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Fantasticoe 2001 -  10th Anniversary Issue

A Whisper of Music

Virginia Florang

Her grandmother would have hated this. She would have simply snorted and called it all a waste of time.

Her grandmother Katry was Rom through and through. She claimed she had the sight. She said Marguerite had it too. No one had believed Katry's superstitions when Marguerite was growing up. Only the youngsters believed her tales, and only when they were small. Marguerite's father may have been half Rom, but he lived Gadjo. Marguerite didn't want to have the sight. There was no advantage to claiming gypsy blood. Marguerite didn't want it.

Marguerite settled herself as comfortably as possible in the chair, thankful there were arms to help her back up. She wished there had been a seat nearer the aisle. It was such a narrow space to maneuver through. She wasn't so nimble these days. Between the arthritis and the cold she wondered that she could even move. Still walking unaided put Marguerite ahead of most people her age, but then so did being alive.

Marguerite's mother, Clarice, would have loved to see this. She had wanted to be a dancer so badly. If Clarice couldn't do it, she wanted it for Marguerite. Marguerite had never had the desire to dance seriously. Her mother hadn't had the means when she was young and time took her chance. Marguerite's mother had loved ballet so much. Marguerite appreciated it, but had never loved it.

Marguerite's grandmother Katry had always said Clarice was a silly dreamer with her head in the clouds. Marguerite's father had teased his mother saying at least a head full of dreams was as good as a head full of superstitions. He didn't have a gypsy's heart. He wasn't tacho ratt, he wasn't a Rom. Marguerite wasn't Rom either, nor was she a dancer. A disappointment to her mother and grandmother.

Marguerite was here to watch her youngest granddaughter dance. Little Elise was like Marguerite's mother. She lived for the dance, but it was from Grandmother Katry she'd gotten those black gypsy eyes.

Marguerite's daughter Beth, sat beside her thumbing impatiently through the program.

The curtain was down but Marguerite saw girls poking their heads around the side of the stage, trying to see if their family was there and not to be seen doing it. Elise had been dancing since she could walk. She was finally old enough to dance in full pointe and was terribly proud that she was good enough to be in a more advanced class than the others her age.

Beth said there was a new instructor this year whom Elise adored. She had been working with this new girl, Lorelei something or other, a great deal. She seemed to take a special interest in Elise's progress. Beth wasn't too certain how she felt about that. She didn't think Elise should be encouraged so much. Marguerite thought it was wonderful to have someone with contacts to be taking an interest in the girl. Elise's parents weren't really certain there was any future in it. Elise wasn't a prodigy. She was good, but it was difficult to be certain yet if she could make it, if she was good enough. Was good good enough?

Beth was fidgeting again, tapping the rolled up program against her knee. She didn't want Elise to waste her time and energy on ballet if it was a path leading nowhere. Elise was stubborn though. Beth didn't have the heart to deny her baby what she wanted so badly. As long as the child was happy, as long as she enjoyed it, Marguerite was happy to watch her progress.

The peeking heads of the little dancers disappeared as a small blond woman appeared in the wings beside them. She was very slender and delicate and naggingly familiar. Marguerite wondered if she was one of the older students. She couldn't remember seeing this one before, but she was so familiar...Wonderful, this was going to niggle at the back of her mind through the whole performance.

The curtain rose and the show was underway. Marguerite couldn't help but smile. They were so young. Some of these little ones were careful, other tiny ones were leaping about in a semi-controlled fashion. It made Marguerite think of the Christmas concerts. Invariably some shy little girl in the front row, one of the really tiny ones, would try to hide by throwing her skirt over her head. One of her peers would be bouncing with excitement. A couple more would play tag. No one expected much from little children. They were cute.

Marguerite's mother had given her lessons when she was little during the Depression. She'd never been in a recital at that age. Her mama had been more particular than any other instructor she'd had later. Marguerite remembered practicing in the empty upstairs room. It was so hot and dusty in the summer. She'd been so careful when she was little, arms and hands must be--so, and feet must be--so.

