March 26, 1907: 3:22 AM.
No one hears her screams.
A heavy icy mist hangs above the Mill Pond. The foot bridge over the dam
appears ethereal, icy, glowing softly in the light of the moon.
Intermittent shadows dance across the railings and deck boards as the
moon above peers through torn, wispy clouds. The whoosh of the water
falling over the dam is muted as if the dead quiet at this hour has
swallowed all sound. The scene is surreal.
Step back, observe the beauty. Rise above the scene as in a dream. In a
dream you will be shielded from the cold. A light snow has covered the
ground. The falling flakes are large and fluffy. The first covering
melted because the ground was warmed by the March sun throughout the
day. As the air temperature dropped through the evening and early night
the snow has found comfort; it will stay for a while; at least until the
sun rises again to prove spring will be forthcoming.
The scene is peaceful, serene, quiet; now. Just over an hour ago music
and revelry from the Tavern through the stand of trees played havoc with
the quiet; silence.
Look…as the path through the trees opens out of dark shadows into the
moonlight foot prints are visible in the snow. Follow the prints and it
appears they are coming from the Tavern heading toward the bridge;
quick, purposeful steps, driven by the cold perhaps.
Look again, following the footprints it is evident everyone is not home,
asleep in a warm bed at this late or early hour. At first glance it
appears to be a couple dancing on the bridge or maybe just embracing; a
last kiss before ending in a warm bed together, maybe. They must be in
love. What other reason is there to be standing on the icy dam bridge at
this hour. Perhaps the couple had been dancing at the Tavern. But the
footprints…only one set; a small set of prints, a petite set of
prints; most likely they are the ladies prints. Perhaps this is a
The lighted lanterns are no longer glowing, the piano keys are resting
under their oaken dust cover and the violin strings are silent in the
case lying on the bench. The doors are bolted after the evening of
frivolity and drinking and brawling has ended. Perhaps the couple
dancing on the bridge arranged one last turn, one last dance before
retiring to bed in a lover’s tangle.
The man steps forward moving the woman into a graceful dip. The lady
bends slowly as he cradles the small of her back with a hand. Her hands
reach up to gain balance, holding onto his raised hand. They must be in
love. What other reason is there to be here now, on this cold icy
No need to spy on them for too long. The scene is clear. Observe with
ease. They do not know we are here…watching.
Now the man’s hands move from the women’s back to the nape of her
neck. He buries his fingers under her long, auburn locks. He grasps and
tugs, pulling her head back. Will he end their dance, their embrace with
a kiss? Will he move to place his lips over hers with passion and
Wait…wait…dancing…a couple dancing, embracing in love; look again,
look closer. Do you see it, can you hear it. This man and this woman are
not dancing; they are not embracing in love. Look again.
Can you hear it? Can you hear the pain and fear in the woman’s voice?
Listen. Is your heart beginning to race now as her heart must be racing?
Listen. She is whimpering. She is not moaning with desire. She is
begging. She is struggling. The man is nearly twice her size. Do you see
it now, can you hear it now? Can you grasp the reality of her situation?
The man is pressing and bending her against the rail of the bridge. This
is not a lover’s dance. As her eyes peer over his shoulder…do you
see it? Fear, definitely fear…not love, not love at all and if you
could see his eyes you would see the truth. His eyes hold pure evil. The
dance between this couple is not a lover’s dance. It can only be a
dance of death…her death.
The tavern, the Grist Mill Tavern through the trees closed at two
thirty. The last patron staggered away, searching for his horse and
carriage at three o’clock. The woman, whose footprints are in the
snow, is the proprietor of the Tavern. She locked up and left for her
cottage above the dam…she left the Tavern alone.
Now, follow her small footprints in the snow leading from the Tavern,
through the stand of trees and curving down the short path to the bridge
over the dam. Now look closer…a second set of footprints, larger
footprints lead up to her prints from a place beyond the tree stand.
They are coming from the barn in a small clearing behind the Tavern.
