The Balderson Legacy
by Rebecca Bennett
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“We could ask for a special request?” Mr. Gellar asked. “See if they listen? My cousin Gerry out by Mooney’s Bay, he says he just got a 30-year old Grand Master who’s texting his friends on the Internet to join.”
“Young blood,” the voices agreed.
Donnelly snapped his fingers. “We ask Lawrence to guide a new Master here. Someone young. With years ahead of him.” He muttered to himself and then picked up the jar again, pointing to the ceiling. “As is tradition, we humbly request that our late Grand Master Lawrence Balderson choose the next Grand Master.”
As he spoke, my head began to buzz.
“Let Lawrence guide the new Master here so that he may teach him, just as Lawrence and his father were taught.”
My vision blurred as the buzzing became more intense. My hair rose as static clung to my skin.
“Let Lawrence bring us his named heir.”
I gasped as the electric charge became overwhelming. My eyes clenched tight, trying to block out the rush of light that glared up from the grate. My grandfather’s voice repeated in my head. His voice stern and deep just as it always had been, just like his father’s voice before him, and his father’s voice before that. “Stop.” I ground out, not caring if they heard me. “Stop it.”
Spasms lanced down my spine, shooting like lightning to every nerve ending. I closed my eyes and sank down into the carpet. The floor creaked beneath my increased weight as I leaned forward, trying to drive the pressure out of my skull. Finally the pain dissipated, leaving only the clarity of release in its wake. “Yes,” I muttered, my voice deep and stern.
There was a brief clang as the metal grate gave way beneath me. Open air replaced the grate. I gave in to the darkness long before I hit the floor.
I awoke with my back on hardwood and a flashlight beaming into my eye. Above me was an uncovered grate. My stomach rolled as I pushed the light away and forced myself to sit up.
Mr. Gellar was staring at me, his mouth gaping open like a fish. “I didn’t think it was possible.”
Donnelly sat across from me, staring at me with a wide-set smile. “Welcome back, old friend.”
“No, it ain’t right. New blood is one thing but this?” Ron Chester shook his head. There was a murmur of agreement behind him.
My anger rose at his tone but, for once, not at the insult to my gender. Once, the casual sexism would have rankled, but a darker emotion took its place. He was questioning me, my place. I had spent years following my grandfather’s wake, just steps beyond his shadow. I knew the words and steps of their ceremonies as well as my own name.
“We did say we needed something new,” Mr. Gellar said glumly.
Donny Cooper spoke up. “Maybe she’d attract some young fellas?” Donny was one of the younger members; he had just turned 55 this winter. “Or bring her city friends out here?”
I launched myself up, stumbling over the ringing that still pulsated in my ears. I shuffled until I reached the staircase, pulling away the blockades and feeling for the railing that would lead me downstairs.
A flash of bright orange Tupperware distracted me.
At the centre of the small table by the staircase, in between the small bowls of food set out for the men to pick at, was a platter of cold liver and onions. The liver cooked rare, still bright with congealed blood, just what my grandfather preferred.
I stumbled over to the table, forgetting my previous intent to flee downstairs. My hand reached out and grabbed a slippery handful of the organs. The taste was as metallic as I remembered. My gorge didn’t rise at the taste; instead, I grabbed another handful, mindlessly shoving it into my mouth, not caring that blood and grease coated my lips.
The taste settled my stomach, if not my mind. My vision swam, doubled, tripled, until I wasn’t just seeing the old men in front of me. I saw them as their younger selves, in greased-back hair and mail-order jeans. I saw them as children, watching their fathers perform the same rituals.
I even saw the future, myself standing in the centre of a circle of young men and women. Where I once stood, I saw my grandfather, young and handsome, huddled in a corner with the same congealed blood and greased smeared across his face. He looked at me with surprise, then grim acceptance.
Donnelly snapped his fingers an inch from my nose. The sudden noise startled and the images faded until it was only the present in front of me.
“Her arms,” someone whispered. “Larry had the same marks. Remember?”
I glanced down; raised red welts covered my arms. I always had faint markings when I returned after hiding during the Lodge meeting, but nothing this vicious. I touched one gingerly, surprised by the lack of pain I felt from such an ugly mark.
Ron Chester grabbed for my arm, but I stumbled back. Despite the arguing voices of the room, there was only one voice that captured my attention: my grandfather’s urgent whisper: Stay, stay, stay.
“Ron,” Donnelly called out, “get the papers. Quickly. Now. There’s no time to lose.”
I launched down the stairs, making sure I held onto the railing tightly so I wouldn’t fall and break my neck. My eyes adjusted quickly to the dull light of the downstairs hall. It was empty except for my mother who was playing solitaire at a table. She glanced up just as I hit the bottom stairs.
“Melanie Crimshaw!” She darted over and dragged me away as though that would undo whatever I did. “I was worried; I had no idea where you’d gone. You know you’re not supposed to be up there.” She glanced at the stairs nervously. “Are you all right? Lord, Freddy is going to be steamed.”
I swayed despite her firm grip on my arms.
