Chapter Three Funeral
Friday, 19 June 2020
Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn within 34*
In the morning, she took two loads of paper to the recycle bin, then, suppressing her squeamishness, took a fast shower in the only working bathroom. It looked too depressed and dismal to be haunted. She dressed in black and headed for the funeral parlor.
Del glanced at the old woman, and felt not the faintest flicker of recognition. I wrote her a single letter, when I graduated from basic. Never got a reply. Never tried again. Too late now.
She stepped away, sat up at the front by the head of the coffin. Stared at the empty room. And sat up straighter as a clatter of footsteps turned into this little room. A cluster of women, one looking like a contemporary of Aunt Sophia's, the others younger. Del heaved a sigh of relief, glad that people had come.
"I'm Elenora Unger. Your Aunt was such . . . an interesting person. Not that she approved of me!"
Elenora looked to be in her mid-forties, trying to dress like an eighteen year old.
Maybe this is all the black stuff she owns.
Behind the women, Prissy edged cautiously in.
The girl tossed a glance at the coffin from a distance, and huddled in a chair in the back corner.
Another woman turned away from the coffin. "So. She really is dead. Interfering old . . . " She broke off with a glance at Del.
Or maybe I'm not gratified.
Del shrugged. "I haven't seen her for fifteen years or so. Once mother married my stepdad and they moved to Los Angeles, we didn't visit much." Never, in fact.
Heads turned. Six women here, at least she had people she interacted with, even if there seems to have been some negative . . . elements.
Elenora's eyes widened. And her smile. "Oh, of course. I'd nearly forgotten. You must be Temple's girl. Temple was a member of our . . . group. Despite her father's attempts to keep her away from us. He was furious, but as we pointed out, we're women. And he could call our dancing sinful, but it was some man that got her pregnant."
"Well, obviously." Del shrugged. So Mom went out dancing with her girl friends? Big deal, they were all underage, then, so they weren't drinking . . . unless they had fake ID.
Elenora introduced the others. No sign of grief or even moderate sadness.
No wonder mother never came back, pack of harpies and perhaps a fundamentalist father. I don't recall that, about grandfather, but then I was ten when we left.
The oldest of the Harpies smiled faintly. "Such a pity Sophia had no children. She really ought to have remarried, after Jeff died."
Del shrugged. She didn't remember an uncle, but there must have been one, since Aunt Sophia had changed her name.
The Harpies swapped knowing glances and filed out, as a man in a dark suit stepped politely aside.
Tall, slim, dark hair with dramatic streaks of silver at the temple . . .
"Miss Hyde? I thought I ought to drop by . . . " The man broke off and glanced over his shoulder as if startled, when Prissy moved. "Oh, err, both Miss Hydes? I was sorry to hear about your aunt . . . "
"So nice of you to come by." Del stood up and stepped forward, keeping her voice firm and business-like. "I am Delphi Hyde and this is my sister Priscilla Mayhew. And you are?"
The man had a nice outdoor tan, but managed to blush. "Armand Navarr." He held his hand out.
She clasped it briefly, pulling away from the slight tightening of his grip.
Handsome, well dressed, looked prosperous. Looking at her. Standing not-really-too-close. His balance was forward, leaning slightly toward her. Sexy as all get out, but . . . the stance is a bit too dominate for my tastes. Really. She wrenched her attention away from his warm brown eyes and stiffened her emotional barriers. Remember? You are going back to New York. This man has trouble written all over him.
"I so admired your Aunt. A strong woman, indomitable. Are you . . . well, I guess asking if you're enjoying the visit is stupid. But I hope you've met some of the locals . . . " His voice trailed off and he glanced over his shoulder, as if to check that the flock of harpies wasn't about to attack him.
"Just briefly. We're busy clearing the house. Once we're done with probate, we'll sell the house, split the money. It'll put Prissy through college, and I will go back to my job in New York." Assuming it's still there, and the company hasn't folded altogether. Realistically, I ought to be looking for a job here. A lot of tech companies shifting inland from Silicon Valley . . .
