New York's Dolls: pt IV


J. Edward Tremlett

The attic was as still and quiet as the street outside had been. There were a few holes in the roof where vent fans whirred, and these let in enough light to see by.

Underfoot was insulation that was probably mostly asbestos, and overhead was the skeletal, wooden framework that kept the roof up and on. The joints were old and sagging and knotted with cobwebs. And the air was thick with something.

Tony needed a cigarette badly, but he figured that this wasn't the safest place to light up at all.

"Alright," he said, looking around and squinting his eyes: "There's a homicidal kid down there who thinks I work for Satan and a dead junkie I'm gonna have to walk over before the cops get here. And I got one hell of a nic fit building, too. Can we all show ourselves now?"

I'm here, the voice of the house said.

"No," Anthony insisted: "Come out and talk to me. I want to see your face."

He squinted his eyes, and off in the gloom he could see a face. Faces. More children. Some he recognized from earlier, their faces at the windows, and some were new. He counted at least twenty all huddled there in the dark.

"And now you," he said: "Come on. I don't wanna push my luck any more than I have to."

There was a motion in the gloom, by the children, and then someone else was standing there. An adult this time, dressed in the sort of clothing a well-off gentleman might have worn at the turn of the century. He held something in his arms, and that something had tiny eyes and a scared, thin little face.

"Hello," the man said, looking at Anthony. His voice, once disconnected from the house, was cultured and clear.

"Is this... better?" He asked.

"Much," Anthony said, nodding and looking at what the man held. It was a young child, a girl from the looks of things.

"My daughter," the man explained, holding her close: "The love of my life."

"What happened?"

"My wife... died in childbirth," the man explained, holding the girl even closer: "She made me swear to look after her to my dying day... and I did. And I meant every word, sir. But..."

He looked down and his face screwed up into a knot, a tear tracing a course from his eye to his chin.

"She died," Anthony said: "Jesus... I'm sorry."

"I couldn't do anything! "The man said, holding her head. As he did, Anthony could see that it was marred by red lines and a large, nasty bruise on the back. The look on her face was that of a dazed and scared animal.

"Oh god... I'm sorry," It was all Anthony could say, sensing what had happened. A moment's worth of looking the other direction, a quick fall down the wrong way, a doctor called but coming much, much too late to do anything but pull a sheet over a young, dead face.

And he could see what happened next, too. A feeling of breaking the most important promise a husband or a father could ever make. A healthy man wasting away in grief, pain and guilt. The romantic notion of following the beloved into the grave coming to haunt him day and night until his body just gave up and let him go free.

But yet, not free. The ghost remained. And with the ghost, the duty that kept him here comes back as well.

"These children," Anthony said, looking at them: "You can't let them go, either, can you?"

The man couldn't answer. He was too ashamed to do anything but hold the little girl in his arms and sob.

Tony sighed. This was just not good. The guy was holding them all here, and from the looks of things he wasn't going to let them go, either. He needed to feel like he was keeping his promise, and if he didn't have that... what did he have?

"This wasn't your fault," Anthony told the man, walking towards him to try and touch him. It was a lot of effort on his part to do something like that, but at a time like this it was the best use for that little trick.

The man stepped back, scared. He hugged his daughter closer. She continued to stare like an imbecile.

"Don't... please..." he said, frightened: "I'm sorry. Please don't take her from me?"

Anthony held up his hands: "I won't. I swear. But we gotta talk about this... what's your name?"

"Earnest," the man replied, still backing up: "Earnest Clement."

"Okay. Nice to meet you, Earnest. I'm Anthony. Who's your little girl?"

"She's Maybele," hissed a familiar, little voice from behind him. Anthony sighed, knowing who that was.

"Hello, Filthy," he said, turning around to look at the mutilated poltergeist.

Billy stood there, a triumphant leer on what remained of his face. There was no sign of his collection of flying utensils, but that didn't mean Tony wasn't in trouble. The kid could yank the nails from the walls and fling them if he had to, probably.

"Didn't take you long to get up here..." Anthony commented, wishing to God he could light up without catching the house on fire.

"I remembered I could walk through walls."

Anthony tried not to slap himself: "Yeah. Well, I knew you'd forgotten. Hey, listen... you mind if I finish my talk with Mr. Clement here?"

"Why? He's just going to tell you I'm his fault and not let me go. I don't wanna go, anyway. I wanna stay here, mister."

"Well, that's something we gotta talk about. Maybe we can come to some kind of understanding?"

"What do you mean, sir?" Clement asked, his sobbing clearing up a little.

"I mean, you got some kids here who don't want to go, but you got a lot that do. Maybe you could stay here for the ones who want to stay?"

Clement started sobbing again, and Anthony sighed. No. No, that wasn't going to work. It was going to have to be all or nothing. Either they all went, or they all stayed. He couldn't have it both ways, here.

"My mommy's waiting for me in Heaven," one of the little boys said: "I want to go see her-"

"Shut up!" Billy shrieked, pointing at him: "I'll beat you up, Tyrone! I'll break you into little pieces again!"

Tyrone started crying. So did some of the other kids. Billy was getting a thrill from it all and Clement was sinking further into despair. This was just sick and it was going to keep getting worse until someone did something.

"Okay, okay," Anthony said, hoping to God he wasn't sealing his death warrant. "Show's over. Earnest?"

"Yes?" The man-ghost asked, coming out of the sobbing a little.

"Earnest, you're forgiven. You couldn't help yourself. You thought you were doing the right thing and-"

"NOOOOOOOO!" Billy screamed, stamping his stumps on the ground. He looked at Anthony and his eyes blazed. In the roof, and insulation, and other places, the nails started to wiggle loose from their holdings.

"You thought you were doing the right thing, but you weren't!" Anthony shouted at him, trying to get the point across before the house got brought down: "These kids don't need you to protect them, Earnest! Sometimes life just sucks! And God bless you for trying... but you had your limits! Now accept it like a fucking man and LET GO!"

He grabbed the little girl from Earnest's arms and pulled, trying to illustrate the point. To his surprise, Earnest came right along with the little girl, almost as if she was stuck to his arm. The ghost tried to pull her back, Tony tried to pull her away, and as they wrestled, they both looked down.

It was then that Tony realized that little girl wasn't just stuck to Earnest's arm.

In fact, she was Earnest's arm.

* * *