Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jane's Tale

Ours was the kind of town where people took care of their own. Otherwise, Janey Von Dyer would have been placed among strangers after she lost her family.

The Cabots were the first family in Grimes Cove to open up their home. That was when Janey was six, a month after her daddy suffered a fatal heart attack swimming out to Green Island and two weeks after her momma went crazy with grief and tried to kill Janey and herself with an overdose of some kind of tranquilizer.

Nobody ever figured out why Malcolm Von Dyer took it into his head to go swimming in the freezing-cold North Atlantic Ocean, especially on an October  day when the wind blew hard from the Northwest and especially knowing he had a bum ticker. Maybe his wife knew, but after her suicide attempt, no one could get a single sensible utterance out of Lucinda Von Dyer. First she howled like a banshee, then she shut down altogether and hasn't spoken a word since. Last I heard, she'd been moved from a mental institution to a group home, still skittery as a bush rabbit and silent as summer grass.

Janey never spoke a word either though some say they'd hear her muttering to herself when she thought no one was listening. Her voice when she used it was strange-sounding, folks reported, sort of a rumbly monotone way down deep in her throat. She was a strange-looking little thing -- brown hair straight as a poker and big amber-colored eyes that stared at you the way a mountain lion stares before it pounces. Her skin was fish-belly white almost like she was part albino and she was skinny as a twig but healthy, nonetheless. Only thing she'd eat much of was chowder -- fish, clam or lobster, didn't matter which. Lucky for her she lived on the Maine coast where those items are plentiful and fresh.

Janey stayed with the Cabots for about a year and when they said they couldn't care for her anymore, she moved in with the Thompsons. After six months the Thompsons said they couldn't keep her, the reason being young Benny Thompson woke up every single night screaming that Janey Von Dyer was scaring him in his dreams. Cabots never would say why they couldn't cope with Janey but the DeWitts, who were the third family to take her in, said they caught her in the backyard lying down nose-to-nose with their big old ginger tom cat, the two of them just staring at one another like they were reading each other's minds. Well, Bryn Williams and his wife, Bitsy, laughed like hyenas when they heard that story. "We'll take her in," Bryn said. "Don't matter to me if she talks to kitty cats," and Drake DeWitt blushed redder than a boiled lobster but Mattie DeWitt looked Bryn straight in the eye and said, "you'll see."

By this time, Janey Von Dyer was nine years old and still as white and as silent as new snow. She went to the local school and learned to read and write. The DeWitts tried to get her to use her writing to communicate with them but she wouldn't. The most she'd do was nod or shake her head if someone ashed her a yes or no question.

Her teachers complained that Janey was rude because she stared at them so hard it made them drop their chalk or stop in mid-sentence forgetting altogether what they'd  been planning to say. One teacher, Ms. Clooney, even yelled at Janey to keep her eyes looking down at her desk or she'd send her to the Principal's office. Another teacher transferred schools mid-year and left the class with a bunch of substitutes who couldn't add two and two.

As for the kids, they pretty much left Janey Von Dyer alone but sometimes one of them would dare another to run over and give Janey a shove just to see what she'd do. Tommy Jones did that once and Janey stared at him for days after making him shrink down in his chair and finally crouch under his desk til the teacher told him to go out and stand in the hall which he was more than happy to do. Later, Tommy Jones said the reason he'd never touch Janey again was that she was a zombie girl who didn't ever laugh or bleed or cry.

Well, the Williams hung onto Janey for two and a half years and they had her doing chores like setting the table for supper and bringing in wood for the fireplace. Janey didn't seem to mind doing those things but she never would do them on her own and always had to be reminded even when Bryn Williams praised her to the skies. Bitsy Williams complained that, as far as she could tell, Janey never slept. Bitsy suffered bouts of insomnia and every time she'd get up around midnight or an hour or so thereafter she'd find Janey in front of the fireplace, staring at the dying coals with a queer sort of smile teasing the edges of her mouth like she'd done something wrong and gotten away with it.

Bryn Williams insisted that Janey's strangeness was because of the trauma of losing her dad to the ocean and her mother to mental illness. Bronson DeWitt said he thought Janey's father had been in the grip of some panicky need to get away from his spooky-eyed daughter and Bryn Williams retorted that Bronson was as ignorant and superstitious as the people of Salem during the famous witch trials.

Then Malvina Arnold told how, one time, she'd spotted Janey with a Monarch butterfly perched on the edge of her hand. Malvina watched while the butterfly opened and shut its wings thinking maybe Janey Von Dyer was some kind of insect charmer. Then the butterfly's wings stopped moving and it fell dead right into the palm of Janey's hand.

"Well, she didn't actually kill it," Bryn Williams said. "Oh, she killed it all right," insisted Malvina Arnold. "I just don't know how she killed it," and Bryn Williams walked away making scoffing noises and shaking his head.

Soon after Janey turned twelve, Bryn Williams came down with some kind of mystery sickness where his body temperature jumped all the way to 105 and past so that he went into convulsions and died.

Well, the very next day after the funeral, Bitsy turned Janey out of the house and no one in Grimes Cove ever saw the child again. one except Randolph Cabot who swears he saw her in a skiff rowing over to Green Island. And although no one claimed to be taking Randolph seriously, even the lobster men gave that island a wide berth from then on.
illustration by Leonard Weisgard


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Mike. I liked your version of "Jane's Tale" too and tried (but failed) to publish a comment. I'm hoping people will post their opinions as to whether Janey was a bad seed or the Maine villagers were mired in superstition. What do you think?

  2. Wow. That's...really creepy. I've got goosebumps!

  3. It kind of creeped me out, too, when I wrote it.

  4. DANG..the zombie stare down at ya girl......eeeww...wonder how she survived on green island? :0) amazing where our imagination will take us! Stephen King started out this way... :0)

  5. What's strange is that I could never bring myself to read Stephen King for fear I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.This genre is a total departure for me.

  6. Whoa! You've got a gift for this!

    I love the way you paint pictures with your words. "...nine years old and still as white and as silent as new snow." Mmmm, very nice.

    1. Thanks! I had fun writing this though the genre of psycho-thriller has always scared me to death. I had nightmares for weeks after I watched the movie version of Stephen King's "Carrie."

  7. Wow,
    Great job freaking me out. Hmmm what did she do so late at night awake not sleeping and the butterfly?

    1. I'd have to say your guess is as good as mine. Either she had diabolical powers or she really was a victim of the collective superstitions of the Maine villagers who may have exaggerated what they saw. Let's hope she stays on Green Island and never returns to Grimes Cove to avenge herself on those who spurned her.