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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

oldauntsin.jpg
Art by Marina Cicalese 2017

OLD AUNT SIN

 

By

 

Gary Lovisi

 

 

 

I’d heard the stories about her from my Ma and all the other daughters of General Abrams over the years. Old Aunt Sin, Aunt Cynthia Abrams, tough, crotchety, often nasty. They say she cussed like a Virginia City silver miner, could shoot better than Captain Adam H. Bogardus himself, and had kilt more Indians than Buffalo Bill or Kit Carson when she’d been in her prime. She was an old-timer now, but there was still talk she’d been a beau of Sam Houston back in ’42 after Texas had won its independence from Mexico. They said Aunt Cynthia had even turned him down. In fact, she’d never married. It was all because of what the Indians did. She hated Indians and so did I. But I think I was even more scared of Aunt Sin than any Indians back then in 1876. I was just twelve years old, but I remember Ma threatening us with her when we was youngins. “Behave, or we’d be sent packing to live with Old Aunt Sin!” That got results, let me tell ya.

Aunt Sin’s Ma and the General had first come out here in ’35 with their first two daughters, the oldest being Cynthia and the youngest three year-old Mary. That was more than 40 years ago. Not long before little Mary had been taken away by Commanches and never seen again. Aunt Sin never stopped talking about what had happened that terrible day the Indians swooped upon their wagon. She never forgot her little sister. She told my ma and all her younger sisters about the wild savage red men who ruled the plains and put terror into everyone on the prairie ever since she could remember. We never forgot Mary. Aunt Sin made sure of that. So I guess it was right natural that we figured the only good Indian was a dead Indian, as Aunt Sin often said, but she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. I was powerful scared of the red devils myself, even though I’d never seen any of the real wild ones – just ‘tame’ ones sometimes in town, who seemed just like anyone else to me. They seemed real sad to look at, kinda wore out, tired. Those Indians sure didn’t scare me. But I was an almost growed up girl of twelve by then and so I was growing out of my Indian fear. Least I thought so.

That was until the Army said they’d tracked down a band of renegades. They went right down into the Mexican hills to get them – trapped them all and found out that among their squaws they had discovered a white woman! It turned out to be my lost Aunt Mary!

My Ma told me the soldiers were bringing her back to us. “She’s family, Kathleen, and she’s white like us – though God alone knows what those red devils did to her all these years. At least she’ll be back with her own kind now. Finally. Been over 40 years. My, my!”

At twelve I couldn’t conceive of being 40 years away from home and hearth and what that might be like. I tried to conjure it up and it came to over three of my own lifetimes!

“What’s she like, Ma?” I asked, full of curious questions.

“Don’t rightly know, chile, she’s been gone long. Likely she’s turned squaw on us, but she’s still your Aunt Mary and she’s a coming home at last. I know the family and all her sisters will be pleased to have her back after so long. Especially Aunt Sin.”

I kinda doubted that.

All five of the General’s daughters, my Ma and my four aunts, were soon a buzz over the fact that lost little Aunt Mary was coming home to us after so long. The Army captain, name of Wilson, said a detachment of his troopers were bringing her in and that they’d have her at our house any day now.

Ma, being the only one of the five sisters married and with a home of her own that was in a central location, was naturally chosen as the place where they’d bring Aunt Mary. Ma’s sisters, all of whom lived nearby were there waiting. Except Old Aunt Sin, who lived way up in Tulsa. She had yet to arrive. Aunt Sin being the oldest daughter was the family matriarch, and the only one alive who had actually seen little Mary – over 40 years ago – and the only one who had not arrived yet to see the wild Indian woman come back to white civilization where she belonged.

‘Wild’ wasn’t the word for what I heard Captain Wilson tell my Ma and Pa about Aunt Mary. She barked at night, smelled like a ripe buffalo, and did a number of Indian things that no white woman would ever think of doing. She also tried to escape.

“She’s a fighter, that one. Not a speck of white left in her. Them damn red devils made a squaw out of her. She’s been breeding young bucks for Christsakes, more for us to hunt down and kill, I suspect,” the captain said.

