Once Upon Delilah

by tccorbett

Once Upon Delilah

A fable for the mature

Once upon a time there was a tiny, pretty little girl named Dalida.  Well, she wasn’t very tiny.  She was about average for a baby, with pretty brown eyes, soft brown hair and light beige skin and peachy cheeks.  Whenever her parents would take her out in the stroller, her father would speak in low dulcet tones that Dalida would try to imagine in her own mind and gibber on in tandem or fair response.  Dalida’s mother would agree sometimes, laugh at other times and occasionally let out a sigh or even big guffaw before several strands of hair would slip out from under her hajib as a rapid and passionate discussion of utmost political or academic urgency would break out between her mother and father. 

Afterwards Dalida’s mother would tuck her hair back under, check with a mirror and makeup that her cheeks had not blushed too brightly and her father would straighten his tie for the umpteenth time and for the umpteenth and hundred tell her mother she didn’t have to wear the veil out on these leisurely walks if she didn’t want to, to which Dalida’s mother would immediately give him “the look” and silence him. 

So Dalida had learned quite a lot by the time she was almost a year old.  By the time she was three Dalida was walking hand in hand between her parents every day to nursery school where she would play with the blocks and learn how to paint, and dress up like Mexican people, or Chinese people or Brazilian people or even Australian people and sometimes Dalida would just sit down against the corner wall in a comfy bright white bean bag chair and listen to stories while she tried to read along in the little books with funny pictures.  These were the special times filled with fairy princesses, enchanted sorceresses, kindly dragons and warrior unicorns that Dalida liked best of all.  It was often around one of those times that Dalida’s parents would show up hand in hand ready to walk her home again, between them.

That was, until the day they didn’t.  Mrs. Morris woke Dalida up from the special cot in the corner where she had fallen asleep crying when the last of the parents and their children had gone home and her mother and father still hadn’t come. 

“Dalida, Sargeant Ames and Mrs. Lossker are going to take you to a house that some of the children we see on museum day live in.  It’s a nice place for you to stay while we find out where your mommy and daddy are. I’m going to come with you until you get settled in.”  Mrs. Morris explained as fresh tears began to roll down the little girl’s eyes. 

“She is a pretty little thing.” The woman police sergeant added as they started to gather Dalida’s things and walk her out of the building

When Dalida got to the house with the other children they gave her milk and cookies and let her watch tv as long as she wanted, which was longer than she had ever seen tv before.  The cartoon characters dancing on screen were even better than the books, but she missed her mother and was still very frightened.  That night after the other children were asleep a strange feeling made her stand up and look outside her window.  Under the lamp light an old man stood smiling up at her with a crooked grin, tilting his head one way and then the other.  Dalida gasped but was afraid she might wake the other children.  Trying to convince herself that she had only been dreaming, she got back into bed and tried to shut her eyes.  And then she did dream, horrible dreams, her mother and father yelling. 

“I’ll give you back the money, however much you want!” Her father pleaded. 

“You know it was never about the money.” A man grumbled in a cracked, low, barely audible voice, and the clicking sound of a gun or maybe a knife. 

In the blackness of Dalida’s visionless dream a scuffle broke out and then her mother screamed and screamed again, blood curdling screams and then more sobbing. 

“Write it!!  Just like you were told!”  The man with the low voice was now yelling. 

“I can’t!  I won’t!”  Dalida’s mother begged. 

And then more sobbing and screaming until Dalida felt herself wet, soaking in the middle of a deep, wet, green forest, with hot house type plants all around her, menacing, smelling strange and sweet and poisonous all at once.  She was in danger.  She had to run, escape, immediately.  They were closing in, all around her.  Any minute they would be upon her.  And then she bolted upright in bed, sweating, sobbing, tears running from her eyes, wanting to scream even if it woke the others.  She jumped out of bed and looked at the street below.  The man was gone and the lamp light blinked out as the sky quickly turned from black, to deep purple and then reddish grey as she stood there.  Finally she got back into bed.  

The next morning, a tired, weary eyed Dalida sat in a cold office sipping juice from a box as Sargeant Ames and Mrs. Lossker both made many phone calls.  They asked her so many questions about the previous morning when her mommy and daddy had dropped her off at the nursery that she wasn’t sure if she was remembering the same day anymore.  That’s when they stopped asking her questions all together and just started referring to what they had already written down on the yellow note pads. 

Eventually Dalida wandered off into the small living room with white and yellow bean bag chairs, a large sofa, a few other children and always television to be watched.  Dalida spent many hours there now, making new friends, doing her homework once she started school, and quite often looking at the tv people and missing her mother. 

Several weeks passed and no one heard from Dalida’s parents.  When the police stopped asking such strange questions the dreams stopped coming quite as often or terribly.  But it was when the dreams stopped all together that Dalida first noticed how some people treated her differently. 

“You know you’re a pretty girl?” Mrs. Lossker said one day, almost as a matter of fact. “Did anyone ever take you away from your mother, even for just a short while?” But Dalida didn’t fully understand the question. 

“I don’t.. think so.”  She said.

It wasn’t just that.  Often men and boys treated Dalida differently.  Men would sometimes stare and then just as suddenly look away and refuse to meet her gaze, even walk away from her.  As she was following the rest of the children in the orphanage one day into a theater a man continued to hold the door open in the cold winter for her a very long time as she and another girl ran to catch up and then when they got there, he wouldn’t look at her.  She didn’t understand and thought it was the strangest thing.  A few of the older boys in school avoided her all together and wouldn’t even say hello or talk to her. 

One day when Dalida was still small her class and all the children from the Phyllis Holstrom childrens’ home went to the museum.  There were big animals and little animals, all made from bones and what Dalida guessed was some kind of plastic.  Giant aquariums with sharks and stingrays lined an entire wall of the building and went on forever it seemed.

