, he significantly reduced his working hours and began spending a tremendous amount of time at home with her, the second clue that he wasn’t his regular self, as he never put anything before making money. But the act that solidified that his transformation was authentic was when he got his wife pregnant. Mr. Cople had always been adamant about never having any children. He always felt that a having to rear a child would intervene with the professional goals that he were trying to achieve in his lifetime. But now that his focus had shifted to more important things and he was all about enjoying the simple pleasures of life, he decided to take the huge step of becoming a father.

Joshua Cople became the pride and joy of his father’s life ever since his birth in ’71; and as he grew out of his toddler stage, he began spending even less time working so that he could spend more precious time with his family. Pleased with the way that he was brought up, Mr. Cople decided to raise his son the exact same way that his parents had raised him. A private tutor was hired to educate little Joshua; clothes were provided for him in abundance; he had four meals per day; and his father quickly began to teach him the value of a dollar. But there was one thing that Mr. Cople wanted to instill in his son that his parents hadn’t instilled in him: He wanted to teach his boy how to give.

Ever since meeting Ms. Sillow, Mr. Cople oft wondered about how his isolated neighbor fed herself and paid her bills. He held an immense amount of sympathy in his heart for her and felt compelled to be her keeper. The first major way that he displayed his concern for her was by refraining from telling his wife exactly who was living next door to them because he knew that she would have blown the poor woman’s cover while gossiping with her friends. And between his wife and her friends, Mr. Cople was certain that they would have had word of Ms. Sillow’s whereabouts spread all over Yarmouth in little to no time. Hence, following his visit over to the cottage on the day that he and his wife had moved into their home, all Mr. Cople had told her was that their neighbor was an elderly woman by the name of Mrs. Sharlow who wanted to live out the last days of her life in the most secluded area of Yarmouth that she could have possibly found. He further went on to tell her that she wouldn’t be able to meet this Mrs. Sharlow because she had kindly asked that she not be bothered again. Once he had ensured that Ms. Sillow’s true identity was safe and secure, Mr. Cople began placing his focus on being a philanthropist. Every time that he would head into the town to shop for anything - whether it be for books or articles of clothes or groceries - he would pick up items for Ms. Sillow. Once back in the woods, he would rest the bag of items he had purchased for her on her doorstep and slide some money enclosed inside of a note beneath her front door. The note served to let her know that some goods were outside of her door for her and to remind her that she was still more than welcome to come and knock on their door for anything that she needed. Mr. Cople would always place his signature and forge his wife’s name at the bottom of the note so that Mrs. Cople wouldn’t notice that the note was being addressed to a Mrs .Sillow and not a Mrs. Sharlow.

Being able to give someone a helping hand gave Mr. Cople an indescribable feeling of gratification. He enjoyed the feeling of giving so much that he was raising his son to be a giver as well. Mr. Cople would encourage Joshua to pick up items for Ms. Sillow whenever they were out in town shopping and he would make him add some of his allowance money to the total amount of funds that was slid beneath their neighbor’s door whenever they returned back home. Joshua eventually grew to love giving so much that he personally began volunteering to drop off the funds and goods over to Ms. Sillow’s cottage. And when his handwriting had gotten decent enough to understand, his father began letting him scribble down his own signature at the bottom of the notes that would accompany the family’s donations to their neighbor. Every time that little Joshua would place the bag of goods on Ms. Sillow’s doorstep, he would always wonder about what was on the other side of the cottage’s door. Luckily for him, he wouldn’t have to wonder for too long. The day had arrived when Ms. Sillow happened to need him. No, there would be no more need for him to have to try and guess what was behind the cottage’s formidable wooden front door.

Chapter 62

Over the years, Ms. Sillow had covertly watched Joshua grow up into the young boy that he was from behind the curtained windows of her cottage. She was watching intently when Mrs. Cople brought her swaddled bundle of joy outside of the house for the very first time. Years later, she watched as little Joshua refused to be carried around in his mother’s arms, since he was able to walk and didn’t want anybody’s assistance getting from point A to point B. She had vivid memories of Joshua occasionally coming over to play with Presley in her front yard. And most recently, she would spot him as he would drop off the items his father had purchased for her at her front door.

