Authors: Barbara Scott
Cast a Pale Shadow
Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc.
27305 W. Live Oak Rd #424
Castaic, CA 91384
Copyright © 2013 by Barbara Scott
ISBN 10: 1-61252-314-5
ISBN 13: 978-1-61252-314-9
Published in the United States of America
Publish Date: May 1, 2013
Editor-In-Chief: Gail R. Delaney
Content Editor: Gail R. Delaney
Marketing Director: Jenifer Ranieri
Cover Artist: Gwen Phifer
Cover Art Copyright by Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc © 2013
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information retrieval and storage system without permission of the publisher.
transferrable, either in whole or in part. As the purchaser or otherwise
recipient of this ebook, you have the right to enjoy the novel on your own computer or other device. Further distribution, copying, sharing, gifting or uploading is illegal and violates United States Copyright laws.
Pirating of ebooks is illegal. Criminal Copyright Infringement,
infringement without monetary gain, may be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination, or are used in a fictitious situation. Any resemblances to actual events, locations, organizations, incidents or persons – living or dead – are coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
To my sister, Mary, who's always known my other side and loves me anyway.
Sometimes accidents happen in life from which we have need of a little madness to extricate ourselves successfully.
La Rouchefoucauld, 1665
"Once upon a time," Nicholas whispered, so close his lips brushed the cold alabaster of her ear, "there was a sleeping princess who waited for the kiss of her true love to awaken her from her long, lonely sleep." He stretched himself out beside her, the chill of her body drawing away his warmth even through their clothes. He would see the soft, dark, warmth of her eyes again. She would open them to him. He would find the magic in her, in both of them this time.
With a light sweep of his fingertips -- he could not bear to touch the pale stone of her forehead for fear the ice would reach in to pierce his soul -- he lifted the tumbled wisps of her hair away from her eyes. He waited for the moment she flickered them open, when she would see it was he Nicholas who performed the miracle and love him all the more for it. She had failed to give him the miracle he asked, but he would not fail her. They would have another chance.
Her perfect stillness nearly daunted him even while he envied her for it. Wasn't utter peace what he had wanted? She had attained it so effortlessly, while he was left alone and wanting, and it filled him with resentment and fear. Perhaps it would never be possible for him and, in slipping away as she had, she had demonstrated her despair of him, her lack of trust.
"I can't live without you," she said softly in her tear-filled whisper.
"I wouldn't ask it of you," he promised. But he realized now she had not understood what he truly asked of her. He couldn't let himself believe her failure was deliberate. A misunderstanding. Yes, a tragic misunderstanding. That was all.
Her lips were slightly parted and nearly as pale as her ashen cheeks. Nicholas brushed his own tears until his fingertips were wet with them, tracing her mouth with their moistness. He tasted the saltiness of them as he kissed her, thinking of magic and miracles and wishes and love. But nothing happened. Her stillness was impenetrable. Her eyes refused to open. She was gone, and he could not reach her.
Tenderly, he straightened her crisp, white collar and smoothed the bright red wool of her favorite skirt, then folded the quilt around her, tucking it up and around her shiny black shoes, the ones she loved with the heels she could barely walk in. He tied the first rope at her knees and the second at her hips. Her cold, little fingers were stiffening slightly as he folded her hands, one over the other across her chest.
Too late, he remembered the ring he had bought her and never gave her, never had time to. A vision of her bright, loving eyes brimming with tears as they might have been when she saw it for the first time staggered him back to sag in the cracked, leather armchair where she had sat on his lap so many times. He would never see her again. He would never again hear her sweet laughter when he whispered in her ear. He would never again feel the tender heat of her surrounding him, taking him with her as she plummeted over the brink of her waterfall of stars, as she called it.
Forcing himself to rise, Nicholas searched the drawers of the painted chest they both shared until he found the ring, still in its blue velvet box, still in its white paper bag. It had two tiny rubies, her birthstone and his.
"We are almost cosmic twins, did you know that? Only three days and two years apart," she murmured with delight when he told her his birth date. Lifting the ring from its satin nest, he breathed on it and polished it against his jeans before placing it on her third finger, left hand.
"Until death do us part, Cynthia. But it wasn't supposed to part us. Why couldn't you take me with you?" He rested his forehead against her hands until he felt their ice numb his heart.
Finally, there was nothing to do but fold the corner of the quilt over her face and tie another rope at her shoulders. Just enough twilight remained for him to complete his task without a lantern. Nicholas gathered his precious bundle in his arms and left the silent, empty cabin, winding his way through the trees until he reached the grave he had prepared.
Gently, he lay Cynthia at the edge, then jumped in, positioning himself to shoulder her and nestle her into the soft, cool earth at the bottom. If he could just think of a way, he would lie down beside her and pull the dirt like a blanket around them both.
But there was no way, so he hoisted himself up out of the grave and bid her goodbye before he filled the hole.
