Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Reprise: Bigfoot!

(Still photo from Bigfoot film by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, October 1967)

Crack! The bullet zings past my ear, hitting an old oak tree.

I drop the salmon wiggling in my hands and run along the bank of the Mokelumne River, propelling my long, hairy arms for speed. Behind me, the hunters move carefully through the dense underbrush, tracking my movements.

Sharp green thorns snag on my hair and tear at my flesh as I struggle through the blackberry briars and wild grapevines. I hike deeper into the wilderness on two strong legs, climbing skillfully around granite boulders barring my way. In the distance, the jagged outline of Deadwood Peak rises above the trees. If I can only get there, I will be safe.

Rounding a bend I see her, tearing meat from a rabbit carcass with big, sharp teeth. Mama! Her shaggy brown head turns in my direction. With a low growl, she opens her long, hairy arms as if to embrace me.

And then she smells it, the distinct odor of musky sweat. The hunters are near!

We run, ignoring the stones piercing our feet, causing us to stumble. Behind us, the humans call back and forth, “Bigfoot!”

Together, we melt into the shade of a thick stand of pines, hoping to slow down and catch our breath. But our feet become tangled in nets concealed by pine needles, and suddenly, we are swinging up, up into the air, and dangling from the limbs of a sturdy pine tree.

Mama struggles inside her net, growling with rage. I struggle, too, yelping helplessly as the net swings back and forth above the hard ground.

“We’ve got them now,” says a bearded hunter to his companions. “Bigfoot! That TV show, Monster Search, will pay us big bucks for these babies.”

“We’ll be famous,” cries a husky hunter with red hair. “Scientists won’t laugh at us anymore. Finally! Proof that Bigfoot exists!”

“How are we going to get them back to San Francisco?” asks an old man with spectacles. “I mean, we weren’t really expecting to find anything.”

The bearded hunter pulls out his camera. “I’m taking plenty of pictures, just in case something goes wrong. They can’t call it a hoax this time!”

While the camera clicks and the three men argue over the best way to get us back to the city, I turn my head from view and gnaw on the net’s thick webbing with my teeth. Pretty soon I’ve made a small opening, large enough to stick my fingers through. I wiggle them at Mama, and she understands what to do.

The red-haired hunter chuckles as he pokes me in the back with a long stick. I give him a warning growl, but he keeps it up. My powerful jaws chew faster on the netting.

“We need some of that fur,” says the old man with spectacles. “We can send it to a lab for analysis.”

“Good idea!” says the red-haired hunter. “Then, if they get away, we’ll still have proof.”

The three men stand under the nets, looking up at our shaggy brown bodies hanging in the air. Suddenly the nets give way, and Mama and I find ourselves lying on top of the three men on the ground.

We howl victory cries and scramble to our feet. The men, tangled in the nets, shout curses at us as we run away.

The Miwok Indians tell stories about us — great hairy beasts roaming these desolate mountains. They fear us and protect our sacred habitat on Deadwood Peak. We are going there now, secure in the knowledge that we cannot be followed. Men from the city will continue to hunt us. But, with help from the Miwoks, they will never find us. And we will never let them capture us alive.

Dawn Pisturino

©2014-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

15 Comments »

Reprise: Halloween Treat

The Van Emmerick house was the most feared house in the neighborhood. For ten-year-old Tommy James, it was a dark reminder of things long ago and best forgotten; a relic of the past, old and mysterious, built by people who had lived and died many decades before he was born. He was curious about the past; fascinated with history; and the more he became aware of the house, the more he longed to explore its hidden secrets.

Tommy walked by the old Van Emmerick place twice a day, before and after school. Over the years, he had noticed many interesting details about the house. In the morning, when the sun shone full against the front of the house, two arched windows marking the second story seemed to smile at him with a “good morning!” kind of smile. The dark green paint didn’t seem so faded and cracked. The old stone porch, rudely assembled from local rocks, didn’t seem so forbidding and uninviting. The big plate glass window with the frilly white curtains seemed to sparkle in the morning light.

But in the afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, making shadows lengthen across the old frame house, the peaked roof with the two small smoke stacks and faded red shingles gave the barn-like appearance of the house a more sinister expression. The entire structure seemed foreign and out of place. The old Victorian ornamentation, placed squarely between the two arched windows, reminded him of death and wrinkled old ladies dressed in black. The tall wrought-iron fence, set in more local rock, surrounded the property with deadly grace, effectively keeping out the curious and unwanted.

Tommy shivered, made the sign of the cross as he always did, and hurried home as fast as he could.

~

“The old Van Emmerick house, you say? Why, sure, I know all about it,” his grandfather told him one crisp afternoon in October. They were raking leaves in his own backyard while his mother prepared dinner in the kitchen. His father was still at work, and his oldest sister had left for her ballet lesson.

His grandfather had lived in Blakeville his entire life and knew a lot about the history of the town.

“Peter Van Emmerick built that house in 1880,” he recalled. “Folks around here have always called it a monstrosity. The architecture isn’t right — doesn’t fit in with the rest of the town. But Peter, being Dutch, was homesick for his own country and built the house to remind him of home. He had six children in that house by two different wives. It’s never been empty, that’s for sure. Old Amy Van Emmerick lives there now. Inherited the house from her mother. As far as I know, she’s the last of ’em. They gradually died out around here, as all old families do. The cemetery is filled with their headstones. I’ll take you there sometime to see the old graves. Would you like that, Tommy? Halloween’s coming up!”