There were people in long dresses, short tunics and robes.  People with different hair styles and women with crowns in their hair and covered hair like her mother’s stood in front of giant white pillars, with smoke from burning herbs and what she guessed was their food in a large basin in front of them.  A strong man chained to a post turned a mill with the help of only a few others.  They were slaves, Dalida was told, though she had already made out most of the words on the plaque about ancient Sumeria. 

Upstairs the children played with different inventions, toys and mirrors that made them or they way they perceived things change and distort.  Dalida knew those feelings too well she thought.  Then she decided to go back downstairs and watch the fish. She picked up a large purple starfish from a tank where several other children were and looked at it closely until a woman hobbling by caught her attention.  The woman was short, and limping.  She looked mildly distressed as if she was lost.  And Dalida wanted to believe so much, the woman looked so much, like her mother. 

In a flash Dalida dropped the starfish and took off after the woman, before she could even be chided about dropping the animal or running by the touch tank attendant.  When Dalida got to the next room it looked like the woman was already gone.  She didn’t want to make a fuss.  But after all the questions they had asked, so many years ago now about grand parents she never knew and things her mother said or did about foreign places, Dalida was sure she had seen her mother. 

Besides the fact that Dalida had needed to use the restroom before having seen the woman or dropping the starfish, she oddly wondered if the woman had gone into the lady’s wash room at the opposite side of the big entry room.  Then a spark of light caught her eye.  A man and woman entered the door and the sun shone on the window as they walked in, but it was not her mother.  Where had the woman gone so quickly?

Mildly upset, by the time Dalida got to the wash room she had begun to convince herself that she must have been mistaken, and that she was probably going to get in trouble for running if not dropping the starfish.  As she sat there a strange sensation she had never felt before started coming over her, rising in waves from her seat to the top of her head.  The feeling was not altogether disturbing, but also not at all pleasant.  It was then she saw a single eye looking at her through the open slit in the stall’s door.  It was a short dirty looking old man, with beady dark eyes and a long dark beard in a plain brown overcoat. He leered in on her.

“Our Dalida, still such a sweet, pretty little thing.” The man croaked in a small, low voice as his hand came up to the latch at the stall door. 

Dalida closed her eyes and started to scream, but loud footsteps, those of a woman in heels startled her.

“What’s going on? Is everything ok in here?” It was Mrs. Lossker. 

“It was that man.  The one from under the lamp post.  The one…”  Now Mrs. Lossker looked truly alarmed. 

“… from my nightmares.”  Dalida continued, now unsure of herself and all that had just occurred.  “I thought I saw my mommy.” The little girl started crying. 

“Oh sweety, it’s been years.  I don’t think that’s possible.  Finish up and we’re all having ice cream down at the food court. But if you fall asleep in the wash room again.. well you really don’t want to be getting any demerits on the trip, this close to the holiday do you Dalida?”  The woman ended sternly.

“No, Mrs. Lossker.” Dalida replied, meekly.  

Dalida was too frightened to enjoy the rest of the field trip and convinced she had seen her mother she refused to join the other children on the tour or during the theater show.  She sat with an unfinished ice cream cone until it was time to leave and sulked back onto the bus where she sat in the very back and with her head hung low avoided speaking to anyone she didn’t have to.  Several years passed and Dalida didn’t have any more dreams about the dirty old man, and fewer and fewer about her mother and father until one day she snuck off school grounds during an extended recess to meet a small group from the other nearby school. 

Several years passed until Dalida was no longer so tiny, though still rather meek and missing her mother who she thought of often. 

“What if we get caught Jane?” A rather different, taller, thinner and yet curvier looking Dalida asked her best friend. 

“No sweat De.  We just say Mr. Whiskers was meowing to us from inside the parsons building again and who knows what would have happened to him if we waited until last bell to save his dumb ass.  Some delinquents probably would have found him.” Jane said, laughing. 

“I mean, what if we get caught all the way down on fifth street?” Dalida asked, a tight grimace across her face.  She could count the friends that would ever agree to do anything like this with them on one hand.  Even though they were a year or two past that most terrible age, a few boys still teased Dalida relentlessly.  The other girls were glad for the relief and Janie was her only solace.

“Well then we are in deep doo doo Dede, because I definitely plan on seeing what Andy Stoval’s chin stubble feels like at third base.  Those guys are some of the few that aren’t really freaked out by us, you know?” Jane smiled wickedly.  But Dalida couldn’t help but register the slight.  It wasn’t Janie so much.  All boys were weirded out by Dalida.  She was too tall, moved too rapidly, like a bird always about to fly away, too something… 

“Don’t be base now Janie.  We don’t want to be mistaken for those kinds of girls.” Dalida quipped, both girls laughing now.  Soon they had found the deserted alley and joined the group of boys sitting around telling dirty jokes. 

“Isn’t there some kind of rhyme you’re supposed to say?” Andy Stovie asked between puffs on a stale cigarette. Smoke rose up in the small urban alley where a group of young teenagers trying to act older than they were gathered around a small, empty, spinning glass soda bottle.

“Only if you’re a faggot.” Mike Walden a short stocky boy with a flat nose and crew cut taunted. 

Dalida flinched slightly at the word but not enough for any of the other boys to notice and she and Janie were the only two girls.  Suddenly the bottle stopped with the opening pointed squarely at Dalida.  She looked up to the small pack of boys jeering and then pounding several wallops on the back of Marky Coopley as he looked sheepishly up and into her face. 

“IN THE PIT! IN THE PIT!” They all started chanting, Janie placing her fingers in her teeth and whistling loudly. 

“Ten in the pit!” Mike shouted, paddling Mark Coopley with an audible thwack on his jean’s covered back side, herding him into the dark corner of a pile of boards, tires and metal sheeting, turned into a makeshift hiding spot, the crew had labeled “the pit.” For all the girls’ talk of when and where they wanted to lose their virginity, this sadly seemed as likely a place as any.  But it was Dalida who was the real hold out and she noticeably squirmed as Mike Walden held his hand and arm out graciously towards the opening in the dark dugout. 

