I bought the place on Parker Lane with Tommy’s old house on it in 2004. He’d been dead four or five years by then. People in the neighborhood kept it as kind of a shrine to a strangely talented man.
Tommy had only been twenty-four when he passed but was artsy in a weird kind of way. His house was full of rolls of string and colored paper, scraps, bits of wood and metal, rolls of thread, and found objects. His works of art, some finished, some not, hung on every surface, and every flat spot was covered in the stuff. Mice and squirrels had visited Tommy’s house finding nesting materials galore, but even the small creatures seemed to respect the abode.
When I first got the place, I lived in the main house on the front of the property and only occasionally visited Tommy’s house. When I did, Tommy talked with me. He’d be in my head from the moment I stepped onto the creaky old porch, explaining every item he had labored over, telling me what it was or what he wanted it to be. Most of the crafts needed an explanation as some art is understood better by the artist than the observer.
I found out that nearly everyone in the small neighborhood, which consisted of Parker Lane and Parkers Cul-de-sac, made pilgrimages to Tommy’s house occasionally. Still, no one ever touched any of the artwork or craft items, although it seemed everyone had their favorite piece. Every work of art was left just as Tommy had placed it.
The roof on the old house had started to leak in places long before I got the property. Pine needles and cones filled the copper-clad valleys, and moisture seeped under the wood shingles. The old studio was showing its age. I considered tearing it down, or maybe hiring a bulldozer to raze the structure, or possibly just torching it if the local fire department would stand by in case the fire got out of control, but I never did. I just did as had been done before—left it alone.
One day standing outside the old house, I even considered fixing the place up. I could pressure wash the stained and weathered siding and clean off the roof and patch the holes. It needed glass in several windows, and the front door didn’t close properly anymore, but with some time and a little effort, it could be fixed up, except to do so, I’d have to move Tommy’s stuff, so I never did anything.
The yard around the place was overgrown, yet through the tall summer grass and weeds, you could easily see some of the strange yard art Tommy had created. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Tommy would try and explain the pieces to me, but try as I might, I didn’t have the eye for it. After several years I had the grand idea to let everyone in the neighborhood come to pick out a unique piece that they liked of Tommy’s work. I posted a notice at the corner store and put a date on it when they could all show up and take whatever they wanted.
That day came, and sure enough, the place filled up with everyone from Parker Lane. They walked through the house and yard like they were visiting a museum, looking and pointing at each strange piece, but though many expressed their desire to own one of Tommy’s works of art, no one would take anything, not even so much as a roll of thread.
I’d never met Tommy—least not until I bought the place. But the neighbors tell me he was seen all over town and along the seashore, always carrying a five-gallon bucket, dressed in worn khaki shorts, a threadbare shirt, and floppy hat, searching for anything cute or colorful that could take its place on one of his artistic pieces.
One day I was driven to ask Tommy if he had anything special to show me, and he led me down a set of stairs I’d never discovered before to a basement room clothed in cobwebs. Telling me to look in the corner under a pile of old rags, I pulled out a beautiful knife. It was easily recognizable as being hundreds of years old; the blade was crafted of Damascus steel, folded metal—hammer forged in the hottest of fires. The gilded handle was exquisitely fashioned from the horn of an ibex with precious stones set in silver. It was a fabulous blade.
I asked Tommy where he got it, and he told me it was given to him—to save for me.
And it was the reason I could speak with him, like no one else.
At first, I was afraid to take the blade with me, so I placed it back under the old rags, but it seemed I was drawn to visit the old dwelling more often, and whenever I did, I held the old blade and stroked and caressed it like a long-lost lover. It seemed to take on a glow that lit the dark room with its brilliance, and nothing was more difficult for me than to let it go as I tenderly placed it under its blanket of rags.
I questioned a couple of older residents of the neighborhood about the stairs going down into the basement room but received strange looks and was told it couldn’t possibly exist. There were no basements in any of the homes because of the high groundwater level. After that, I never mentioned it again, realizing in some strange way that the area below ground level was for my eyes only.
