A Grimm TributebyMSTarot©
The air is already growing cool on this late September night. I look over at my twin brother.
"You're sure she's gone?" I ask him as we sneak around the back of the tall house. I look up at the lighten windows above us. "What about her tenants? They're home. John, we are going to get caught!" I tell him in a whisper when he ignores me.
"Only if you don't shut up, Margaret. Now hush and help me."
Steaming at my brother I follow him around to the backdoor. I see the lights go off over head. I'm about to point them out to him when my stomach rumbles again. I clutch myself, not only to quiet it but also to try and stop the hunger pains.
It's been four days since I ate anything. I look over at John. It's been even longer for him. He gave what we found to me.
I lookup again. His hunger is making him reckless though.
As he uses the old screwdriver to pop the lock on the door I cringe at the sound. I look around us at the neighboring houses. They are mostly like this one. Three stories tall. The upper floors mostly are rented out, the landlord or in the case of this one the landlady living in the bottom floor.
We started watching this place two days ago, when we saw her leave. She's a very old looking woman, kind of frail. John figures if she was to come back home while we were there he could intimidate her enough she wouldn't call the cops.
I watch my brother going through the door like he had the keys. We have been doing this for the last five years. Ever since...
I shiver away from that memory and focus back on what we're doing. I listen for anyone, but other than a dog down the street barking I can't hear anything.
John gets the second lock almost as quickly as the first. I see the door open, then stop on the chain.
I hand my brother the bolt cutters. We stole them off a construction site one night. I've tried to tell him we need to go back and do more of those. We ate well for a week off what we pawned. John won't hear of it though.
You see all we really ever steal is food from these houses. John's always been worried about getting arrested while trying to sell the things we steal. So we take food and eat the evidence. I mean if there's money lying around or some small thing we can sell quickly we might take that. But mostly it's just food.
My stomach rumbles again. I clutch against the cramps.
"Come on." I tell him. Now it's my hunger that making someone reckless.
We enter into the house as quiet as we can. We have watched to be sure that she doesn't have a dog. That's sometimes hard to tell though. Some dogs are paper-trained. We have encountered some very vicious poodles and cha'who'a'who'as.
No dog. Good. I close the backdoor and turn on the light.
The kitchen is a mess. Dirty dishes fill the sink, and the floor looks horrible. The house has a smell to it as well. Old pee and stale bread.
"Come on lets hurry." Says John as he moves further into the kitchen; he starts to open cabinets.
Going through the kitchen I find a pantry door. When I open it I feel like I'm in heaven.
"Oh my God, John come look."
He reaches into the room and pulls the little string. The single bulb gives us plenty of light to see. Food. The walls are covered with stacks of it. There is a large bag of apples hanging from a hook by the door. I grab two out and hand one to him.
The sweet juice flows down my chin as I bite into the crunch fruit. Oh god it is heaven.
There are several of the cloth grocery bags that have become popular lately. I grab up one and with my apple in my teeth I start filling the bag. Cans of Spam, tuna, cling peaches! I make a note to grab her can opener from the kitchen before we leave.
Have made that mistake once before. Not again.
"I'm going to check the rest of the house and see if I can get us any money." Says John crunching through a mouth full of apple.
I just nod my own mouth too full to speak.
I load can after can into the first bag then grab up a second. I go from the bags of fruit and the boxes of things that we don't have to cook. Cookies, crackers, I grab three bags of potato chips. And stuff them on top of the other bag.
I hear John coming back.
"That was quick did you find anything good?" I bite down on my apple again to hold it while I stuff the second bag, with even more.
When he doesn't answer I turn and look back towards him.
John has his hands in the air! Over his shoulder looking me steady in the eyes is the old lady.
The gun in her wrinkled hands is massive!
"Don't more. You even blink and I'll play William Tell with this other thief!"
I stop my hands where she can see them. She gestures to John to move back a bit more. When he stops I can see his face. He has the apple I gave him held between his teeth, the same as myself. I realize how comical we must look but it's not really funny.
The old lady relaxes just a bit. I see her lean on her cane a little more heavily.
