It was here on the Beach that Dave and Hilda found the plush colored stone. Gary was visiting, actually living at the cottage just below Dave and Hilda, who owned not only the cottage and beach house on the cliff above, but the beach front as well. After Gary's bad turn at marriage, only two years of screaming and uncontrollable jealousy, he'd sought solace in his oldest and dearest friends. He'd known Hilda from Sherwood college. She studied English and Drama, Gary was a History major. The two of them met during a terrible double date.
Dave was holding the stone between two fingers and Hilda was picking the seaweed from his hand. Gary laughed, shook his head.
“It seems every time I'm here, you two find something extraordinary on the beach. What was that..? five years ago?”
“Finding a pair of boots washed up on the beach is hardly extraordinary, Gary,” Hilda said.
“Unless those boots bring an abundance of good luck to a poor soul without any shoes to start with,” Dave quipped.
“There he goes again,” Hilda stole the tiny stone from Dave's hands. “Trying to be witty.”
There was a struggle between the two which, as usual, ended with Dave on top of Hilda tickling her. For Dave, it was something to be envious and glad to see still going on in a marriage that has lasted twenty-one years. When Dave kissed Hilda, Gary had to look away. Hilda noticed Gary being awkward, she whispered to Dave to let her up.
“Would you like to come over later for dinner?” Hilda pulled herself up from the beach, wiping sand from her brown shorts. She took Gary's arm. They walked on. Dave trotted to catch up.
“Maybe he's busy, Hilda,” Dave said.
“I don't want to trouble anyone. You guy's have already given me a place to stay.”
“Gary...you're no trouble. Is he, honey?” Hilda turned to Dave.
Dave shook his head. “No trouble at all, Gary. We like having you here.”
Gary stopped, took the stone from Hilda. “This stone...” He looked at it in the sunlight. The plush color had changed to a green now. Swirls of green overtook red particles in it's crevices. “I've seen this before...I just can't remember where.”
“You can stop being a Professor, Gary,” Hilda smacked him on the arm. “You're with friends who care for YOU, not what you know.”
Gary laughed. “I know that. I can't turn this off,” He pointed to his head. “It's who I am, Hilda. I have this need to know.”
“Know what?” Dave laughed.
“Everything, my friend. Everything.”
Later at their house, after going out to Andre's for drinks, Dave and Hilda found their front door wide open. They stood in the doorway. Hilda reached in and turned the lights on, but remained with Dave outside the house. Nothing seemed out of place. It was as they had left it.
Hilda sighed. She looked at Dave. “You think anyone took anything ?”
Dave shook his head. “So far, no. I don't think anyone is still here or we would have heard them...”
Hilda walked in, Dave followed. “Would've seen them as well. Only other door beside this one is the backdoor in the kitchen.” She checked in there, Dave went upstairs. Hilda heard a knock at the front door. The door was now shut. Dave rushed downstairs. They stared at each other. “Did you shut the door?”
“No,” Dave said. “I was going to ask you?” He opened the door cautiously. Gary was standing there.
“Okay, guys. I've got the board games. You got the wine, right?” He walked in with three boxes under his arms. No one answered him. “What's going on?” Gary looked worried.
Hilda grabbed his arm, showed him to the couch by the fireplace. “The front door was wide open?”
“Somebody broke in?” Gary's eyes sought glances from both of them.
“As far as I can see, no one took anything,” Dave placed a bottle of wine on the coffee table. Then he took three wine glasses from the bar that was under the staircase.
“That's strange,” Gary said. “Why would anybody break into a house and not take anything? You have enemies here?”
Hilda laughed. “Not enough people in the town to have enemies.”
“I'm retired from the insurance business. I don't have any enemies anymore.”
Gary was solemn. He rubbed his eyes with a hand.
“What?” Hilda asked him.
“Jessica,” He said. “Jessica came back here looking for me.”
“She couldn't,” Dave poured a glass of wine. “You said two hours ago she called you from LAX airport telephone.”
“Yeah,” Gary smiled. “Paranoia set in, I guess.”
“Let's...just chalk it up to a weird incident....nothing more.” Hilda took drink of wine.”
Dave nodded. “How about that game of Clue, then?”