The prints, large and small converge. The woman’s prints stop and turn
as she realizes…’someone is coming up behind me’. She is startled
but quickly, with urgent purpose her steps lengthen and then she begins
The young woman is alone, helpless. The man’s prints catch up to her
steps just before the rise to the bridge. A scuffle is evident in the
scattered and disrupted snow cover. It appears as if she fell or tripped
or was pushed down.
Now he has overpowered her. They are alone on the bridge. And…no one
can hear her screams. The sad fact is even if someone is within
ear-shot, her voice is stifled, far less than a whisper because his
hands are around her throat compressing and squeezing. He is strangling
her to death. No one can hear her screams as he presses her against the
‘PLEASSSSE…PLEASSSSE…’ Her words can only be imagined as air
hisses past her vocal chords.
It is obvious the man does not hear her words. It is obvious he does not
care. His intensions are clear and it is obvious her death will be the
end of it.
The young woman cannot speak, she cannot breathe and she cannot scratch
or claw hard enough to defend herself. His vice-like grip is more than
she can bear. Her mind is foggy by now but somehow she manages to avert
her eyes sideways and up toward the porch of the cottage that overlooks
the bridge; her cottage. A slight movement catches her eye and her heart
flutters with fear and sadness. The woman knows someone is there hiding,
watching. And sadly...she knows who is hiding and watching.
The woman holds the eyes of the person who is watching. She begs
silently, in her mind. ‘Please…please…turn away. Hide
yourself…hide…do not let him see you. Please, please, please turn
away. Do not watch…hide, hide now.’
The woman’s heart is broken as she realizes who the only witness to
this brutal murder…her own brutal murder is. This horrible dance of
death should not be the last vision for the person on the cottage porch.
‘Please, please hide. Turn away and hide.’ Tears blur the woman’s
vision as the person on the cottage porch disappears from her site.
The woman is moved into a state of nothingness now, a state of limbo.
She is neither here nor there. She no longer feels the crisp, cold March
air. She does not feel the hard rail against her spine as the man
presses, presses, presses. She does not feel the wet, icy cold planks
beneath her feet and she can no longer feel the steely hands of death on
her throat. She is floating in a fog. Her pain and her emotions are
Despite this state she manages to avert her eyes to the evil man’s
face. He is smiling. He is triumphant, he is happy as her body goes
limp. She is gone, she is done, she is dead but…her eyes are not yet
black. Her eyes still have some life. She holds his eyes with hers. He
can see his reflection in her pupils. He watches his face in her eyes.
Slowly, his confident smile leaves. He watches as his expression changes
from satisfaction and triumph to a look of confusion and fear. But it
isn’t the lingering spark of life in her eyes that worries him. It is
the smile on her face. How can she be smiling? Why is she smiling? His
smile changes to a grimace.
‘How can you smile? I have killed you. You are dying…you are
dead…how can you smile?’ He turns his eyes up to the porch and
wonders, ‘did you see someone up there on the porch? Who is there? Is
someone watching us?’ He turns back…looking into her eyes…he is
worried. ‘Who has witnessed my crime?’
Suddenly his hands spring apart releasing the death grip on her throat;
he stands away. The woman slumps down in a lifeless heap onto the bridge
planks. But…his hands are burning with pain as if they are on fire. He
alternately squeezes his fingers tight then shakes them outstretched
blowing on them and shaking them but the burning intensifies.
He staggers to the end of the bridge, tripping over her body. His knees
buckle. Instinctively he throws his arms out for protection but the
momentum and weight behind the falling is too much. His arms collapse,
his head shoulders and chest hit the hard gravel packed ground with dire
consequences. Air escapes from his lungs with a painful groan and curse.
He quickly rises up on his hands and knees and crawls the short distance
to the ponds’ edge, plunging his burning hands into the icy cold
water. The burning continues and now the freezing water adds additional
Struggling to his feet the once again he shakes his hands side to side
in an attempt to increase the circulation to his fingers. Turning, the
man looks down to the still crumpled body on the bridge planks.
‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?’ He screeches. ‘Dam you…fuck you…you
BITCH. What is this?’