“Sure, Gramps, any time. You know how much I like history.” But privately, Tommy wasn’t so sure. The idea of visiting a cemetery for fun, especially on Halloween, gave him the creeps.

“That’s my boy. Someday, you’ll be teaching history at the high school, just like your old granddad.” His grandfather winked at him, and Tommy stopped raking.

“Say, Gramps, how come nobody ever sees Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, how do you know she’s still alive? She could’ve died and nobody would even know it!”

“Oh, they’d know it, alright. She has a woman who comes in once a week to clean the place up and run errands for her. Selma Baintree — that’s the woman’s name. I ran into her not too long ago, and she told me that the old lady’s not doing too well, getting more frail as time goes by. It’s just a matter of time before the house will be empty, she said.”

“I’m sorry. How old is Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, you must’ve known her, Gramps!”

Yep, that’s right, Tommy. She was my first love.”

Tommy blushed. He couldn’t imagine his grandfather ever being young enough to have a first love. “Why didn’t you marry her, Gramps?”

His grandfather stopped raking and looked at him with a faraway expression on his face. “Oh, I don’t know. The Great War started, and I went off to Europe to fight the Germans. Getting married wasn’t on my mind back then. And Miss Amy went off to school in Chicago. I heard later that she was engaged to a young man from an old Chicago family, but he was killed at Dunkirk. She must’ve loved him very deeply because she came home to take care of her mother after her father died and never got involved with anybody again. She hardly left the house after that and became a regular recluse. Poor Miss Amy! She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw. The biggest blue eyes, and long golden hair like spun flax. She’d beat out the likes of Paris Hilton any day of the week!”

Tommy laughed, then stopped, when a sudden thought struck him. “Hey, Gramps, I just had an idea. Why don’t you go visit Miss Amy before she dies? I bet she’d like that a lot!”

His grandfather stroked his white-whiskered chin thoughtfully. “You know, Tommy, I never really thought about it. It seems like an invasion of the old lady’s privacy. She probably wouldn’t even know me after all these years!”

“Aw, I bet she would. She’s probably lonely shut up in that old place.”

“Maybe so,” his grandfather said. “You might just be right.”

~

“Hey, Tommy, watch this!”

Butch Abernathy pulled an egg out of his trick-or-treat bag and hurled it against the front of the old Van Emmerick house. “That’ll wake up the dead,” he shouted with glee.

The two boys hung onto the wrought-iron fence with sticky fingers, peering through the bars with eager eyes, their hearts racing with excitement. But no lights appeared. The house stared at them with black, lifeless eyes, its silhouette rising silent and dark against the cloudy night sky.

“Let’s go,” Tommy whispered. “It gives me the creeps.”

“What’re you whispering for?” asked Butch. “The fun has just begun.” He rummaged through his trick-or-treat bag and pulled out a large rock.

“No!” cried Tommy, grabbing at Butch’s arm. But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass filled his ears. His heart pounded in his chest until it hurt.

“I’m outta here!” Butch shouted; and grabbing his trick-or-treat bag, he bolted down the sidewalk.

Tommy stood alone on the sidewalk, paralyzed with fear. I never should have come here, he thought. My parents are going to kill me. And Gramps will be so disappointed . . . He couldn’t bear to disappoint his grandfather. But if he left now, who would know? Butch would never tell.

I’m going home, he thought; but as he turned to leave, the wrought-iron gate suddenly creaked open, and Tommy screamed. He ran as fast as he could to the corner, then stopped and looked back. The street was silent and deserted except for an old stray cat. A few jack-o-lanterns grinned brightly in the darkness, but the trick-or-treaters had left long ago, hurrying home before the rain started. A strong gust of wind hurled itself against him, kicking up dead leaves and dirt into his face. Coughing and sputtering, he wiped the dirt out of his eyes and headed down the sidewalk.

The old wrought-iron gate stood open before him, an invitation too tempting to resist. After all, what was the worst that could happen? He would apologize to the old lady and take his punishment like a man.

Bracing himself, he walked slowly up the weed-infested sidewalk toward the old stone stairs. There was nothing but blackness at the top of those stairs, blackness so deep and dark, it was like a giant mouth waiting to engulf him and swallow him whole. Trembling with fear, he wanted to turn around and run as fast as he could to the nearest, brightest light. But he knew in his heart that he could not face his grandfather as long as the broken window went unpunished.

Heart pounding, he trudged up the stone stairs, peering into the blackness. As he stepped onto the porch, the moon suddenly peeked out from behind a cloud, throwing a pale, silvery beam of light into the darkness and revealing a solid oak door. He raised his hand to knock on the door, when it suddenly opened with a slow, painful groan.

Tommy gasped, and his heart pounded in his ears. Breathing heavily, he stepped over the threshold, hanging onto the door for dear life. He stood still for a moment, listening hard, and waited for something to happen. But nothing did.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was in a large foyer. He rapped his knuckles against the door and shouted, “Miss Amy, are you here?”

Absolute silence filled his ears except for the ticking of an old clock. He pushed the door open wider and stepped cautiously into the room. He felt for a light switch on the wall but found none. Why didn’t I bring a flashlight, he berated himself angrily.

Tommy crossed the old wooden floor and opened a set of double doors to his right. The sweet scent of roses filled the air. Outside, the wind began to howl, and raindrops splattered against the large plate glass window on the other side of the room. Tommy thought he could make out the curved outline of an old Victorian sofa under the window and the globe-like shade of an old lamp next to it. Groping his way carefully in the darkness, he was about to reach out for the lamp when a loud clap of thunder split the air, making him jump, and a bright flash of lightning lit up the sofa through the gauzy white curtains.