Prissy circled around to stand beside, Del.
"Ah." His face was hard to read. Relieved? He looked over at Prissy. Leaned towards her. "Do you live with your parents? Nearby?"
"Roseville. I just graduated. I'll be attending Sierra College . . . " She looked around at Del. "Do you think I'll be able to afford Davis right away?"
Del must have looked blank.
"The University of California at Davis. It's thirty miles from my parent's house." The girl shifted nervously, not meeting Navarr's gaze.
Del nodded. "Real estate prices are down, right now, but the land ought to be good for four years of college." I really ought to go back to college, get a real degree to make my experience look better.
"Oh, should we wait to sell it? I mean, I can go to the junior college and live at home . . . "
"Taxes, maintenance . . . " Del looked over at the man. "Do you know anything about the local real estate market, Mr. Navarr?"
"Oh, Armand, please! No, I'm a stock broker." He shrugged. "I only know what I read in the papers, and they refuse to admit we're still in a recession. It'll be another decade before housing prices rebound . . . of course, your best bet is probably to subdivide your Aunt's property, and sell it piecemeal."
"Umm, I suppose so."
He eyed her thoughtfully. "Sophia felt a duty to keep the old place."
"I don't, and I don't think Prissy visited much, either."
"Once. Mother—my adopted mother—wouldn't let me come back after that. And the house is in even worse shape, now."
"So I've heard." The man gave Prissy a toothy smile, and then switched it back to Del. "They called her a witch, around here. Superstitious fools."
"How unfortunate. I'm afraid though that she was just an old woman, living alone." Del eyed the man. "Did you think she was a witch?"
"Oh . . . witch is such a medieval term. Carrying a ridiculous amount of negative associations. I think your Aunt was a very sensitive soul. So was your mother, but wilder, a bit spoiled perhaps, being so much younger than her sister."
"You knew her?"
He shrugged. "She was two years ahead of me all through school. So I didn't know her well."
Del relaxed a bit at that. He would have been fifteen when I was born, so at least I don't have to worry about him being my father.
"She was the Bad Girl we were all warned away from." There was a shadow of a smirk to his expression.
At least I hope to heck he's not my father.
He glanced over his shoulder as another man entered.
The new man paused, his eyes narrowing. Armand stiffened. Not friends, and they definitely know each other.
Armand turned back. "So nice to have met you, my condolences." He stepped away and walked out.
Del eyed the new man. Shorter, broad shouldered, no gray in his dark hair.
He nodded politely, and stood in front of the coffin, looking down. "It was a real shock, finding her. I guess it seemed like she'd live forever."
"Mister . . . ?"
"Oh, sorry. Hugh Barclay. I'm the idiot who ticketed you yesterday."
"Ah. Yes." Del didn't see any need to extend the conversation.
"I took your Aunt's old horse next door to Bev's. Do you know anything about horses?"
"Nothing. I . . . didn't know about the horse. I'll check on her."
Barclay glanced back at the coffin, smiled a bit sadly, and walked out.
Prissy grinned. "Two cute guys. Pity they're too old for me, but . . . "
"No. I'm going back to New York."
"That doesn't mean you can't even date a guy!"
"No." Armand Navarr? Officer Reflecting Sunglasses? No. Just, no. Even if they were both good looking.
And old man tottered in. "Kenneth Peters. Knew her all her life, my daughter's best pal. Wretched woman. I never could talk that woman into being sensible. I was her lawyer. Mind you she didn't much need one, hadn't seen her professionally since her father died. Never could talk her into writing a will. She said once that she'd written one out, but even God might have trouble figuring out where it is, more than a decade later." He looked down into the casket, and shook his head. "Oh, Sophia. You were too young to go."
Del blinked. Mother's older sister. A bigger gap than between me and Prissy. Twelve years, was it? But still . . . "She would have been, what, fifty-seven?" Younger than I'd realized.
The old man nodded. "I'm so sorry. And now it's just the two of you."