The older ones came after. Marguerite was surprised. Elise had been working on her dancing hard. She had improved a great deal. It was startling in fact; she never missed a step, was never off in her timing, perfect balance, perfect form. Marguerite couldn't help wishing she could still move so easily. She watched the youngsters twirl and dip, and couldn't help remembering younger days, days when she had been able to move so gracefully. She could remember how her muscles had ached after hours of practice. The way her hair whipped into her eyes when it started coming loose. The blisters on her toes. The strength to hold her balance on one toe. She'd glided on full pointe once upon a time. Smile smile.....always smile, her mother had prompted, no matter how her body had screamed. Freedom and strength, grace and pain, it was always a cruel beauty.

Elise was wonderful, far better than Marguerite had expected. It couldn't have been that long since her last recital. She was doing much more difficult pieces, and performing flawlessly. The extra attention from the instructor must have worked wonders.

Beth clapped as long and hard as anyone in the crowd. Marguerite doubted she would be fighting so much with Elise about dancing, at least for the time being. Until Beth thought-is that good really good enough?

Marguerite followed her daughter backstage at a cautious pace. She was stiff from sitting so long. It was all hustle and bustle, and moving bodies. Children and parents were milling about. It would be a very bad place to take a tumble. Old bones hurt so badly when jarred. But she stood straight, and thought of the days when she danced like all these children.

Elise was bouncing up and down waiting for them. She hugged them both tightly, chattering at light speed. Marguerite listened for the first moment or two. Then she saw that young blond woman again.

There was that same nagging familiarity. Somewhere, somewhere, she had seen this girl before. There was an odd tugging in the back of Marguerite's head as the blond turned to face them. For one second all was normal till the girl faced her, the tug in her head sharpened and --flash-- the face changed.

Just for a glimpse just for a second, Marguerite saw the features sharpen into an incredible delicate face, slightly heart-shaped, very large almond shaped eyes; a particular shade of green tinged silver, slit pupiled like a cat. The blond hair paled to nearly platinum iridescent like a seashell. Pointed ears, pointed teeth like a carnivore but without the prominent canines. Built too slender, too delicate. The complexion was wrong too. Not pink enough faintly iridescent too, skin like a pearl. Flawless and completely inhuman or human completely flawed.

Then it was gone and she was staring at a perfectly ordinary young lady. The shock took her breath away and set her off balance.

Marguerite blinked a couple times, shook her head. Her mind swept back nearly seventy years in a heartbeat.

She was five years old following her 14 year-old brother though the night. Thick trees loomed black at the edge of the field. She was trying hard to be silent so he didn't notice. He never wanted tag alongs. She hadn't thought he'd go so far, or she wouldn't have followed when she saw Jonathan sneaking out. It was late summer. One of those cool nights, the chill in the air warning fall was approaching. The dew was heavy on the grass. Her feet were freezing.

Marguerite knew where her brother was going now. It wasn't much farther. He was going to the farm by the river. The farm that had sat uninhabited from the time its owner had died until last month. It proved there were a few people around who hadn't lost everything. Her family hadn't lost everything but they hadn't held on to much. Papa wasn't really a farmer and, for all his snorting at superstitious nonsense, he took Grandma Katry's advice. They were surviving, better than many. Things were getting better. There weren't a whole lot of people that could afford to go around buying properties though.

It was 1937 late August. Last month some woman had bought the place and moved in. She was living there alone, but hardly anyone saw her. She'd been into town a few times but only during the evening or night. The other children whispered that the new owner was really a ghost. Her name was Helen. That's what Mama said. Mama didn't say much else.