The pain, the burning slowly eases up. Now he is chilled to the bone. As
he wraps his arms across his chest, placing his hands inside his
overcoat he is shivering so hard it throws him off balance. It is all he
can do to keep from falling into the Mill Pond.
He trips and staggers back to stand over her limp, lifeless body.
Looking down into her face he fights the urge to strangle her all over
again. Actually he is afraid to touch her.
Her jaw is slack and her chin is pulling on her bottom lip giving her a
fish out of water look. The smile is gone but he cannot get it out of
‘Why did you smile? I killed you. I killed you with ease. You didn’t
have a chance from the second I caught up with you. Bitch…BITCH! Why
did you smile? How could you smile?’
The clouds have parted and the moonlight illuminates her face. Her eyes
are open…dead open. They are black and glassy and starring straight up
at him. Her stare reaches into his soul, pulling him in. He cannot stop
looking at her. He cannot divert his stare from her eyes. Once again his
reflection is there in her eyes; her dead eyes. He can see his
reflection…times two; one image in each eye. He is disgusted with the
confusion and fear he sees in his own face. He clenches his jaw and
‘You bitch…you fucking bitch. Who is the victor in this argument?
You are dead. How did you ever think you could threaten me and get on
with your life? Your problem is…you did not have murder in your heart.
That is the only way you could get rid of me. Murder…it comes easy for
me but you could not see it. You could not imagine it. How can you
smile?’ Spittle from his mouth glistens across her face.
Squinting now, the man can see a change in her eyes. He can still see
his face but something begins to glow in the background. He furrows his
eyebrows and looks closer and then he the vision become clear. The man
gasps and clenches at his chest.
Standing bolt upright he trips over his own feet and grunts with pain as
his tail bone cracks against the cold hard ground and he grunts a second
time when his back and head slam down against the cold hard earth. He
lies there for a few seconds trying to catch his breath. Quickly he sit
up and turns to look behind him…looking to the barn in the clearing
behind him. He sees nothing…nothing but the barns silhouette against
the dark backdrop of trees.
‘Fire…there is no fire. The barn is not on fire. Your eyes lie.’
He had seen fire in her eyes. That is what startled him. He saw his face
and behind his face, surrounding his face he saw fire; the barn is on
fire…in her eyes the barn is engulfed in overwhelming, red and yellow
and orange flames. But the vision in her eyes…a lie.
‘The barn is not on fire you fucking bitch…you witch. I will not be
taken in by you.’
The snow is beginning to fall once again. He looks up. Large, lacy
snowflakes lie down on his forehead and cheeks and nose and chin,
melting from his body heat. Water drips down following the creases at
the corners of his mouth. He swipes a hand over his face.
‘Bitch…BITCH!’ He grumbles with disgust.
Now he must finish the job he started…the job of murder. He rolls to
the side straining to rise up on his knees, straining to stand.
Despite the woman’s petite size she is dead weight and her heavy
woolen cloak coated with wet snow adds to the weight. With a clumsy
effort the big man slings her awkwardly across his chest. The woman’s
head hangs limply off his arm and one of her arms drapes and waggles
across his thigh. He staggers toward the open barn doors.
Once inside he drops her to the floorboards before lighting a lantern.
Off to the side, under the stairway to the second floor he finds an
empty barrel and rolls it out, stopping at her feet. He turns the barrel
upright and finds the barrel lid and a mallet.
Taking a rest on the bench sitting next to the cold pot belly stove he
curses inwardly for not lighting the stove earlier. He could use the
The man looks down at the lifeless body. Her face is turned away from
his stare. He does not want to look into her eyes again. Leaning to one
side he finds an empty burlap sack beside the bench and tosses it over
Sitting, breathing deeply to gather his thoughts he recalls his last
encounter with the dead bitch, last evening at the Inn. And now…look
at her now. ‘You are one fucking, dead bitch, ain’t ya
now…hah…AIN’T YA NOW…BITCH.’
His shoulders begin to shake as he lets out with a low, evil chuckle.
Then he speaks out, talking to her as if she were still alive.
