This story is by David Elderton and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Foreclosure loomed and the money from donating plasma barely filled the gas tank. Penelope closed her eyes a moment, breathed in deep, then exhaled slowly. Something had to change in her life.
Her cellphone buzzed, startling her.
I still have service? What bill collector wants blood from the stone now?
“Penelope? This is Carolyn from the Companion Placement Agency. There’s an immediate opening for you at triple-rate, April through May, full-time.”
Triple rate? I can pay my bills!
“What’s the assignment?”
“Remember Goldie Owens?” Carolyn asked.
“Yep, fired me after one day. Didn’t like me, I guess.”
“Oh, no, she thought you were a jewel. Now, she wants you. Is it a ‘yes?’”
“Umm, sure,” she stifled her excitement.
“Great! I’ll tell her you’re enroute.”
“Wait, what happened to Sara? The girl that replaced me in March?”
“Goldie, I mean, Mrs. Owens, told me she quit.”
Penelope’s wreck-on-wheels groaned to a stop at the immaculate estate of Goldie Owens.
She pressed the button and melodious chimes reverberated throughout the cavernous house.
The massive oak door glided open and revealed Goldie Owens, a statuesque 90-year-old, white-haired lady with cerulean blue eyes that pierced through to your soul, exuding a grandmother’s benevolence. She wore diamond rings on each finger, a jangling assortment of bracelets on both wrists and one unique gold and glass pendant that held 12 multi-colored heart-shaped stones.
She’s wearing more on one hand than my house is worth.
“There’s my precious jewel!” Goldie said in the grandma sing-song lilt. “I missed you, dear, come give me a hug!”
“Hi, Goldie!” Penelope ran up the steps to hug her. Penelope surrendered to the comfort of the embrace, then raised her head from Goldie’s chest, a quizzical look etched upon her face.
“Do you hear that…high-pitched buzzing?” Penelope asked.
“Like a mosquito in your ear?”
“Yes, exactly like that.”
“No, dear, I don’t hear anything at all,” Goldie smiled. “You must be tired from your trip. The guest wing is yours. Pick a room and make yourself at home. Supper is at six. We’re having charbroiled Kobe filet. Now, scoot! I have cookies in the oven.”
Kobe filet? That’s $250 a portion. I could get used to this.
The first week breezed by. Since Goldie was physically capable, companion duty was effortless. The staff cooked and cleaned; it was a dream assignment.
Penelope used her smartphone to check her account. Her jaw dropped. The deposited sum for the first week was $10,000 too much. Honesty overruled greed; she showed the error to Goldie.
“No mistake, dear. That was a bonus,” Goldie said.
“Wow, thank you!”
“I’m thrilled you passed my little test, dear.” Goldie beamed, Penelope blushed.
“Goldie, why did you dismiss me before?”
“Dear, it just wasn’t your time to be with me yet, but it was the right time for Sara.”
That night Penelope stewed.
Wasn’t my time to be with her? What does that even mean? I could’ve been raking in thousands for weeks!
Her dark thoughts turned to her ex-husband who divorced her two years earlier.
I put him through medical school then he divorced me before he became rich? It’s not fair! Then he married a younger, prettier girl? Well, the car crash fixed that…
One morning, Goldie wasn’t at breakfast. Penelope went upstairs to check on her. She knocked, then entered her bedroom. Goldie was asleep, still wearing the pendant. Her appearance diminished from the day before.
Penelope noticed there were two black stones in the pendant.
There’s that buzzing again.
Goldie awoke with a start.
“Child! Don’t EVER come in here! Go to your room. Scoot!”
Humiliated, she ran to her room and slammed the door. She fumed in silence until she heard two car doors slam shut. She looked out the window and saw Carolyn from the agency with a new blonde girl.
What? She replaced me already? That bitch!
She opened her suitcase to pack, but as she thought about Goldie’s blatant condescension, Penelop felt justified taking anything of value and stuffed it into her suitcase. When she turned the doorknob, it was locked.
Her chest heaved as spittle sprayed through clenched teeth until rivulets of saliva ran down her chin. An hour elapsed before she could bridle her fury.
At 6 pm, she again tried the door. It opened. In the dining room she saw Goldie, as strong and vivacious as before.
“There’s my precious jewel!” Goldie sing-songed. “I’m glad you’re here, I sent the staff home so we could talk.”
“I’m not fired?”