A figure dressed in white lay on the sofa, its long white hair spread neatly over a pillow, the wrinkled old face glowing white in the lightning flash, the large, faded blue eyes open and staring at him. The mouth hung open wide, revealing a cavernous blackness, and Tommy waited for the scream that would surely come, but no sound issued forth between those dark, thin lips. The figure’s arms were crossed over its breast, like a corpse, the fingernails long and blue. It was the most horrible thing that Tommy had ever seen in his life, and he screamed and screamed and screamed as he turned and raced for the double doors, tripping over an old ottoman in his path.

But when he looked up, something blocked his exit, a tall figure dressed in white, reaching out for him with long, clawed fingers . . .

When Tommy woke up the lights were on, and his grandfather was cradling him in his arms. “It’s okay, Tommy, it’s okay.”

“It was you!”

“Yes, it was me,” his grandfather said; “And old Miss Amy. I went to visit her, as you suggested, and we cooked up this little Halloween treat for you! Here, I want you to meet her!”

He helped Tommy to his feet, remarking on the wonderful acting job Miss Amy had done. And that make-up! Could anybody else have done a better job?

But when they leaned over the sofa to tell her it was all over, and she could stop playing around now, his grandfather suddenly became silent and felt for a pulse in the old lady’s wrist. Tommy stared, horrified, into those dead blue eyes and the slack, open mouth, and the scream rose up from his tightening throat . . .

Dawn Pisturino

2009

Copyright 2009-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Make it scary!

“This is Halloween,” performed by Marilyn Manson, from the Tim Burton movie, Nightmare Before Christmas.

5 Comments »

Reprise: Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

by Dawn Pisturino

My mother, having squandered a considerable fortune, resolved to marry a wealthy man. Several candidates appeared — mostly middle-aged men of diminished means eager to marry a wealthy widow. Since my mother wore her desperation as flamboyantly as a pair of designer blue jeans, she soon found herself without any prospects at all.

When the bank foreclosed on our estate in upstate New York, my mother’s tawny tresses, once stylish and shiny, seemed to wilt around her shoulders. Her lively blue eyes clouded over with despair. And in one final act of desperation, she contacted a distant cousin residing in Beverly Hills, California.

The news startled me. This cousin, I had heard, was so rich, his name regularly topped the lists of the world’s richest people. He refused to have his photo taken or to make public appearances, for he had been born with an unnatural blue beard that made him look so ugly and weird, most women and children ran away from him in fright.

“He wants to marry me,” my mother announced over breakfast one morning.

My older sister, Charmaine, exchanged terrified glances with me. The idea of our mother marrying this ugly, disfigured, middle-aged man repulsed us. But more importantly, dark rumors circulated the newspapers and celebrity gossip shows that Bluebeard, as he was dubbed, had been married several times before, and the authorities could find no traces of his former wives.

In spite of our objections, my mother booked three airline tickets to California. We were to meet Bluebeard at the dock in Marina Del Rey and accompany him on a cruise to Catalina Island aboard his luxury yacht. This should have thrilled my sister and I, but a deep foreboding troubled us both.

And what a strange and terrible creature greeted us at the dock! His eyes glittering with cruel amusement, Bluebeard scooped each of us up in his big, burly arms, brushing our tender checks with his coarse blue beard. His graying, shaggy brown hair contrasted sharply with his deeply-tanned face, giving him the appearance of being half-man and half-beast. Even his teeth seemed unusually long and sharp when he opened his mouth in a loud guffaw and led us up the ramp onto his huge, expensive yacht.

My sister and I cringed with fear, but my mother’s face glowed with youth and excitement. How could we tell her how frightened we were? She would never listen.

During the day, while my mother hung out with Bluebeard, my sister and I soaked up the sun in our colorful bikinis, flipping through fashion magazines and painting our nails. At night we savored fresh lobster tails, dripping with butter, and watched the stars twinkle overhead like millions of Tiffany diamonds spilled across a black velvet sky. Upstate New York seemed far away then, and since nothing sinister had happened, our fears began to fade away.

Two weeks later, relaxed and tanned, my mother married Bluebeard under a billowy white awning at Marina Del Rey. My sister and I were the only guests.

That should have told me something, but I no longer cared about idle gossip or our former life in upstate New York.

I had become entranced with Bluebeard’s house in Beverly Hills, which loomed against the sunny blue sky like a great castle, surrounded by ornamental gardens reminiscent of the great castles of Europe. I felt like a princess, my long yellow hair braided in a single braid and adorned with fresh roses from the garden. I stood for hours before the full-length mirror in my bedroom, applying mascara to my large blue eyes, and modeling dozens of dresses purchased from the fancy boutiques on Rodeo Drive.

One snap of my fingers brought servants that catered to my every need and desire. I hugged myself over and over again, not daring to believe it was true: I was sixteen, beautiful, desirable, and rich.

“Isn’t it fabulous, Jeanette,” Charmaine exclaimed one day, throwing herself across my pink-ruffled bed. “I’m in love, I’m in love!”

Her sing-song voice irritated me, and I pouted in response. “Beverly Hills is full of eligible young men. Robbie Ray offered to give me tennis lessons.”

“That creep! You know what? When Mom and Mr. Moneybags leave for France, we’ll throw a big party. You’ll find your Prince Charming, for sure.”

My face glowed in anticipation. After all, didn’t a princess need a handsome young prince?

A few days later, my mother and Bluebeard boarded an airplane for France.

“The servants will take good care of you,” my mother said at the airport. Bluebeard stepped forward, a great ring of keys dangling from his finger. He handed them to Charmaine and explained which key went to which room.

