Part Twenty-Three of Angel Maker: The Stoddards by Barry B. Wright

At the beginning of 1939, the English south coastal resort of Bournemouth proudly proclaimed a population of one hundred thirty thousand. The natural beauty of its cliffs and the wide sweep of its bay embraced a magic carpet of sand while the Bourne River—fringed with parkland and public gardens—stretched into the heart of the coastal community. Bournemouth’s outstanding characteristic and attraction was its breadth of view and openness. The ideal vacation destination, it attracted all types of tourists searching for a place of respite.

Vacationers wanted something different, exciting and unique that contrasted sharply with the commonality of their usual daily existence. That’s what drew the Stoddards to Bournemouth in 1934; they had a service that fitted the bill. And they had no qualms about relieving their clients from the burden of carrying too much coin.

When they found a house suitable for their business and had it suitably furnished, Mary Elizabeth proudly hung out her shingle displaying her shtick: a psychic, medium, spiritualist, mental healer, psychic-analyst, and folklorist. While her husband, Lawrence, advertised his prowess in the local newspaper, The Echo, as a “powerful deep-trance medium.” They did not have to wait long before the clients flooded in. Within the first six months of setting up shop, so-to-speak, their business had surpassed their wildest expectations.

Mary Elizabeth had been known only as ‘Elizabeth’ in the many towns she had visited. Though rarely her choice, she had never stayed long in any town she visited. More often, than not, she had been unceremoniously ushered out of town by the local constabulary.

The line between law and outlaw in her business was razor thin. But, as in any business, experience finally paid dividends. The key to her success was learning how to stay out of reach of those who would have preferred her jailed.

As her business flourished, overtime a comfortable coexistence developed between the Stoddards and the local community of Bournemouth. As far as the community was concerned if she stayed within the letter of the law, the occasional grey areas could be ignored. The Stoddards attracted commerce to Bournemouth during the high season. And, when all was said and done, that, by itself, made everything tickety-boo.

On December 11, 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite. He was reluctantly succeeded by his brother, Albert, who became King George VI. His wife, Elizabeth, became the queen consort.

Mary Elizabeth and her husband, Lawrence, were gregarious, convivial individuals. People easily succumbed to their charming, warm and inviting ways. So, it was, though not without reservation, that they eventually became an integral part of the landscape that defined Bournemouth. And, Mary Elizabeth became fondly known in the community by the nickname, ‘Queenie,’ after the queen consort.

Mary Elizabeth’s ‘special gifts’ unexpectedly expanded in 1937. Haste was a virtue to her way of thinking. The very thought that haste made waste was outside her immediate experience. And, when Lawrence encouraged her to slow down and had pointed out that she had become more accident prone, she dismissed it as a ridiculous observation. That is, until she fell down the flight of stairs in her two-story home. Rushed to hospital, she remained unconscious for two months.

During her convalescence, her usual dream-scape changed. She discovered that within days of her dreams, the events she dreamt about showed up in the news. The frequency of occurrence convinced her that this was no lucky coincidence. Turning this newly found gift into a monetary venture was never in question for Mary Elizabeth or Lawrence. What was in question was how to safe-guard it since they had no idea how long lasting her ability would be.

When Inspector Collier phoned her shortly after Kristallnacht, she was genuinely taken by surprise. Not an ardent fan of hers, she was suspicious of his request for an early morning visit. Still, it could not have been timelier. Her most recent nightmare necessitated that they meet. Witness to the horrific murder of a young child and experiencing it through the eyes and mind of her killer had left her discombobulated and chilled to the bone. So, she easily acquiesced to their rendezvous.

Lawrence poured two glasses of Port and handed one to Mary Elizabeth. They sat opposite each other in silence in front of the unlit fireplace.

“So…What are you going to tell him?” He crossed one leg over the other.

“The Inspector?” He nodded. “The truth. There’s no need to be concerned, Lawrence. So, wipe that look off your face. I have to tell him about what I dreamt.”

“I guess I understand…But…don’t you think he’ll think you’ve gone crackers? He’s well respected in the community. I’d hate to lose what we worked so hard to create.” He got up and poured himself another glass of Port. She refused when he proffered to refill her glass.