Dalida had tried a few things… since learning about them in biology class.  She knew what they were from the other kids, but she wasn’t sure they were safe, or normal until they had to memorize different lists of sexual behaviors in men and women for their chapter on reproductive anatomy and behavior.  If it was so normal, why couldn’t she do them? It wasn’t for lack of trying.  All the other signs were there.  The feelings were definitely there, but every time she tried, something strange happened, like all the feeling was sucked out of her before she could even get started.  And then sometimes, something even worse happened.  There was a darkness and a fear… no, terror, inside her that kept her from going forward.  And that scared her most of all, even more when the nightmares came back.  At first she didn’t know why she couldn’t move, just that she was paralyzed as her mother sat on the bed next to her and hummed in a low voice.  Then she realized she was tied down, her hands, her wrists, her whole body.  One particularly bad nightmare ended with her mother sobbing as she was sure her throat was tied and she was about to be hung. 

“You be sweet to little Marky now.  It’s his first time and all.”  Mike taunted, the other  boys chuckling.

“Hi” Dalida whispered within the confines of the dark, dingy space. 

“Uh, Hi.” Mark Coopley answered, his voice cracking slightly. 

“This is so stupid.” Dalida said quickly, trying to laugh as she put her hand on Mark’s.

“I know.  I mean what are we supposed to do for ten minutes in this dirty little hobo cave?”  Mark asked, trying to laugh back and not sweat too profusely into the hand Dalida had grasped.  If they at least touched, Janie couldn’t challenge their turn and take Mark instead of whoever her bottle spin landed on, which everyone knew would be Andy, except for maybe Mark.  So Dalida decided to immediately save them all the trouble of any hurt feelings by going ahead and grabbing Mark’s hand, until she realized he might have just gotten the very wrong idea. 

“Hey do you want to get out of here?” Mark asked, sincerely.

“What do you mean?”  Dalida said, a little confused.  

“I mean on the other side of the sheeting, the other door back there leads down to Rodan’s Alley.” Mark replied, a real look of relief beginning to spread on Dalida’s face.

“Sure, but isn’t that where all those sleazy porn shops are.  Won’t they catch us?”  Dalida replied with mixed trepidation.

“No, not this time of day.  Hardly anyone is in there.” Mark said, pulling her along in the dark of the hut until they came back out into the open air of a much smaller alleyway.  Mark held his finger up to his mouth.  Dalida smiled playing along, listening to the other kids still jeering at them on the other side of the pit. 

They came out into a street lined with neon signs advertising video arcades and playbill posters of various strippers.  Without any warning a police officer stepped out into the street barely five feet in front of them.  Dalida’s eyes went wide as Mark pulled them into the nearest book store.  They ran quickly towards the back, the clerk absorbed in the unfolded newspaper’s local want ads.  Endless racks of magazines and old videos filled a huge back section of the store that went down into an even larger basement.  In the far corner were hundreds of old Japanese comics depicting all kinds of strange and odd sexual scenarios, some more disturbing than others.  Mark and Dalida leafed through several with Dalida eventually working her way into the more graphic and experimental section.  She lost track of the last time Mark had nudged her, laughed and made her look at some bizarre and disturbing sex act, drawn on black and white paper. 

On the cover of the next book was a small girl holding a lollipop, only it wasn’t just any girl.  It was Dalida.  But it couldn’t be.  Surely any number of twisted misogynists and pedophiles had thought of sexualized little girls walking to school holding their parents hands.  She opened the pages and kept turning them.  There she was in the museum with the starfish, except when she went to the bathroom several men raped her brutally as her mother stood there and watched.  Dalida dropped the book, traumatized and full of the deepest, most hideous repulsion. Where had Mark gone? 

She looked all around and then finally turned around to what remained of the corner shelves.  Standing there on the other side reading was the little man, now shorter than she was, his beard almost all the way down to the floor.  His face was dirty and his eyes bored into her as he looked up and began to speak. 

“Would you like to see your mother, dear?”  He croaked, what passed for a smile escaping his black mouth and grey lips. 

“Who are you?” Dalida asked full of loathing and frustration.

“I am the Patriarch.”  The old man replied, then somehow looking a little more full of himself and not quite as digusting as he had just a moment before.  But then Dalida wasn’t exactly sure she wasn’t imagining him again. 

“Yes.” She said, flatly and at once, not hesitating further. 

He walked out from behind the rack that was almost at his own eye level and proceeded into the dark of the video booths.  Several men looked up and came forward, but when they saw that Dalida was a girl and young and in company of the Patriarch they withered quite quickly and if she wasn’t mistaken, fearfully back into the darkness and shadows of their individual theaters and booths.  They reached a larger, dimly lit booth where the small old man shut and locked the door behind them.  This booth had neither holes in the walls or doors like the others.  The Patriarch deposited two quarters into the machine in front of them and the shutters went up. 

An aging woman sat on a dirty, rusted bed in a dark grey room with letters and pornographic cartoon images of young girls, yellowed, taped, pasted and pinned to the walls in every spot at every corner.  She was humming.  It was Dalida’s mother.  She was sure of it.  The woman brushed her long graying hair, but something more was the matter.  Thick strands of her hair were in clumps on her lap and were coming out in her hands as she brushed it.  Her face was haunted and had a dark bruised, red rash around the lips and right cheek going all the way up to one bright red eye.  Her hands shook as she put the brush down.

“MOMMIE!!!” Dalida yelled, running up to pound on the glass and demand her mother be set free.  But there was only a projection, no glass, no metal shutters.  She clawed at the plaster. 

 “I love you so much Dalida.  I have always loved you.  I would do anything for you.” The old woman said, smiling without any teeth and putting her hand up against the window in front of her and between them on the screen.  Dalida raised her much larger hand and placed it on the exact same spot.  She wept as her mother hummed and the bed she sat on creaked. 

“Will you take her place Delilah?”  The Patriarch jeered at her. 

But when she looked back only the attendant was standing there and the projector was completely off. 

