That’s how long I worked for Mr. Mortimer.
That’s how long I cleaned up vomit, blood, an’ I don’t know what else, after those parties he held at his mansion, the one overlooking that disgusting lake.
That’s how long I cleaned his sheets, stiff with…well, I don’t need to tell you. You know… Of course he was rich, a mortician in this town is like a king, and like a king, he could've bought every person in this town—prolly did. Still, the tongues? They wagged about what went down at his parties. I never seen the parties; he never aksed me to serve there, guess I wasn’t perty enough. But my daughter Tessa—bless her soul and may she rest in peace—he aksed my beautiful Tessa. She told me ‘bout what men and women did together there…well, it was the only time I stood up to him. I told ‘im she was only fourteen, I wouldn’t let her work fo’ ‘im no more.
I wonder sometimes, if that’s what got her. Unpleasantville don’t let ya stand tall, have standards, stand up to those in power. After that, seemed he aksed her to work every weekend at his parties and there was nuthin’ I could do to stop him. I hoped she was safe. What could happen to her? But the, it got so she didn’t come home at night.
I aksed her the first time she didn’t show up why. She--Look, look at me, I’m shudderin’ just thinkin’ ‘bout it--She swept her tongue across her lips and her hands along her body. She smiled, like she was far away, rememering sumpthin.’ She tole me, she said, “Ma, I love you so much, but there’s lots you don’t know about the world. The Master’s learning me.”
So, I cleaned up. Yeah, I wondered what they did that left blood spatters on the walls and shredded clothes on the floor, but there’s a balance in Unpleasantville, and as long as my baby was safe, there was nothing I could do ‘bout it. You don’t question what happens in Unpleasantville.
Then, my baby girl didn’t come home… at all.
The master didn’t say nuthin ‘bout it. He let me in the house that Mondee like it was any other. He didn’t say nuthin to me about her for a whole week. An, yeah, I’m shamed ‘bout it, but I didn’t aks. ’Til after the next party, when I found her pink sweater— ripped, bloody—on the floor and her charm bracelet under the sofa. Only one charm was missin’, the one I gave her when her daddy done disappeared. The charm was my promise to her that I would keep looking for him. An I found him, nekked and hung upside down from a tree in the forest. Seemed to me, Tessa’d left me a message with that missin’ charm. I would find my baby.
I waited for the master to come home. It was still light, but I knew where all the shadow spots in that house were. I waited in one, an empty champagne bottle in each hand. When he walked past, I snuck up behind him and bashed those bottles against either side of his head. He went down, fast. You don’t carry a man’s buckets full a garbage for 25 years and not develop muscles that can take down a monster.
Ha! I look aback to that day and don’t even know who I was. I remember ‘im all tied up on that chair, those blue eyes glarin’ at me, the blood runnin’ outta his ears and down his neck. I had a knife, one I’d taken from his kitchen. I figgered it’d been part of things worse than what I was plannin’.
“Where’s my Tessa,” I aksed.
Even though I was standin’ over him with a knife, the master, he smiled. And I didn’t like that smile. It looked like he was gonna tell me somethin that’d make him happy and me cry.
“I can show you,” he told me.
“I ain’t lettin you up. You jus’ tell me where she is and I’ll go git ‘er.”
“Put your hand on my head. I’ll show you where she is.”
Oh man. I didn’t want to touch him. But…I dunno. Somethin’ drew me to him. I didn’t want to touch him, but, my hand was reachin’ out. I didn’t want to touch him, but like I was watchin’ a movie, I saw myself put my hand, the one without the knife, on his head.
And there was my baby. My Tessa. I was seein' what they done to her. I cain’t…I won’t tell you what, jus that there was bodies all over her. I watched the light in my baby girl’s eyes slowly fade away. I heard her call for her momma just before those eyes went blank. Then I watched them carve up my baby and carry the parts of her to a clearing in the forest. They screamed at the moon, danced nekked among the trees, then fed my baby to a hole in the ground marked by rocks in the shape of teeth.
“It’s not often we get a virgin, at least not one as pretty as Tessa,” the master tole me when I dropped to the floor.
I don’ know what he thought I was gonna do, but it probably wasn’t the slow carving of that man that I done to him. I left him there, guts hanging out over the ropes that tied him to the chair, slashes along his face and his toes and fingers floating in a Champagne bucket. Then I made way to the clearing. I dug up my baby. I put the charm bracelet on what I think was her wrist, lay down with her, then cut my throat.
I don’t know what they done to Mr. Mortimer. Me? I watched ‘em cover me up right here. I don’t care. I’m with my Tessa.
Linda Gould is the Managing Editor of White Enso, an online journal of creative work inspired by Japan and the host of the Kaidankai podcast. She is a lifelong book-lover who spent many summers as a child high up in the branches of a tree reading. Her fiction and non-fiction work has been published in outlets around the world. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Delaware and has extensive writing, editing and design experience. She is the founder of the Women's English Writing Group of Japan, writes fantasy and ghost stories, and is the author of The Diamond Tree, a dual-language book in English and Japanese.