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My Writing Journey

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!

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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!

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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.

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The Egyptian

egyptian-cat-goddess-statue-

The Egyptian

Four large black cats rushed to greet him when he opened the apartment door. Four pairs of gleaming yellow eyes watched him curiously. Four shiny, custom-made rhinestone collars flashed at him. Four soft, furry bodies rubbed themselves affectionately against his grey flannel-clad legs, purring loudly. He stood still in the doorway, afraid of tripping over one of the sleek black bodies or stepping on a long black tail.

“Cleopatra . . . Hathor . . . Horus . . . Anubis!” cried a familiar voice. “Leave the poor man alone!”

The cats meowed loudly as a tall woman with honey-colored skin entered the room. She was dressed in a long-sleeved, full-length black silk caftan embroidered with shiny gold thread. Her thick black hair was piled high on top of her regal head. Her heavy gold earrings, necklace, and bracelets shone brilliantly in the bright sunlight streaming through the open windows. She clapped her hands together, commanding the attention of her feline pets, and waved them toward the open kitchen door. The cats scampered off, eager to please their mistress.

He entered the apartment cautiously, closing the door behind him.

“Emanuel!” She greeted him with a warm hug, and he inhaled the sweet, heavy Arabic perfume which she always wore. “Light a cigarette for me, won’t you, darling?”

He pulled a pack of expensive Turkish cigarettes from his pocket and held one in his mouth while lighting it for her with a slim silver lighter from Rome. Remaining silent, he handed it to her, and she took a long, slow drag.

“It’s been so long,” she said, after exhaling a small white cloud of smoke. “I’ve been trying to quit, you know. But today calls for a special celebration. Thank you for responding to my call.”

She looked at him intently with large dark eyes which turned up slightly at the corners. The effect was accentuated by the heavy black eyeliner she always wore. Then, smiling with pleasure, she suddenly grabbed his hands and pulled him down next to her onto the elegant gold brocade sofa. “Kiss me, you fool!”

He turned away from her. “That’s not a good idea, Fatima. Please, just tell me why you called.”

She leaned over and turned his face toward her with long, slender fingers, looking deeply into his eyes. Her soft lips brushed against his neck, then opened up eagerly to his own, and they embraced with a familiar passion. When she had gotten her fill, she pushed him gently away, laughing.

“Ah, my talented Emanuel – no man has ever kissed me the way you do. How I shall miss it!”

“The divorce was your idea,” he quietly reminded her. “I would have endured any agony to be with you, if only you felt the same!”

Her face darkened. “Such pain,” she said bitterly. “But there was no choice. I could not allow you to be hurt by my foolish folly.”

“But you have never explained that to me! You owe me an explanation,” he pleaded. “To throw away twelve months of bliss is also folly!”

She tapped the cigarette with her right forefinger over the ashtray, letting the ashes fall, then took another drag. “It’s quite simple,” she said, avoiding his probing eyes. “I’m leaving for San Francisco with another man.”

A cloud slipped over the sun, darkening the room. He stood up and abruptly turned his back to her, afraid of the tide of emotion rising up inside of him. He walked over to the fireplace and leaned against the mantel. The mirror hanging on the wall could not conceal his flushed face, smoldering dark eyes, and tight, white lips. Suddenly, the truth seared through his brain like an exploding lightning bolt. He was a fool alright, a stupid, ignorant fool who had run after this magnificent harlot like a pathetic little boy, promising her the whole world.

In spite of her passionate declarations of love and exotic love-making, she had never really loved him. But she had played him brilliantly, taking him on the most exciting ride of his life. The marriage certificate obtained in New York City had paved the way to her U.S. citizenship. Then there was the brand new Mercedes-Benz (gold, naturally) which she had proudly picked out one Sunday afternoon; gifts of solid gold jewelry; and trips to expensive seaside resorts. She had used him, body and soul, then booted him out like a worn out old shoe when she was done. Even his pledge to give her a liberal monthly alimony had turned on him. She was going to share it with another man!