“Fired? Dear me, no! I need you.”
“But Carolyn brought you another girl. I thought-“
“No, just a minor emergency, is all. I want you to stay on indefinitely. I’ll double what I’m paying you now,” Goldie said.
No apology? Damn rich people…
Penelope feigned a smile. “Of course, I’ll stay.”
...and rob my ‘Goldie Goose’ blind.
“Then give me a hug, dear.”
Penelope noticed only one stone in the pendant was black. And the incessant buzzing, what was that?
“Dear, it’s your 35th birthday tomorrow, right?” Goldie asked.
“Yes, May 1st. How-“
“Let’s be wicked and have an early birthday cookie, shall we? They’re fresh from the oven,” Goldie winked and motioned for her to sneak into the kitchen together like children.
Goldie smiled and offered her a cookie.
“Here you go, dear.”
She took a bite while Goldie watched with anticipation.
“Mmm! These are the best-“
Penelope’s eyes fluttered open.
“Happy Birthday, dear.” Gone was the sing-song inflection.
Penelope felt woozy.
“You’re not like the others, you’re honest. But I’ve learned one thing in my 145 years,” Goldie said.
What’d she say?
“Everyone has a secret.” Goldie winked at her. “I was told your birthday was in March, but it’s today, May 1st. I couldn’t use you until now. Sara’s birthday was in March, though.”
Penelope felt herself go back under.
“This won’t hurt, well, maybe a little…”
Dull pain pulsated through Penelope’s body. When she opened her eyes, everything was tinted green.
She was immobilized, like an insect cast in resin. She could only move her eyes. It appeared she was behind a large window looking out. She saw a reflection in the mirror of a beautiful woman, mid-30’s, fixing her jet-black hair.
A sudden movement hurled Penelope onto her back. A colossal cerulean blue eye pierced through to her soul, absent any trace of benevolence.
“There’s my precious jewel! I mean it, you’re an actual emerald. You know, for May?” Goldie snickered. “I quit explaining long ago, but since you gave me a special gift…”
“…my pendant contains 12 birthstones, metamorphosed like you. I feed on your energy until you die. Like…oh, what’s-her-name, she was the April diamond. I used to keep track of names, but really, who cares? Instead, I collect one piece of jewelry from each of you.”
All her jewelry belonged to her…victims?
“April died unexpectedly, it drains me as you observed, but at least she had the courtesy to die on the 30th. I can only replace them in their birth month, so I needed an emergency April girl yesterday.”
“I do try to anticipate. See the June pearl?”
Penelope saw a huge pearl, lackluster and dull. The woman imprisoned inside it appeared critically ill.
“She could expire any minute, but I can’t replace her until she dies.”
“Why me?” Penelope yelled over and over.
Goldie chuckled. “I haven’t heard that high-pitched sound for years! Dear, I can’t understand you, but you’re asking ‘why me,’ right? You were all chosen and deserve your fate. All except you…but then I learned your secret,” Goldie winked.
What? She can’t possibly…
“Your ex-husband’s second wife died…because you cut the brake line.”
HE was supposed to die!
“You’re honest, dear, but you’re also a killer,” she said in her grandma sing-song lilt. “And because you replaced my twelfth stone on your birthday, we swapped ages! You stole her years, so I stole yours. Now I’m 35, you’re 90. This hasn’t happened for decades, but I denied time, again! Know what that makes you? My Jewel of Denial!”
Goldie howled with laughter that echoed throughout the house.
Penelope was aghast. Sara was aquamarine, the blonde girl a brilliant diamond.
This can’t be happening!
The chimes resounded. Penelope careened about inside the pendant as Goldie walked to the door.
It was Carolyn with another girl. Penelope realized Carolyn wore an identical pendant.
“I’m impressed, Goldie,” Carolyn said. “You look younger than me!”
“Thanks, Sis,” Goldie replied. “Now, who’s this?”
“Your new live-in companion, Casey.”
“Give me a hug, child.”
Casey gave Goldie a hug, her ear next to the pendant.
Penelope and the rest yelled as loud as they could, “RUN! RUN AWAY!” repeatedly.
After the embrace, Casey asked, “Do you hear that…high-pitched buzzing?”
“Like a mosquito in your ear?”
“Yes, exactly like that.”
Goldie smiled. “No, dear, I don’t hear anything at all. Now, is your birthday in June?”