"Well what a nice little pair of piglets I've caught raiding my panty. Apples in their mouths already, just ready for roasting." Her finger cocks back the hammer on the large revolver. "You, boy, move over to that door."
I look where she gestures with her cane. The door is narrower than the one to the pantry.
She glances over at me.
"You stay there!" she raises the gun a bit more. "Don't more or he dies." I watch her guide John over to the door. "Turn and put your hands on the wall. Put the apple on the wall."
I watch my brother as he leans into the wall till the apple in his mouth is touching the faded wallpaper. He's hugged up against it.
"Good. Now boy if I see you even flinch I will blow her head off. Do you hear me?" I see John nod. She turns the big gun towards me. The barrel looks like it's a foot wide. "Alright girl back into the pantry. To the back wall!"
I back up till my back touches the shelves. There are glass jars of home canned food sitting within reach. For a second I think about trying to throw one at her, but the gun stops that idea cold.
With a sweep of her cane she slams the door.
Panting in fear I slowly let my hands drop. I see the door handle rattle then stop. From the other side of the door I hear her voice muffled.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I watch the old woman out the corner of my eye. She slides a chair from under the table to the door and props it under the doorknob.
Her cane jabs me in the back between my shoulder blades.
"Alright, boy, move. Open the door and go down the stairs!"
I back up enough to clear the door. I can feel her cane against my back the whole time. I turn the handle and open the door revealing a steep set of steps leading down into darkness.
She gives me a push in the back!
I put my hand out on the wall and step by step make my way down the stairs about half way down a dim light appears.
The walls are stained with old mold and the ceiling above me is festooned with dusty cobwebs that hide the corners from sight. I step into the dank smell, my eyes taking in the dusty piping and broken assortment of old furniture.
Her cane makes a thumping sound on the steps behind me.
"Over there to your right."
I'm nudged in the back again.
I walk to my right closer to the light. Sitting against the wall in front of me is a massive cast iron box. Large silver wrapped ductwork leads out from the top of it in a twisting maze of piping. There is a large tank sitting next to it with a feeder tube hooked to it. The old furnace looks ancient, but I can see the wiring all looks nearly new.
"Open the hatch!"
I go to give a half turn towards her and her cane pops my ear.
"Open the hatch!"
Moving forward I reach up and turn two handles near the top of the three by four door. Then the two at the bottom. One of them sticks.
"Stop stalling piglet. I'm quickly losing all patience with you. On a count of three I'm repainting my walls red. One...two..."
The handle turns and I pull the door open with a groaning creak.
"Good. Now strip!"
I start to turn again but the hard wood of the cane again hits me in the side of my head. This time hard enough to really hurt.
"Strip! Strip! One...Two...."
I grab the bottom of my shirt and pull it over my head. I push the heels of my shoes off with the other and step out of them. My pants drop to the floor in a pile and I step my feet out the legs.
The dank floor is cold through my socks. The cold chill of the room makes me shiver.
"Every...thing! Now! I swear to God I will blow your head off!" her voice is the gravely grumble of a lifetime smoker. Her cane again pokes my back. "One..."
I know she won't go all the way to three.
I lean over and pull off my socks. My underwear joins my pants by my feet.
"Good, now inside. Inside!"
Her cane is a hard insistent shoving against my back driving me towards the opening in front of me.
I open my mouth and the apple drops to the floor.
"Look lady I'm not going to..."
I feel the cold metal of the gun barrel again the back of my neck just above my shoulders. When she speaks her voice is a cold calm.
"You will climb inside...very slowly. If you do not do it I swear I will put a bullet in your brain and then go upstairs and kill the other little thief in the pantry. Now move."
The gun pushes me.
Ducking my head I step in through the hatch. The inside is covered with a fine layer of black soot. The metal is icy cold under my bare feet. I feel the gun leave my back only to be replaced with the hard tip of her cane.
"Against the back wall."
The sooty metal releases powdery ash as I put my hands against it.
The light disappears as she closes the door behind me. I hear her turn the four handles. After a moment a small hatch about mid way up opened to let back in the light.
I hear something dropped inside.