Despite never interacting with him, in a weird way, Ms. Sillow felt a strong connection with Joshua. She loved and appreciated him for being a friend to her grandson, and her heart was overwhelmed when she noticed that he had begun placing his own John Hancock at the bottom of the notes that would be slipped beneath her door whenever he would drop off the goods that he and his parents had bought for her. As far as she was concerned, Joshua was the sweetest little boy in all of Yarmouth. And now that she needed him, she was hoping that his father had told him nothing but good things about her; for if she was to succeed at meeting him, she needed for him to be comfortable with the person that she was on the inside - not to judge her based on the way that she looked. Over the course of her career as a forced prostitute, Ms. Sillow had suffered numerous facial injuries, and a number of her teeth had been knocked out of her mouth. She saw the adverse effects her appearance had had on her grandson as well as Mr. Cople. Hell, even she would look at herself in the mirror and break out in tears due to the fact that her appearance was so ghastly. Nevertheless, what had to be done had to be done. Regardless of what Joshua’s first impression of her was going to be, with Presley dead, she had to utilize him. As of late, Ms. Sillow had been thinking a lot about Mr. Cople’s insistence for her to feel free to seek him or his wife out for anything that she needed. Today she was going to take him up on his offer. The day after she had taken Presley’s life, she put on one of her best outfits - an all-black tweed dress complete with a bow sewn at the back that Mr. Cople had purchased for her - and slowly made her way over to the Coples’ residence. But once on her neighbors’ porch, anxiety took her over and she completely froze up. She wanted to carry through with what she had made her way over to the house to do, but her body just wasn’t doing what her mind was instructing it to carry out. However, knowing within her heart that there was no way she would be able to return home without getting what she needed, after a while, Ms. Sillow eventually brought herself to make a few timid taps on the Coples’ front door. When nobody responded to her light knocking, she sheepishly peeped inside the house through a nearby window to see if she would spot anybody inside. Joshua, who had been playing with his toys on the living room floor, spotted her peering inside before she had the chance to spot him. The bloodcurdling scream that he made immediately drew his parents out of their room.

“What’s wrong, Joshua?” his mother frantically asked him as she knelt down and placed her arms around him in an effort to calm him down.

Pointing towards the window, he answered: “There’s a monster out there!”

Troubled by his son’s farfetched response to his mother’s question, Mr. Cople immediately sprinted outside to see what Joshua had actually seen, only to discover poor old Ms. Sillow standing on his front porch a bit shaken up over the matter.

“Mrs. Sillow,” he blurted out with an evident tone of surprise in his voice, “sorry about that.” Mr. Cople had made sure to quickly close the door behind him once he had seen who was on his porch so that his wife wouldn’t hear what was being spoken between the two of them. “My son gets scared pretty easily. Besides, I know you’ve never met him, and he’s never met you; so you should be able to understand why he was a little freaked out. I would have brought him over for you to see him a long time ago, but out of respect for your privacy, I didn’t bother. But anyway, his name is Joshua, and he’s always asking me who lives in your home.

“As a matter of fact, since you’re here, you should come inside and meet both him and my wife.”

Just as Mr. Cople was about to let her inside, Ms. Sillow reached around him and placed her hand over the knob, preventing him from opening up the door. “I’d rather not, Mr. Cople,” she said extremely quietly, as though she didn’t want the two inside of the house to hear her. “I didn’t come over here for a meet and greet.”

“Oh, I see,” her neighbor replied inimically, obviously a bit peeved that she didn’t want to meet his family. “Well, then, what can I do for you?”

“Well, I actually do want to meet your boy - just not your wife. You see, what I am able to achieve physically is extremely limited, and, as I’m sure you remember, my husband isn’t in the best condition physically. Plus, my grandson, the boy that I’m sure you must have seen playing outside in the yard from time to time, has gone back home. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll need to borrow your son on the last day of each month to help me out with certain things that I need done around the house.”

Her request left Mr. Cople stupefied. She had seen how she had almost caused the boy to have a heart attack a few minutes ago, yet she still had the audacity to ask if it would be okay to borrow him at the end of each month. Mr. Cople knew that he had told Ms. Sillow that she could ask him or his wife for anything that she needed, but asking to carry their son over to her place without any of them being present was taking it a bit too far. After the shock of her question had subsided, Mr. Cople replied: “Mrs. Sillow, whatever you need help with, I would gladly come -”

A livid Ms. Sillow raised a finger to his face, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Nonsense,” she said brusquely. “I’ll need the boy.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, Mrs. Sillow. I didn’t make this boy on my own, you know. This is a discussion that I’ll have to take up with his mother to see if she would be okay with this.”