“She’s still family,” my Ma said, “and once we get her here, me and my sisters will civilize her, Captain.”

“Appears to me, Ma’am, that woman’s got a long way to go to get civilized. She’s got a lot of fight in her and she’ll have to be broken first, like a spring colt, and forced to obey.”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine once we get her here and into proper clothes and all, Captain.”

“Well, my men are gonna break her of some of her foolish habits so she won’t run away from you and go back to them thieving redskins.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Captain Wilson nodded, tipped his hat, “Least we can do, Ma’am.”

 

Little lost Mary turned out to be a 50-year-old Indian squaw woman who looked older than Grandma did when she died at 70. The Army troopers had her hands and legs tied and a gag was shoved in her mouth. She was in torn rags and dirty and she smelled bad.

My Ma ordered the troopers, “Untie her right now! And get that gag out of her mouth!”

Captain Wilson nodded to his men to do as she told them.

My Ma then went over to Aunt Mary, who was dressed in fringed buckskin and cotton leggings, moccasins, like a squaw. She sat silent upon the Army horse, head down. We could hardly see her face, it was covered with long black hair streaked with gray. My Ma smiled up at her and said, “Mary! It’s so good to finally see you! Welcome home, sister!”

Ma beckoned for Mary to get down from the horse. I don’t think Aunt Mary could speak American any more after so many years. She’d only been five when she’d been stolen away. She didn’t look like she knew what was happening to her. She tried to make sounds, then spoke rapidly in Indian talk.

“That’s Comanch, Ma’am,” Captain Wilson said. “She don’t speak no English no more.”

“That’s all right, Captain,” my Mom aid. “We’ll have her right as rain once we give her a bath and get her out of those terrible smelly Indian clothes and into a nice gingham dress.”

I saw the Captain nod without much conviction. Then he told his men to mount up and they rode off, leaving Aunt Mary with me, my mom, and her three sisters, all of us not knowing what to do and waiting for Old Aunt Sin to arrive and tell us what to do.

 

It was supposed to be the happiest day in Aunt Mary’s life. She was back with her kith and kin. Back with her sisters. Saved from the red devils. Back with civilized white people once more and away from her prison of savagery. Or so Ma and her sisters said over and over again. I knew they was disappointed, though. Aunt Mary was supposed to be one of them but she didn’t act like them. In fact, she didn’t really seem happy to be ‘saved’ at all.

“I’m ‘fraid Little Mary’s been squawed plum out of her mind,” my Aunt Kate said one evening when all the sisters was meeting together, except Old Aunt Sin of course, who we was still waiting upon.

“Damn Indians made her one of them now, but we’ll get Little Mary back! We’ll teach her!” that was Aunt Jane, a proper, spare the rod and spoil the child teacher over in Elk Grove. She always said how her favorite medicine was a long, limber switch put to purposeful use upon the back of a youngin. I cringed, for I knew she was itching to put that switch to use on the Indian parts of Aunt Mary. I began to feel sad for Aunt Mary, seeing as how she was woven together with both red Indian parts, and the white Abrams parts that was my blood and kin.

Aunt Mary for her own part was unresponsive to it all. She just sat in her room. On the floor. Not eating. Not drinking. Staring at the blank wall like it wasn’t there, almost as though she could see right through it. I wondered what she could be looking at. It was the strangest thing. There was a large window on the other side of the room that she could have easily looked out of, but she ignored that. She just sat there, staring at that blank wall, like she was watching some Indian spirits or such. Sometimes she’d make little sounds, secret Indian talk, I figured. I watched her from the hallway, afraid to enter her room, afraid to leave and miss out on her odd doings. Wondering all the time what was going on in her head.

I figured she’d try to escape out her opened second floor window first chance she got. She didn’t even try. When I asked my Ma about it, she told me, “No, honey, Aunt Mary won’t be doing no escaping from this house.”

I said I didn’t understand.

It was prim Aunt Jane who told me, “Those nice trooper boys did us a favor and took all the fight out of her troublesome squaw nature, that’s why.”