“But this one,” he told her, indicating a small gold key, “unlocks the closet door in the wine cellar. Explore any room in the house that you like, but never, ever go into the closet in the wine cellar. If you do, something terrible is bound to happen.”

My mother gasped. Charmaine’s face turned a ghostly white. I stared at Bluebeard, chilled by the taunting tone in his voice. He turned his gaze on me, and a slow, sinister smile spread across his face. “You would do well, Jeanette, to remember the story of Pandora’s box.”

I watched my mother walk away with this monster, and my heart cried out: Don’t go! Don’t go! But it was too late. My mother was gone.

Charmaine assuaged her fear by working on plans for a party. I suggested that we host a fancy dress ball, and she agreed. Invitations were sent, a caterer engaged, decorations put up, and the house cleaned from top to bottom by the housekeeping staff. All we needed were costumes.

Charmaine pulled out Bluebeard’s key ring and found the key to the attic. Inside a great leather trunk, we found long silk dresses and big fancy hats. Excitement overcame our fears. Our party would be the hit of the year!

The ballroom gleamed with color and light on the night of the ball. We threw open the French doors, letting in the moonlight and soft summer breezes. The sweet scent of roses perfumed the air.

Our masked guests danced beneath the fire of crystal chandeliers, their colorful figures reflected in numerous mirrors lining the walls. Couples slipped away to explore the house, admiring the exquisite artwork and collectibles from around the world. Charmaine and I puffed up with pride, convinced that we had pulled off a successful social coup.

“Everyone is so impressed,” Charmaine said. “If such wonderful treasures can be found openly around the house, how much more special must be the treasures locked up in the closet in the wine cellar?”

I looked at her in horror. “Don’t do it, Charmaine. Bluebeard warned us not to open that door.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “We want to keep our guests impressed, don’t we?”

Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, we crept downstairs into the murky depths of the wine cellar, urging our guests to follow behind. With trembling hands, Charmaine unlocked the door to the forbidden room, ignoring Bluebeard’s warning. A powerful stench of rotting flesh greeted us as she pulled back the door. The floor was sticky with slime. Charmaine gasped, dropping the flashlight at her feet. I picked it up and shone its light around the room. Piled up against the wall were the dead and decaying bodies of several women. Bluebeard’s missing wives!

Charmaine fainted. The guests screamed and scrambled up the stairs. I hurried behind them to call the police.

When my mother and Bluebeard returned home several days later, Bluebeard glared at me and said, “Why so nervous, Jeanette? And you, Charmaine — your face is so white. What have you two been up to in our absence?”

Charmaine handed him the ring of keys, her hand trembling so much, she nearly dropped them.

Suspicion clouded Bluebeard’s eyes. “You’ve been in the closet!” he roared. “Now, you will join the rest of my victims! He grabbed Charmaine by the hair and dragged her across the floor to the kitchen. My mother fainted.

I ran behind, beating Bluebeard’s back with my fists. Angrily, he shoved me away. I fell to the floor, hitting my head on the hard ceramic tile. Just as Bluebeard was about to slit my sister’s throat with a long, sharp knife, Inspector Jack Barnabas and several policemen jumped out of the walk-in pantry. “Drop it, Bluebeard! You’re under arrest.”

Bluebeard made a dash for the door. Bullets rang through the kitchen, bringing him down. A pool of blood oozed across the floor. My sister screamed and threw herself into the arms of Inspector Barnabas.

The ogre of Beverly Hills was dead. Since he had no other heirs, my mother inherited his vast fortune. She shut up the house, paid off the mortgage on our estate in upstate New York, and threw herself into planning a huge wedding for my sister, Charmaine.

Six months later, I walked down the aisle in a rose-colored chiffon gown, carrying a bouquet of pink roses. Charmaine followed behind in a white designer wedding dress. Inspector Jack Barnabas, looking uncomfortable in a black tuxedo, waited impatiently for her at the altar.

Jack and Charmaine lived happily ever after, making me an aunt three times over.

Dawn Pisturino

March 6, 2013

Copyright 2013-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

6 Comments »

Reprise: Concert for the Dead

Story by Dawn Pisturino.

Illustration by Job van Gelder.

Dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino.

Ariel knelt before the marble niche holding the remains of her dead older brother and placed a bouquet of roses in the stone vase. Six months had passed since the horrible night a drunk driver had taken Jonathan’s life. She would never forget.

“Coach Willis still talks about you, Jonathan,” Ariel said, tracing the carved letters of his name with trembling fingers. “Nobody’s beaten your track record. You were the best. You always will be.”

She pulled some sheet music from her backpack. “The opera club is doing Purcell this year. I got the lead role. I’m so excited!” She began to sing:

“When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate . . .”*

The haunting elegy echoed through the halls of the Great Mausoleum, bringing tears to Ariel’s eyes. As the last melancholy note faded away, the mausoleum doors slammed shut. The lights flickered and dimmed.

Icy panic clawed at Ariel’s chest. She could hardly breathe. Then a long, agonizing scream tore from her throat.

She ran to the entrance and pushed against the heavy metal doors. Locked.  She searched for an intercom or emergency button. Nothing.

“Let me out!” she cried, pounding on the door. “It’s not closing time!”

Voices whispered all around her.

“No!” she howled, throwing her weight against the unyielding door.

The whispers grew louder. “We’ll let you out when the concert is over.”

“W-what c-concert?” Ariel stammered, searching the empty air.

“The Concert for the Dead.”