She let out a long sigh. “It’s a chance I must take,” she continued. “You didn’t experience the horror I lived through the other night. It was a child…The son-of-bitch murdered a child.” She pulled a hanky from her sleeve and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I may be the only one who’s got the goods on that bastard.”

“Maybe so…I’ve learned on too many occasions never to cross you when your mind is made up, Mary Elizabeth.” There were playful undertones in his comment. He took a sip from his glass and scrutinized her long and hard. “And his son?” He asked raising an eyebrow. “What are you going to tell him about his son?”

She bit down hard on her lower lip and, with a slight shrug, replied: “I’ll have that worked out before the mornin’. But, I can assure you that whatever’s said about his son the Inspector will leave with lots of hope and promise.”

Lawrence returned to the side table and poured another Port.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Lawrence?”

“I feel I’m on the verge of quicksand,” he replied, ignoring her question. “Is playing him a good idea?”

“I would never do that.” Joining him, she wrapped her arms around him. “I will never forget that for such a brief time, we, too, were parents. I can feel what he feels. No, I only want to allay his pain until I can learn more, nothing else. I’ll be careful about how tell him.” She took his hand and led him back to sit down.

“Are you alright, Mary Elizabeth? Since the night our wee Robbie passed, I’ve never seen such a forlorn expression.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Whatever for?”

“These new powers or abilities, whatever you call them…they’re growing. And, the murderer of that little girl has them too.”

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Two Weeks in January by Barry B. Wright

Part One: Sheila

“I just don’t get it.”

I remember thinking those very words, hours, maybe minutes, maybe even seconds after I first met her. I was engaged at the time and comfortably secure in the direction my world was heading. But, unbeknown to me, I was about to learn an important life lesson.

This story begins two years before I met her because, as it turned out, I had to meet someone else first.

After I graduated from high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. My dad had died two years earlier after a lengthy illness and, quite honestly, there wasn’t a lot of money. My mom worked for Murray Printing and I worked part-time packing groceries for customers at Loblaw’s.

By the end of that first summer after graduating from high school, I had managed to land a full-time job working for Canadian Kodak. How that came about surprises me to this day because the Company was known to rarely hire outside the family members of their employees. During my first year there, I was trained on five different jobs. The one job I enjoyed most was working in the Film Processing Department in the testing lab alongside an ex-vet, Gord Kee, who trained me. Fondly, I can still smell his steaks cooking on the hot-plate every Friday evening during cleanup.

I had better not digress too much here except to say that Gord was an endearing individual whose wife worked on the same floor as us except in Film Finishing. I mention this in passing because the person I was to eventually meet also worked there during the summer while a student. Her father, I learned later, was the superintendent of Film Emulsion located in a different building.

One day, I met a student who was on his work term from the University of Waterloo. His program rotated through four months of study and four months of job experience until graduation, roughly five years. During our conversations, I learned that University of Waterloo was the pioneer for this Co-Op program in Ontario. Based on his description, I liked ‘the sound’ of the University. So that got me thinking. Until then I had only considered University of Toronto. Since I had had extensive training at Kodak I thought I would have a secure money source between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. And, if I majored in chemistry, all indicators pointed to Kodak hiring me full-time after graduation. I thought my future was securely fixed. So, I applied to their Science Program and forewent the Co-Op program.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you planned. Helen Keller had it right when she said: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

My choice, and circumstances outside my control, sent me along a different path.

During my first year at the University of Waterloo, and I must admit largely due to my instructor, Peter Brillinger, I discovered that I preferred to study mathematics. To all you ‘ughers’ reading this, mathematics is quite a creative field. Really! Anyway, what can I say? I’m a nerd and damn proud of it. The other drawing card for my decision was the newly constructed Faculty of Mathematics, fondly known as the Fortress or The Stanton Building (after one of its founders). It was the very first in Canada. Graduates would receive the unique degree of Bachelor of Mathematics. That uniqueness clinched my decision to transfer from the Faculty of Science to Mathematics.