“You’re going to have to find another place lady.  Right now, before I get seriously canned.  I don’t care how fake your ID is.”  The man said, holding a mop and pointing to the exit back across the end of the hall, past the racks of magazines and manga porn. 

Dalida ran, wiping tears from her eyes.  Was she mad?  Was she going crazy?  She stepped out of the book store and then immediately back into another.  Mark was at the end of the street being seated in the back of that police officer’s patrol car.  She didn’t get a clear look to see if his hands were in cuffs or not. 

“Hey kid.  You can’t be in here!  Beat it!” Another clerk admonished her as she ran out of that store and made a bee line for the alleyway that ran back to the fifth street alley.  She was late.  It was very late and she had already missed sixth and seventh period and after school roll call as she hadn’t signed out that day.  She was in big trouble and would have to make up something good.  Something better than… my mother’s still alive, trapped in another dimension with some kind of evil pedophile porn wizard who calls himself the Patriarch.  And after I find my mother I’m going to kill him.   

She never saw Mark Coopley again.  By some stroke of luck Andy Stoval dumped Jane first so the terrible things he told her about Dalida didn’t end up mattering much, but whatever they were, they were enough to not only keep the other boys away for good but get them transferred to another school, if not expelled.

“How do you think she found out?  I mean she’s like your house mom at the Phyllis House, right?” Janie asked one day as Dalida rubbed her shoulders, after staying away from the subject for almost six months. 

“Thank you for believing me, Jane.  No one does, really.” Dalida said, as Jane turned her head, looking her friend square in the eyes.  “I swear I didn’t tell old Lossker or anyone.  I don’t know how they found out.” But that was a lie.  It was the Patriarch and his minions.  It had always been the Patriarch.  She knew that better than anyone, even the police.

“It… it had something to do with my parents.” She went on.  “I can’t tell you.  Because it’s just an idea I have and might not be true. But the way, people treat me sometimes.  Men I’ve never even met.”  Dalida continued but Jane wasn’t having it.  At that, she openly guffawed. 

“De, you try to hide it.  You let your hair fall in your face constantly and never wear makeup like the rest of us.  But you’re drop dead gorgeous and everyone knows it.”  Jane replied with some umbrage in her voice. 

Dalida sighed, but Jane’s grimace was cold and genuine.  “I’m sorry.  I know losing your parents was horrible and everything that followed and not even being able to use your real name because of the family mafia, and wanting to find your family before they find you or whatever it is.  That has to be completely horrible.”  Jane offered some solace.  But it was much worse than that and Dalida couldn’t really tell Jane, to burden her after what had already happened, or worse endanger her, was unthinkable.  Besides she wasn’t exactly upset that Andy Stoval was out of the picture.

“What all.. did Andy say anyway?” Dalida asked with some trepidation.

“Just what you already told me, that some people were still really weirded out by whatever happened to your parents.  Not.. us.”  Jane said nervously, but again, it was much worse than that. Dalida sat there with her hand on the small of Jane’s back and her tongue tightly tied. 

Many years passed and for a time Dalida thought she might forget about the Patriarch all together if not for the occasional question about her parents and background.  Dalida graduated high school near the head of her class and went on to college.  She visited huge cities near her home, foreign cities with strange names, huge sprawling cities with strange foods and festivities, country towns with piquant languages and customs, desert cities with strange clothing, hot, rainy cities with almost no clothing and extra crowded cities, but when she got to an old continental city far from home one evening her nightmares returned. 

Dalida walked down a sloped, cobbled ancient continental street with one of the professors of her graduate program in architecture, and several other students, mostly girls vying to be the next paramour of their doctor, that or secure a solid A grade, in which case the accomplishment would be all or nothing.  Dalida was indifferent and thoroughly enjoying the experience of becoming more fluent in one of her favorite old languages, first hand.  In a shop window she saw a bright orange pastry that reminded her of something foreign and distant, something she couldn’t quite recall from her childhood.  She walked over to study it more closely and then entered the bakery.

“I’ll catch up!” She waved to one of her girlfriends, who casually waved back.

The entire sweet shop had an almost mesmerizing quality to it.  The red pastries popped out at her just as much as the orange had and when she was through picking, she had order two very full boxes. 

“Can you have the second one sent to the hotel..” And that was when she noticed the man outside, his suit the same tone and color of the door frame he stood in across the street.  How long had he been standing there.  He looked quite comfortable, leaning on the door frame, a small suitcase at his feet.  And then, like so many men before, she had never met, or gotten close to, he looked away and refused to meet her eyes.  She darted out of the bakery, leaving her pastries and credit card on the counter. 

“Hey!! Who are you?” She demanded in the city language from the far side of the street.  The man quickly picked up his suit case and overcoat brushing the concrete steps began to shuffle away.  “Stop, right now or I’ll scream!  I know who you are!  Why are you following me?!?”  She threatened, already yelling.  To her surprise, the man did stop.  He looked terrified. 

“Please, please.  They’ll kill me.  I just.. didn’t believe, couldn’t believe it was really you.  I had to know.. to find out.  And it is!  It is you!” The well dressed, somewhat older man pleaded in rapid fire of the continental language.  He continued to step back and walk away.  Then when he was sure she wouldn’t follow he turned and ran. 

Dalida stood, angrily holding her fist, wanting to run after, but knowing she wouldn’t as her eyes welled up and she began to cry the first tears she had felt in some time. 

Back at the quaint hotel with the tiny room that was actually a suite, the phone rang almost fifteen times, after catching voice mail the first five, before a scratchy voice answered, “Hello, who is this?” 

“It’s Dalida.  I’m sorry.  There isn’t anyone else I could talk to about this.  There was a man here, Jane, in fucking Lisbon.”  She cried, tears and too many days of more than light drinking clouding her mind and vision. 

“You can’t call me like this D.  I have a kid and a career now.  Didn’t you talk to your therapist about this?  You’re not drinking and having regular overnight company again are you.” The woman on the other end asked. 