And then she saw them, gliding down the dark corridors, the eerie inhabitants of this condominium for the dead.

They crowded into the main hall, hundreds of them, the ghastly and the beautiful.

Men dressed in military uniforms soaked with blood, arms ripped away, legs shredded at the knees, and heads split open, eyeballs dangling from their sockets.

Women gowned in rustling silk, faded and torn, ringlets framing faces eaten away by worms. Pale young mothers with tragic eyes, carrying shriveled up babies in their arms.

Dead children glared at Ariel with menacing faces, their transparent fingers clutching moth-eaten ragdolls and time-worn teddy bears.

An orchestra appeared. Skeletons with shreds of rotting flesh hanging from their bones. The conductor raised his baton, and the slow, plaintive strains of a violin filled the air. He turned and looked at Ariel with one putrid eye, motioning her to begin.

I know this song. I can do it. Shaking with fear, she dug her fingernails into her palms and began to sing:

“None but the lonely heart can know my sadness

Alone and parted far from joy and gladness . . .”**

She sang until the sun disappeared and the stained glass windows lost their color. She sang until the moon ran its course and the stars began to fade. Finally, her throat too parched and raw to continue, she pleaded:

“The concert’s over. Please let me go.”

Hushed whispers rippled through the audience. Then a lone figure broke through the crowd.

“Jonathan!” Ariel cried, grateful to see a familiar face.

Smiling, he extended his arms to her. “We don’t want you to leave,” Jonathan said, drawing her close. “We want you to sing for us forever and ever and ever . . .”

Cold waxy fingers tightened around her throat. In the background, the orchestra played a quiet requiem.

* * *

When the groundskeeper found Ariel’s body the next morning, he noticed two peculiar things. Her throat was purple with finger marks, and her hair had turned completely white.

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino, Job van Gelder, and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

This story is dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino.

Published in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Read it here.

Published on Brooklyn Voice, February 2012.

Artwork by Asheka Troberg.

*“Dido’s Lament,” from Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell

**“None but the Lonely Heart,” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and J.W. Goethe

Artwork by Jason Smith. I commissioned this Concert for the Dead artwork for my daughter, Ariel Pisturino, as a gift.

Copyright 2011-2021 Jason Smith. All Rights Reserved.

Happy Halloween! Make it scary!

Photo by Dawn Pisturino.

11 Comments »

Reprise: Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

by Dawn Pisturino

Illustration by Ken Lamug

I never wanted to attend Miss Lizzie’s tea party, but mama insisted I go.

“Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady,” she scolded. “I don’t want to hear anymore nonsense about those grisly axe murders! Rich young ladies like Miss Borden don’t go around chopping up people’s heads.”

“But Mama,” I protested. “Miss Lizzie and the maid were the only ones at home. Who else could have chopped off her father’s nose and split his eyeball in two?”

“That’s enough, Olivia,” Mama warned. “You’re going to the party, and that’s final.”

* * *

I had often seen Miss Lizzie sitting in an upstairs window, beckoning the neighborhood children inside for homemade cookies.

Every time she waved at me, my body quivered like gelatin fresh out of the mold. After all, this was the woman accused of hacking up her father and stepmother with a hatchet!

And even though the jury found Miss Lizzie innocent way back in 1893, folks ’round these parts never forget.

But I always reluctantly waved back, as Mama had taught me, and hurried home.

Then the invitation came. Miss Lizzie was hosting an afternoon tea party for all the children in the neighborhood.

Mama was so thrilled, she cleaned and pressed my prettiest, frilliest party dress and bought me a shiny new pair of shoes. “Papa’s law practice has been falling off lately,” she explained. “He needs a wealthy client like Miss Borden to get going again.”

Annie, the housemaid, curled my hair. “You can’t go, Miss Olivia, you just can’t. My mama told me never to go inside that house. I mean, never! And she should know. Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s housemaid, told her there was blood and brains splattered everywhere. They found Abby Borden’s hair braid lying on the rug, sliced clean from her head!”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “I have to go, Annie. Mama will whip me with Papa’s razor strap if I don’t.”

“Well, don’t eat anything. She never admitted it, but Miss Lizzie tried to buy poison from Smith’s Drug Store right before the murders.”

* * *

Miss Lizzie opened the front door with a wide, toothy grin.

Every muscle in my body screamed, Run! Now! While you can!

But mama’s voice kept ringing in my ears. Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady . . .

So I followed Miss Lizzie down the hall to an elegantly furnished drawing room — an empty drawing room. None of the other children had come. Cowards!

And then I saw it, gleaming by the fireplace, a shiny new axe!

Gold paint glittered along the sharp edge, marred by dark stains that looked like blood. I clenched my fists, trying hard to ease the queasiness in my stomach.

“You’re admiring my new axe,” Miss Lizzie said. She stepped closer, her pale blue eyes foggy with distant memories. “My father was quite skilled with an axe. One afternoon, I went into the barn and found my beloved pigeons lying on the ground with their heads chopped off. My father was standing over them, holding a bloody axe. I screamed and ran into the house.

“That night, Bridget served pie for dinner. Pigeon pie!” she said as her lips twisted into a smile.

The drawing room door opened then and a fat cook with a red face entered carrying a large pie in her hands. “Sit yourself down, my dear. The pie is ready to eat! I got lucky, Miss Lizzie. I found our special ingredient at Smith’s Drug Store.”

Smith’s Drug Store! I grabbed my reeling head, ready to faint at any moment. Pie! Poisoned pigeon pie!