"Enjoy the apple. It's all you'll get to eat till I decide what to do with you. Oh and don't make a sound. Do you hear me, boy? You make any noise and I swear I will turn on the thermostat upstairs and roast you alive in here."
The hatch closes with a clang that steals the light.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
The door opens after a moment of noise on the other side. The old lady stands framed in the door holding the gun level on me.
"Alright girl, come out of there. Slowly." She backs out the door and into the kitchen.
Stepping back into the filthy kitchen I look around for my brother.
The old woman holds up a piece of dull gray plastic. It looks like a TV remote.
"Alright my little thief, listen well to what I'm going to tell you. The life of the other little piglet hangs on what I'm about to say."
She gestures to the chair that she must have had up under the doorknob.
Eyeing the gun I sit down slowly.
"Alright. I locked your friend in the oil fire boiler downstairs. See this? This is the remote to the thermostat. I had me brand new thermostats put in last year. This little thing will turn on the heater from any room in the house. One push of the button and the oil will flow and the igniters with click. Roasted boy! Do you understand?"
"I understand." I tell her softly.
She nods and lowers the gun. She places it on the table between us. My eyes go to it. When they flick back to her I see her looking at me her eyes narrowed.
"Want the gun?"
She gives it a shove and it slides across the table to right in front of me. I look from it to her. She's holding the remote up her finger on the button.
"Go ahead. Take it. Shoot me. I swear I'll have enough time to push this before I'm gone. You'll kill me sure but I'll live long enough to hear him screaming out of every vent in this house as he's cooked alive!"
I sit back in the chair adding distance from me to the gun. I keep my hands on my knees and in sight.
"Good girl." She slides back a second chair and sits down with a sigh of relief. Her eyes are brimming with hate when she looks up. "Steal food from an old lady? Don't care if I go hungry?"
"We live on the street. We don't have any money for food. We were hungry." I tell her softly, looking away from those hateful eyes.
"Worthless as well as thieves! Your boyfriend looked strong enough. He could get a job somewhere and be able to feed you both. But no.... easier to steal than to earn!"
"He's not my boyfriend he's...my brother." I look up at her. I see her face split in a hideously malicious smile.
"Oh really. Well little sister, your brother's life is literately in my hand. Don't get cute with me. I swear I will cook him just for the pleasure of it!"
I sit back quiet. I can feel her eyes on me the whole time.
"Can you clean? Cook? Do laundry?"
I look up at the questions. I slowly nod not understanding.
She is looking at me with a strange look in her eyes.
"Good. This may work out well."
After a few seconds I spit out the question.
"You're not going to call the police?"
She pushes herself to her feet using the table to help.
"Oh no little girl. You and your...brother, made it personal when you broke into my house. I'll settle this personally. Now get up. Time to earn the food you ate."
Confused I get to my feet. My eyes go back to the gun again lying seemingly forgotten on the table.
"Anytime you feel like it just grab it. I'm an old lady, I'm gonna die soon no mater what. I would love to go out hearing him screaming."
I look over to her. She has a little cabinet door by he back door opened. Her back is too me I could get the gun and shoot her before she could even see me. Then I see her watching me in the refection of the back door's glass.
"Go ahead. I don't have all day for you to make up your mind. Get the gun and let's get to listening to him scream."
I move away from the table.
"Smart girl. Here."
A plastic bucket and a stiff bristled brush land by my feet.
Bending down I pick them up. I look up at her confused.
"There is cleaner under the sink. Scrub the floor." She walks back over to her chair and sits down. She watches me the whole time I'm getting the cleaner and the water. I try at first to bends down to clean.
"Get down on your knees, fool girl!"
With reluctance I kneel down onto the greasy old vinyl. Taking the brush I begin to scrub. The bucket is very quickly filled with filthy water.
When I look up I see her eyes on me. I shiver at the way she is looking at me. It remind me far too much of my....
I look back down and start to scrub harder.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
The old metal is icy cold under my feet. I tried at first to sit down, but after a very short time I had to get back up. The more of me that touches the walls or floor the colder I feel. I can tell I'm getting covered with the ashy soot. It's stinging my eyes. Several times I have to stifle sneezes.