I found out later “taking the fight out of her,” meant to tie her hand and foot and dump her over a saddle for traveling. Have her gagged for days and unfed so she wouldn’t be strong or spry. Unable to give no trouble. In the beginning I heard they “softened her up” by running her with a rope bound to her wrists from behind a horse. When she fell, the horse dragged her. I found out later that’s why she had been so dirty and smelled so bad when I’d first seen her brought in.

I began to wish Aunt Mary would escape but she just sat there, softly crying Indian songs. Escaping in her mind, maybe, but her body was definitely not going anywhere.

My Ma wasn’t always around. She had a caring heart, even if Mary was all Indian now. My Aunt Kate and Aunt Jane were different. They hated Indians and they showed it. I think they hated Mary, too. They forced Mary to bathe, which I figured was a good thing. They also forced her to strip and wear new clean white woman’s clothes, which I also thought was a good thing. But it’s the way they did it that bothered me. They were hurtful. Harsh. And they seemed to enjoy it. I told Ma one time that I saw Aunt Jane switching Aunt Mary, but she told me I had to be mistaken and paid me no mind. I know I wasn’t mistaken.

Next day I saw the welts on Mary’s back and I cried as I hugged her to me. She sang Indian songs low, almost silent. They were sad songs. I saw tears and that faraway look in her eyes. I wanted to help her escape and told her so, but she could not understand me, nor respond in any way.

Aunt Jane said, “I swear, our squaw sister is the most persistent Indian. But don’t fear, once Old Aunt Sin gets here, she’ll put the fire of resoluteness in Mary and cure her of all her evil Indian ways.”

That’s what I was afraid of.

The Overland stage came in town the next day. A buckboard was sent out by Pa to bring Old Aunt Sin, Aunt Cynthia Abrams, to our ranch outside of town.

We all waited. Curious. Once we saw the buckboard approach with riders, Army Captain Wilson and some men alongside, everyone came outside to watch. Aunt Kate and Aunt Jane went to fetch Aunt Mary. They had to force, carry and prod her into the hot outside sun. And there we all stood watching the long flat plain ahead as the buckboard and cavalry riders churned up dust on the long winding dirt road as they slowly approached our house.

Ma said, “It’s Aunt Sin, alright. I can see her hair from here. Still blazing like an avenging angel of the Lord, bless her.”

“She’ll cure our little Indian,” Aunt Jane said, giving a harsh look over to Aunt Mary, who was sitting silently in the dirt, her face down, her mind a million miles away.

I went over to her and put my arm around her, hugging her, whispering, “Don’t worry, Aunt Mary, I’ll protect you.” She never looked at me, never spoke, all I felt was a wave of deep sadness from her. She was so alone, so helpless. And now Aunt Sin was getting closer and closer and I was scared now of what that would mean.

Once the buckboard had approached and stopped, and the soldiers and Captain Wilson dismounted, I saw Old Aunt Sin up close. She was covered in black clothing and a cape, all dusty from her travels, and a dark scarf that covered her face from the road dust. Only her bright red hair stood up above the scarf. It was fire-red bright. She looked like fire herself.

Slowly she eased herself out of the buckboard, Captain Wilson offered his hand, as any gentleman would to a lady, but Old Aunt Sin true to her type slapped it away.

“I ain’t dead yet, damnit! I think I can still motivate this old behind up and around without any help.”

Captain Wilson backed off.

I saw Ma smile.

Pa just shook his head. He wanted no part of this. To him it was “between the sisters” as he’d told me. He walked off to do some chores.

Aunt Jane hit her switch against her palm impatiently, saying, “Finally! Now we’ll get to the bottom of this foolishness and get Mary acting white again!”

I just held my Aunt Mary tighter and realized something I never felt before. I hated my Aunt Jane and I was scared to death of Aunt Sin.

Aunt Sin greeted my Ma and her other sisters gruffly, no fancy talk or hugs, just plain, “Alright now, let’s get to the real reason I’m here and traveled all this damn way. God knows it wasn’t to see any of you again! Sisters? Huh! Where is my Mary?”

“Mary?” Ma asked, then pointed, “She’s over there with my daughter, Kathleen, Cynthia.”

