Mark of the Shadow Part 25: The Lady
After two days on my own I began to wonder if Rolph had made the best decision. I was living purely off of squirrel and lizard. It was hard work finding the meat and then cooking it. Cooking it meant getting a fire burning hot enough to cook. Again hard.
That first day I’d ridden till I couldn’t hear gunshots. That was past the mountains too. Then I stopped and let Bessie get some rest, and to give my legs some rest. My ridding training hadn’t prepared me to ride as hard and long as this.
The second day after little sleep I woke to find that most of the rations were gone. Stolen in the night by some creature. That scared me. Something could creep up at night and steal from under my nose. If that could happen, well I was as useless as a rock in sleep here in the open. ‘Cept worse, rocks can’t get there throats slit.
I made little forward progress that day. Spent most the day tying traps and finding wood for fires. It was a slow process. Afterwords I was still hungry. That night I didn’t sleep any better.
The third day I knew I had to find water. Bessie was making by on sips from my water and from the water she got from eating. Now my water was almost empty.
I continued south the way Rolph had said was the Sevier River. I kept thinking I was hearing the rush of water but it was just the wind playing tricks on my mind.
While ridding my mind tried to put together specific scenes with Rolph in it. I had to assure myself they were wrong. They were there certainly, except there was always something off. I could never remember what I was wearing. Plus it seemed to me in these memories we were doing things that Rolph would never do. Rolph didn’t go into town and say hello to everyone he walked by. Did he?
I had to stop thinking about it eventually. Too distracting I decided. Needed to focus on finding water. My skin was empty now, and I knew my time was running out.
It was dusk and I knew I would have to sleep soon. I wouldn’t have any luck in the dark. Just the thought of the dark in my mind brought my hands instinctively to my jade necklace. The cool smooth touch reassured me like it always did. It always did.
Bessie stopped then and I realized my eyes were closed. I opened them and reached down to pat Bessie’s head.
“There there girl, keep going. I need you to keep going.” I tried to remove the panic from my voice. Hopefully horses just can’t tell if your panicked.
Bessie didn’t move instead her head tilted to the side, then swung around scanning the area. Now my panic grew to a fear, shallow in my chest. What if Bessie saw something out there. A shadow, a Confederate. Heck, even a Union would take me off my course. I hoped it was just a deer.
Just to be safe I reached into the pack behind me making sure I kept my eyes on the sparse foliage around me. I felt for my revolver and hoped I wouldn’t have to use it.
Then a hand grabbed mine, twisted it and flipped me off Bessie. I landed with a loud and equally painful thud, then felt a boot holding me down.
The blood in my veins was threatening to burst out, and my heart was as loud as I could remember it ever being. A gun, my gun I saw was now pointed at my head.
“Get up,” said Lady Maldone. She looked the same. Her hair was down, and she was dirty like she’d been lying in the dirt for hours. Maybe she had, it would suit her.
A rage boiled up inside me at the sight of her. But at what? What had she done but killed a boy. In fact I should be happy because it sent me home. So why were my eyes boiling over with tears at the mere sight of her, the mere sound of her voice.
“Did you hear me? Get up!”
This time I did as I was told, but I had to prod her boot off my stomach first. The gun was still pointed at my head.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked. She didn’t look happy with what she was doing.
Bessie bolted, up and ran. I wish I had the courage to. Then Maldone turned her gun from me for an instant and shot. The ringing in my ears I’d heard before, in Tommy Zinderman’s ears. I dropped to my knees and clasped my hands around my ears. I heard something fall, crash into the ground. Then another shot. Make it stop. It was the only thing I could think.
A full three minutes later, maybe more I got up looked around me. I saw Bessie’s body lying limp next to a vine covered tree. I looked away quickly.
“Why didn’t you let her go.” I said quietly I didn’t expect an answer, not really.
“She makes too much noise.” She didn’t sound to sure of herself.
“She,” I started, “and you think shooting her was quiet?”
“She startled me okay? Now look here.” I looked. The gun was pointed at me. “Do you know who I am?”