After awhile I fish around on the floor and find the apple. I wish now I had gotten something more to eat before I went to look around. One apple in five days? I'm soon crying silently at the pains in my stomach.
I rub at my cold arms feeling the soot drift off me when I do. I wish I could wipe at my stinging eyes, but that only makes things worse.
I eat the apple... core and all.
The metal is so cold.
I start trying to distract myself with memories. Thinking back to the happier times, when my sister and I were growing up. The warm summers at the beach; the endless days at the lake fishing, swimming.
I can almost hear my Mom and Dad laughing.
The memories of my thirteenth year come back against my will though.
Dad didn't laugh after that. Not once.
The hospitals...the long nights sitting beside my mom's bed.
Dad holding my sister and I as the doctor turned off the machines keeping mom's body alive.
The funeral...then the cold silent days that followed. Finding dad passed out with two empty whiskey bottles. Again and again.
Then that brief spark of light when dad met Marilyn. The smiles coming back to his face. The nights when we would cook dinner for ourselves because Dad was out with her.
The wedding. The silver bells, ringing. The white doves flying off together. For a very few moments it was, if not wonderful, at least better.
Then the night I found Margaret crying. It took me half the night to get out of her what had happen.
What our new stepmother had made her do.
I ran to tell dad.
He slapped me!
My father had never even spanked me since I was maybe five and his large hand nearly took my head off. The whole side of my face stinging I looked at him in horror.
He called me a liar. Said I was just trying to ruin his new life! To ruin the happiness he had found with lies.
When I tried to tell him it wasn't a lie...he slapped me again!
I was sent to my room. Grounded indefinitely.
I found Margaret crying several ties after that.
Then I walked in on her in the bathroom with a razor blade to her wrist!
I wrestled it from her before she could cut herself too deep. I made her listen to me. I got together a bag of our clothes and we slipped out the house and into the night. Never to return.
I shift my feet on the cold floor. I've become a lot more hardened to the world since that night. Five years living on the street will do that to you.
Damn this floor is cold! I blow warm breath between my fingers and rub at my arms.
God I hope Margaret's all right. Lord knows what that crazy woman's doing to her.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
I can feel her eyes on me the whole time I'm scrubbing the floor. Watching me. I soon feel as dirty as the floor was.
I guess in a way I am. My pants knees are covered in the wet grime.
As I'm scrubbing in a corner she gets up and goes into the pantry. When I look up I see her stick her hand back out with the remote held high.
Wiping my forehead on my arm I go dump the dirty water into the sink.
"Come cook this." She sits a can of Campbell's soup down by the stove.
I move over to the stove and taking the can opener open up the can of soup. I go get a full can of water from the sink and pour it into the pan.
In a few minutes it's warm. I watch her move over to a cabinet and get down a bowl. She pours, better than half of it, into the bowl.
"Get the crackers you were stealing out that bag and bring them to Me." she sits down at the table.
The bulging bag of the food I had hoped to be eating mocks me. I take her the crackers.
"Put all that stuff back where you got it from." She points with her spoon. A bit of soup flies off the end and lands on the now clean floor. "Now!"
I grab up the heavy bag and drag it back into the pantry. As I begin to put things up I can hear her slurping soup and crunching crackers.
My stomach rumbles as I restock the shelves. It takes a long time. I had loaded up a lot of food.
I put the last thing up and come back out the pantry.
"Well close the door. Didn't that slut that gave birth to you teach you anything."
Anger flares in me at hearing my beloved mother called a slut. I look at her with a cold fire growing in my eyes.
She looks at me and starts tapping the button on the remote. Harder and harder each time.
I look down at the floor. My eyes take in the red splatters of soup by her feet.
I hear her bowl get pushed across the table.
"Eat the rest of the soup. I'm done with it."
Picking up the bowl I start to take it to the sink.
"What are you doing? I told you to finish the soup! Oh, you planned on dirtying up another bowl...you'll eat from that one or not at all."
Taking her bowl with it crumbs of sodden crackers clinging to the side I go to the stove. I pour the last bit into the bowl. I think for a second of going to get a spoon then realize she waiting on me to do that. I leave her spoon on the table where she left it though. I lift the bowl to my lips and drink down the soup.