All of a sudden the expression on Ms. Sillow’s face changed. She was the one who was now stupefied. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but with all the due respect, Mr. Cople, are you a sissy?” she asked brazenly. “Doesn’t a man normally make his own mind up on matters regardless of what a woman thinks? Besides, if I wanted to speak to your wife about this situation, I would have already asked you to give me the opportunity to speak with her. Without this boy’s help, Mr. Cople, I don’t know how I’ll make it. From the very first day that you and I met, you told me that I could come to you and ask you for anything. The boy, I need him. ”

Mr. Cople felt an unbearable amount of guilt overtake him. In hindsight, he never should have been so overly courteous to Ms. Sillow. Now, here he was in what had to be the most uncomfortable predicament of his life. He had basically stuck his own foot in his mouth, and there was no way that he was going to be able to get it out of it, no matter how long he stood on his front porch trying to think of a way he could tell Ms. Sillow no. “Alright, you can have the boy,” Mr. Cople finally conceded after he was unable to come up with an excuse to give to her. “So I guess I’ll just bring him over to your place in the morning time in a few days?”

“No, there’s no need for you to come over to my place anymore. When the last day of the month arrives, just have the boy walk over to my cottage by himself at 5 p.m., and instruct him to make several loud knocks on the door. He should be back home to you and your wife before it gets too late. I truly appreciate your act of kindness towards me, Mr. Cople. Just don’t let me down.”

Mr. Cople was now left with the challenge of breaking the news to his wife. He was just hoping that she would take it well.

Chapter 63

“Hi, mommy.”

Ms. Sillow had recruited Joshua in the nick of time to fool her daughter. She had been busy coaching the boy since 5 o’clock that afternoon, telling him his new name, his new age, and everything that he would need to say to “his new mother” so that there would be no reason for Sondra to believe that she wasn’t talking to her actual son. At around 8:27 p.m., the call for Presley finally came through, and Joshua went into action under his new, temporarily-assumed identity. Ms. Sillow was confident that he would be able to fool her daughter, but just to be safe, she was listening in on the conversation from another phone inside of the house. But Ms. Sillow had underestimated her daughter’s maternal instincts. Sondra had immediately picked up on the difference in the voice on the other end of the line.

“Presley, you sound so different. Is everything alright?” his mother asked worriedly.

“He got the cold,” Ms. Sillow chimed in before Joshua even had the chance to respond.

“Mother,” Sondra blurted, clearly surprised that Ms. Sillow was also on the line. “I had no idea that you were eavesdropping. Why do you continually do this?”

Always the quick thinker, Ms. Sillow responded without hesitation: “The boy’s birthday just passed: you never called him; you never wrote. I need to find out what’s going on with you.”

Whenever her mother decided to speak to her as though she was still a little girl, Sondra would lose her composure. “I had been busy dealing with some personal matters, mother.” Truth was, her son’s birthday had completely slipped her mind.

“You’re always dealing with a personal matter, you idiot,” her mother counter-argued. “Listen to yourself; you’re nothing but a drug slut.”

Sondra began to break down on the other end of the line. Everything her mother was saying to her had been carefully orchestrated. Ms. Sillow knew that her harsh rant would cause her sensitive daughter to become totally distraught, which would in turn cause her to stop focusing on the boy, who might have mistakenly said something that would have let Sondra know she wasn’t actually talking to Presley.

“Allow me to speak to my son, mother - alone!” Sondra demanded.

“You have the audacity to call here almost a month after the boy’s birthday and expect him to want to speak with you? You have gat to be the most ignorant bitch to ever walk this Earth,” Ms. Sillow snapped back.

Sondra angrily hung up the telephone. She was deeply embarrassed by the way her mother had spoken to her while the boy she believed to be her son was also on the line. Sondra knew that if the boy was to continually hear her mother talk to her with such disrespectful contempt, he would eventually adapt the habit and begin to disrespect her as well. Before things could get to that point, Sondra made the hard decision to stop calling the house altogether.