Despite all that she had confided in Jane Wallstone, Jane had never quite believed her.  The men who she rarely had sex with and even more rarely had any kind of good sex with had always been admirers, as if somehow they already knew her.  That had really given her therapist pause and that’s when she stopped talking about strange men to anyone all together. 

“The last time I had an orgasm was with you Jane Wallstone, but thank you for caring.” Dalida hung up the phone and began to sob.  Hot rivers of salt poured more freely than they had in years.

But suddenly she caught herself and stopped.  How could she not have noticed.  Across the small separate room made into a living area, behind the sofa and next to the kitchenette the door adjoining the next suite over was wide open with the lights on from the other side.  That was highly unusual and for a moment Dalida looked around uncertain if she was safe.  Then it occurred to her, the cleaning staff must have accidentally left the door open.

Until crawling and oozing out of her worst childhood nightmares a rotund and very short dirty old man with a very long beard appeared in the shadows standing back from the doorway, Dalida almost screamed. 

“Come have a seat Dalida. We have much to discuss and not much time to discuss it.” The old man croaked.  “There’s hot cocoa like your father used to make you.” She was frozen with a repulsion worse than fear and wanted nothing from him. Nothing but answers she knew she wouldn’t get anyway. 

“What. What are you?” She asked, unflinching, venom dripping off her teeth and tongue. 

“An old worn hat, with slimy, rancid green veins, dug up off an unlucky corpse and best forgotten, but for some of the worst mistakes a man or anyone else can make in this life.” The little man replied holding his arm out, towards what must have been the identical style of matching furniture in the next suite over. 

She got up and slowly walked toward the door.  She was not prepared for the scene that met her.  The door had been bolted and locked from the inside.  She didn’t see a separate entrance but knew there had to be one.  What appeared to be yellow poorly stripped and stained wallpaper at first were hundreds and hundreds of old letters, drawings and pictures, taped, pinned and stuck to the walls.  At the barest, splintered wooden desk behind an antique push button type writer and stacks of paper in a hard backed chair sat an old woman with long stringy hair, matted at the top.  With vacant, cataract blue eyes, and sores all over her paper white face, arms, legs, feet and chained ankles she looked towards the girl who had just entered the room.  It couldn’t be the same woman.  But her face, her smile.  It looked like her mother after all these years. 

“Hello Dalida,” the old woman croaked, beaming madly, blind with crooked, rotten teeth. 

The walls crawled all around Dalida.  In different handwriting, many barely scrawled, some typed and a few cut out from letters and words in newspapers and magazines were letters, notes and drawings of her and to her. 

On yellow legal pad paper:

Dear Dalida,  The scene with the burning curling irons in your ass and cunt while you are about to be hung was the dirtiest yet.  I hope you came because you certainly deserved to be fucked bloody and burnt, screaming a real man’s name in pure agony before burning alive from the inside out.  You may look like her, but we all know what a gypsy whore you are like all the rest.  Some forty years old washed up whore, with a dirtier mind than any of the pervs who pay to pull her hair and smack her around a little.  When you want to know what real hate for a bitch like you feels like, I know you’ll write back. 

Cut and pasted from magazine letters and words:

Dear Dalida: The stories aren’t like they used to be when you were younger and still pretended like you didn’t really know what was going on.  Those were the best.  When you would cry and scream and kick and beg to stop it was so much like the real thing. 

Scrawled in large handwriting:

I want to feel your butt hole push out it is stretched so tightly around my cock while I choke you Dalida.  It is the best feeling.  You talk about it perfectly, like you know.  It clenches really really tight just when they stop fighting and screaming so much.  Though sometimes the screaming is the best part.  When it clenches tight like that after starting to push out you only have another minute or so before it completely relaxes.  That is the best time to cum when it gets loose outside her butt hole and her perty eyes are still open.  How did you know? 

Countless scraps of notes and letters, some very old, others nearly white filled the walls almost around the whole room.  Dalida began to cry again. 

“You’re not my mother.  I’m sorry.  Whatever happened to you.  Her. Us.  You’re not her.”  Dalida meant it and believed it, though the pain of doubt burned hot in her mind like one more deranged note stuck to the wall of the Patriarch’s tomb. 

“But we are your family Dalida.  The only family you have now.” Coaxed the Patriarch.

“Noo.” Dalida demanded, sobbing. 

“Will you take her place?  End her suffering?”  The little man asked, but Dalida was unsure of his rhetoric, or was it sarcasm. 

“I’m going to expose you and kill you.  All of you.” She swore, solemnly. 

The little man sighed.  “That might resolve a few things.  But I think you know better.  I think you know that’s not possible.  Our family is… special.  And the reasons we are here talking now and suffering these consequences are thankfully very rare, but also… special.” The Patriarch half explained without revealing anything. 

“I expected you to talk in riddles if we met again.  I’m not afraid of you.  You’re just another terrorist.  Your magic is no match for the good, healing kind.  It never will be.” Dalida swore. 

“Well then, join us and replace her.  By all means.  Since you have all the answers dear.” The old man said, irritation and impatience seeping through his cold exterior.

“You could replace her you know.  Then you would know who they are.  You could hunt them down personally, the very worst ghost for revenge out of their putrid fantasy turned nightmares.  And I think you know, they are the true nightmares.  Some of them have actually… indulged.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now.” The man who wafted of sour, inedible cheese and stale tobacco tried to convince her. 

“You’re not an ordinary girl, Dalida.  That name for instance…” He went on.

“It’s just a name.  There are lots of Dalida.” She argued. 

“No!” He retorted, somewhat sharply.  “That boy, after you fell from the roof without a scratch.  The pigeon.  Exactly how many times have you been sick dear, just that once.  And all those poor, poor men.  It’s a wonder you’ve never been… raped.”  At that the Patriarch’s eyebrows rose into points. 