Grandma Katry wasn't so close mouthed. She said there couldn't be any good in this hiding all day and coming out only at night. Katry had told all the children that would listen the tales she'd been told about night creatures, pookas, Jenny Greenteeth, white ladies, Villies, stirgoi, vampires, diakkas, boggles and boggans. All the old forgotten creatures came out at night. Bad things that took evil children, and kill the unwary. All the unclean things that couldn't bear the sun or anything holy. She always finished saying she'd never seen any of the sort since she came to this country and they should be grateful they lived in an unspoiled land. They should behave as well as they could; bad children would attract all the evil creatures from the old country. She had been implying rather heavily that the children in town must have been very bad for Helen to move out here. If she was not an old thing, she was at the very least marahime, unclean.

The adults outwardly laughed it off. The little children gaped open mouthed and began shunning the farm that used to be a favorite play spot. The abandoned farm had been the perfect place; their own barn and house to play with. The children wouldn't go near the place now. Marguerite had noticed the grown-ups didn't seem as certain as they pretended to be. They seemed nervous. They never said her name-speak of the devil and he shall appear. The preacher said he'd been out to visit, and Miss Helen seemed perfectly nice. She'd never yet made it to church though. She told the preacher she was sick often. If that was true, the adults often said, how odd that she'd go off and live alone in the country.

Marguerite tripped over a branch hidden in the tall grass. She went down with a squawk and a thump.

By the time she'd scrambled back to her feet, Jon was already turned back with a less than pleased look."Maggie go home."

Marguerite pouted instantly,"I don't wanna. I know where you're going and I already came all this way."

"It's the middle of the night, if Papa finds out he'll tan your hide."

Maggie grabbed for the age-old blackmail that worked so well on the playground."I'm gonna tell, if you make me go back. Then, you'll be in trouble."

"And you won't? You got dew soaked clean through your skirt. They'll know you were out."

"I'll tell 'em you made me come along so you wouldn't get caught right off, and you tripped and I ran away....Oh come on, we're almost there. I just want to see. Please--I'll be real quiet, you won't know I'm here. Pleasepleaseplease," Marguerite was whining, she didn't want to be left behind, and if Jon was going to see Miss Helen, she wasn't going to miss it.

Jon sighed,"Okay,okay. Just be quiet and do what I tell you to, all right Maggie?"

Marguerite grinned. Now she didn't have to worry about being quiet. And she didn't have to worry about any of Grandma's nasty thingies hiding under a bush. The old things that lived in the trees and rustled the leaves with twisty black hands couldn't get her. It was only a few more minutes walk through the trees to the farm. She almost had to run to keep up with Jon. No fair-he had longer legs. Marguerite struggled, but kept up. Everybody said Helen was only out at night, some of the other kids had tried to see her, but so far nobody had managed to. All the older kids that had ventured out to the farm in the first week said was Helen had a fancy breed of big goose, and an even bigger dog. They started avoiding the place after that.

Marguerite was startled at how different it looked when they got to the edge of the yard. It had only been a little over a month since she'd been here last. The few scraggly lilacs had grown into a solid hedge around the yard. Marguerite had trouble finding a way though. She wasn't sure how Jon was managing to slip through the tightly packed trunks. There was still grass at the bases of the bushes, drying up, but still there.

Very faintly, Marguerite could hear someone humming. It was an odd melody, sweet and sad and wild. It was strangely mesmerizing.

Jon stopped at the edge of the hedge, there were some tall flowers inside the hedge so he was still kind of hidden. Maggie crawled up beside him. The humming was getting louder. Just as she settled by her brother, something white passed in front of them not a foot away.

Marguerite jumped, but managed not to scream.

She couldn't help but stare at the yard. It had been just patches of grass with bald dusty spots. The lawn had filled in thick and healthy. There were flowers planted everywhere. There were blooming rose bushes, and lilies and more flowers than she had known existed. There was even a wolvesbane bush, Maggie hadn't thought anybody but Grandma Katry grew that. She saw a lot of plants her Grandma grew, she didn't know the names to them. There was a lot of stuff she didn't know the name to.

She didn't see the goose or the dog, but she did see Helen. The white flash that had gone past. She wasn't very tall. She had light skin and eyes and dark hair. The light wasn't good enough to tell what color. She was the prettiest lady Maggie had ever seen. Then she turned and looked at the moon....