He rehashes the argument, bending it to suit his needs, his side. She
cannot argue back now and he likes that. He laughs and slaps his knee
and argues and laughs again and again. Then he spits the last words she
had said to him, he spits them out at her dead body. He stands over her,
spits a wad of saliva onto the burlap sack covering her face and yells
out. “When Hell freezes…that’s what you said to me, ‘when Hell
freezes’...when I tried to reason with you. But you wouldn’t have
it…you wouldn’t have any of it. Well honey….” He struts over to
the barn doors and flings them open against the gusting snow storm that
has escalated substantially in the last fifteen minutes.
“I do believe Hell is gonna freeze tonight.”
He stuffs her body into the barrel and pounds the lid down with the
mallet. As he stands with his hands resting on the top edge of the
barrel, looking down at it, the shit-eating grin on his face is suddenly
broken, his confidence is suddenly shattered. The big man is visibly
shaken. He lifts his hands from the barrel and dances backward. The
lantern flickers and the floor boards under the barrel and under his
feet begins to warble and quake. The flame from the lantern flutters out
as if someone had lifted the glass allowing a breeze to pass through it.
Total darkness surrounds him, hiding his pale, white face and the beads
of sweat on his brow.
Out of the darkness, emanating from the barrel the man’s ears, his
head, his chest and arms…his soul is filled with the last words from
the woman’s mouth, the last words she screeched out to him before he
brutally strangled her. Her last words burned through him.
‘WHEN HELL FREEZES’
The man fell to his knees, covered his ears groaning in pain. “You
Bitch…you God dammed BITCH.”
1. May, 1980
Emelia Jason reclines in an easy chair in the quiet, dimly lit hospital
room with her legs stretched out and her feet resting on the end of her
mother’s bed. She sits forward and bends to pick up a book that had
slipped off her lap to the floor; the title of the book…’Fenton’s
Death’ by S. Elizabeth. The author name is a pen name used by her
mother Genevieve LeGrand.
Genevieve, following the death of her husband and her daughter Francine
fifteen years ago was admitted to the nursing home unable to face the
compounding effects of these separate but emotionally linked tragedies.
After a year in a state of catatonia she awoke but she was no longer
She took on a new persona; she lived in a new world, a made up world as
she moved along the hallways and social rooms in the Chelsea Nursing
Home. The home became the perfect stage for make believe. Old friends
became new friends…fictionalized in a story that her injured emotions
could handle. New and old friends alike became characters in her book
and in her new life. She willfully changed their lives and sometimes, to
save herself from more emotional trauma, she wrote them out of her life.
Genevieve refused to live with the pain of her real life memories, so
she rewrote her life.
Emelia is one person she rewrote and then she wrote her out. Genevieve
could not face her daughter who lived without facing the memory of the
daughter who did not live. Fiction became Genevieve’s new reality.
For years Emelia lived with survivor’s guilt. She should have died in
the accident that killed her sister Francine and her friend Fenton but
she didn’t. There were times when she envied Genevieve’s fantasy
world. If nothing else, at least her mother’s departure from reality
gave Emelia the freedom to move on. The care facility fulfilled
Genevieve’s basic needs; a close family friend lives nearby and Emelia
knew she would be notified if her mother’s condition changed.
So here she sits. The family friend, Pastor Griffey called her.
‘Your mother has suffered a stroke. She may not be aware of your
presence but you will know. For your sake, you should come to see
Emm knew he was right. She knew she would not forgive herself if her
mother died without her last living relative by her side. This is
something that is in her control. She should be at her mother’s side
and say the words that need to be said even if Genevieve cannot hear
them. So…’I’m here with you Mother…I’m here.’
Emm’s eyelids flutter as she is tries to hold back the tears that
glisten on her long dark lashes. She had slept fitfully through the
night reclining in a chair beside her mother’s bed. The book she had
been reading slipped off her lap as she attempted to find a comfortable
position. The comfortable position never happened but fatigue found her
and she slept at last…sort of.
A damp, white handkerchief is entwined through the fingers of one hand.