Cynthia. Michigan. Eventually he hoped that would be all he would remember. And in time that would fade and jumble, so when the night terrors struck, he wouldn't recall which face belonged to which name, or whether last year had been the year for Laura in Milwaukee, or was it the year before? Could it really have been as long as five years ago when Valerie...
He hated when it happened that way. It seemed disloyal to Cynthia and Laura and -- no, it was best not to think of Valerie at all.
Nicholas had loved each of them, loved them to the depths of his soul, but he had to forget them. Or else how would he have the strength to go on to the next?
And maybe the next would be the one.
It was safer, he believed, to count to only two: the last one and the next one. He could not allow himself to think of the others, or to suppose there would be any beyond the next one. He was not some monster who wanted this to go on forever. Cynthia didn't think him a monster. None of them did.
Trissa Kirk believed she must have used up her allotment of wishes long ago. Like Aladdin with his magic lamp, each person was limited to a small, finite number. Without realizing it, she had wasted hers on frivolous things, like wishing she had chocolate sauce for her ice cream or a new dress for Easter. The important wishes had never come true for her. Her father hadn't stopped drinking. Her brother hadn't come home from the army. By now she had learned the futility of wishing. Or praying. Though the habit died hard in her needy heart.
Now, even the trivial wishes were no longer granted her. When she lay awake long into the night, she remembered how often she had wished they didn't have a cuckoo clock, trivial though it may seem. For, no matter how hard she tried to avoid knowing the hours as they slipped by her, refusing to look at the bedside clock, burying her head in the pillow, the cuckoo always betrayed her. As he called out his reminders on the hour and half hour, she knew each call brought her closer to the time when her father would come home. The later it grew, the worse it would be.
There was a chance before midnight he would merely stumble in and fall asleep on the sofa. But by two or three, the cuckoo became shrill and frantic in its warning.
"Watch out! Watch Out!"
"Go hide! Go hide! Go hide!"
But they never listened. What good, for where could they go? Her mother would wait in the kitchen, scuffing across the crumb-littered floor, drinking coffee and smoking. Trissa would burrow under the covers or take her blanket to the corner of the closet and cower among the hanging hems and cluttered shoes, hoping to block out her mother's shrill screams and her father's bellowing, wishing she didn't know the crashes and slaps she heard were the sounds of them lashing out and beating each other.
She was fourteen years old, too old to believe in wishes. Trissa slept in the closet most nights now. She was afraid to trust herself to the softness of her bed, afraid her vigilance would betray her and allow her to be sucked into sleep. From her safe cubbyhole, she could hear her father's grunts of displeasure when he opened her door to find her bed empty. He rarely had the consciousness to look for her. Finding her access inconvenient, he would return to her mother for more angry harassment usually ending in the release he had thought to seek from his daughter.
Trissa learned she must look out for herself now. It was no longer a duty she could expect her mother to perform. It was an abdication she had long suspected but had finally confirmed the afternoon she had begged her for help.
"Mom, I'm afraid of Daddy."
Her mother looked up from her ceaseless game of solitaire at the kitchen table cluttered with the sleazy true crime books she never seemed to finish, her filled ashtrays and empty coffee cups, stacks of newspapers with half-completed crossword puzzles, and her photo album open to the page for Lonny's graduation. "I don't want to hear about it."
"But he scares me. When he's drunk, he tries to touch me."
"You have an evil mind. He's your father."
"It's true, he--"
"He tucks you in."
"No, you're not listening to me," she screamed at her mother in the petulant squeak being fourteen seemed to have forced on her along with pimples, the fits and starts of periods, and the chronic verge of tears.
"Lonny never spoke to me like that," her mother said.
"Lonny never had to."
"Lonny had friends. Everybody loved Lonny. Your trouble is your rotten personality."
"Yes, ma'am," Trissa agreed, defeated. She dropped her books on the table and slammed out the door before the tears she strained to withold could escape her.
"Where are you going?" her mother called after her.
Detecting a glimmer of hope in her slightly softened tone, Trissa turned back and faced her through the screen door. "To the store. I need new gym shorts."
"Get me two packs of Salems, will you? Here, come get some money."
"Yes, ma'am." Trissa spent her gym short money on a lock for her closet door.
She had thought that when her father's strike-forced layoff ended, things would improve. They did, in a way. For a while. He came home earlier, a little less drunk, and a little more amorous. But at least his eyes seemed to have cleared to the respective roles of his wife and his daughter. And the only time he ever touched Trissa was to slap her across the mouth for talking back or breaking curfew.
"What time did your mother tell you to get home?"
"And what time did you get in?"
"10:30. All the other kids get to-- " she started, knowing it was useless but hoping to imply she had friends enough to know the other kids' habits. With school out for spring break, the only contact Trissa had with other kids were those she saw parked along Calvary Drive while she sat huddled in silence in the woods across the railroad tracks, in the descending blanket of a warm spring night.