E. Christopher Clark

And Again

When Tracy woke in the middle of that most fateful night, there was a person standing at her window. A naked person, it turned out, and not the naked person she might’ve expected to find there. He was still asleep in the bed beside her—she glanced over, just to be sure—and that meant that the naked person by her window just then was a different naked person altogether. Which, when you added Tracy to the mix, meant that there were three naked people in her room right now. And while she might be eighteen, Tracy still felt entirely too young for her first ménage à trois. After all, she was still getting the hang of the ménage à deux. So she scooted to the edge of her four-poster and said “Hello?” Because she needed to make sure that whatever was happening here didn’t get any weirder.

The woman turned to face Tracy, bare but for a few splotches of dried mud on her legs and a blood-soaked scarf wrapped tight around her throat. And with each step she took toward Tracy’s bed, each step further into the light of Tracy’s Ravenclaw nightlight, the woman became a little more solid. A little more real.

“You know,” said the woman, with a nod toward the boy asleep in Tracy’s bed, “you can do better.”

“Well, yeah,” said Tracy. “I was a virgin like three days ago.”

The woman smirked at Tracy’s snark. “I meant that you can do better than him.”

“I knew what you meant,” said Tracy. Then she screwed up her face and asked the woman why she was naked.

“Why are you naked?” asked the woman.

“Because my life isn’t rated PG-13,” said Tracy.

The woman laughed. A bit too loudly, Tracy thought, given the situation. But the boy in her bed did not stir, and there was no rush of motherly footsteps in the hall outside.

“For serious,” said Tracy. “Why aren’t you wearing anything?”

“My husband ruined my dress in his haste to bury me,” said the woman. Then she ran her fingers along the fringe of the cloth tied round her thin neck. “All that was left was enough to hold together the two pieces he made of me.”

Tracy saw now that this rough scrap of fabric was less a scarf than a tourniquet. It bound a neck torn open on one side, a neck covered in bruises from throat to nape.

So this one had been murdered, Tracy realized. That was new.

“Could you wear something of mine?” she asked the woman. “If I gave it to you?”

“I could wear anything I wanted,” said the woman. “I’m no ghost,” she said. “I am memory made flesh.”

Tracy nodded at the phrase she’d heard half a dozen times before, from half a dozen happy haunts. Then she sighed. She sighed, uttered an exasperated “yeah-huh,” and made her way to her dresser. It all made sense now. A couple of days before, she’d used an old family secret to unlock a door she shouldn’t have opened. Tracy realized now that she must’ve forgotten, once again, to shut it tight behind her.

Tracy, she could hear her mothers saying, do we live in a barn?

No, but they did own a barn. And their dumb ancestors, those positively pea-brained pilgrims, had built it atop an ancient burial ground.

Tracy eyed the woman one more time, calculating, and then nodded. They were about the same size, Tracy decided, so she opened the third drawer down. That was where she kept old concert tees of her mothers’, vintage gold that Mom begged Mum to toss after reading one too many books about minimalism.

Mum had hidden them in Tracy’s room instead.

Tracy balled up a shirt and tossed it to her guest. The woman shook it out and examined the graphic on the front. “This skeleton,” she said, “the chair that he’s sitting in. Is that—?”

“He’s riding the lightning,” said Tracy, stepping into a pair of clean underwear.

“Oh,” said the woman.

“Does it fit?” asked Tracy, as she pulled on a t-shirt of her own. “My mum’s tall,” she said. “Her t-shirts are like dresses on anyone else.”

The woman pulled the worn black garment over her head and Tracy watched it cascade over shoulders and then breasts, stomach and then hips. The woman tugged gently at the hem, reached a hand around back to see if it was covering her behind, and then—seemingly satisfied—said, “Yes. This will do nicely.”

“Keep it,” Tracy told her.

“Thank you,” said the woman. Then she blushed and extended a hand. “But we’ve forgotten to introduce ourselves,” she said. “How rude of us.”

They laughed. Then they shook hands. Tracy gave her name, then the woman gave hers.

And it was a name Tracy was not ready to hear.

“Not the Ada?” said Tracy, as they let go of each other’s hands.

Ada nodded as she said, “The very same.”

The ghosts who had visited Tracy before had been dead and gone long before her colonizing ancestors had driven the People of the Dawn—the Wampanoag—toward their dusk. But this woman, she had lived here on this land a little more than a century ago. In the dilapidated Victorian that once stood on this very spot.