Aunt Sin leveled her gaze at me with cold and small eyes that looked like snake eyes. Her red fire-hair flamed in front of me. She unwrapped her scarf and for the first time I could see her entire face. She must have been very beautiful when she’d been young. Her skin was so fair and clean, so bright and…radiant was the only word I could think of. Like a star. She shone. Even at her advanced age. She had a stern mouth, an overall visage that was hard. You knew she had seen a hard life and given hardness in return, you also knew she brooked no foolishness. Her eyes told you that she could back up her words and that you should never make the mistake of pressing her too hard.

I gulped and held Aunt Mary tighter.

“Who…are…you?” she growled looking down at me.

My Ma came over then, “Why, Cynthia, you remember me writing you about my daughter, Kathleen?”

“Hah! She’s growed quite a bit, almost a woman now, I expect!”

“I’m near thirteen years old, Aunt Sin,” I said.

She stared at me. Hard. I didn’t know what she was looking at. Maybe me sitting there in the dirt with my arms around her sister Mary? I didn’t know really what, or why.

Finally she shook her head in frustration, “Youngins!”

I smiled.

She did not return my smile.

I got nervous then. Fearful. For myself and for Aunt Mary. Old Aunt Sin was scary.

“And Mary?” she asked firmly.

My Ma pointed to the limp figure sitting in the dirt so silently beside me.

Then Old Aunt Sin did something I never expected at all. She came over and sat down in the dirt right in front of us. Right there in the dirt with her fine clothes and all like it didn’t matter one bit to her. It was shocking, but no one there had the will to mutter a word. Then she whispered, “Mary?”

Aunt Mary did not respond at all.

Aunt Sin quietly repeated, “Mary?” Then she reached out and gently lifted up her sister’s chin so they could look into each other’s eyes.

For a long moment the two women looked at each other. Neither one saying a word. From where I was I saw a tear drop from each of the women’s eyes.

Old Aunt Sin so stern and hard, her gaze boring into Aunt Mary’s eyes. Questioning. Curious.

Aunt Mary silent, so sad. Yet they seemed to be communicating – though not one word was spoken.

Aunt Jane finally broke the spell saying, “Cynthia, you should use this on her,” offering the switch to her older sister. I could see that it was dark with spots, not green like it had been days past. I knew that switch had tasted blood and I did not want to think about it.

“You used that on her?” Aunt Cynthia asked quietly.

“Once or twice so far,” Aunt Jane responded with a shrug. “It is the only way we can get any reaction out of her. I tell you if Mary won’t leave those Indian ways of hers we’ll have to beat them out of her.”

Old Aunt Sin just nodded grimly. I froze up inside. I felt all was lost then for my Aunt Mary. I waited, knowing something more was coming from Aunt Sin.

Then Old Aunt Sin screwed up her face into a cranky grimace and added, “Why Jane, appears to me you and all the family been making the damnedest mistake thinking that this here Indian woman be our long lost kin, Mary. It ain’t so at all, I tell you.”

My eyes darted up to Old Aunt Sin in surprise. Aunt Jane, my Ma, the other  sisters, all looked to Aunt Sin in confusion and for some sort of explanation.

“Why, whatever do you mean, Cynthia?” Aunt Jane asked, totally flummoxed.

“Ain’t it plain to you? Well, it’s as plain to me as the nose on your face, Jane. I’m the only one remembers my beloved sister Mary, and I tell you now, that this here Indian woman ain’t her.”

There was alarm and consternation now. I couldn’t believe how mean Aunt Sin could be denying her own sister – for I had no doubt that she was Aunt Mary -- but what she said next made me angry with her, too.

“And another thing,” Aunt Sin growled now as if angry herself, “I don’t cotton to the idea of us taking red devil squaws into our family. I think it best that you make sure  this Indian is delivered back to her people where she belongs right away. Get her out of here! But treat her respectful, give her a horse and food, then send her on her way home. And now, I’m going back home to Tulsa. Damn bunch of fools calling me all the way out here for nothing! And at my advanced age, too! Why, I could catch my death!”