Chapter 64

Instead of mimicking Presley when he went over to Ms. Sillow’s cottage the following month, Joshua ended up being his complete and total self. While waiting for Sondra’s call to come through, Ms. Sillow had a heart-to-heart conversation with the boy, just as she used to do with her daughter when she was a little girl and the same way she used to do with her grandson when he was alive. She wanted to find out everything that she possibly could about her young neighbor whom she strangely felt such a strong connection to. She wanted to know his age; his likes; his dislikes; what he thought about living in the woods; what he thought about being homeschooled; what he thought about his parents; and, the topper: if he wanted to move in with her. As thought the boy wasn’t uncomfortable enough by simply being in her presence, Ms. Sillow’s deeply personal and over-the-top questions inevitably left him hushed. Instead of answering a number of her odd questions, he simply hung his head down and twiddled with his fingers. Noticing how uncomfortable she was making the child, Ms. Sillow quit grilling him and began telling him about herself in an effort to get him more comfortable with her. Unfortunately, her tales of being raised in the forest all her life, only knowing that her and her parents existed up until she was 11 years old, being beaten by an abusive man who she claimed was “laying crippled in one of those rooms down the hallway,” and other odd tidbits of information that she chose to disclose with him only made his time with her that much more awkward and uncomfortable. So one could only imagine the relief that he felt when 10 o’clock rolled around and Ms. Sillow told him that he could head home since she didn’t believe that Sondra would be calling that night. When Sondra wasn’t heard from yet again the following month, Ms. Sillow told Joshua that he no longer would have to come over to her place at the end of each month. Rather, she told him that she would come and get him whenever she needed him again. The next time that Joshua set foot in her place, he would be a teenager.

Years would end up passing before Sondra was to be heard from again. Knowing how much of an addict she was, Ms. Sillow could have sworn that her daughter had died and gone to hell. But on the contrary, Sondra had gone to rehab since the last time she had called her mother’s place. She knew that she was going to have to make a drastic change in her life in order to attain her mother’s respect.

Everything was going just fine for Sondra once she had completed her rehabilitation at one of Idaho’s underfunded CAA facilities. She was using all of the training that had been handed down to her by her counselors to remain drug-free. Unfortunately, the sober life didn’t last for too long. Due to a lack of check-ups and moral support after leaving the facility, Sondra ended up slipping back into her bad habits. Once her effort to stay clean had failed, she consulted with a shrink. Once again, her fix was only temporary. What Sondra needed was salvation. Though the harsh things her mother had said to her since figuring out that she was on drugs hurt, Sondra had no choice but to accept them as true. Perhaps the malign statements might have been said out of genuine love. Maybe they were said solely with the intention of setting her straight, Sondra thought to herself. To cope with the remorse of not calling Presley for such a long time, Sondra told herself that he would be better off forgetting that such a worthless person as herself ever existed. It was one of the fortes of an addict: playing the guilt card. But guilt is something that haunts. It nags. No matter what you do, you can’t shake it. Furthermore, Sondra was not some stone-hearted prison inmate; she was a mother: everything about her spelled compassion. Her son needed her in his life, and she knew it. It was just those thoughts of How would he react to me being absent from his life after all this time? and His grandmother has probably filled his head up with so much bullshit about me by now. that made her put off calling him. But after battling with the thought of picking up the phone and punching a few buttons for eight long years, Sondra finally built up the courage to call back to the cottage to speak to the boy she had neglected for so long.

Chapter 65

The year was 1986, and Ms. Sillow had lived for well over a century by now. She was the oldest person on Earth - and it showed. She looked worse than ever before. Much of her delicate white hair had fallen out, leaving three quarters of her scalp visible; her eyes were now so low that they hardly appeared to be opened at all; her arthritis had caused her frame to undergo further compression; and pustules, the majority of them draining, speckled her entire body. It was as though her evilness was eating her from the inside out. She was content with being to her lonesome at this stage in her life, so one can only imagine the rage overcame her when her phone began ringing for the first time in almost a decade.

“Hello, daughter,” Ms. Sillow answered, doing her best to conceal the anger in her voice.

“Hello, mother. It’s been a while,” Sondra replied cautiously. “Please don’t chastise me. All I want is to talk to my son.”

With Joshua not being present at the moment to take her call, Ms. Sillow had no choice but to resort to her mind games all over again. “And why would I chastise you?” She pretended to sound confused. “I haven’t heard from my one child in forever. I have dearly missed hearing your voice, my dear. Besides, I’m surprised that I haven’t heard from you sooner; I know how much the boy means to you. But, unfortunately, he isn’t here at the moment. He loves heading out in the surrounding wilderness to exercise. He’s such a big boy now, and staying in shape is one of his main priorities. He looks like he’s going to be just as big as his grandfather was one day.