An hour later, with no more visitors, Del treated Prissy to lunch at a diner in the old historic district. The funeral director had all the paperwork for the cremation, no point in hanging about.
"Mom wants me to babysit tonight, and threatened to kill me if I ripped her best black dress cleaning house in it."
Del nodded. "The high heels are impractical."
"The high heels are painful. I can't believe anyone wears these things."
"People do all sorts of weird things."
Chapter Four Dance
Friday, 19 June 2020
Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn within 34*
Del eyed the old house, and tried to think how she felt about it.
Her grandfather had bought it from his uncle who'd bought it from the daughter of the gold miners who'd decided to stay put. This part, and then that had been remodeled, burned down, rebuilt, knocked down and replaced. Except for the fireplace, she doubted any existing part of it was more than fifty years old.
Technically it was still a farm; Aunt Sophia had kept twenty acres, sold the rest to pay off her sister for her half of the estate, with enough left over to live on.
Crazy old lady, couldn't hold a job.
Pity mother didn't keep the land, instead of putting the money into an over priced house down south, and lost all the equity when the housing market crashed.
The orchard that climbed the ridge behind the house was patchy, with a dozen old trees hanging on. The garden was too small to grow enough to sell, but big enough that the old lady had obviously had trouble keeping it up. The draft horses granddad had driven when she was ten were gone. I need to check with this "Bev" person, about the horse. Maybe she'll want her. Or know how to sell her. The dairy had been closed even before that, when he got too old to keep it up, and either he or Aunt Sophia had apparently sold most of the cows. The gates sagged, the grass was long. Unmowed, almost ungrazed; she'd only spotted a single cow out in the pasture. It hadn't come near, so apparently it didn't need to be milked or fed or whatever one did to a cow on a day-to-day basis.
Del climbed the ridge and watched the sun set. When the last light had faded, she turned her mind to the next three days, and started a mental list. "Clear the house. Clean like mad. Buy paint, trim paint, wire brush, caulk . . ." She looked back down the hill at the old house. No point to it. It'll sell for the value of the land, and not a cent more. They'll tear it down, subdivide the land for McMansions.
A breeze rustled the dry grass, and stilled. She could hear a deep thumping. Drums? A neighborhood kid with rock star ambitions?
Del listened carefully and decided the sounds must be coming from the east. There was a stretch of parkland along the river. Barely maintained. She driven down, out of curiosity. Nothing but the dry California hills. Paths worn into the ground by countless ATVs, a well maintained riding trail, a sand bar with surprisingly little trash. No organized parking, no picnic tables. She remembered riding one of her granddad's draft horses on the trails. Just plodding along in the hot sun day dreaming about heroes and monsters and sword fights. That had all ended when her mother married and moved to Southern California. Her step-dad hadn't approved of her grandfather, and they'd never gone back. Until the accident. She and Prissy had been brought back to their only relative and been grudgingly allowed through the door by their aunt . . . their child protective services escort had taken one look at the house and taken them away, again. Aunt Sophia had made no effort to make her house a home for her nieces. CPS had made no effort to keep the sisters together.
Del shrugged away the bad memories. Look at the house! She was obviously crazy. And I saved enough money to get most of the way through college, after my enlistment was up. Programming, well, it's more about doing it yourself than learning squat in a classroom. Even if the company goes belly up, I'll be able to find another job.
She force her attention back to the present. To not think, to just soak in the warm twilight . . . and hear the drums.
Obviously someone was throwing a party somewhere over the crest of the ridge.
She looked at the quiet house. Back up the hill. She failed to resist. A pair of matching oak trees on either side helped her get over the Federal Park boundary fence, then she walked as quietly as possible up to the crest of the ridge. The full moon was halfway up the sky, but downhill to the left tame lightening flashed. Red and yellow, flickering. A fire? On this dry hillside? No, the flickering was too regular, too intense. A strobe light? She spotted a deer trail in the bright moonlight and slunk down closer. Cars were parked on a dirt road, a small generator was running in a corral of cushions to dampen the noise and an extension cord led back uphill to the north. She followed it to a piece of flat ground. It was quite a set up, a spot light shining upwards through the blades of a small fan that kept strips of colored cellophane in constant motion.