Emm’s other hand is draped over the limp, near lifeless fingers
belonging to her mother. Her mother’s hand is cool and every so often
it twitches. Emm wonders…’is she dreaming?’ Maybe she is trying to
reach out to someone in her dreams or maybe it is just the neurotic
twitch of someone who has had a stroke and is lying in a coma.
Emm decides she had better get up and use the toilet before the day
shift starts their rounds. Her stomach is sour because all she has
consumed in the last twenty four hours is too much coffee on an empty
stomach. The dining room will be open by the time she washes her face
and brushes her hair.
She moves her dry tongue around in her dry mouth and groans in disgust.
Her teeth have grown hair overnight. A toothbrush and mouth wash are at
the top of the list for basic hygiene. A shower and change of clothes
will have to wait until she gets some food on her queasy, empty stomach.
Emm can only hope her body odor is not too offensive. Fainting from
hunger might lead her to becoming a patient here…but on second
thought…that might expedite getting her a comfortable bed to sleep in.
As Emm bends to kiss her mother’s forehead a glistening jar filled
with smooth stones catches her eye. The jar is sitting at Genevieve’s
eye level if she is turned to that side. It brings a smile to Emm’s
lips. She found it hidden in a shoebox on the top shelf of the closet
while taking inventory of Genevieve’s things. The jar holds her
attention for half a minute and Emm would swear, ‘Francine’s face, I
can see her face floating there in the glass among the stones’.
Francine’s deep blue eyes and blond hair flowing around her flawless
complexion are blurred but it is her face as Emm remembers it. Francine
was beautiful and Emm misses her every day. She will always have an ache
in her heart for Frannie. As the years go by, Emm takes solace that most
of the memories are good memories.
Emm reaches out to touch the jar. She hears a quiet, faint moan.
Startled, she turns to look down at her mother’s face. Her nose and
mouth and eyes are puckering and wrinkling and then she yawns like
someone who is trying to awaken from a long night’s sleep. After the
yawn has passed Emm notices her jaw and cheeks are no longer slack and
lifeless, her mouth is not grossly gapping and there is color in her
cheeks. It appears as if the muscles around her mouth and eyes have a
purpose of their own. The muscle tone that makes up her facial features
looks stronger like that of a someone who is resting as opposed to
someone who is dying in a coma.
“Mom…mom…can you hear me? It’s me…Emelia. Are you waking?”
Emm whispers. She reaches down to take her mother’s hand and speaks
softly as if she doesn’t want to disturb her. “I’m here mom. When
you wake, I will be here. Can you hear me Mom?”
Emm set the jar of stones in the bed beside her mother. Immediately
Genevieve reaches out to cradle the jar. One hand wraps around it and
the other grasps the lid as if to say, ‘this is my jar.’
Hands that were cool to the touch a short while ago are now warm…not
too warm but…warm and her fingers are slightly tensed rather than
Emm straightens to get a better look at her mother. She is breathing a
little deeper now, not as shallow as before. Emm tugs the jar from her
hands and places it on the stand and waits motionless.
‘I need to see Esta. Something has changed. I have some new questions
for Esta.’ Emm quietly leaves.
“Will you be having your eggs poached, as usual Miss Emelia?” Emm
was in a little bit of a trance. Tony is the week day short order cook.
He tries two times to get her attention. “Didn’t see ya here
yesterday, are you alright this morning?”
Tony has worked for the Chelsea Nursing Home for twenty years now and he
will never leave…voluntarily at least. He especially enjoys helping
the family visitors feel at home, as if he has invited them to his
kitchen, although he normally does not offer poached eggs to anyone.
With Emm being the first and only customer most mornings he is happy to
extend her the favor of a special order; a special order for the
daughter of a special resident. Genevieve has endeared herself to all at
the home over the years of her occupancy; workers and other residents as
well have grown to love ‘our Genevieve.’
“Oh…yes…hi Tony…how are you today? Sorry…I’m tired I
guess.” She flushes and waves a hand over her face. “Thank
you…yes, poached is good…on whole wheat…thank you. I’m
over-hungry I think. My stomach informed me this morning that I didn’t
eat at all yesterday. I’ll be fine…thank you; poached is good.”