Dalida was confused but intent on not letting him get the better of her.  “Poor nothings.  You get what you bargain for when you go home with a drunk girl from a bar that has Frank Miller posters on her wall.  Accidents happen.  Bobby’s fine now and it’s not like I don’t bleed when I’m cut.  And… and the pigeon had it coming, even if I did get the flu right after we did that.” Dalida looked down, unsure of herself now, but still adamant about ruining this man and everything he stood for.  

“Yes, that poor bird.  And why do you think they call me the Patriarch dear.  They will come for you if she stops.  They will come for all of us.  Especially the boys, always the small boys they cherish the most.  They ruin them.  You don’t know what true terror or magic is until you’ve seen it in the eyes of an animal with a hatred so sick of man that it can barely stand to be one.  There aren’t enough demons to wrest the violence from that sort.” The Patriarch said, speaking a mixture of ancient lies and wisdom, Dalida could neither discern nor judge any true value from. 

“My mother!  This woman, doesn’t deserve that!” Dalida almost shouted, choking back tears again. 

“Perhaps not.  But there are worse consequences.  Your father begged, you know.  Begged us to protect you.  I told him it was impossible.  Do you really want to prove me now, after all this time, so absolutely and irredeemably right?” The little man said, clutching the ring on his pinky finger hobbling over towards a black cane, leaning against the closet door. 

“That’s not for you to decide! We all have to struggle with life’s disappointments and betrayals of circumstance. We all have to find responsible ways to justify the violence in our hearts.” Dalida argued, her very soul boring into what had been made unnecessarily tragic and lost by the Patriarch.

“Maybe so.  But your father chose not to hide you.  He was warned.  How many thousands of good years of fortune, of the very Gods smiling down on our family?  The hidden may not exactly be free, but they are safe.  And don’t be so naïve as to think I am the only one.  In over a thousand years, that’s you my dear.  And was your mother, what’s left of her.” The old man said, looking not at the woman but the typewriter and stacks of blank paper on the desk. 

Dalida was infuriated beyond rational thought and still a little hung over from the previous few days.  She leapt towards the closet door with her hand out.  But somehow, lightning fast the Patriarch was quicker.  The closet door opened to reveal an impossible alleyway, with signs in ancient Arabic and women in sheer pajamas dancing inside a tavern mere feet away from the closet door.  The Patriarch’s fist clutched the cane moments before the door rushed at Dalida’s outstretched hand, stubbing her fingers.  Like a whirlwind the papers along the walls and all of the strange furnishings in the room, including the bolts on the door were sucked into the closet and into the tavern on the other side of the closet. There Dalida saw the Patriarch with her mother before him begin climbing a small set of wooden stairs.  Dalida tried to follow and for a moment thought the whirlwind would take her right along with it until the closet door smacked shut in front of her with a deafening silence behind it. 

The room was as normal as it could be, resembling the same suite as her own.  She wrenched the door handle open to reveal a bare closet with empty coat hangers, jangling just as likely from the force with which she had opened the door as anything else. 

Dalida tried to breathe in any air that would come.  But she choked on her own breath, sobs menacingly rising again from her throat.  Her legs crumpled beneath her and exhausted beyond shame or any awareness of self-pity Dalida truly balled.  She dug at the beige carpet with her fingers until they bled, grabbing the comforter from the bed in an attempt to muffle her screams.  She didn’t want to go on, but couldn’t stop herself.  Who could help her? If not a therapist, certainly no religious authority would believe her.  Maybe someone else, but she might as well take a stab in the dark.  There was no help for this sort of thing. 

Beginning to feel nauseous, Dalida finally wound down enough to get in bed and stay there for a good while, forcing herself to remember happy moments with her father and mother. If the visage of Ms. Lossker transforming into the Patriarch disturbed her rest more often than she liked, she just imagined stabbing it in the face, like she had been dared to do to the pigeon on the roof so many years ago.    

Dalida didn’t see a Portuguese beach again for nearly a decade, and then she saw them twice more before any of the Patriarch’s men knowingly disturbed her.  She wondered occasionally if the old woman was still alive, but not about what she wrote.  She knew the Patriarch was still alive as sure as her skin didn’t sag or wrinkle the same way as other women her age or how she had never needed even a minor surgery.  But her thick peppered hair and rimmed glasses began to tell a different story and Dalida’s few friends eventually got used to the idea that they would always be held at arm’s length and any sexual encounters were never really going to be sexual or more than temporary amusements for Dalida.  Still, she did not shy away from sex.  In her own way, she fought what the Patriarch represented, even if it did make her feel tired, her joints more achy and hair a little whiter each time she broke off a relationship with a sycophant turned admirer. 

“They fall hard for that one.” Was her long time editor’s taunt whenever the subject of Dalida’s asexuality came up.  It was a spring day during a period of political unrest she hadn’t remembered since her early youth that an unmarked lavender envelope arrived on her desk without an explanation.  Long since feeling the need for any concern over such a delivery she opened the package like she would any.  Inside was a neatly folded newspaper clipping.  Obituaries.  Ms. Lossker had died.  Instead of flowers, donations to the Phyllis house were being taken. 

But that wasn’t all.  The paper folded inward, with the back looking plain enough, Dalida unfolded the rest of the paper.  Out fell a small clipping from a separate paper.  Woman in Greydons Park Square stabbed and raped by gang of men.  Jane Wallstone an investment leaves behind two sons, and a reward for any information on the killers police suspect to be members of the South Street gang, possibly mistaking Mrs. Wallstone for a rival member’s mother. 

Dalida’s veins turned to ice.  She hadn’t kept up with Jane after… after her breakdown in Lisbon all those years ago.  She had stayed in bed for almost a week, raving, hallucinating.  The concierge said she had broken into the suite next door, tearing the knob right off the door, before they took her to the hospital and flew her home with a private nurse she later found out Jane had paid for.   But there was no response to the thank you note, or the Christmas card that year, or the one after that. 

Who would send this to her? 

The office manager could only remember a strange man, someone new from the mail room.  But he didn’t stick around, so they thought he must have been a day temp. 