My choice was not well received in the Testing Department at Kodak. Also, unexpectedly, Union negotiations with Kodak changed everything for students. How you may ask? It meant that all students would not be considered for employment until sometime in July (much too late for students like me) and there would be a dearth of overtime. Needless-to-say with that new information I had to change gears quickly.

I don’t remember how it all came about but I landed a position working for Loblaw’s between school terms at their egg packing warehouse at the bottom of Bathurst Street, near the waterfront. Part of my job was to ensure there were no broken eggs in the carton before packing them; if the egg carton had been compromised I removed it and placed the unbroken eggs into a new carton. Egg cartons which passed inspection were then packed in a box ready for shipping. In a nutshell (or should I say, “an egg shell?”) the job was super boring. I was the only guy, youngster, and a pampered one at that, on the line. To break the tedium, I would from time to time let the cartons jam on the conveyor belt so that I could dive in for the rescue. Most times my ‘egg carton rescues’ were successful. But when they weren’t…well…to everyone’s chagrin, the machine had to be stopped to clean up the mess.

The Floor Manager, Bob, was a tall, lean, discerning Eastern European. His eyes had a tendency to send well-deserved butterflies into a frantic frenzy in my tummy. Though I could not have used the descriptive then I would describe his eyes now as ‘Putin eyes.’ There was no hiding anything from him. He knew exactly what I had been up to. Unobtrusively, he pulled me aside to have a chat. I neither remember him ever raising his voice in anger nor mincing his words. Stern, his message was clear and succinct. Though the women on the line reminded more of my mother, he always referred to them as ‘his girls.’

“The girls’ livelihood depends on that line running,” I remember him saying. “Most are the only breadwinners for their family. There’s a quota set every day that must be met. Too many missed quotas mean someone on the line loses their job.”

His pinching words had severely bruised my conscience. Simply put, I felt terrible. And, he knew it.

Shortly after cleaning up the mess which I created, the egg department closed for an hour’s lunch.

Guilt ridden, I felt a great need for privacy to wallow in my embarrassment. But, here is where logic somehow got misplaced. I trudged off, lunch bag in hand, to the least likely place to get it, the lunchroom four floors above my work area.

I must add that before the summer was finished Bob and I often played chess during lunchtime breaks. During those special moments, he chatted about his homeland, Poland, and his studies to become a medical doctor. When he immigrated to Canada his medical degree was not recognized; with no money and a family to support, his life took him to this place. What amazed me was he held no discernible bitterness. His focus was on his son and daughter and helping them to achieve goals that he was prevented from reaching.

Why I decided to go the lunchroom on that day of all days, I did not have a clue. Perhaps I thought I could hide in one of its dark corner pockets that did not exist. Whatever the reason, it all came down to feeling sorry for myself.

Behind the lunch counter was a very attractive young girl taking orders. I had never seen her before. She had full lips and, according to regulation, her auburn hair was contained in a netted hat. As I remember it, her welcoming demeanor and smile added sunshine to the day.

My decision to dissolve into a corner quickly dissipated. I glanced around for the nearest receptacle and, finding one, I surreptitiously dropped my lunch bag into it before joining the line to place my order.

Mired in what felt like thick molasses, me, time, and the others trudged forward. Friendly chatter made it bearable. Most of it, though, was directed at her. “How are you doin’, Sheila?” “Hey, Sheila, have you heard this joke?” And on it would go. At least now I knew her name.

When I arrived to place my order, I was speechless. Words on a dove, so to speak, that had flown the coop. I’m sure I must have had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

I glanced quickly at the menu on the wall behind her and ordered a lettuce-cheese-tomato sandwich, exactly what I had just thrown out.

By the time she had made my sandwich and I had paid her, I had learned through my awkward attempt at casual conversation that she was a student at the University of Toronto, studying History.

Unfortunately, time does fly and this was no exception. My hour had come and gone. After a quick goodbye and glancing back to ensure she didn’t see me, the sandwich she had made joined my lunch bag as I rushed pass the receptacle.

Breathless, I arrived at my position on the assembly line before the bell rang to herald start-up in the Egg Department.