“Can I have that stone you found on the beach?” Gary glanced at both of them.
Hilda looked at Dave. He nodded. “Yeah,” She shrugged. “Sure.”
“Just for the night. I want to look something up on the internet.” Gary opened up the box for Clue, placed the board on the coffee table.
The door to his cottage was wide open. Gary stood in the doorway, in the half-light of the moon, he saw a woman with hand toward him, beckoning him. She was in a black gown that exposed the olive skin of her shoulders and frills that hung past her heels. Her long dark hair was like waves in a black sea. But her face was for the most part covered by a Venetian Moretta Mask, which was a black oval shaped mask, usually held in place by the wearer biting a button or a bit.
The woman did not walk toward Gary, she floated. She was inches off the floor and swayed slightly as she came at him in a slow minute flight. She spoke to him. Or rather, he heard a deep voice as if it were coming from under water.
“Vieni, il mio amante,” She said. “Ho bisogno di possederti .... si tiene fino a quando non siamo più.”
Gary ran, tripping over his feet. He fell over backwards, landing hard on the ground. He picked himself up, sand that had gathered in his shirt and trousers rolled down his back and legs. He ran. Looking over his shoulder he saw the woman floating above the beach and was right on his heels.
He lost his footing again, falling face first. Gary blacked out.
He awoke and the sun was rising. Two pair of hands were shaking him. He heard Dave and Hilda's voices. Slowly, Gary rose to a sitting position. A blurry vision of his friends apeared, Hilda dabbing at the large bloody gash on his forehead with a her blouse.
“What happened to you,” Hilda said. She was in her black lacy brassiere and once Gary's eyes could focus, he couldn't stop staring. Dave noticed, feeling his blood boil slightly. His eyes were two daggers aimed at Gary.
“I had something strange happen to me,” Gary said.
“Looks like someone attacked you,” Hilda kept dabbing, then blowing on the cut.
“Someone did. A woman.” Gary looked up at Dave. He saw him looking at indignantly. Gary's eyes moved slowly back to Hilda.
“A woman..? You don't think it was--”
“Jessica?” He finished Hilda's sentence. “No. It wasn't her. This woman you could practically see through her. She spoke in Italian, wore a black gown and a carnival mask. Oh, by yhe way, did I mention she floated in mid-air?”
“The hell you say,” Dave said through flared nostrils.
'What?” Gary stood, his body language was the attack style of a gorrilla.
“Okay you two, stand down,” Hilda rushed to get in the middle of the two of them.
“You're saying a ghost—excuse me—a woman in white attacked you? Bullshit.”
“No. I said a woman in black. You think I'm lying?” Gary stepped forward. Hilda pushed him back.
“Not saying, I know you are. You did it for more attention.”
“More specifically Hilda's?”
“You got it. I want two things from you, Gary. 1) Get out of my cottage by tomorrow. 2) Give me the stone.”
“Please, Dave, no, please,” Hilda begged. Tears had formed in her eyes and cheeks were stained by mascara.
“I don't want this bum drooling over you anymore, Hilda!” Dave screamed in her face.
Gary tossed the stone at Dave's sandaled feet. “Have it your way,” He said, walked away.
“I always do,” Dave fired back.
They argued. Dave and Hilda, argued all day, kept silent in between arguements. She mostly stayed upstairs in the bedroom, he stayed in the living room, watching TV with the sound off. Neither cared about food, both drank heavily as they did in the past. Throughout the string of arguements, Carol 's name was brought up. Hilda never forgave Dave for that month long affair fifteen years ago.
Carol never wanted to give Dave up, even after Hilda knew about everything. So Carol gave up her life for Dave. They lived apart from each other for three months, when Hilda gave up and came back to him. Dave cut his buisness schedule in half. Ten years later he retired, bougt the beach, house, and cottage.
Eventually Hilda let things slide by, Dave let things slide by. Arguements were fewer, not as constant, as well as the drinking. Neither was in charege, both agreed to live in the moment.
Dave realized that jelousy monster never left him, it was just well hidden.
Hours later, both had fallen asleep. He rose from the couch to find a blanket draped over him. She still cared. He rubbed his eyes, noticed it was dark outside. He looked at his cell phone, it was well after midnight. He had slept that long? He felt hunger pains and wondered if any chinese left overs were still in the fridge.