Was it him?  It wasn’t them.  But one of them wanted her to know it had happened, just the same.  Exactly the thing he had warned, and sworn she was protected from, except of course someone who was possibly her very best friend.  Had he read the story too, entertained by it, aroused by it?  Her stomach turned. 

She was on the next flight to Chicago and introduced herself to the two boys  she had never met as an old school acquaintance.  Jane’s ex glanced at her quick enough to give her the idea that neither of them were really welcome at the funeral by anyone that remembered them.  It started raining before they left the cemetery and well into the night.  The beats against Dalida’s hotel window drowned out the sounds of screaming until she could no longer ignore them. 

Suddenly she was running.  Someone was chasing her and her side hurt terribly.  Then she stopped and someone caught her. She was inside some kind of enclosed box made from scraps and trash.  Outside, children were yelling something,

“Ten in the pit!  Ten in the pit!”

“Slow down D.  We’ve got all night.”  A woman with a ponytail wrapped tightly behind her head hugged Dalida affectionately.  When she stepped back Dalida saw Jane, her face, eyes and chin, scratched, muddy and a pale bluish gray.  She smiled revealing a deep cut from one side of her lip back into her mouth, and another wide gash at her throat.  The former dripped small black droplets as she spoke the latter gushed deep crimson down her chest staining the hospital gown over her front. 

“Relax.  I could only come to you this way once.  You won’t remember likely, from now on.” Jane said. 

“Did… did he do this to you?  Did they do this?” Dalida asked, terrified.  Another spot of blood grew and began staining the hospital gown and dripping down from around the body’s groin area. 

“Nnnoo.  Not directly.” The dead woman said, her cheek opening in a grotesque slit, her eyes milky.  “But he’s never going to stop as long as he has someone to tell the stories.  There are things he’s forbidden from doing, like killing you.  He thinks as long as he feeds his addiction solely off you, his kind and your kind will avoid the kind of endings that happened to me.”  Jane explained. 

“But he’s wrong.” Dalida guessed.

“But he’s wrong, or I wouldn’t now be a part of your story.  Not like this.”  Jane said, smiling, cheek gashing. 

“I can’t remember how many times I swore I would end him.” Dalida said, gritting her teeth. 

“W-why haven’t you D?” Jane asked, her voice low and sincere.  “I think you know where you can find him.” She added suddenly in her jogging outfit, slowly kneeling backwards onto the ground, hands around her throat, laying down, eyes staring up wide in terror, regaining the posture she had when they found her. 

Dalida jumped. 

“Hey lady, you can’t be here.” A fat, balding police man ran up to her, yelling. 

She was surrounded by yellow police tape and markers were around the spot on the ground where Jane had just been.  She stifled an urge to ask the police man how she got there in the middle of the night in her sleep clothes. 

“Ain’t you a little chilly, wearing that this time of night?” The police man. 

“I’m sorry.  My friend died and I just had to see for myself before going home.” She improvised, climbing under the police tape and backing away.  Turning around she continued walking, picking up her pace until she saw her parked rental car under a street lamp.  Had she been asleep the whole time?  Was that Jane’s doing? 

She decided not to go back to the hotel.  She would confront the Patriarch here and now, with Jane’s and her own resolve still fresh.  She would defeat him once and for all.  Pulling the small hand gun and holster from under the hidden compartment behind the dash, she strapped the gun to her side under her shirt.  She wasn’t familiar with the seedier parts of the town she was in.  But after following the likely foot traffic on the street and random single male in a car late at night she quickly picked up the usual trail. 

Women and likely a few men looked at her as though she must be lost, that or stalking an errant cheating husband or boyfriend on the wrong part of the tracks.  Was she too small, frail or even old, or just female to be making object investigation, or maybe even an actual customer?  Glares from strangely dressed denizens huddled in doorways and at street corners told her all those assumptions were mostly true.  She pulled up and parked in front of a row of neon magenta, and powder blue lights.  The two furthest were bookstores and simple peep shows.  The one she wanted was right beside her; gold columns at the front entrance revealed a chintzy appeal to class. 

Locking the car she tucked her shirt in and double checked her equipment before walking into the sound of blaring techno music.  It was late, but the weekend crowd had a vibrancy that would keep everyone there up at least until dawn.  The man at the counter waived her through.  Ladies didn’t pay covers in a place like this, though Dalida thought he could have mistaken her for someone that worked there.  She laughed then, unlikely.  The waitress came up to her almost as soon as she sat down.  She ordered her usual gin and soda.  The next act was a double.  The women were skilled dancers.  She hadn’t expected that.  But it was exactly the place he would come for her, exactly the kind of fare he couldn’t resist. 

After she threw back the third gin, he just managed to catch the corner of her eye.  It was a man in a gray suit, plain face, too plain, like he never smiled at anything decent in his whole life.  He was trying to avoid looking at her.  She didn’t play nice with them anymore and he had probably been warned.  But the way the rules worked he would have been there anyway.  He would have seen her anyway.  And when he was sure it was her, which now he was, he almost physically would not be able to resist staying near her, looking upon her, remembering her and all the stories.  After all, they were the very best he and the rest had ever read. 

“Better than the real thing.” Some even dared to say. 

The couple on stage swayed this way and that, grabbing the silver fixed pole in the center stage, buttocks flaring upwards as they dived.  Dalida was mesmerized or was it the seventh gin.  Slowly the stage began to quake and split apart.  Dalida smiled and remained still while the other patrons gasped, shouted out and ran back to the bar away from the stage.  The dancers continued dancing as if nothing had changed and the strange man also transfixed continued to stare at her and them from across the room as if nothing unusual were happening.  Fog lights and swirling vapor emanated from under the stage where a stair case lead down underneath the dancing duo. 

Dalida stood, clutching the table at first for support and then walked straight to where the stage had been and down the newly formed stair well. 

“Dalida, I knew you’d come.  After all this time, I knew it.” A woman’s scratchy voice greeted her in the dark.  On an old stained single bed with yellowed sheets against a black wall, a nearly bald woman with sores on her head and face and pale blind eyes grinned at her.  Scattered were more deranged letters in scrawled ink, newspapers and magazines with the faces of models cut out and drawings, some the woman had blindly through memory been recently working on. 