“You were,” said Tracy, and she held a hand to forehead now to try and steady her thoughts, “one of my great-great-grandfather’s seven wives.”

“Indeed I was,” said Ada.

“This is nuts,” said Tracy, shaking her head as if to tell herself Nope, this can’t be, except that it was, yep, for sure. “The potion that makes all my shenanigans possible—”

“Yes?” said Ada.

“It came out of your journal.”

Once it had been a sacred recipe—a cherished secret of Ada’s mother, and her mother before her. But in 1892, unable to provide an heir for the husband who’d tried and failed with three wives before her, Ada had defiled her ancestors’ tonic. It would no longer suffice to revisit her own past, which was all the concoction had been conceived to do. No. Her predicament called for more drastic measures. And so she fiddled and fiddled until she’d found a way to delve into the past of another.

“Do you know,” Ada asked Tracy, “what your great-great-grandfather wanted, more than anything else in the world?”

Tracy laughed. “Kinda obvious,” she said. “To have a kid, right?”

Ada shook her head. “No,” she said. “That’s what his mother wanted. What Silas wanted more than anything else in the world was a mother who loved him as much as his father had.”

Tracy scoffed. “His father drowned at sea the year Silas was born.”

“Indeed,” said Ada with a nod. “But Silas felt sure his father had loved him. I’m not sure how, but he did. And he never felt sure about anything with his mother, least of all when it came to matters of love.”

“So he wanted a kid,” said Tracy, scratching at the top of her head, “because his mother wanted him to have a kid?”

Ada nodded. “It was her dying wish.”

“Dying!” said Tracy, and she was scoffing again. “Exactly. She was dead before he even started trying. So what the hell was she going to care?”

“Wouldn’t you do anything for your mother?” asked Ada.

Yes, thought Tracy. She’d do anything for either of her mothers: Veronica, who gave birth to her, or Desiree, who’d learned to love Tracy despite the fact that Tracy’s very existence had trapped the love of Desiree’s life in a loveless marriage for years—to a man who was little more than a glorified sperm donor and had no real right to call Tracy his daughter.

Veronica’s marriage had ended only when Tracy used Ada’s potion to force the issue, to make Veronica see how much of her life she’d wasted living in fear of her homophobic father, living under the shadow of his veiled threats to cut her off if she ever dared to come out. Tracy, sick of seeing her mother so miserable all the time, slipped Ada’s potion into Veronica’s evening tea one night. The next morning—after a “dream” she described to Tracy as one part A Christmas Carol and two parts It’s a Wonderful Life—Veronica decided it was high time to leave her loveless marriage to the glorified sperm donor, and to be with Desiree once and for all. After all, Veronica reasoned, she and Desiree had loved each other since high school, since the days when they piled into a four-poster each New Year’s Eve to binge on Chinese food and Julia Roberts movies on VHS. And it wasn’t the ’90s anymore. And they were adults now. So why shouldn’t they be together?

Veronica asked Desiree, and she’d been wondering the same thing.

So now they were together, thanks to Tracy. Tracy and her two moms, all under one roof. Des and Veronica, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N—

“Tracy?” said Ada.

“The first time I used your potion,” she said, “it was to get my mothers together.”

“Your mothers?” said Ada, raising an eyebrow. “Plural?”

Tracy nodded. “Welcome to the 21st century.”

“And you’re the only child?” asked Ada.

“The only child in the whole family,” she said, “if you can believe that.”

Ada held a hand to her chest. “That can’t be true,” she said. “Can it?”

Tracy nodded. “Uncle Matt is gay too, Auntie Ashley got her tubes tied the second they’d legally let her, and Uncle Michael…”

“What about Uncle Michael?” said Ada.

When you got right down to it, Uncle Michael was the reason this whole night was happening. It’d been for his sake that Tracy had opened the door that Ada snuck through.

Uncle Michael had been a father figure to Tracy for most of her life, but last year she’d uncovered some pretty unsavory secrets about him, and those revelations had led directly to her decision to use Ada’s potion again—this time to put her uncle on trial for his “crimes against femininity.”

Ugh. Even just two days removed from uttering that phrase out loud, Tracy couldn’t believe she’d ever said it. She couldn’t believe she’d said or done most of what she’d done that night.

“Tracy?” said Ada.

“He’s infertile,” said Tracy. “We’ve all known that for a while, but I saw something last year that made me a bit unsure. Made me think he was lying, in fact.”

“But he isn’t?” said Ada. “He wasn’t?”