“Besides, you forgot that you’re to call on the last day of each month, seven o’clock.” Ms. Sillow certainly hadn’t developed Alzheimer’s disease in old age.

Utterly shocked by the calm and sensible manner in which her mother was conducting herself, Sondra didn’t hesitate to comply with her order. “Alright, mother, that won’t be a problem. I’ll call back then. And thank you so much for being so kind and cooperative. I was expecting to hear you ridicule me the instant that you heard my voice. You really made calling back to the cottage worthwhile.”

Ms. Sillow was undoubtedly a mastermind.

Chapter 66

After nearly ten years had gone by, the old witch once again had to employ the services of her now-teenage next door neighbor. Following a second request to Mr. Cople to borrow his son at the end of every month, Joshua was in place and ready to deceive Sondra once more when she rang the cottage on the date and time that her mother had ordered her to call back a week earlier. Ms. Sillow and her accomplice’s deception would be much easier to pull off this time around, too, since Presley would have been at an age when puberty would have significantly modified his voice, totally doing away with his once-recognizable baby voice. Joshua would have no need to worry about Sondra detecting that he wasn’t her actual son. Ms. Sillow didn’t have to give him much coaching in regards to what to say either. After all these years, Sondra would practically be talking to a whole new person. Since she would be interrogating him with basic questions to try and find out everything that had been happening with him in the past eight years, all Joshua had to do was go along with the flow.

“Presley, you sound so grown,” Sondra said elatedly when she called the cottage and heard Joshua’s deep voice on the line. “Oh, my God! I’m going to cry.”

“Don’t cry mom,” Joshua pleaded. “That’s only going to sadden my mood.”

“It’s been so long since you last heard from me. Did you miss me?” Sondra asked with traces of doubt in her voice.

“Of course I missed you,” the boy convincingly replied. “You’re my mother.”

Her tone became blissful once more. “Hey, guess what!”

“What?”

“I’m coming to see you next month. How does that sound?”

“I’d love that mom.”

The boy kept up the trend of playing off of whatever statements Sondra made for the remainder of their conversation.

As Ms. Sillow stood beside Joshua, listening to him work his magic, a huge smile spread across her face, and she affectionately began to run a hand up and down his back. In her own sick mind, she was beginning to think that the boy was actually her grandson.

Chapter 67

The chances of Ms. Sillow’s dupery ever being brought to light were slim to none. Her daughter continued making her routine calls to the cottage month after month and had even mailed an “I Love You” letter to the post office for Presley one day after she just couldn’t get him out of her head. The calls were reluctantly received, and the letter was promptly thrown into the trash. Ms. Sillow was making a mockery of her daughter, whom she had absolutely no regard for; but, the remains of her daughter’s offspring were sacred to her.

Today was a Sunday. Sundays were always the day that Ms. Sillow would pray over Presley’s bones and sprinkle them with incense. Then, she would rearrange the order of his skeleton - switching around his skull with his metatarsals and phalanges, his femurs with his clavicles, and so forth - before placing them back in their respective positions. Her rituals were ones that would be considered taboo in the eyes of a normal individual, but to the delusional self-believing prophetess, they were of great significance. “Under your own guidance and direction you were a confused and lost soul,” Ms. Sillow lamented as she mixed and matched the bones. As she placed them back in order: “With my help, I have allowed you to find your way, placing you on a straight and narrow path.”

Many more months rolled on by, and before long, the eighth anniversary of Presley’s death was just one month away. With so much time having gone by since his death, it appeared as though Ms. Sillow had gotten away scot-free with murder.

Chapter 68

Luckily for Ms. Sillow, Joshua was a perfect little cohort; otherwise, the murder of her grandson might have been brought to the light a long time ago. Almost every time before he stepped out of her house, he was warned not to reveal to his parents what he had truly been invited over to her place to do. She would further try and ensure that he remained tight-lipped about his casting role as her grandson by placing some of the funds that he and his parents had donated to her back in his hands - as though her no-nonsense face wasn’t capable enough of making sure he didn’t talk. Utterly terrified of the creepy old woman, Joshua made sure to follow her order, as he feared being subjected to a macabre punishment on his next visit over to the cottage the following month.