Then Old Aunt Sin turned around, her back now to her sisters and the rest of the family. When no one could see, she looked straight in my eyes and I froze, meeting her gaze, but she only smiled at me and winked, saying, “Come here, young Kathleen. Help your Old Aunt Cynthia into the buckboard. That’s a good girl. I’m going home now.” And then she whispered to me, “And so is our little Mary. Back to the only home she’s known these 40 long years.”

 

I rode the buckboard with Old Aunt Sin into town where she’d catch the Overland Stage back to Tulsa. On the way out we saw Aunt Mary riding bareback on one of our sleek little mares. She rode like the wind, back to the only home she’d ever known. Back to the only family she ever really had. She was free now. She whooped and hollered when she passed us by, and Old Aunt Sin stood up on the buckboard and whooped and hollered back at her.

That’s when I knew the real Aunt Sin.

That’s when we became fast friends as well as just kin.

         

 

THE END


Copyright 2017 by Gary Lovisi



Here's a recent bibliography fiction, with some non-fiction, I left out most of the real early stuff. It does not include foreign, anthology appearances, magazines, etc., just too much darn stuff! All are trade paperbacks unless otherwise noted:

 

Sherlock Holmes:

The Secret Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Series:

THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Ramble House, 2007)

MORE SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Ramble House, book #2, 2011)

SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: BOOK THREE (Ramble House, 2016)

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. HOLMES (Gryphon Books, 2016)

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BARON'S REVENGE (Airship27, 2012)

THE GREAT DETECTIVE: HIS FURTHER ADVENTURES, edited anthology (Wildside Press, 2012)

THE MYSTERY SURROUNDING WATSON'S LOST DISPATCH BOX (MX Pub., UK edition, 2014)

SOUVENIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Gryphon Books, 2002, non-fiction, new edition forthcoming)

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE GREAT DETECTIVE IN PAPERBACK & PASTICHE (Gryphon Books, 2008, large-size, spiral bound)

 

Crime:

BATTLING BOXING STORIES, edited anthology, (Wildside Press, 2012)

VIOLENCE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION (Wildside Press, 2012)

MURDER OF A BOOKMAN (Wildside Press, 2011)

DRIVING HELL'S HIGHWAY (Wildside Press, 2011)

THE LAST GOODBYE (Bold Venture, 2015)

THE NEMESIS CHRONICLES (Bold Venture, 2016)

ULTRA-BOILED: HARD HITTING CRIME FICTION (Ramble House, 2010)

DIRTY DOGS (Gryphon Books)

EXTREME MEASURES (Gryphon Books)

HELLBENT ON HOMICIDE (Do Not Press, UK, 1997)

BLOOD IN BROOKLYN (Do Not Press, UK only, 1999)

 

Science Fiction / Fantasy & Horror:

GARGOYLE NIGHTS (Wildside Press, 2011)

MARS NEEDS BOOKS (Wildside Press, 2011)

WHEN THE DEAD WALK (Ramble House, 2014)

SARASHA (Gryphon Books, 1997)

 

The Jon Kirk of Ares Series: (Wildside Press)

#1 THE WINGED MEN, 2014

#2 THE INVISIBLE MEN, 2015

#3 THE SPACE MEN, 2015

#4 THE MIND MASTERS (forthcoming, 2017)

#5 THE TIME MASTERS (forthcoming, 2017)

 

Other Fiction:

WEST TEXAS WAR AND OTHER WESTERN STORIES (Ramble House, 2007)

 

Non-Fiction:

THE SEXY DIGESTS (Gryphon Books, 2001, large-size)

THE PULP CRIME DIGESTS (Gryphon Books, 2004, large-size)

THE ANTIQUE TRADER PAPERBACK PRICE GUIDE (Krauss Books, 2008)

DAMES, DOLLS & DELINQUENTS (Krauss Books, large-size trade paperback)

BAD GIRLS NEED LOVE TOO (Krauss Books, hardcover, 2010)

MODERN HISTORICAL ADVENTURE NOVELS (Gryphon Books, 2006, large-size, spiral bound)

THE SWEDISH VINTAGE PAPERBACK GUIDE (Gryphon Books, 2003, large-size).

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017