Tracy shook her head. “No,” said Tracy. “The baby I thought was his—it wasn’t. They even did a test to be sure.”

“Well,” said Ada, “thank goodness for that.”

Tracy frowned. “Him being infertile is not a good thing,” she said. “He’s always been like a father to me. And he would be a great dad to his own kids, if he could have them.”

Ada waved a pair of dismissive hands. “Oh,” she said. “I meant no offense. I meant to say ‘thank goodness’ that he hadn’t lied to you.”

“Oh,” said Tracy.

“I can see how much he means to you,” she said.

“And I can see now what you meant about Silas and his mother,” said Tracy. “But what I’m still wondering about is the third version of the potion—the one I used to call the witnesses for Michael’s trial, and the one that you used to call…”

Tracy trailed off. This part of the story about Ada was the part she’d always had the hardest time with—even now, after she’d called a bunch of people back from the dead herself.

“You have to remember,” said Ada, “that I was desperate.”

“I can understand desperate,” said Tracy. “But what you did—don’t you think that went a little beyond that?”

What Ada had done, it turned out, was develop a version of the potion that could bring a person out of a memory and back into the real world. And all it took was a little bit of the person in question. In Ada’s case, that was seven flakes scraped from the insole of a boot she’d disinterred from beneath her kitchen’s floorboards.

“Was it really his father’s boot?” said Tracy.

Ada nodded. “The man who walked out of the maelstrom and into our parlor that night was the spitting image of my beloved, and Silas was struck dumb by the sight. He just couldn’t believe it: his father, right before his eyes. In the flesh.”

“In nothing but the flesh,” said Tracy. “Or so I’ve been told.”

Ada shook her head. “The clothes he wore were in tatters,” she said, “but he was clothed.”

“Until you unclothed him,” said Tracy, and she shuddered at the thought.

“My Silas,” said Ada, “like your Uncle Michael, was a barren tree. But if what was needed was an heir, a Silver to continue the line—and if that was the only thing that would ever let my Silas rest—then how could I not do what I did?”

“And after it was over,” said Tracy. “Are the stories true?”

“Yes,” said Ada. Then she stepped back toward the window. “Your great-great-grandfather—my great, great love—he…”

But she couldn’t finish the sentence, for she was interrupted by a sob that rose unbidden from the deepest parts of her. And though she struggled to choke it back, that battle was all for naught.

“He was so horrified by what you had done that he killed you,” said Tracy, shaking her head. “And he got away with it.”

“Yes,” said Ada, and it was that truth which drove the sadness from the woman’s face and replaced it with rage. And Tracy raged with her, so angry at what her own flesh and blood was capable of that she didn’t catch Ada pushing the window open until it was too late. “Yes,” she repeated, “but his family most certainly will not.”

“What do you mean?” said Tracy. But even as she asked the question, the cold truth of the matter sent a shiver down her spine. This woman was here to kill her, to kill them all.

But then: why was she headed for the window?

Ada smiled at Tracy, and never before had there been such hate in a set of upturned lips. “You just wait and see,” said Ada. Then she leapt from the window and she was gone.

The next morning, after consulting with her mothers, Tracy called everyone she could think of. Uncle Michael, Auntie Ashley, Uncle Matt. All the parents and grandparents, too. All of the scions of Silas Silver.

But there was someone she forgot, someone they all forgot. And it was that name they found on the front page of the Globe a day later.

“Poor Tony,” said Tracy’s mothers as the three of them read the paper together that morning, huddled together around the kitchen table.

When her great-great-grandfather finally did have kids, he had two. But one of them, Silas’ wild stallion of a daughter, had died at twenty-nine. And everyone forgot that one of the crazy things she got up to before she was gone was getting herself good and knocked up. And though her son had passed on a couple of years ago now, he’d had a son of his own.

And that son, Tony, though single, was still ready to mingle. Which got Tracy thinking: maybe the reason Ada went after Tony was the same reason she’d skipped over Michael and Ashley and Matt and Mom. Ada didn’t want to kill anyone she didn’t have to. She just wanted to put an end to what she saw as her husband’s folly.

“The line of Silas Silver,” said Tracy, “has to end.”

Her mothers asked her what she was talking about, and she explained. But then they asked her a follow-up question that she had no answer for at all.

“But if that’s true,” they said, “if Ada’s trying to kill any Silver who might still have kids, then why didn’t she kill you?”

“What?” said Tracy.