Just for a glimpse just for a second, Marguerite saw the features sharpen into a slightly heart-shaped face, very large almond shaped eyes; a particular shade of green tinged silver, slit pupiled like a cat. The blonde hair platinum blonde, iridescent like a seashell. Pointed ears, pointed teeth like a carnivore but without the prominent canines. The complexion was wrong too. Not pink enough, faintly iridescent too. Skin like a pearl, shimmery in the moonlight. She was too thin, her neck and limbs were too long.....

Grandma's right she is a bad thing, just like her stories!

Then snap it was gone.

Marguerite looked at Jon her mouth hanging open. He was still watching with calm curiosity. He hadn't seen it, she realized. He still didn't see it. It had stopped humming. It was whispering the song. It was worse with words. She didn't understand them but the melody was even more fascinating. Marguerite tugged at her brothers arm. Time to go. He wasn't noticing. Marguerite's head was starting to whirl, and the song was getting louder. She didn't want to hear it. It was so soft curling in her head. She wanted to go closer to hear better. It pulled her in and chilled her spine. She didn't want to hear it.

The figure flash changed again.

Marguerite gulped, and clapped hands over her ears. She kicked at Jon. He didn't notice. He was staring at the singer. Marguerite was backing away slowly, barely aware she was moving.

She could still hear it very, very, faintly. She saw a dog the size of a calf come around the corner of the house.

Marguerite didn't remember turning to run. She didn't remember if she'd made her escape quietly or gone crashing. She didn't remember anything till she had run through the trees into the field again. She stopped in the middle of a field.

The only sound was chirping crickets. Blades of waist high oats fluttered in the breeze. She was alone, panting in the moonlight.

She really didn't understand what all had just happened. She didn't see anyone following. Anyone at all. Maggie hesitated at the fence. She wanted to go back, but there was that dog and It....

Maggie thought she heard a whisper of a voice on the wind, that was enough, she was off running again.

The sheriff had brought Jon home an hour or so later. Marguerite didn't watch but she listened, the thing had come along. She said she hadn't known the boy was there, and he'd nearly frightened the life out of her. Jon said nothing. Her parents went out to talk. Katry was the one who came up to check on Maggie. All she said was: "You saw her?"

Marguerite knew what she meant and nodded. She wished with everything she had never to see anything like that again. She didn't want any of the things in her Grandma's stories to be real. " I ran away...."

Katry looked out the window, "Bater. Don't tell anybody what you saw, those kind can be touchy. It's a good thing you ran away. Good thing you didn't listen. Never listen to things like that sing." Maggie wasn't sure how her grandmother knew she'd been there or what had happened. She wasn't even sure how much her grandmother knew. She really didn't feel like asking either. She wondered what would have happened if she hadn't run-why it was a good thing. She found out .

Jon was never the same. He didn't talk for weeks. He never lost that weird wild look. The oddest thing would send him into wild rages or terrors, like the wrong color hankie. He'd hum snatches of music to himself then break off giggling. Jon didn't seem to recognize anyone, including himself. He'd spend hours staring at himself in mama's mirror, like he couldn't understand he was seeing his own face. He wandered about the farm like he'd never been there before, but never off their property. He pulled up all the flowerbeds, anything that bloomed. When he did start talking, it was mostly gibberish. He'd stare at absolutely nothing for hours. And he sang constantly. He hummed, and sang, and chirped broken snatches of the song Marguerite had blocked from her ears. Katry said he was gone. She didn't know how to bring him back from where his mind had gone. There was no drabja that she knew, no spell, no charm.

Eventually he was sent away. Marguerite learned years later he'd been sent to an asylum, Jon hung himself the first week.

Seventy odd years and the face behind the face hadn't changed one iota.