“I love you so much Delilah.  I have always loved you.” But the old womans’ words were distorted, tortured and somehow forced, the last few strands of her dish water gray hair barely covering the red scabs and rashes on her scalp and face. 

“Will you take her place Delilah?”  Another familiar voice whispered in the darkness.

Again tears poured out of the matriarch’s sunken, hollow, now both pale blue, blind eyes.  A faint smile scratched across her face, with the name ‘Dalida’ still faintly on her lips. She caressed the younger woman’s arm who had sat down on the filthy bed beside her, mouthing the word ‘Dalida’ over and over again, grinning a mouth full of black rotten sharp teeth.  Dalida wept for the evil creature this woman had become and been enslaved to and her soul screamed at the possibility it was truly her mother.  Somehow whatever the Patriarch had done to this living rot of demonic monstrosity, Dalida knew it was not her mother.  It may have never even been human, but Dalida’s mother had died a long time ago. 

“You cheated! That’s not how it works!” An even creakier old voice shouted from the darkness. 

“No.  They did.  Or someone did.  Someone not quite as evil as you or what you’ve made this woman into.” Dalida countered.   

“I don’t know why I came.  Why do you do this?  Why don’t you let us go?  Who is this woman and who are you?  WHERE IS MY MOTHER!!! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY FATHER!!!”  Dalida shouted, finally enraged beyond her own control. 

“You know, I think I will take HER place, and YOURS.”  And with that Dalida pulled the weapon from her back and fired a single shot that registered with the woman’s forehead.  As blood splattered behind her hitting the wall she fell sideways onto the bed with deep crimson pooling over her newly finished lavender colored drawings.

The patriarch scrambled.  His hands went up.  He turned and cowered behind the very chair he had been sitting in.  The few men and phantom guards in the darkness around them were suddenly frightened and abandoned them entirely.  They were alone.  Dalida sat on the bed next to her mother and wiped the few silver corn silk strands of hair from her pinkish gray worn face and empty eyes and sobbed.

“Are you going to k-kill me?  Is it going to e-end?”  The patriarch looked terrified, maddened, confused. 

Dalida sat for a moment, silent.

“No, you’re going to keep hearing and telling others’ stories, forever.  They will never be hers or about me again, but you will always come back, unable to resist the idea that one day, one will be. You must leave this place and any like it and never come back or what I want to happen to you in the end will torment you more than anything you could possibly imagine.”  Dalida stopped sobbing and put her weapon down on the bed beside her. 

It was a long time before Dalida attempted any kind of intimate relations again, though she did make more than a few acquaintances who favored dealing in sex for a living, often lonely older and younger women who also had strange aversions to real relationships.  And despite her ability to make a mean whiskey sour behind the bar, she stopped drinking all together.  After some time Dalida didn’t think about the Patriarch as much, though she guessed their family’s history was older than any book or story could tell her.  That fact eased some of the loss she felt about not having any other family. 

On third Wednesdays, once a month without fail, an old man would show up for story time.  Months or now was it years past, the children’s collection specialist, Dr. Emerstein had been told he was kindly enough and something unfortunate had happened to his son and seven year old granddaughter.  Ms. Keating and her daughter, Laney had decided to go by the bakery and pick up a dozen oatmeal cookies for the group that day, as Laney proudly described to Dr. Emerstein, “with raisins.”

They would all sit, with good patience and quiet as Molly Emerstein would read, inflecting with little people voices when the animals would be talking and serious voices when the adults would talk, and concerned or inquisitive voices when the children would talk.  Occasionally Dr. Emerstein thought she might have caught him in a smile when one of the fictional story book children did or discovered something new, but then the same pout he always had would return and she never was quite sure. 

At the end of that Wednesday’s story, the Patriarch slowly stumbled over to the refreshment table with his cane, picked up and began nibbling on a single oatmeal cookie.  Laney Keating watched as a single tear formed and slid down the old man’s cheek.

“What’s wrong, you don’t like raisins?”  Asked Laney. 

The old man looked down, his beady black eyes boring into the air before the little girl, otherwise looking lost, otherworldly and nearly pathetic, “Oh, no, no.  It’s just the stories aren’t the same anymore.  Not since… not since…”  And then a small, weak and perturbed cry would escape his lips to the mild alarm of Dr. Emerstein, Ms. Keating and the desk librarian who would pass a quick look of moderate concern among them before returning to stamp each card from the books stacked beside her.

Wobbling out the door once more with cane haphazardly placed at his side, balancing each step, Ms, Keating raised her hand to speak and wave goodbye, but the old man was already gone. 

“What’s his name anyway,” Ms. Keating asked the desk librarian as Dr. Emerstein was engulfed in a serious conversation about next quarter’s additions to the children’s collection with a rather prim and proper parent.

“Sally knows,” the desk librarian replied, shuffling her glasses. 

Sally Gardner had been the main librarian since Ms. Keating was Laney’s age. 

Dalida continued to walk to the park on Sundays and in the spring time would occasionally stop for a coffee at the café she went to in college before walking by the single’s club later at night.  One of the female bouncers predictably laced up in a black leather corset would smile and wink at Dalida, before lighting a cigarette, to which Dalida would half-smile back before lowering her head and walking on. 

If it was a particularly warm and sweet spring night Dalida would come home to her small apartment, brush and stroke her whitening long gray hair, give her plants a late night watering, put on a new lipstick, think of any number of male or female friends who had been more kind than not to her over the past year or so and attempt to pleasure herself.  Except now when she stopped, it wasn’t because of exhaustion or soreness, and she almost never cried, but listened instead to the buzz of lights and conversation from the city below, the small sound of the tv in her retired neighbor’s apartment and the dripping sound of water from her ferns.  And on those nights Dalida did something she missed and liked even better than sex, Dalida dreamed.