“Mel!” My mother looked down and gasped. She stretched out my arms showing the raised red marks. “Are you okay?”
I pulled my arm back, shaking my head to force the sluggishness out of my body. I felt my grandfather haunt my shadow, just as I had haunted his all those years ago. “Mmm... fine, Mom.” I stepped backward as she reached for my arm. “Stop.” She reached out again and I jerked away. “Dammit, Sarah, stop.”
My mother’s hand froze in the air and then settled at her side. “It’s okay. It was a hard day,” my mother said after a moment. “A bunch of the old girls are still doing the dishes at Dad’s.” The floors were swept and the tables were cleaned off; at least the aunts were quick workers. “This is what Dad wanted, though. He loved the Lodge. It’ll remember his name long after you and I are gone.” She forced a smile.
“Besides, I talked to Freddy. Freddy Donnelly? He said they raised ten thousand for the Lodge. Just in the household goods alone. That’s a fortune. Maybe, when the house sells, they’ll be able to buy a bathroom. It stinks in here.”
I nodded, barely comprehending what she was saying. My grandfather’s voice still rattled around my head. His voice filled my senses like cotton, drowning out everything until it was just a murmur in the background.
“Sarah.” Frederick Donnelly appeared at the bottom of the stairs. He sent me only the briefest of looks. “I was talking to Ronald Chester, your father’s lawyer. It seems there was a more recent version of the will drawn up.”
“But the sale?” My mother gasped. “Oh no, have we missed someone?”
“Unfortunately so. Right under our noses the whole time. New generations and all.” He flashed a wide smile at me. “How could we forget about his dear granddaughter? He cherished her so deeply, you know.”
My mother turned and smiled at me. “See, honey, you always believed the worst in people. My father hated a lot of things but I knew he must have loved you. I’m sure if we find the purchasers, we’ll be able to get back whatever was bequeathed to her. If not, I’m sure we’d be fine with settling something.”
“It’s really not a problem, Sarah. The property hasn’t been transferred yet; the lawyers have had some trouble nailing down the specifics of the new owner.”
Donnelly handed an envelope to me. “This is the deed to his house. On the condition that it not be sold. As well as a portion of the proceeds of the auction so she can fix it up; I know how her generation likes all those modern amenities.” He winked at my mother and they shared a knowing laugh.
I ripped the end of the envelope, pulling out the letter with shaking fingers. I saw my grandfather’s sprawling script and read the lines over, his gravelly voice reverberating louder in my head. “This just says that it’s for his chosen inheritor.”
Donnelly looked at the paper I held out and shrugged. “Yes, I’ve spoken to Ron. He says it must have been written before you were born. You know us old fogies, always using archaic language. It’ll be good to have some more young people around. Maybe you can convince some friends to come down; there’s great fishing on Kitley Lake. You remember the mudpouts right, Sarah?”
My mother nodded vigorously. “Of course I do!” She laughed. “Mom could cut and gut a fish in under thirty seconds. Everyone brought their catches over for her to clean.”
I had never met my grandmother. She died long before I was born but my mother’s story stirred a hazy memory. “She was quick.” I muttered slowly. “Always wore her rainboots. Teal, I think. Showy.” A clearer picture shoved its way further into my head, her grey-blonde braid hovering next to a teal boot.
Donnelly sent me a knowing grin. “She’s just like her grandfather. Such a sharp memory on that one.”
“Ohh right, yes.” Mother nodded. “I can’t believe I forgot. I can’t believe you remembered!”
“Well, what’s old is new again,” Donnelly said cheerfully. “Wouldn’t it be nice to keep the property in the family name?”
“Oh, Melly doesn’t want that,” my mother said quickly. “She’s got a whole big life in the city. You’re sure she can’t just sell the property?” At Donnelly’s head shake, she looked at me sadly. “It’s okay, honey. It’s a lot to ask.”
“No, it’s not too much.” The words felt like they had been wrenched from me, deeper and thicker than my normal voice.
My mother looked at me, her face mirroring the surprise that must have been on mine. Her eyes flickered down to my clenched hands. She grabbed my arm, thumb running over the welts, her face whitened. “Melly? Melanie.”
“It’s not a decision she can make lightly.” Donnelly watched me with a grin. “Give her a couple of minutes.”
It’s a nice offer, but I’m going home. Every time I wanted to speak, blood pounded in my head. Everything sounded wrong or warped. I couldn’t hear my own thoughts; my grandfather’s rough speech overwhelmed everything I was thinking.
All I could hear was him. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Finally, the right sentence came to my head. With a sigh of relief, the pounding cleared. There was the rush of satisfaction, like the perfect fit of a new tool in an old case. I became almost light-headed from the release. I felt myself recede into the back of my thoughts as something older and stronger took prominence. “It’s a nice offer. I want it to be home.”
Donnelly nodded as though he hadn’t expected another decision. “It’s exactly the sort of thing you young people need. Your grandfather always knew what to do.”
At his words, my mother yanked her hand from my arm and stepped back. Donnelly bowed deeply, hand over heart.
Copyright © 2017 by Rebecca Bennett