For the first time since then, she wished she had listened when Katry had tried to teach her. After that night, Marguerite hadn't wanted the sight. She didn't want to learn anything about the charms or spells. She didn't want any of it to be real. Her grandmother had tried, saying she was not like her father. Marguerite's gypsy blood was strong. I'm gadjo, she'd screamed, never a drabjarini. Gadjo, not Rom. She would never be a gypsy, she would never be like her Grandmother.

Her diakka was back, unaged. Marguerite tried to school her face into a calm expression. She had to hide her thoughts. She wished she'd listened. Gypsies knew things. Katry would have known what to do. Katry had been dead many years. Marguerite wished she had listened when Katry tried to teach her how to reach the dead. Her mind ran in tiny tight circles. Grandmother, I'm sorry. Grandmother, I wish I had listened. Grandmother, I was scared. Grandmother, I'm in trouble. Grandmother, the diakka's back. Grandmother, they don't know. What do I do? It's all my fault. I'm sorry...


Marguerite started out of her reverie. She half hoped to hear a response to her thoughts. There was none. She looked around to regain her bearings. She realized Beth had been talking to her, "I'm sorry dear, what did you say?"

"I asked if you were all right, you had the oddest look on your face," Beth was watching her with a worried look. The little blond thing was watching carefully too. Marguerite wondered if she'd given herself away, she tried very hard to look calm. She had an idea that anything that went to the trouble to appear human might not appreciate knowing it didn't fool everyone. The muscles on her face ached. She felt stiff. The diakka musn't know she saw it....

"I was just thinking about my grandmother, I wonder if she felt so old watching the children."

Elise promptly wrapped an arm around her grandmother, and snuggled up," You aren't old yet grandma. I wanted to introduce you my new instructor, this is Laura."

It smiled. Marguerite smiled back, feeling frozen to her very core.

She was an old woman. If she dropped dead no one would think anything of it. She wished it hadn't smiled at her.

There was sudden, convenient, eddy in the crowd bringing another instructor who started talking to Beth, distracting Elise. Marguerite suddenly realized just how close It was standing. She heard a soft lilting whisper directly in her ear, "I'm sorry for last time. It was an accident, I didn't know anyone was there...Listen this time Maggie..."

Marguerite didn't remember talking to the new instructor much.

She knew they had had a conversation more or less on their own, but the details...faded. The girl seemed nice enough, she seemed to have a real interest in Elise. Marguerite just couldn't remember the exchange for the life of her. She must be tiring. It was odd that her head seemed so fuzzy; she didn't feel particularly tired. A little dazed, but not so bone-weary as usual. In fact, she felt better than she had in years. The aches all seemed to have eased. Maybe she was too tired to feel them. She really didn't pay attention to the crowd or surroundings. She followed her daughter and granddaughter out to the parking lot. She still felt oddly dazed. It really had been a good recital. She was glad she'd seen it.

She found herself humming an odd snatch of music that seemed to be stuck in her head. Marguerite couldn't remember having heard before...probably something she'd learned from her grandmother. Odd how much she'd been thinking about her grandmother that night. Her grandmother, the crazy old gypsy wise woman with stories of devils under the bed. Gypsies believed in so many odd things....

She hesitated on the curb, while others crossed to their cars. She wasn't sure why she looked back.

The snow drifted lazily down. A little figure on the other side of the glass doors caught her eye. The new instructor was at the doors watching the people leave. Laura? was that her name? She was vaguely disturbed by the young instructor's gaze. It must have been a trick of the light that made her look so oddly insubstantial and iridescent. She looked very sad. She looked straight at Marguerite. The child must have been wonderful when she performed. Odd she retired so young, Marguerite mused to herself. She looked so unearthly, a forlorn ethereal little figure, almost inhuman. Odd girl

Marguerite could have sworn she heard a sigh on the night wind.

The night seemed to be getting lighter.

Marguerite saw a flash of pointed ears, heard a whisper of music.....

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank the entire Fantasy Creative Writing class and Dr. Terry Heller for all their help and ideas; in particular those who wrote critiques.

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