The room will begin to bustle in another half hour, around eight as the
visitors and staffs drift in for a morning coffee and breakfast fare.
Emm is usually there before seven thirty. She is always hopeful and
usually rewarded with Esta’s company at or near seven thirty. Esta
starts her day by eight fifteen usually. It is unusual for the pharmacy
to have the patients’ AM meds ready before then.
“Thank you Tony and please tell me you still have some of that special
marmalade for my toast?” She winks at him, bringing a broad smile to
“Yes mam and I promise I will bring a jar of my mama’s marmalade to
you soon. She will be making her jams soon…soon Miss Emelia.” Tony
answers her wink with a wink in kind.
Emm sits at the usual table where Esta can easily see her and join her.
Esta waves as she stands in the short order line awaiting her usual
breakfast from Tony. Privacy is not a big issue this time of the morning
even in the small dining room. Most people get their orders to go. At
the moment there is only one other visitor sitting across the room in
the farthest corner. Emm rises to take Esta’s tray and they hug.
“Emmie, Emmie juu should git betta sleep. When juu mama comes awake,
juu will need to be rested.” Esta speaks very good English but her
Cuban/Spanish accent is quite thick. Emm always appreciates her firm but
“You sound so positive she will come out of this? I wish I could be so
sure. I…” Emm stops talking. She swallows the lump in her throat
before continuing. “I hope so much to be able to tell her ‘I love
you’…and talk to her and have her talk to me. I should have
never…” Again she falls silent. Emm is not prepared to divulge to
Esta what she experienced moments ago. She is not sure how much to
believe. She will wait for Esta or other staff to notice a change in her
mother’s condition and when they see it and speak of it on their own
then she will believe it.
“Juu jess too hard on juu-seff.” Esta places her hand over Emm’s.
“Now juu here, that’s what counts. I know dis. Juu listen to your
Esta…Esta knows.” Esta looks at Emm over the rim of her eyeglasses
as she spreads jam on her toast. Then she spies the book lying halfway
out of Emm’s bag.
“I stop in Genève’s room afore I come meet juu an I put the
stone-jar back in da draw. She was clutching it. Did juu put it in her
“How…who put the jar back in mom’s hands? I set it in the bed
beside her but before I left the room…I didn’t want it to
accidentally fall to the floor so I put it on the night stand.” Emm
shakes her head. “How…?”
Esta interrupts Emm as if she hadn’t heard her. “So, how many times
juu read da book? Dis yer mama’s book, yes?” Esta once again glances
sideways at the book. She raises her eyes over her eyeglass rims once
again. “I kin read too. I guess what I read from dat book is little
different den wha juu read from dat book. Juu read too much into it
Emmie. Juu think too much ‘bout it. Juu mama dint mean to bring hurt
on juu or anyone when she write dat book. She only mean to ease her own
hurt…for herself. She hide her hurt in dat book, the hurt she can no
live with. So she make up a sad story…sadder den her own story. She
make up a name to hide behind. Dat her way. She no mean hurt
anyone…Esta knows. Yer mama no mean hurt juu. Juu lissen Esta an’
juu put dat book away. Juu shud no hang onta sum’tim dat make juu so
sad. Bad karma juu no need.” Esta scolds gently. She furrows her
eyebrows and pats Emm’s knee.
“If juu mama no wake from dis…juu will be with her when she passes
and she will know dis.” She pats Emm’s hand. “Before she
stroke…she cry for juu. Esta knows dis. I see her nearly ever day
since she here. Do what juu have to do…she want juu be happy. Juu have
juu own sad story. Don’t hide away. Juu deal wit’ sadness by living
wit’ it, den juu move on. She would tell juu dis. She know her way not
bes’ way. She will tell juu…no hide. She would tell juu how sorry
she is for hiding all these years. She would tell juu…she love juu.”
Esta pauses before taking her las bite of marmalade toast. “An’
yes…I notice change in Genevieve dis morn. Juu can speak of your love
to her soon I think.”
Excerpted from "When Hell Freezes" by Sharon E. Linden. Copyright © 2016 by Sharon E. Linden. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.