At that point, I ceased to fraternize with the area residents, happier to be alone with the blade and Tommy. It was the blade, not Tommy, that revealed its name to me, an ancient Turkish word, Oymáci, that when I looked it up, meant Carver or The Carver. From then on, when I would speak or call its name while holding it, it would begin to hum and vibrate in the palm of my hand. I knew then it was alive, and the realization came to me that it needed sustenance to exist—it required blood.
I wanted to feed Oymáci but, in my ignorance, believed, at least at first, that I could satisfy it with just any blood. One night I carried it out of the basement and, with a can of tuna from my pantry, lured one of the neighborhood cats into coming close, close enough to strike it with Oymáci. And though there was an excess of sanguine fluids, Oymáci wasn’t happy and responded by getting so hot it left blisters on my hands. Hot as it was, I didn’t drop my lover, Oymáci. Instead, I held her to my chest and spoke softly to her, promising her a more appropriate feast.
I was petrified, now knowing what my dear Oymáci wanted. Not just wanted but lusted intensely. Tommy spoke to me, encouraging me to satisfy Oymáci’s urges. I rebelled but was met with sleepless nights where both Oymáci and Tommy relentlessly verbalized to me, not allowing me a shred of rest.
Finally, I could take it no more; driven to placate my lover and experience a night of repose, I took Oymáci into the night on the dark of a new moon and went in search of sustenance for my paramour. For this first feeding, I wanted to get as far away as possible from my residence, so I went down the street to Parker’s Cul-de-sac.
I need not have feared hunting close to home.
I found Ms. Ruth, whom I knew reasonably well, sitting on her back porch. Albeit surprised by my late-night visit, she invited me in, telling me she couldn’t sleep without a cup of warm milk. Though nervous, I wasn’t to be deterred in my quest and struck her so hard with Oymáci that she was thrown from her chair. Oymáci fed well as I repeatedly immersed my beloved into her thrashing body until I knew that Oymáci was satisfied—at which point Ms. Ruth, or what was left of her, began to glow like a brilliant torch and then disappeared completely, leaving no trace of flesh or clothing or bodily fluid. Only her teacup, which had broken when thrown from her hands, lay in pieces on the wooden floor.
I hurried back to Tommy’s house and placed Oymáci into her ragged robes, and Tommy greeted me warmly, telling me I had done well and that I could now rest without any interference.
I feared a repercussion from my night’s endeavor, but it never came, although the neighborhood pondered for several weeks the disappearance of poor Ms. Ruth. It was finally determined that she must have wandered off, a victim of dementia, though no one had previously known she had any symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
I became more of a recluse and would only leave my property when I was in dire need of groceries, and even then, I would rush through the market, hastily gathering what I required to get me through the next couple of weeks. I lost weight; though I had been of thin build already, the meat seemed to melt from my bones until my clothes sagged on my slight frame like I’d borrowed them from another person. My hair and beard I couldn’t be bothered with, and both grew long and disheveled.
Its been ten years now since my task of caring for Oymáci began, and though she can go months without refreshment, she eventually becomes persistent and requires nourishment. For years we found a banquet for my dearest on Parker Lane, but the street is empty now of residents. Those that weren’t foraged upon by Oymáci moved away, and despite the fact that at first, the local Realtors tried to sell the properties, there seemed to be no buyers that wanted to live on the desolate street.
Now my love and I have to hunt farther from home, and the houses on Parker Lane and the cul-de-sac are looking more and more like Tommy’s house every day. As for Tommy’s house, the roof has fallen in on the back, and the only dry place in the house after a rain is my inamorata’s sleeping quarters in the basement. There the air is fresh and dry at all times.
Myself, when I’m not hunting on a dark moon night, I can often be found wandering the streets and seashore looking for bits and pieces to adorn Tommy’s art carrying a five-gallon bucket, dressed in worn khaki shorts and a threadbare shirt and floppy hat. He instructs me on their placement, and they have never looked better. Although I’m quite happy with my friend Tommy and true love, Oymáci, I often wonder what will become of this property when I am gone.
Tommy assures me I needn’t anguish over it, that when I join him in the afterlife, someone will come along and feel the desire to take my place on Parker Lane.
Perhaps it will be you?
Look for this story and others in Behind the Mask- An Anthology of Short Stories, available here.
Links to all of Marcus Miller’s books here… Marcus Miller action/adventure series