His jaw tightened, and he picked up a small plaster statuette of Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess portrayed in the form of a black cat with gold earrings in the ears, a gold ring piercing the nose, and a jeweled collar inlaid with rainbow-colored stones. There were four of them lined up along the mantelpiece – souvenirs brought home from their trip to Cairo, her birthplace. He threw it angrily against the mirror, smashing both into a thousand pieces.

Clenching his fists, he turned to look at her. A wave of fear rippled across her lovely face – a face he had treasured and adored. She squashed the cigarette into the ashtray and began to rise from the sofa, but he rushed over and pushed her down hard against the cushions.

“Emanuel, no!” she cried, throwing her arms defensively over her face.

Consumed with rage, he raised his right fist and brought it crashing down against her arms. He kicked her delicate legs with his heavy Italian leather shoes and punched her in the belly with a furious, driving force. She screamed in agony, doubling over with pain, and the sound of her torture was music to his ears.

Suddenly, an ear-splitting yowling sound filled the room. A hundred tiny sharp needles seemed to claw into the flesh of his back, ripping the soft fabric of his grey flannel jacket. Tiny, needle-like fangs sank into his muscular shoulder. He screamed in pain and reached backward, trying to pull the angry ball of black fur from his back. But the enraged cat sank its fangs into his right hand. He screamed again.

Frantically, he jumped around the room, falling over tables and lamps, trying desperately to dislodge the hissing, spitting demon from his back. In the background, he was dimly aware of his beautiful, unfaithful wife dialing 911.

Three pairs of large yellow eyes watched him angrily from the kitchen doorway. Three long black tails twitched furiously. And when the hissing started, his heart seemed to stop in his chest. Three slinky black bodies padded silently toward him. And when they sprang on him, claws piercing his skin through his fine designer clothing, a terrifying shriek echoed through the apartment, and blackness closed over him.

* * *

Police sergeant James Watts had never encountered such a scene in his thirty years on the Hollywood police force. Nor could he explain to his satisfaction why four large black cats had so viciously attacked and killed their owner’s husband. The beautiful, grieving wife with the large dark eyes and foreign accent had wrung her hands nervously, tears streaming down her face.

Yes, it was true, they were going through a divorce. No, it was not what you would call a bitter divorce. They had both agreed to call it quits while they were ahead and to part amicably. No, she had no idea why the cats had turned on poor Emanuel. He had always treated them with such affection. Yes, of course, she understood that she was sole beneficiary to his estate. What was the nice police sergeant trying to imply?

The four large black cats were hauled off to the pound, where they were later executed for their crime.

The elegant Egyptian widow, dressed in filmy black robes, left for San Francisco with an up-and-coming architect, who left her two days later without leaving a forwarding address.

A week later, police broke into the San Francisco apartment of a mysterious black-haired woman after neighbors complained of a sickly smell permeating the halls. They gagged, covering their noses and mouths with gloved hands, as they surveyed the scene before them.

A corpse lay on the sofa, the bloated body of a dark-haired woman with purple-blue skin, who had evidently been mauled to death and then partially eaten by her feline pets. Four large black cats scampered into the kitchen when the officers appeared. They were never seen again.

  • * * *

Police sergeant James Watts of the Hollywood Police Department closed his newspaper, rubbed his stubbly chin, and leaned back in his swivel chair to think. Very strange, he thought, pondering this information. Very strange, indeed.

Dawn Pisturino

August 6, 2007

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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Bluebeard in Beverly Hills

 

bluebeard

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 2013-2017 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

 

 

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Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

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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 2012-2016 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MAKE IT SCARY!

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The Punishment

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The Punishment

Click photo to enlarge, download, and read.

Story by Dawn Pisturino. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.

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

Published on The Brooklyn Voice, June 25, 2012. Read it here.

Troberg Punishment ill

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

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

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Interview with Underneath the Juniper Tree

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My Interview with Underneath the Juniper Tree, March 9, 2012

“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.

Copyright 2012 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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