Careful not to become overly consumed with my thoughts, I schemed how I was going to meet Sheila again.

Sunnyvale by Barry B. Wright

sunnyvale

Prologue

Darkness surrounds him and lies deeply within him. Tonight, his approach to her bedroom window is stealthier than his previous visits. Because he has killed, the community has become alerted to his presence but they do not know who he is.

He draws closer to her home. Her lover’s car is parked in the drive. The light in the bedroom turns off. Satisfyingly, he nods. Soon they will leave. He glances at his watch. For once, they are on time.

The evil within him enhances and distorts his motivations. He neither understands why he does what he does nor does he care nor feel compelled to change its outcome.

The face of his previous lover swept across the desert he called a mind. Disappointed, he thought he had completely purged her from his life. No harm was meant when he had locked her in his basement. To him, she was a delicate and beautiful butterfly that needed his love and protection. But, he had been wrong again. Like all the others, her lies and mean-spirited ways had shone through. He had no choice. His hand followed the scar she had gifted him along his jaw line. He had tried. But, she had refused his love. Killing her, then, became easy and right. He took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Now he had a new lover to watch over.

Cautiously, he approached the bedroom window. Like so many times before, this choice for his new love had left it open. The ambience of her bedroom was his eye candy. The perfume permeating the air was a gratifying delight, a banquet of celebration to her existence. This time he knew he had chosen correctly. He smiled to himself. Never since he had begun his “nightly visitations” long ago, and he had visited many bedrooms even while they slept, had he felt so strongly about someone.

His earlier voyeurisms of her led him to the correct dresser drawer. Opening it, he scooped up its contents and drank in her essence. Undergarments, closest to her skin, created sensual images of him peeling them off her. The thought of tasting her made him hard as his excitement grew to a feverish pitch.

A car door slammed. He froze. His heart-beat slammed against his chest. He took the trophies he wanted and carefully returned the rest. She must not know that he was there. Surreptitiously, he slipped across her room to the open window to make his escape.

He heard their angry voices surfing the warm night air. Then, there was silence.

Her key entered the front lock as her lover’s vehicle drove off. The quickness of her step surprised him when suddenly her bedroom door swung open. Her cellphone rang. And she turned away to answer it. If she hadn’t done that her fate would have been sealed. She would have clearly seen him captured in the wedge of light.

He did not want to kill her. That would shatter his dreams of being her lover. But, he was fully prepared to act on life’s unexpected twists and turns. Tying the length of her pantyhose in a knot, he stepped back into the darkness of the room and waited to discover her fate.

Her tone told him who she was talking to on the phone. And, he hated him intensely. A car horn beeped in her drive. The light in the living room turned off. Her key in the front door told him she had left.

For a while he lay on her bed in his imaginary world drinking in the smell of her undergarments, his trophies from this visit.

When he closed the window to her bedroom and climbed the fence into the field behind her property, he had made his decision.

Tomorrow, he thought, I will begin tomorrow.

The Water Falls by Barry B. Wright

waterfalls-in-the-woodsThunder! The storm clouds gather.

A grosbeak valiantly circles overhead.

When this journey began, my hope was painted against an azure sky when the sun was high and the scent of pine and meadow flowers copiously filled the air.

Many times I have stood at the forest’s edge and let the sweetness and magic of its promise draw me in.

But, today, I hear distant drums heralding a coming storm, it marches across the glen. Have I languished too long? Will my peaceful tranquility feel the coldness of its blade?

My pace quickens, not outward but inward to the sanctuary of the camaraderie of the woods.

Briefly, the path is sprinkled with dabbled sunlight that spotlights a yellow-black spider spinning its web between milkweeds.  An arduous task filled with purpose and hope in advance of the storm.

An ozone scent slides into me. I inhale deeply. In the innocence of my youth, I celebrated the normalcy of its breath but now I only feel sadness and fear.

The die is cast. How long will it last? While the once proud Northern Holy Fern, Walking Fern, Maidenhair Spleenwort Fern and orchids are compelled to hide in its inky bloom.

The gentle breeze lulled my senses; illusions in sunshine blinded my ears while my mind chose what was and not what is among my peers.

