Torrential rain sent rivers of water off the grime-encrusted rooftops. It seeped into the fissures and folds of the dilapidated cardboard box Gertie called home on this particular night. Another rainy evening in the alleys of New York.She hunched against the back of the box and wrapped a plastic bag across her thin shoulders, treasuring the small measure of comfort it afforded.
Gertie dreaded mornings with the fervor of a vampire. The day held terrors the night dispelled, with its never-ending search for sustenance in the hostile world of the homeless. A world that spurned her as she begged at its feet. Her genetic deformities repulsed the common herd, causing Gertie mental deformities far more painful than her physical ones. The gnarled ache of a heart that had never known love or caring. Nerves that had never been soothed by a tender caress or casual embrace. She fell asleep praying for an eventless night.
An eerie noise awakened her. The low moan of a creature, nearby. A raspy, decidedly feminine, moan. The pitiful cry called to something deep within Gertie, some soulful core she didn’t know still existed beneath the hardened exterior she’d so carefully fabricated over the years. Then interpretation washed over her. The rhythmic cries echoed a timeless ballad, one as old as the universe itself–the edgeless wail of approaching death.
Goosebumps rose along Gertie’s spine. She peered through a finger-sized hole in her box. The distant streetlights revealed a small body on the pavement. Studying the scene, Gertie saw no menacing figure to associate with the victim’s distress. Probably just another wino about to depart for the Ultimate Shelter. Gertie preferred not to confront such cruel reminders of her own future demise.
“Evangeline!” The voice called. “Evangeline, come close!”
Gertie gasped. How did this woman know the secret name? She’d entered this realm as Gertrude Ball, but Gertie the gimp, was what they called her on the street. Evangeline existed only in distant fantasies. Visions of a doctor who would remake her body into the ethereal Evangelize had evaporated long ago. She’d once dreamed of a world where Evangeline was transported to far away places, to castles across the sea. Where she became healthy and whole. Where people cared. Magical moments in the imaginary land of her own desire, before life had stripped her of trust and hope.
Gertie the gimp had to know.
She crawled from her box, slowly, dragging herself through the puddles to the prostrate form that called to her so desperately.
“There is no Evangeline here!” She said harshly.
The woman on the ground rolled onto her back. The hood that covered her face fell away and the streetlights shone upon delicate ivory features, lustrous auburn hair, a rapturous smile.
Gertie sucked in her breath. There lay the Evangeline of her dreams, as perfect as a twin. She cringed, terrified now. She needed to flee this eerie visitation, to back away.
But the woman’s arm struck out from beneath the cloak and seized Gertie, pulling her down with a strength she could not match. The creature lying in the grime of the alley floor clutched her tightly.
Gertie struggled to free herself. She tried to scream, sobbing with the effort–and smelled sweetness, not the malodorous stench of death. The body beneath her was warm and soft, not cold and bony like her own.
The woman spoke again. “Come, Evangeline, it is your time. You have no other. This is your special dawn. Do not let it pass you by, for it shall never return for you again on this Earthly plane.\\\"
What strange words this creature spoke. Then came a rush of memories. Suddenly, her whole life passed in vibrant color, with her as the reluctant audience, to flashing scenes of misery, interspersed with haunting memories of herself as the imaginary Evangeline.
“Enough,” she cried. What greater horrors could life impose upon her? Must she die in the arms of her own glorious vision, while it tortured her with her true past? And having seen her dream-self become reality, must she expire with it?”
Then Gertie’s life tour came full circle, to the present.
“I have searched so long,” the voice on the alley floor implored. “I am the embodiment of your desires. This is your chance to become Evangeline! The coming dawn shall destroy the dream for all time. You must surrender now, or be lost forever.”
Gertie thought the face beneath her glowed slightly, then realized it was only the first hint of morning’s light creeping between the tenements surrounding them. Dare she let herself hope? How to let go, was the real question and the answer far too cryptic for Gertie’s frightened mind to master.
“You know the way,” the voice assured her. “Remember. That is why I took you back, so you could remember how you created the fantasy. Drop fully into the dream. Fall away with me. You must free yourself from this dimension to enter the next."
A comforting warmth crept through Gertie’s veil of terror for a moment, igniting a spark of optimism, long dormant. She yearned to flee from the cold and the rain, to be transported as she once had to the magical constructs of her own making. To soar to that special place where Evangeline, the oh-so-lovely Evangeline, once sang and waltzed in grand ballrooms. To a place suffused with the heady odors of turkey and cookies and wine. She drew in deep breaths, and closed her eyes.
Then, just as the sun struck a lightning flash into the abyss of darkness, Evangeline loosed the binds that held her bound to earthly things. Up, up, up, she soared, free of her tormented body at last.
Then, with a fierceness rarely seen in the city, dawn arrived, and the bright ball of sun turned the dismal rain into a brilliant golden mist.
But Gertie the gimp never saw the dawn. Her eyesight failed, her heart slowed its violent hammering, and peace enfolded her like a gentle cocoon. And Gertie the gimp drew her last Earthly breath on a cold rainy morning in the alleys of New York.
Bio: Joyce Holland is past president and current Conference Coordinator for Emerald Coast Writers in Destin, Florida. She is the author of three published novels and more than two dozen short stories. She's was a colunmist for the Northwest Florida Daily News in 2006 and 2007. She appeared as a guest author on A&E's City Confidential for an episode called, Autopsy of a Marriage. Joyce and her husband, Tony, live on a small barrier island, but spend much of their time traveling the rivers of America on their trawler, Code One.
Motivation: A dream , inspired by feeding the homeless for several months.