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Friday, May 11, 2012

Short Story: The Bribe by Tara Fox Hall

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THE BRIBE
by
Tara Fox Hall


Why did she have to sit here with this insufferable old woman, Lynette thought. Anything was preferable than playing babysitter. Worse, her mother had taken away her phone, saying Lynette was expected to watch over her great-grandmother Viola that afternoon at her apartment.

Lynette had done her best repentant act, but her mother hadn’t relented. It didn’t help that her mother was still mad about the phone bill last month. Lynette had told her to sign up for unlimited texts, but her mother had refused, saying that Lynette had to pay more attention to what was going on around her. God...

“What is it, dear?” her great-grandma said, leaning forward. “You look like a cat just barfed in your lap.”

Lynette smiled at her grandma’s characteristic bluntness, in spite of her sour mood. “I’m sorry, Grandma Viola. I just wish I had my phone back.”

“You miss testing?” her great-grandma asked.

“Texting,” Lynette corrected. “Yes. It’s like living in the 1900s to be without my contacts—”

“Not quite,” her great-grandma said, picking up a square cloth-bound book. “I was born in 1909, remember? You’ve got it made, Lynn.” She opened the book, then pointed to a photo of a girl in a simple poplin dress, a wide hat shading her face, her hands on a bicycle. Carriages were parked behind her, the dark horses in harness standing complacently. “You don’t have to wear a skirt, or do any of the things expected of ladies back then. You have real choices.” She paused, her finger resting on the picture. “I only had one real choice in my youth; to be cruel, or be kind to her.”

Intrigued, Lynette leaned in close, looking at the other blurry figure almost hidden in the picture’s background. “Who is that?”

“Delilah,” her great-grandma said. “But she was known as Lahlah. She was looked down on by the community, because she thought she saw visions.”

“You knew her in the summers, when you went to Maine?”

Her great-grandma nodded. “I loved swimming with a passion. I think I spent every day in the water. And I wasn’t alone.” She turned the page, pointing to another picture, this one of a short man in dark clothes, his dark eyes scary. “This is Gemini Gardeau. He was a rich, middle-aged man who owned the cottage next to us. He would come out every day to watch me. I didn’t pay attention. No one did, except for Lahlah.”

Lynette nodded, rapt. “And?”

“Lahlah came to me one evening at dusk, when I was walking up to our cabin from the shore. Her talk was wild, telling me to be scared of old man Gardeau, telling me he had plans for me, bad plans.”

“What did you do?”

“I chose to be kind,” Grandma Viola said, drawing herself up proudly. “I thanked her for her help, and told her to tell me if she had any visions, so I’d have warning if he tried anything. She solemnly agreed. My mother called for me just then, distracting me. When I looked back for Lahlah, she was gone.”

Lynette’s eyes rounded “Did he try anything?”

Her Grandma Viola nodded. “Yes. Listen.”

***


The air was chill, the first hints of fall in the clear cold wind coming off the beach. The sun was just setting, the afterglow lighting the sky with pale blues and pinks.

Viola looked up at the sky as she walked up from the beach, toweling her hair and marveling at how the sight never seemed to get old. Maybe that was because each sunset was unique, like a snowflake.

Her smile morphed to a frown. There would be enough of those soon. Worse, school was coming up fast…

“Viola?” a low voice crooned. “Would you wait, please?”

Viola turned, the sight of Old Man Gardeau walked toward her freezing her in place. “I need to go—”

“I just wanted to talk to you,” Gardeau said, taking her hand, his iron grip locking onto her thin wrist. “Please, come with me—”

Viola tried to yank her hand away. “Let me go—”

Gardeau grabbed her other hand, then pulled her close, his arms squeezing her as his hand covered her mouth, silencing her scream. Viola struggled, kicking and flailing as he began to drag her up near the pier.

“Be quiet,” he hissed, his breath sweet and sickly. “I aim to have you—”

Viola hit at him, getting in a lucky blow. Gardeau grunted in pain, then hit her hard across the face, stunning her.

“You’re bad as Natalie,” Gardeau hissed, his dark eyes glistening like wet stones. “Come here—”

Viola let out a cry, frantically trying to crawl away. Natalie Foster, a local teen that had gone missing this spring. She’d been found beneath the pier a week later, what was left of her. Police had blamed it on a transient…

Gardeau grabbed her arms, dragging her towards the darkness under the pier. As he entered the dark, he suddenly cried out in pain, then slumped.

“Viola?” a feminine voice asked tentatively.