Tree trunks cry out; their struggle barely audible above the bellowing noise of the angry wind; their limbs scratch furiously at the sky; strongly with purpose they fight against their bully.

My hypothalamus drives me in earnest to my haven hidden in the hollow round the bend. The tumultuous journey of a storyteller, its story not easily told, arrived long before I was born. I had to see beyond its beauty and be disposed to undertake a promise never to refrain from learning its message riding full rein.

Everything begins one day, that’s just the way it is. Where it starts is rarely where it is. Tomorrow bleeds into tomorrow. If you take notice, pay attention, bear witness and commit, today does not have to be a cellophane footnote as part of the compass in your kit. Choices form the North Star to the future that fits.

Unimaginable yesterdays brought me to the rock where I sit. Before me the stalwart waterfall’s music flows. Though its majestic structure may have been decreed, adjudicated and arranged by forces beyond its control, its conclusion has not been clinched.

Voices and outstretched hands not emptied of hope ride with anguished arrow to my home.

And the falling water asks me as it has done so many times before: Will you stand against the storm?

Joan Sledge: The Mucky Duck by Barry B. Wright

mucky-duck

V

Ouch! It was totally unexpected. Her home form lockers should not have been anywhere near mine. Yet, there she was, five lockers down from me. I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be an ugly school year.

She smiled. I smiled back. She spoke to me but I neither remember what she said nor what I said to her. The exchange was cordial enough but awkward, similar to strangers forced together in a social setting out of their control. But, we were far from being strangers. Or was I wrong?

When Chris was present, he became the center of Joan’s attention.  As for me, I became nothing more than cellophane. I did not exist. Passing each other in the hall, as we frequently did each school day, I wondered: Do you know I’m there?

Growing up is darn right painful.

My feet dragged academically. Hurt had turned into anger. I had become consumed with thoughts of revenge. I found no solace in my brother Ron’s carelessly doted out wisdom: “Suck it up buttercup…plenty more yet to come.” Did he not know I felt diminished? That my heart was broken? That my life was in tatters?

Did Joan even care about the depths of my despair?

I’ve been told too often that time reveals all to those who are patient. But, I’m a kid. Isn’t that in part why I’m called a kid and not an adult? Being patient takes the fun out of things. Doesn’t it? Hmm…I felt as if I had followed the rabbit down the hole into a scary horror show of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of being late for a very important date escapes me because my life was at a standstill.

Life is full of surprises.

The school year trudged on and so did I. Then one day Joan approached me out of the blue. I was dumbstruck. Blood coursed through my veins so quickly that words were washed cleanout of my brain. I could only listen. During those precious moments together space and time stood still. There were no recriminations, no rancor, only clarity. By the time she had said what she wanted to say, I knew there was nothing I needed to add. A quick reminisce drew laughter and we parted as friends.

Though she was with Chris, a quick glance and a knowing smile as we passed in the hall, assured me that she knew I was there. I still loved her; I guess that was the saddest part: loving someone who used to love you.

Two weeks later, everything changed.

I had just exited Sam’s, the neighborhood variety store, when I noticed Joan walking toward me. Her head was slung low. I called out to her and waited. She barely glanced up as she scurried by me. “Joan,” I called out. “Are you okay? What’s the…?” She had already disappeared down the walkway at the side of the strip mall.

Why did I not follow her? It’s something I’ve always regretted.

Toward the end of the week I went around to her house. There was a For Sale sign on the front lawn. And the house was empty.

I never saw her again.

Time passed like tumbling tumbleweed in a strong northwest wind.

I had become an adult. I now could vote.

As a sophomore at a prestigious university, I had become, according to my parents, the proverbial know-it-all. I’m sure they would have frowned on my regular late night debates over pizza and beer. My defense: it was a yummy experience for fertile minds that provided fresh perspectives and clarity to the world’s problems. The debates were coed. Now that would have raised an eyebrow or two in my family. Mum’s the word was decided by me right from the start especially since I was interested in one of the participants. As of late, my active participation in the learning experience had waned. It leaned toward more lascivious endeavors. My daily state of being groggy and bleary eyed did not add to my hopes of remaining on the Dean’s List.