The first time that Joshua had gone over to Ms. Sillow’s cottage at the age of eight, his mother was naturally uncomfortable with him being over at the home of a strange woman whom she had never met before. She was extremely over-protective of her only child; so when he hadn’t returned home in a time that she thought was reasonable, she began tormenting her husband, nagging him to head next door to check up on their son. With every passing hour that Joshua spent inside of Ms. Sillow’s unlit, haunted-looking cottage, all Mrs. Cople could do was think about was whether or not her child was okay. And her apprehension wasn’t unjustified. Mrs. Cople had always been concerned about that little boy she used to see running around her neighbor’s yard and was skeptical of Ms. Sillow’s claim that he had gone back home to his mother. Flashing back to the first several times that she had ever seen Presley playing outside in the immediate vicinity of the cottage, she recalled images of him being so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He was so happy and vibrant, and it appeared as though nothing could have taken his gaiety away. Then, all of a sudden he ended up disappearing, not to be spotted again until weeks later. When he did make his re-emergence outside, Mrs. Cople’s heart wept for the boy. He wasn’t the same happy and mobile child that she had initially seen. The sadness was clearly visible on his pale face, and he was moving around like an old man. It was evident to Mrs. Cople that he had been subjected to some inhumane physical abuse, and as a concerned neighbor, she begged her husband to investigate what was going on behind the closed doors of their neighbor’s cottage.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ann,” Mr. Cople said to his wife’s claims of foul play. “The boy must have fallen down the stairs or something. There’s no way that Mrs. Sharlow could have possibly done that to him. She’s a tiny, frail old woman who uses the little bit of strength and energy that she has left in her being a good wife to her husband.”

A subservient wife, Mrs. Cople agreed with what her husband had said and didn’t take the discussion any further. From that point on, both her and her husband continued to observe Presley continue to sporadically pop up and then disappear, pop up and then disappear. So when Mr. Cople had told his wife that Mrs. Sillow was going to be borrowing Joshua at the end of each month to help her out with certain things that she needed done around her place, his wife couldn’t help but bring up Presley’s situation once more.

“My child won’t be stepping a foot out of this house to do anything for anybody,” Mrs. Cople voiced authoritatively. “Now, I’ve been trying not to bring up this discussion again, but just in case you’ve forgotten or unless you’re just plain retarded, that boy next door is being abused by that woman. There’s no way in hell I’m going to allow you to send my son over there to undergo similar treatment.”

Although Mr. Cople had turned away from his uncompromisable ways and was going to try and discuss the matter in a civilized manner with his wife, the way that she had addressed him involuntarily made him resort to being his old self. As he choked her he asked: “Are you calling me a liar?” Even though Mrs. Cople so desperately wanted to tell him that he wasn’t a liar so that she would be able to breathe again, he was holding her throat too tightly for her to get a sound out. “I’ve seen that woman, you haven’t. She’s about the same size as Joshua and as slow as a sloth. She’s not capable of hurting anybody.”

Mr. Cople only released his grip on his wife’s throat after her face started to turn blue. He then went off to their bedroom to cry to himself, for he knew that he was about to put his son’s life in danger at the end of the month.

Chapter 69

When Presley returned home from Ms. Sillow’s place for the first time, he was bombarded with questions from his parents. Already traumatized by his experience over at the cottage, he stammered as he answered the million and one questions that they threw his way. “N-n-n-no, she didn’t touch me i-i-in any way.” “No, my fr-fr-friend P-P-P-Presley wasn’t there.” “I cl-cl-cl-cl-cl-cleaned up h-her rooms and the attic.” “I-inside o-o-of her place was nice.” The questioning from his parents seemed relentless, and it felt as though he had been answering them for hours on end. Despite being a little worried about how shaken up he was, his parents were just glad that he had returned home in one piece. And the boy wanted to ensure that he remained in one piece. He never once relayed to his parents any of the crazy, outlandish things that Ms. Sillow had said to him.

“See, I told you that there was nothing to worry about,” Mr. Cople told his wife once they had tucked Joshua into bed. “He’s just a bit nervous because he’s not used to her as yet. He’ll get over it in time.”

When the boy returned home in one piece following his second visit to the cottage was when his mother quit being so concerned about him being over at Ms. Sillow’s place. And each time that he made it home without any sort of injuries, his father would let out a huge sigh of relief.

Chapter 70

“… I promise I’m going to see you this upcoming month,” Sondra mentioned to the boy during one of their usual end-of-month conversations.

“I’ve been hearing that same story for the past several months now, mom. When are you really gonna visit?” Joshua retorted in an understandably angered and elevated tone of voice. Over time, the boy had become a pro at dragging on conversations with Sondra.