Del choked down a hysterical giggle. Such a safe, environmentally friendly "California" answer to the problem of dancing around a bonfire. The music was artificial as well. The bass beat she'd heard from the barn was now a part of "Primordial." The popular instrumental was heavy on the percussion. It cycled back to the start. The strobe started flashing, synced to the beat. Her heartbeat sped to match the rhythm. Dancers appeared from one flash to the next, caught in mid-motion, distorted, jerky. Flick. The colors from the strobe tinted the naked female bodies. Flick. The animalistic masks made them look almost inhuman. Flick. The lights hit the rising dust like an illusion of the aurora. Flick. It gave the dancers an air of authenticity. Flick. Then it cleared and the masks were obvious. Flick. There was movement in the trees. Flick. But it was gone on the next flash. Flick. Now the dancers looked wild, real. Flick. She shuddered as if chilled and rubbed the goose bumps on her arms. Flick. Odd colors danced in the air. Flick. She stifled a cough as a billow of dust swept over her. Flick. She backed away. Flick. Between one flash and the next, a new dancer on stage. A demon . . . no a satyr. Flick. Complete with a goat's horns. Flick. She tried to think of a disparaging comment. Something amusing. Flick. But this satyr wasn't amusing. Flick. Muscular, dramatic. Flick. Curved horns grew from the mottled hair that matched the spotted coat of the body. Flick. Almond shaped eyes in a muzzled face. Flick. Swollen penis, stiff and hard. Flick. The strobe's stop action flashed, jumped him around the 'fire.' Flick. Here cupping a breast. Flick. There kissing a neck, Flick. Now pulling a woman up against his organ. Flick. One woman was all over him. Flick. A knee lifted.
Del kept backing up, she didn't want to see this . . . orgy in stop motion. Flick. Then he had jumped again. Flick. To kiss the back of a neck . Flick. A woman bent over for him. Flick. Pulling her hips back to his loins. Flick. The demon threw his head up and looked straight up the hill at her. Flick. The air was clear between them and he still looked very convincing. Flick. She backed between two cars, not able to look away for the deer track she'd followed down hill. Flick. His lips peeled back and he keened, painfully high pitched. Flick. He pushed the woman away. Flick. He stepped toward her.
Del turned her back and ran. She choked on the dust, felt like she was breathing solid dirt . . . she burst into clean air and spotted the twin oak trees. She kept it together until she'd gotten over the fence, then her careful control slipped and she careened down the hill, pulling out of the snare of branches, and running in a panic. At the bottom of the pasture she clawed at the gate latch, her breath sobbing in her throat. She made herself stop. She flung herself around, back to the gate and looked up the hill. Nothing more menacing than the immobile shadows of trees on the hillside. The slope was brightly lit in the full moon. No one was following her. No satyr. No man in a costume. She could still hear the primal drums. Or perhaps her heart beat. It looked at me. The slope was empty and innocent under the full moon. It looked at me.
"It was not a demon, it was a satyr. I mean, it was a very good costume. Funny lighting effects." Her hands were still shaking. It wasn't real. "Idiots don't know a thing about either Wiccan or Satanism. Thank god they were wearing masks, I didn't actually recognize any of those women, so I won't have too much trouble keeping a straight face the next time I meet . . . any woman in town."
The house looked dark and cold, the yard darker. It looked at me. She froze at a flicker of movement. To the right, on the other side of the cross fence, but close, down off the hill. Movement again, and her eyes deciphered the form. The black and white cow was half invisible in the black and white moon shadows of the orchard trees.
She released a long breath. I forgot about the cow. She let herself out through the wobbly gate and chained it closed behind herself.
I'm going home Monday. All I have to do is survive the weekend.
Tomorrow I am definitely going to find a hotel.
No matter how far I have to drive.