Dave stood, walked around the coffee table and rum bottles on the floor. He was startled to see a woman in a black gown standing in front of him. She wore a moretta carnival mask. Her flowing dark hair rested on her olive-skin shoulders.
Dave went to her. She touched his chest with a hand. Dave sighed.
“Si sarà mio ... sarò tua ... per sempre.” She removed her mask. The right side of her face had been destroyed somehow, and the skin had grown over her eye and part of her blood red lips. The skin had turned a sick gray, sores embedded over the spongey exterior.
“Ci deve essere uno,” She drew him close to her, pull him by the shoulders, and kissed him.
The longer she held Dave 's lips in place with hers, the more it burned. The right side of his face taking on her damaged skin. Dave tried to pull away. He tried to scream. The flesh seered over his right eye, cheek, and bottom lip.
Hilda appeared at the top of the stairs. “Dave!” She screamed. Hilda saw the steam rising from his face. She ran down the stairs to him.
The woman in the black gown let go of Dave. He fell in Hilda's arms. He was wimpering, hid his face in Hilda 's nightgown. The woman floated up in the air high above them, inches from the ceiling. She hovered a few seconds, disappeared.
Hilda held Dave close, kissing the top of his head, as they both wept.
In the morning, Gary had everything packed except his laptop. He searched for hours for any information about that stone. Finally he found a website regarding fameous jewls and trinkits that were cursed throughout history. The Hope diamond was among them. The story that caught his eye was The Venetian Bride.
Born in Milan in 1756, Maria Christina, daughter of Maria Theresa, ruler of the city. She was wed to French Duke Antoine Louix in 1775. He'd given her the Lui è mio ... la mia vendetta ti distruggerà, Ring of Eternal Love. A red stone set in a solid gold band with enrgavings of the Alpine Swift, a bird in his native France. On their third year of marriage, during a carnival in venice, the ballroom that hosted a party, caught fire. The Duke Antoine, died in the fire along with several hundred. Maria was one of the few that survived, but not without damage to the right side of her face. It is said that she lived on another six years roaming the streets of venice in a black gown and a Moretta mask. She'd drowned herself in a canal on western side of venice. It was said she was wearing the Ring of Eternal love when they found her body, the stone was missing.
Years later, stories were told of The Venetian Bride haunting those who found the stone--
Gary turned off his laptop. He sat there a few moments, lost in thought. He lept from his chair and rushed out the door.
He ran across the beach just as the sun was rising, up the hill where Dave and Hilda's house was. He found their door wide open. Inside, he saw Dave curled up in a fetal position sobbing at the bottom of the stairs. Gary rushed to him. He pulled Dave's arms away from his face. He saw Dave's face and recoiled.
“Where is Hilda?” Gary asked with immediacy.
Dave didn't answer. He just crawled away from Gary to a dark corner and continued to weep.
Gary stood back, looked at the top of the stairs. Something told him to check the bedroom. He dashed up those stairs, nearly tripping over the well-worn steps. The door to the bedroom was ajared. He saw a shadow on the wall near the canopy bed. The shadow was hunched over another shadow laying in the shadowy bed.
He ran in. The woman in a black gown and moretta mask was overtop Hilda, holding Hilda by the shoulders in the bed. Hilda struggled, her arms flailing in the air. She was gasping for air. On the nightstand by the bed, Gary saw the stone next to a lamp laying on it's side.
Gary grabbed the stone. The woman immediately removed her hands from Hilda. Hilda sat up, her body dripping wet, she spat out water and tried desperately to catch her breath.
The woman turned to Gary. She spoke to him, easing toward him.
Gary held the stone just enough from her, backed out of the bedroom, into the hall.He led her down the stairs, past a weeping Dave, and out the house. They went down the hill, and out to the tides rolling in, recreating the edge of the beach.
With a great wind up, Gary threw the stone into the ocean. The woman in the black gown walked into the coming tide, disappearing under the currents.
Gary sighed. He closed his eyes and bowed his head for a moment. Then he turned to the beach house on top of the hill. He watched for Dave or hilda to appear. No one came out.
Gary turned from the beach house on the hill that looked down him. He walked away, feeling drained.