Light and Shadow
Julie stared at the empty seat in front of her, a fake smile pasted on her lips and gaze cool as ice. She seemed the incarnation of the Snow Queen, but inside, she was a pure fire sparked from rage and fanned with insult.
I’m seething, she thought.
Melvin and Cora, she cursed.
Revenge, she wished.
The train stopped at the station, and the doors opened. An old woman, short and chubby, took the seat facing her. She smiled at Julie. Julie pursed her lips into the kindest grin she could muster as the train left the station and plunged into a tunnel.
Light, then shadow, fell on the railcar as the electric lamp crackled, the woman’s face clear and kind, then old and ugly. The train’s clatter screamed in Julie’s head, chug-a-chug, Melvin-and-Cora, on and on, so loud and steady she thought she would explode.
The old woman glanced around, then smiled at Julie again. Julie stared straight ahead; if the old woman smiled one more time, the invisible chain which kept her wrath from exploding would shatter.
The old woman noticed the slight tremble in Julie’s hands as she opened and closed her fist to the rhythm of the Melvin-and-Cora mantra in her head.
“Let it go. He ain’t worth it.”
The woman’s voice rang clear above the din of the train against the rails, her face in light.
“What do you mean ‘he’?” Julie hissed through gritted teeth.
The woman shrugged, ugly in shadow, “Only a man can anger a woman so much. I know your wrath, and trust me, it’ll poison you.”
Julie pursed her lips, the fire inside threatening to explode.
“There’s a dragon inside me, and I don’t think I can keep it chained much longer,” Julie muttered, half hoping the woman wouldn’t hear, but deafness did not ail her old age.
“What did he do? Cheat?”
“Yes, with my sister,” Julie fought back lava tears.
“He’s not worth it.” (Light)
“I know, but it doesn’t make me less angry.” Julie’s jaw clicked when she spoke.
“Then, for your sake, let that dragon out. Don’t keep it bottled inside, it’ll rot you.” (Shadow)
“How would you know?”
“Because I’ve been where you are. He slept with my sister and I vowed revenge.”
A chill crawled up Julie’s spine as the woman spoke, her words mirroring Julie’s thoughts.
“Did you get it?”
“Oh yes, I screwed with their lives and hounded them to death, slow and steady, for years. But I got nothing in return.”
Julie gulped. How could the woman know she was planning a slow and simmering revenge?
“What was his name?” Julie asked unnerved, yet intrigued.
“Melvin,” The flickering light cast the woman into shadow, and Julie blanched.
“My sister’s name was Cora,” the woman continued.
“What? How?” Julie gaped.
“I kept my dragon locked up and made their lives miserable. I took their money, their livelihood, their happiness. Whatever they built I destroyed. I used everything in my power to screw them six ways from Sunday.”
Julie remained silent as the train chugged on, the wagon eerie in the sputtering light.
“They died in poverty and starvation.”
“Are you sorry?”
“Yes, but now I can redeem myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“On my deathbed I repented, and here I am.”
The train came to a halt, still in the tunnel; the light held steady and shone bright on the old woman. They locked eyes and Julie almost screamed; the woman’s eyes were her own, and her gaze, albeit old and bitter, was the same gaze that greeted Julie from every mirror.
“I’m telling you, Julie, you can change the course of this lifetime. Let the dragon out. Revenge is not the way; you’ll end up alone and sick and bitter.”
The light flickered off and thrust the wagon into darkness. Julie’s spine tingled at the woman’s hot breath by her ear as she whispered, “Heed me.”
The light flashed back on and Julie found herself alone in the wagon; the train resumed its slow ride to the station.