Screaming, I lunged for the axe and swung it around, knocking the pie out of the cook’s hands, slicing off her forefinger. She howled in pain as blood spurted from the wound. I swung the axe around again, nicking Miss Lizzie’s ear. Fluffy brown curls fluttered to the floor, sliced neatly from her head.

Miss Lizzie tackled me to the ground and held me there while the cook bound her bloody hand with a towel and telephoned the police. My chest heaved with great, gulping sobs as Miss Lizzie’s face drew closer and closer until her lips brushed against my ear.

You see how easy it is,” she whispered.

THE END

Published in the February 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Ken Lamug. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MAKE IT SCARY!

4 Comments »

Reprise: The Punishment

“Hey, Tommy, look at this!” With fiendish fervor, Butch Abernathy hurled a rock against the front of the old Pomeroy house. “That oughta wake the dead!”

“No!” Tommy cried.

But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass splintered the night. The old Victorian house shuddered, sighed, and groaned a low, mournful cry.

Butch bolted down the street. “Sucker!” he yelled over his shoulder.

Tommy turned to run, but invisible fingers grabbed his ankles. He kicked and stomped, struggling to break free but the Hands gripped tighter. They dragged him, screaming, along the weed-infested sidewalk and up the crumbling stairs into darkness as black as molasses. Then down, down, down into the cavernous depths below. A flickering lantern revealed the awful punishment that awaited him.

The Hands shoved him onto his knees, rammed his head into a wooden cradle, and yanked his wrists behind his back.

“But I didn’t do anything!” Tommy screamed.

The blade of the guillotine came slashing down.

The End

Story by Dawn Pisturino.

Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett. Click photo to enlarge.

Published October 18, 2011 on Underneath the Juniper Tree.
Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Rebekah Joy Plett. All Rights Reserved.

Published on The Brooklyn Voice, June 25, 2012.

Troberg Punishment ill

Artwork by Asheka Troberg, The Brooklyn Voice. Click photo to enlarge.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

4 Comments »

Remembering Kim Lee: A Short Story

Qilin (K’i-lin) Metropolitan Museum of Art

J.J. Washington threw down his backpack in disgust. His mother lay snoring on the living-room sofa, an empty whisky bottle cradled in her arms.

She loves that bottle more than me, he thought bitterly.

Staring down at her, he realized how old and ugly she looked. Her velvety, chocolate-brown skin had grown flaky and pale, and strands of gray threaded through her matted black hair. She had been pretty and gentle once, showering him with smiles and kisses when he came home from school. But that was before his father, a policeman, was gunned down and killed during a routine traffic stop. Since then, nothing had been the same.

It’s unfair, he thought angrily. My father was a good man. He didn’t deserve to die.

He ran out of the house into the bright afternoon sunlight, slamming the front door behind him. He wanted to lash out at somebody – anybody. Instead, he kicked an empty soda can down the sidewalk, drawing disapproving stares from a woman wearing a black head scarf and carrying a bag of groceries in her arms.

J.J. shrugged his shoulders and shoved his hands into the pockets of his faded blue jeans. His green Black Pride T-shirt was ripped under the arms, and his white sneakers were scuffed and dirty. He searched the littered gutter for loose change to pocket and lost objects to sell to Mr. Levitson, the junk dealer on the corner. But found nothing of value.

He wandered into the alley behind Big Al’s Soul Food Haven and knocked on the back door. Robbie, the grizzled old cook, sometimes offered him a plateful of barbecued pork and cornbread if he agreed to wash a few dishes. But nobody answered so he rummaged through the garbage for half-eaten cheeseburgers and soggy fries. Suddenly, someone grabbed him roughly from behind and shoved him down hard onto the grimy pavement.

A gigantic black man with bulging arms and rolls of blubber straining under a white T-shirt stained with grease, glared down at him. “Kid, I told ya never to come around here again!”

J.J.’s heart pounded with fear. He picked himself up from the ground and tried to run away, but the fat man caught him with one humongous foot, spilling him onto the pavement again. Tears filled his eyes as a burning pain traveled down his left arm.

“Leave the boy alone!”

J.J. looked up in astonishment as a short Asian woman with ivory skin and close-cropped white hair stepped out from the shadows, waving a long wooden stick. She was dressed in a gray jogging suit, and in spite of the pain in his arm, J.J. broke into a wide grin. On her tiny feet, she wore lime green running shoes.

“Aw, Kim Lee, I was just giving the kid a good scare.”

“You’ve done enough. He’s under my care now.” Kim Lee stood her ground, twirling the wooden stick in her hands like a master baton twirler.

Big Al slunk sheepishly away. Kim Lee helped J.J. up from the ground and examined his injured arm. He winced with pain as she prodded and poked, feeling for broken bones.

“Just a sprain,” she announced. “You come home with me. I’ll put ice on it. Give you some hot food, too.”

J.J. pulled away. “I can take care of myself.”

The old woman smiled. “It won’t take long. Then you’re free to go your own way. I make a mean chop suey. Got fortune cookies, too.”

J.J. grimaced with pain and the emptiness in his stomach. The old lady seemed harmless enough. What did he have to lose?

“Okay,” he said reluctantly. He followed her out of the alley, past a row of rickety wooden houses with iron bars on the windows, up a flight of narrow stairs to a small apartment located above Mama Rosa’s bustling burrito shop. The smell of spicy hot chili drifted with them up the stairs. J.J.’s stomach growled loudly.