“Don’t you dare raise your fucking tone at me, Presley,” she blared, the clangor of her finished alcohol bottles adding to the discord as she slammed an open palm onto a nearby coffee table. “Now, if I promised you I’ll be there, I’ll be there,” she repeated, only to have her over-the-top jeremiad earn the response of a distinct chuckle. Sondra was still struggling with her vices and was in absolutely no condition to resume her role as a mother; but for more reasons than one, she should have stayed far away from Yarmouth.

Chapter 71

There was no turning back now. Sondra had spent the last 24 hours on U.S. Route 20 and had no intentions of utilizing the brakes until she made it to where she was going. Before she began her nearly two-day drive to Yarmouth, she had strapped a diaper on to avoid making stops to let out bodily waste and had snorted several lines of cocaine and had taken a few intravenous shots of the drug to ward off the effects of sleepiness. Her decision to remain awake significantly reduced the time of her road trip, and before she knew it, she was just 45 minutes away from her destination in Onset, where she made a pit stop at a gas station there only to inform her mother that she would be pulling up at the cottage shortly.

“Hey, mom, just calling to let you know that I’ll be arriving at the cottage really soon, and I’ll be taking Presley back with me when I leave day after tomorrow,” she informed her mother during their brief chat. After hanging up the phone, the normally nonchalant Ms. Sillow went into a frenzy. Sondra had thrown her a huge curveball. She never dreamt that her daughter would ever make her way back to the cottage.

The sun had vacated the sky hours ago, and it wasn’t customary for Joshua to be over at Ms. Sillow’s place at such a late hour. However, in this instance, she really needed him. Luckily for her, since his room window faced her cottage, she knew exactly which room he stayed in. She wouldn’t have to bother his parents by knocking on the front door to ask for him. Quickly jumping into action to retrieve the boy before her daughter got there, Ms. Sillow raced out of her house and struggled up the steep, leafy bank that was inconveniently situated between her residence and his room window. The uphill tread was agonizing on her osteoarthritic joints; but, desperate and determined, she made it up.

“Joshua, Joshua, I need you boy,” Ms. Sillow cried out as she approached the window. Startled by the strange chanting sounds reaching his ears in the middle of the night, Joshua pitched up out of his sleep. “I need you boy,” the hag crooned once more after he had opened up his room window to find out exactly what was going on outside.

“What’s the matter, Mrs. Sillow?” he asked worriedly while rubbing his tired eyes with two balled up fists. It was pretty much a pitch black night, and all the boy could see were Ms. Sillow’s silver eyes shining beneath his window ledge as she anxiously stared up at him. Her intense anxiety made him eerily uneasy.

“Come with me,” she maniacally ordered.

“No,” the boy replied assertively. “Do you know what time it is? Mom and dad would never allow…” Ms. Sillow had no time to listen to excuses. With surprising quickness, she reached up, grabbed the boy by the wrist, and yanked him out of the window. He struggled, but to no avail; his screams for help went unheard. He was now in the grips of a demon. Once she had dragged him next door, she rushed down to the basement and shut off all of the switches on her circuit breaker, turning her already spooky abode into a pitch black parlor. Her story of an area power outage would seem believable to her daughter, since the Coples slept with all their lights off to conserve energy. Lastly, Ms. Sillow gave Joshua somber instructions regarding how he was to greet his assumed mother and how he was to conduct himself in her presence. Just moments later, Sondra at last reunited with her “son”.

Chapter 72

Dawn had just begun to break as Ms. Sillow slowly pushed open the door to the room Sondra had slept in with Joshua. Carefully concealed behind her back was a 12-inch blade. Ms. Sillow was about to slay her only child - had she only been asleep.

“Good morning, mother,” Sondra said without looking up. She had smelled her mother’s rancid odor encompass the room. Still prohibited to sleep due to her recent dangerously immoderate consumption of drugs, Sondra stayed up all night, propped up on one elbow while caressing Joshua’s head in the dark. The rising sun afforded her her first glimpse of the boy she hadn’t seen in what seemed to be forever.

“Well, there’s your son,” Ms. Sillow said as she slowly approached the bed, making sure to keep the formidable blade out of sight.

“Yes. And he’s grown so big,” Sondra added, her eyes intently fixed on the sleeping boy. Ms. Sillow was now at the foot of the bed and was beginning to ease the knife out from behind her back. Luckily for Sondra, her chatter with her mother had awoken Joshua.