“She was in your room, Trace. You could still have kids. So why didn’t she kill you?”

Years passed, as years do. And though Ada didn’t kill anyone else after Tony, Tracy couldn’t stop wondering why she’d been spared. She couldn’t help but feel that it was only because she was single, only because she hadn’t yet expressed any desire to carry on the family name. So she broke off every relationship she had before there was a chance for it to get serious.

Until finally she couldn’t, because she was in love and the man she was in love with was too stubborn to let her deny it.

“Let her just try to come and get us,” said the man Tracy would marry. “Let her just try.”

They were riding from church to reception when a pedestrian leapt from the sidewalk and into the path of their limousine.

As the car veered through two lanes of traffic on its way to a collision with the Jersey barrier, Tracy squeezed her husband’s hand. The limo’s front end crunched into the barrier, and their coach smashed apart like the pumpkin it truly was—all of its magic gone.

Tracy held her man close, held on as hard as she could for as long as she could—but then gravity won out. His body was torn from her, torn from her arms at the same time a huge chunk of windshield tore his head from his shoulders.

When the car, completely upended, had finally skidded to halt, Tracy peered out from the broken window to see if the pedestrian was hurt. But what she saw would forever haunt her: a pale woman wearing an oversized Metallica t-shirt as a dress, with a scrap of bloody fabric tied tight around her neck.

Ada lingered long enough to shake her head and to shed a single tear. Then she fled.

At the funeral, Ada was amongst the mourners. And Tracy was too shocked to make a scene. Too worried, too. Though it seemed like everyone else was out of danger, Tracy worried that if she pointed Ada out to her mothers—or any of her other relatives, for that matter—then the vengeful woman might change her mind about sparing them. So Tracy begged everyone to give her a moment to thank this “co-worker,” who couldn’t come to the gathering back at the house, for her condolences. And it was only once they were all out of earshot that she asked Ada to say her piece.

“I know what you’re thinking of doing,” said Ada. “I can see it in your eyes, now that you’ve taken off those ridiculous sunglasses. And I don’t blame you,” said Ada. “I don’t. But I’m telling you now, Tracy: if you bring him back, I will kill him again.”

“Why not kill me instead?”

“Because I owe you a debt,” said Ada. “I couldn’t have finished this business of mine without you.”

“But I didn’t mean to bring you back,” said Tracy. “It was an accident.”

“Nevertheless,” said Ada.

“And what if I’m pregnant right now?” said Tracy. “What if the descendant of Silas Silver is growing in my womb right this second.”

“Then I’ll kill it,” said Ada.

“And what if I meet someone new,” said Tracy, “and he gets me pregnant?”

“You won’t,” said Ada.

“I won’t?!” said Tracy, and she said it so loud that Uncle Michael took a step back toward her. Then another. Until Tracy waved him off.

“How do you know?” she asked Ada.

“Because you,” said Ada, nodding at the casket, “won’t let that happen again.”

In the weeks and months that followed, Tracy took to sitting in her car outside the fertility clinic. She and her husband—who was her husband, even if they’d only been married for twenty minutes before he was taken from her—they had each left a little piece of themselves inside this building.

“Just in case we’re really old and we suddenly change our minds about kids,” they’d told anyone who offered a quizzical look when they learned that two completely healthy twenty-somethings had put a dozen eggs and half a cup of sperm on ice.

Tracy would sit there, outside the building, considering her options. It would be easy enough to go in there, ask them to load up a turkey baster with all that was left of him, and just do the deed already. But did any child deserve the fate that Ada was promising, even if that child’s mother could undo that fate again and again?

Wouldn’t it be better, Tracy wondered, if she just asked them to hand his spunk over to her instead, even if that was a request so ridiculous and so legally precarious that it required pulling every string in existence and greasing every freaking wheel? Because that’s all it would take—just a little bit of him added to a potion she could make now with her eyes closed.

Her husband knew what he was getting into, at least. She’d warned him, and he’d stuck with her anyway. And even if it hurt to watch every time Ada took him from her, she’d done that once already. And Tracy was pretty sure she could do it again.

And again.

E. Christopher Clark writes to entertain a diverse audience of saucy oddballs hungry to read about characters and stories as distinct as they are. He is the author of Missing Mr. Wingfield, The Seven Wives of Silver, and Bad Poetry Night. His writing has also been published in Live Free or Ride: Tales of the Concord Coach and River Muse: Tales of Lowell & The Merrimack Valley.