Kim Lee’s apartment was neat and sparsely furnished. But the furniture was tattered and old, and J.J. could see that she was just as poor as everybody else who lived in this part of the city. He sat down at the kitchen table, and she placed an ice bag on his left arm. Delicious smells wafted from the stove. Kim Lee placed a steaming plate of chop suey and sticky white rice in front of him, and he ate greedily. She offered him seconds, and he ate some more. He drank hot oolong tea out of a small, white cup with no handles. Finally, she brought him a single golden fortune cookie on a fragile blue plate decorated with fierce yellow dragons.

“Break it open and read your fortune,” Kim Lee told him.

J.J. broke the hard, crescent-shaped cookie into two pieces and pulled out a small slip of white paper. “A unicorn will bring you luck,” he read out loud.

Kim Lee laughed and clapped her hands. “Yes!”

J.J. snorted in disbelief. “What are you talking about? Unicorns! Nobody believes in that stuff anymore!”

Kim Lee’s dark eyes grew misty and far away. “In China, when I was a girl, villagers told stories about K’i-lin, the many-colored unicorn with a single horn twelve feet long. He possessed great wisdom and power. When he appeared, it was considered good luck. Great leaders sought him out, but he was difficult to find. He moved as swiftly as the wind, his voice ringing out like a thousand wind chimes. He only lived for a thousand years, and when he finally disappeared, there was much sadness in the land.”

“But you can’t believe he was real!” J.J. protested.

“Here, let me show you something.” Kim Lee left the room and then returned, carrying a small, black lacquer box. She opened the lid. “Take it,” she said.

J.J. pulled out a round jade pendant hanging from a red silk cord and held it in his right hand.

K’i-lin,” Kim Lee said softly.

The boy traced the intricately-carved image with the fingers of his left hand. But this wasn’t like any unicorn he had ever seen. This one had the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, and the hooves of a horse. Instead of the horn protruding straight from the forehead, it made a large curlicue over the animal’s head. It was the strangest creature he had ever seen.

“That was given to me by my grandfather before he died,” Kim Lee said. “It’s very old and valuable. I’ve treasured it my whole life. It has brought me luck.” J.J. handed it to her, and she placed it carefully into the black box. “May K’i-lin bring you luck, too, J.J. Washington.”

* * *

“Crazy old lady,” J.J. muttered as he found his way back home.

“Hey, J.J., where you been? We’ve been looking for ya!”

J.J. turned to see his friends, Tyrone and Emerson, on the sidewalk behind him. “Aw, I’ve been around.”

“My brother’s taking us to Disneyland on Saturday,” Tyrone said, bouncing a basketball up and down on the sidewalk. “Wanna come?”

“You guys are dreaming. Where would I get money for that?” J.J. said.

“Anywhere you can,” Emerson cut in. “I took twenty dollars out of my mom’s purse.”

“I can’t even get enough to eat,” J.J. said. “My mom drinks up every cent she gets. I’ve already checked her purse. There’s nothing in it.”

“Then you’re out of luck,” Tyrone said. “See you later.”

The two boys walked away. J.J. looked after them with envy. Disneyland! His father had promised to take him on his eleventh birthday, but a terrible accident happened on 79th Avenue, and he had been obligated to help. The family had gone out for pizza instead. A few months later, his father was dead. J.J. picked up a rock and hurled it at a pigeon sitting on a concrete wall. Not fair, not fair, not fair . . .

* * *

J.J. moved quietly through the darkness. It was ten o’clock, and the old lady would probably be asleep. He climbed the staircase cautiously, afraid of making too much noise. Under the doormat he found a key and fitted it into the lock. He pushed the door open slowly and slipped inside. Everything was quiet and still except for a clock ticking. He pulled a small flashlight out of his pocket and turned on the beam. Somewhere in the apartment he would find the jade pendant inside the little black box.

The light flashed on a large wooden cabinet with two glass doors. As he crossed the carpeted floor on tip-toe, a soft moan startled him, and he nearly dropped the flashlight in his hand.

The moan came again, and then someone cried out as if in pain.

I’ve got to get out of here, J.J. thought frantically; but not without the jade pendant. He pulled open the glass doors and there, on a low shelf, was the black lacquer box. He quickly grabbed it and hurried to the front door.

“Help me!” The cry was louder now, and J.J. stopped in his tracks. The old woman must be hurt, he thought. He remembered her kindness, and suddenly, he felt ashamed. He placed the black lacquer box back in the cabinet and opened the door to Kim Lee’s bedroom.

J.J. found the light switch and turned on the overhead light. Kim Lee lay sprawled on the carpet, her right leg turned out at a funny angle.

She saw him, and a wave of relief washed over her face. “J.J., I think my hip is broken. Call the paramedics!”

* * *

When J.J. opened the front door, his mother called out to him. “Is that you, J.J.?”

“Yes, mama.”

His mother sat on the living-room sofa, holding his father’s framed photograph in her hands. When she looked up at him, tears trickled down her cheeks. “Where’ve you been, baby? I woke up, and you were gone. It scared me. I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you, too.

“I called Pastor Harris down at the church, and it’s all arranged. I need help, baby, more help than I’ve ever needed in my life. He’s going to help us. I’m going to go to rehab, and your Aunt Jenny’s going to take care of you until I get back on my feet. I’m going to get a job, and we’ll be a real family again.”

J.J. remembered Kim Lee waving good-bye to him as the paramedics loaded her into the back of the ambulance. He thought about the jade pendant and the wonderful story of the brightly-colored unicorn named K’i-lin. The old lady isn’t crazy after all, he thought with a smile. A unicorn really did bring me luck.

J.J. gave his mother a big hug. “That’ll be fine, mama, just fine.”