“Lahlah?” Viola ventured, reaching out to take the pale offered arm.

Lahlah pulled her to her feet, her grip surprisingly strong for someone so slight. “Go on home.”

Viola cast a hasty look of fear at Gardeau, relief washing over her that he was still motionless. “What about him?”

“Lahlah will take care of it,” the thin figure said resolutely. “You go on.”

Viola ran for home, casting one look over her shoulder, her last view of Lahlah dragging Gardeau’s body beneath the pier.

***


“She killed him?”

“It was ruled an accidental drowning,” Grandma Viola answered, her tone meaningful. “Everyone knew he drank, and liked to walk on the beach at dusk.”

“Then how did you know for sure that she did it?”

“Listen,” Grandma Viola said.

***


Viola was alone on the pier, her thoughts troubled as she watched the sunset. Gardeau was dead, so there was no reason for her to be afraid. But she couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. She turned to go, letting out a gasp to find Lahlah right behind her, her hand extended.

“Hi,” Lahlah said nervously.

“Did you kill him?” Viola blurted, then went white, clapping her hand over her mouth as she shrank back against the railing.

“Had to,” Lahlah said, her wild eyes rolling crazily. “I been watching a long time, Viola. Gardeau hurt other girls over the years, girls just like you. Always kept quiet—” She flung her arms wide. “—but no more.”

“What?” Viola stammered.

“No more coins,” Lahlah said, reaching into her pocket, and bringing forth a fistful of silver dollars, the coins rolling out of her grip to hit the deck, some plinking into the water. “No more dead girls.”

There were more than twenty coins there. And each represented a dead girl. “You knew,” Viola accused, her tone screeching. “You knew all this time!”

“Forgive me,” Lahlah sobbed, trying to give her the money. “Please—”

Viola pushed her to the ground, the coins scattering in a wide arc of gleaming silver to disappear into the darkness. “You didn’t have visions! You always knew!”

Lahlah cowered. “Please, no—”

***


“What happened?” Lynette asked, enraptured.

Grandma Viola shrugged. “I ran from her, terrified and sure she was as crazy as everyone had always said. She drowned herself in the ocean that night.”

Lynette blinked, then leaned back, trying to shake off the horror she was feeling. “This sounds like those ghost stories you read.”

Grandma Viola smiled then reached behind the picture, pulling out a coin. She placed it in Lynn’s hand. It was a silver dollar marked 1901.

“She showed me the coins,” Grandma Viola said sadly. “The rest were lost, or washed out to sea that night. But this one fell into my shoe top somehow.” She pressed it into Lynn’s hand. “Here.”

Lynn recoiled a little. “I can’t take this.”

“Consider it a bribe for kindness,” her Grandma Viola said. “It cost Lahlah her soul. Everyone needs reminding now and then to do the right thing. She saved me. I’ll never know why I was the turning point when so many others went missing without her acting to stop it. But I’ve been grateful for her ever since. In return, I’ve tried to always do what was right by others, even when it wasn’t easy. And its time I passed on that lesson to you.” She pressed the coin into Lynn’s hand. “The coin is for remembrance. You exist because of a stranger’s kindness. Don’t ever forget to be kind yourself.”

“I won’t,” Lynn said softly, taking the coin. “I won’t.”

About the Author:Tara Fox Hall’s writing credits include nonfiction, horror, suspense, erotica, and contemporary and historical paranormal romance. Her first full-length novel, Lash, was published in April 2012. She divides her free time unequally between writing novels and short stories, chainsawing firewood, caring for stray animals, sewing cat and dog beds for donation to animal shelters, and target practice.

Find the author online at:

Website: www.TaraFoxHall.com
Tara's Blog: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5286654.Tara_Fox_Hall/blog
Tara's Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/pages/Tara-Fox-Hall/151813374904903
For info on my recently published work, Just Shadows, click here: http://www.amazon.com/Just-Shadows-ebook/dp/B006V4HB2Y

6 comments:

  1. What a superb story! Tara Fox Hall at her best! Tara you never fail to amaze me! How do you manage to be so prolific - and so GOOD!

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  2. You are so sweet, Mrs. T :) I'm very glad you liked the story :)

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  3. I love what you do inside my head! You are a word-artist and you fill my mind with powerful images that last and last. Well done. I LOVE this story. Thank you for sharing it.
    Lyn

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    1. Glad you like the story, Manic Scribbler :) Your praise is always a cause for celebration!

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  4. I loved this spooky story with a moral

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