“Happy birthday, baby,” Sondra whispered in his ear gleefully. “Roll over and give mommy a kiss.”

“You do whatever she asks you to,” Joshua recalled Ms. Sillow saying to him the previous night, just moments before Sondra pulled up at the cottage. Obediently, the boy turned over onto his other side, and Sondra was immediately startled.

“This isn’t my son,” she uttered in bemusement as she hopped up out of the bed.

“It is the boy, you fool,” Ms. Sillow rebutted lividly as she began to approach her daughter, who was now standing with her hands atop her head in disbelief at the side of the bed. “This is our precious Presley.”

“No it isn’t.” Sondra wasn’t backing down from her mother this time. “This boy has green eyes. Presley’s eyes are blue. Where the fuck is my son, mother?”

“You’ve been taking drugs again, haven’t you?” her mother condescendingly questioned. Suffering from the guilt of the question placed to her, Sondra shot another glance over at Joshua. Her mistake of doubting her maternal instinct resulted in the blade Ms. Sillow was toting being plunged deep in between her ribs. Though Ms. Sillow had lost some of the strength she possessed in her younger years, she could still kill.

Chapter 73

Sondra’s eyelids immediately shut when she hit the ground. She was still alive, though. Ms. Sillow was looking to stab her again, but the blade had been driven so deeply into her daughter’s flesh that it became nearly impossible to pull out without the wound first being made larger. Ms. Sillow didn’t struggle to pull it out for too long either. She hastened out of the room to retrieve another blade. Meanwhile, Sondra’s instinct to live kicked in. Once she was certain that her mother had gone out of the room, she mustered up every bit of strength left within her and pulled herself up out of her prostrate position. Immediately to her right was a window. She needed to make a quick escape through that window, for she was in absolutely no condition to fight off a mad woman. Sondra slowly slid the window’s sash up. Every move that she now made was an agonizing one. With what she was certain was her last bit of energy, Sondra closed her eyes and lunged through the open window.

The pain was indescribable. She was in so much pain that she couldn’t even scream - or maybe she just didn’t have the energy to do so. When Sondra opened her eyes, which were now bloodshot red, she was staring down at earth. Half her body awkwardly hung inside the house; the other half outside. The knife lodged in her side had prevented her from clearing through the slender window.

As Sondra heard her mother’s footsteps approaching the room, she hung her head in defeat, and the tears began streaming down her face. In the final moments of her life, Sondra broke down. This was without a doubt the lowest point of her existence. Sure, she had been an addict who could never bounce back. Undoubtedly she wished she had done more to salvage the damaged relationship between her and her mother. But Sondra’s tears on that morning were not shed for herself. She cried because she had failed the boy who had implored her to not leave him with a woman he didn’t feel comfortable being left with some 10 years earlier. She cried because she knew that she had turned out to be just as irresponsible of a parent as her mother was, and Presley suffered because of that. She cried because she was certain that she wasn’t going to see her child in the place she was about to head to in her afterlife. She cried because in her heart, she just knew that her son was dead.

Chapter 74

As long as a person has breath remaining in their body, hope should never be counted out. Sondra hung stuck in that window, just waiting for her soul to depart from her body. It never did. Instead, Ms. Sillow was the one who lay dead on the wooden floor behind her with a gaping hole in back of her head. Stuart Cople had damn near blown her entire brain out of her skull with his Winchester M1887 shotgun.

Sondra’s decoy son had saved her life. Those months of chatting with her over the phone had involuntarily made him come to love the woman he deceptively referred to as “mother”.

Chapter 75

News of the sickening events that had taken place in serene Yarmouth spread like wildfire. Nothing of its kind had ever happened before, neither ever since. So vile was the news that it had, in fact, impacted an entire nation. The discovery of young Presley’s bones created a stir. Local dailies across Massachusetts broke records that day, and Sondra was sought after like a celebrity throughout her time of bereavement. Our conscience can be our worst enemy at times; however, and hers was able to manipulate her in ways unimaginable. On the day of May 23rd, 1988, Sondra placed the barrel of a gun to her temple and executed herself in similar fashion to the way her mother was killed. Her death marked the eradication of the Sillow generation from the face of the Earth. She was 53.

In respect of her last wishes, which she had jotted down on paper shortly before she took her life, she was laid to rest in her childhood room, beside her son’s remains. Her mother’s body was dismembered and buried across different parts of the state in fear of her reincarnation.

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