The lecture I was trying to follow was exceedingly boring. The professor contributed greatly to lulling my brain to sleep. The attention span of a gnat had suddenly become my norm. Not good, when the content of the class—thermodynamics—was a must go to in order to achieve my degree in chemical engineering. Glancing around the hall it was easy to deduce that I wasn’t alone in my struggle. But that was scant solace.

I took in a deep breath and attempted to refocus when a ball of paper ricocheted off my head, landing on the floor at my feet. A quick scan of the lecture hall turned up empty-handed. Bending down, I picked up the paper-shot and unfolded it. A drawing of a female stick-figure and the words “Do you remember me?” was scrawled on it. I must admit, it did not ring a bell. I took a cursory glance around the hall. There was no obvious source of the projectile. Unable to stifle a yawn or two, my attention refocused on the chalkboard several rows down.

Another balled-up paper careened off my head and onto the floor. But it disappeared from view under the feet of the exiting mass of people at the end of the lecture.

Gathering my textbook and binder, I began the steep climb to the exit. In the very back row, in the middle, a very attractive girl smiled at me. She beckoned me to join her.

I sat on the seat beside her. Though there was a familiarity about her, facial recognition eluded me.  “Do I know you? I have a sense that we have met before.”  The corner of her lip curled up slightly but she did not reply. There was playfulness in her eyes that could not go unnoticed. I held up the crumpled paper. “Was that you?”

She nodded. “Not a bad shot…eh? The second one would have solved the mystery I can see swimming around in your head. Though the student stampede may have put you in danger,” she chortled. “Put that down to bad timing on my part…like… in Mister Roberts’s class.”

That hint hit my memory banks like a lead balloon. “Alison!? Gee…It’s great to see you…but…but…”

“If your jaw drops any lower you’re going to hurt yourself.” She glanced at her watch. “When’s your next class?”

“Who cares…the rest of the day’s yours. Lunch? It’s on me.”

“Well, when you put that way…You got a place in mind?”

“The Mucky Duck.”

I’m not big on nostalgia but our walk across campus to the pub was most pleasant. When she mentioned Joan’s name my ears perked up. Unable to get a word in edgewise, Joan somehow got lost in the many twists and turns of Alison’s catch up tales.

As we sat across from each other waiting for lunch and nursing our drafts, I brought up Joan’s name again. I learned that she and her dad had moved to Montreal, Canada. Unexpectedly she and Alison had corresponded by letter for a short time.

“Do you still write each other?” I asked, hopefully.

She stared at me long and hard, took a swig of her draft and cleared her throat. “She stopped writing after… the baby was born.”

I could feel my whole body deflate like a punctured inner tube. The pain on my face must have been obvious because Allison hesitantly continued.

“Chris Brannon…as you knew at the time …Well…She was head over heels in love with him…and…She trusted him implicitly. Misplaced trust…” She took in a deep breath. “It’s the only kind way I can describe it.”

“Then… Chris… was the father?”  I reluctantly asked.

“One day while she and Chris were at Ted Lacey’s…No…She… never knew who the father was from that day. Her father, wanting to protect her, pulled up stakes and took her with him. He had a sister who lived outside of Montreal.”

We sat in silence for what for me felt like an eternity.

Finally, I asked: “Does she still live there?” When my meal was placed in front of me, I had lost my appetite.

Alison’s gaze skirted away from me. I could see that a teardrop had formed at the corner of her eye. She pushed her plate aside and reached across the table to hold my hands. Her grasp tightened. Her words did not come easily; they carried much pain. “About a year after the baby was born, I received a letter from her father. In it, I was informed that …she…had committed suicide.”

When Alison and I parted, it was dusk. We promised to see each other again.

Beside the entrance to my residence was a small copse of trees. Standing in front of them was a young girl smiling and waving at me. She was radiant and beautiful. She appeared to shimmer from the overhead light above the door. My pace picked up from a lumbering gait. But, by the time I got there, she was gone. I could have sworn it was Joan.