“You killed Tom. You’re a confederate.”
“Ah. So that was you. Good then you know me as Maldone, yes?” I nodded. What did she mean ?
“Then you know I killed your parents.” I was shocked. Too shocked for words.
“Rolph, you killed him.”
Now it was her turn to be surprised. I could see questions forming in her expression.
“Rolph. Rolph isn’t your father. Maxwell Tills. Ring a bell?”
It did somewhere. My heart ached, it felt like a weight had been dropped on it, and it was struggling to hold it up.
“I killed your mother too. That house you were staying in, in Salt Lake City.”
“You killed Mrs. Darby? She ain’t my mom.” It gave me some satisfaction knowing she’d made a mistake.
“Ah, well. How’s it feel being all alone the shadows circling you day and night waiting for their moment. And now your father is dead, despite the fact that you seem to have shoved the memory out of mind. You know somethings wrong. You know it’s only a matter of time before the shadows take you, or you let them. You can feel a hole in your heart. Don’t deny it.”
I interjected, “Why did you take the cure?”
She looked taken aback. “My you are full of surprises aren’t you. Did you figure that out on your own?” She paused. “Oh you wanted an answer. Maybe it’s as simple as: I didn’t want you to be cured.”
“Why! Why are you doing all of these terrible things to me?”
“You don’t realize it now but I’m making you stronger. Did Rolph tell you about the story of John and Maria? Maria died, and her body wandered the world. Her mind was stuck. It could not move it could not function. For years, yes years. She though it was never going to end.”
“You’re Maria,” I said. I had known it. She looked into my eyes.
“I’m Maldone, I gave up on Maria on long time ago. Maria finally woke up though. She was in her body. Do you know where I was?
“I was in the middle of a town, bodies all around me. Smoke in the air. The town was on fire and blood covered my body. I was holding a knife in my hand with fresh blood lining it. I could taste blood in my mouth. I was in a body I didn’t recognize. Ah, but it’s not what you think. It was Maria’s body, but like I said it had been years. My chest had risen, my hips widened. My hair was long and unkept. Everything was longer.
“I walked out of that town, the sole survivor. I questioned everything, and got no answers. Everywhere I went I was feared, though I couldn’t speak to anyone. I’d never learned anything but simple Italian, and I couldn’t even remember that. Didn’t matter, I wasn’t in Italy any more. I found my way back of course and found someone I did remember. He didn’t want to see me, but as you can see I learned to be very persuasive.” She said waving the gun around in the air.
“I learned enough Italian to get by. This man, Vincent, told me my father was in America now. I’d already put together that he was the reason I was back. The reason I was living in this hell. I made my way to America easily enough. I made no friends, but I didn’t need to. You see being a host to a shadow…does something to you. I could see them like no one else could, I could hunt them like no one else. The power they give you is, incredible.
“I’ve spent the last ten years hunting shadows. But I’ve learned that I am not enough. I’m the only thing standing in the way of the shadows and this world.”
“Thats not true!” I yell. “Rolph and your father hunt shadows.”
“Ah, is that what they call it? They ward shadows off, yes. Buy themselves time as they waste away under their curses, but have they ever killed a shadow? No. The best they can do is slit their own throats before the shadows consume then. No. Only I can deal with them with a degree of finality. But I figured why not get a partner. I’ve examined what happened to me: the circumstances, the pieces that form my torture. I’ve spent years waiting for the perfect candidate. It’s you Anne-Louise Tills.”
What she was planning to do finally sunk in. Why she’d killed my father, why I was here now. She’d been waiting for me, I knew.
“Now be a good girl and tell me what Rolph gave you as your Well.”
I looked at her blankly.
“He gave you something to keep the shadows away.”
I couldn’t help it my eyes flickered to my necklace. Then I closed them. I couldn’t believe what I’d just done.
“Take it off,” she said. I kept my eyes closed, and stood there.
“Take it off, or I will make you.” The words seeped like venom out of her.
Slowly my fingers wrapped themselves around the smooth curves of my necklace. I carefully lifted it off my head, but I never broke eye contact with my captor.