Dawn Pisturino

October 13, 2021

Copyright 2009-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights reserved.

2 Comments »

My First Author Interview

My Very First Author Interview was with Underneath the Juniper Tree on March 9, 2012. I wrote poems, limericks, and short stories for their publication until the online ezine finally folded due to internal conflicts.

The Interview:

Dawn Pisturino has been a staple in our dark little pages since before I can remember. We had a chance to dig through her delightfully warped mind and find out more about her fantastic writing. Please, meet Dawn Pisturino.

1. Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Which books do you find yourself always going back and reading over again?

I’ve read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights fifteen times. I love its Gothic elements. Most recently, I’ve been reading Mary Downing Hahn’s middle-grade books. She writes creepy ghost stories and historical fiction for children.

2. How do you start a story? Do you start at the beginning, or do you dive right in the middle?

I start with a vision in my head and try to capture it on paper. Cutting out the fluff and getting right into the story engages the reader. Since I get bored easily, it keeps my interest, too.

3. Do you have any rituals before you start writing? Do you need to warm up? Or do you go right into it?

I must have my morning cup of tea before I do anything! If I want to establish a particular mood, I play music, read poetry, watch a movie or TV program, and read passages from Lovecraft or Poe.

4. What is your dream project?

My dream project is to finish the adult literary horror novel that I started, make it a best-seller, and sell the movie rights. Isn’t that every author’s dream?

And for all you budding writers out there, here’s some advice from Dawn:

Read, read, read. Not just popular fiction, but classic fiction and nonfiction. Everything you read stimulates your imagination and expands your point of view.

Check out Dawn’s interpretation of darling little Lizzie Borden in our February 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Excerpt from “Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party,” by Dawn Pisturino.

Miss Lizzie tackled me to the ground and held me there while the cook bound her bloody hand with a towel and telephoned the police. My chest heaved with great, gulping sobs as Miss Lizzie’s face drew closer and closer until her lips brushed against my ear.

“You see how easy it is,” she whispered.

Dawn Pisturino

http://www.dawnpisturino.org

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

Saint Nikolaus’s Companion, Knecht Ruprecht

From out the forest I now appear,

To proclaim that Christmastide is here!

For at the top of every tree

Are golden lights for all to see;

And there from heaven’s gate on high

I saw our Christ-child in the sky.

And in among the darkened trees,

A loud voice it was that called to me:

“Knecht Ruprecht, old fellow,” it cried,

“Hurry now, make haste. Don’t hide!

All the candles have now been lit —

Heaven’s gate has opened wide!

Both young and old should now have rest

Away from cares and daily stress;

And when tomorrow to earth I fly

‘It’s Christmas again!’ will be the cry.”

And then I said: “O Lord so dear.

My journey’s end is now quite near;

But to the town I’ve still to go,

Where the children are good, I know.”

“But have you then that great sack?”

“I have,” I said, “It’s on my back,

For apples, almonds, fruit and nuts

For God-fearing children are a must.”

“And is that cane there by your side?”

“The cane’s there too,” I did reply;

“But only for those, those naughty ones,

Who have it applied to their backsides.”

The Christ-child spoke: “Then that’s all right!

My loyal servant, go with God this night!”

From out the forest I now appear;

To proclaim that Christmastide is here!

Now speak, what is there here to be had?

Are there good children, are there bad?

Theodor Storm

Translated from the German by Denis Jackson, Isle of Wight.

BIO: Theodor Storm (1817-1888) was a German poet, novelist, and lawyer known for the lyrical quality of his work. He died of cancer in 1888. Knecht Ruprecht (Krampus) is still a popular figure seen in Germany at Christmas, even today.

Leave a comment »

The Butter Thief

Many years ago, a little boy named Krishna lived in a small village in India.

Every morning, the women of the village would milk the cows and churn the thick, sweet cream into golden butter. Then they would place the butter into cool clay pots.

Krishna loved butter. One day, he sneaked into a neighbor’s hut and stole the pot full of butter.

Sitting under a shady tree, Krishna shared the butter with some hungry monkeys. When they were all full, he threw the pot on the ground and broke it.

The next day, Krishna sneaked into another hut in the village. But the pot full of butter was sitting on a high shelf. Krishna could not reach it. He stacked some wooden boxes under the shelf. Then he climbed up the boxes and stole the pot full of butter.

Krishna shared the butter with his friend Balarama. They had fun smearing butter on each other’s faces. When they were both full, Krishna threw the pot into some bushes.

The next day, Krishna sneaked into another hut in the village. But the pot full of butter was hanging from the ceiling. Krishna could not reach it. He could not find any wooden boxes to stand on. But in the corner of the hut, Krishna found a long wooden stick. He broke the pot with the stick and ate all the butter.

As Krishna was licking butter from his fingers, a young woman entered the hut.

“Krishna, why have you stolen all the butter?” she said.

“Why do you accuse me of stealing?” Krishna asked. “There is plenty of butter in the village.”

The women of the village complained to Krishna’s mother. She saw the butter on Krishna’s face.

“Open your mouth and let me see,” she said to Krishna.

Krishna opened his mouth. But instead of teeth, tongue, and tonsils, Krishna’s mother saw the whole universe. She saw the sun, the moon, and all the planets. She saw all the stars in the Milky Way. She saw the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. She saw comets shooting across the sky.

Krishna’s mother was amazed at what she saw, but she thought it was all a dream. She scolded him for stealing the butter then held him on her lap.

The next morning, the women of the village found all their pots full of sweet golden butter. And they were never empty again.

Dawn Pisturino

2008

Copyright 2008-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: