Nymph

a short story by John McDonnell

-

The retired professor had lived alone for several years. His health was now
declining. The occasional visits from children and grandchildren were about
the only pleasures on Earth that he looked forward to.

His favorite grandchild, Beryl Harrington, was fifteen years old. Beryl's best
friend, Burnette Burle, had recently been violated and murdered. Ever since
the tragedy and seeing his granddaughter crying over it, the professor had
spent several hours each day reading through his collection of ancient Latin
texts. He was confronting a question that he had wondered about ever since
his undergraduate days. "Who or what were the ancient nymphs and
satyrs?" For some unaccountable reason he felt that the answer to that
question was related to this recent tragedy.

While his evening meal was warming in the oven, the professor summed up
in his mind what his last few days of research had suggested. The ancient
gods and goddesses did not really exist, but because nymphs and satyrs
were sometimes actually seen, the stories about gods and goddesses, in
which nymphs and satyrs had minor parts, were believed. The nymphs were
beautiful feminine beings who looked almost exactly like young women.
The satyrs were ugly masculine beings who looked like men with goat legs.
Although nymphs and satyrs were spiritual beings, they could take on
physical natures. The satyrs seemed to delight in their own revelry. They
were seen eating, drinking, and dancing to rowdy music. The nymphs,
however, showed kind concern for the well-being of the plants, animals,
and humans within their haunts. They also loved music and dancing, but of
an exalted artistic kind. Nymphs and satyrs stayed apart from each other,
despite some human imaginations to the contrary.

As the oven timer buzzed and the professor moved to the kitchen, he
whispered to himself the conclusion that he was reaching. "Nymphs were
once young women who had been violated and killed, and for some reason
had been allowed to have haunts on Earth until the times of their
resurrections. Satyrs were once men who violated and killed young women,
and who had been condemned to await the day of judgment in their
less-than-human spiritual condition."

The professor filled his plate with hot food and moved to the kitchen table.
As he did so, he felt that someone was in the living room. Yet the door to
his apartment had been locked all day. He looked around the corner to
see if anyone was there. At the far end of the large living room, seated in
his favorite padded chair, was a beautiful young woman dressed in creamy
white clothing covering all but her head and arms. Because her ears and
her nose were strangely elongated, the professor wondered if she might be
a nymph. While intently watching her, he moved to the living room chair
furthest from her and sat down with a questioning look on his face.

After several minutes of silence the nymph began speaking in Latin, which
the professor readily understood. The musical tones of her voice were so
captivating that he had to force himself to concentrate on understanding
the meaning of her words. When the message, meant to be conveyed to
his granddaughter, was completed, the nymph stood up, danced about the
room in a manner unaffected by gravity, and then vanished into the natural
light streaming in through a window.

After thinking about all that had just happened, the professor moved to get
writing materials. While his intended meal was getting cold, he translated
the message in Latin into English so that his granddaughter could
understand it. As he completed that work, and glanced over at his cold
meal, he suddenly felt very sleepy, so much so that he could barely keep
his eyes open as he folded the message for his granddaughter so that it
would fit into the envelope upon which he had written her name. As he
licked the adhesive he felt faint. He sealed the envelope, set it down by the
untouched food, and staggered to his bedroom.

-

Beryl Harrington was a pretty little redhead with greenish eyes. Burnette
Burle had inspired Beryl to join her in studying, practising, and performing
artistic dancing. But now that Burnette was dead, Beryl had lost all interest
in dancing.

Beryl felt a need to visit her grandfather. Her mom called on the telephone
to make sure that he was there, but the telephone kept ringing. "I'm sorry,
Beryl, but your grandfather doesn't answer."

Beryl's father then spoke. "Dad's health has been declining lately. I'm going
to drive over to make sure he's all right. If he's okay, I'll bring him here."

When Beryl's dad returned alone, his eyes were reddened, and he walked
as if in a daze. Her mom asked him, "Is your father all right?"

He glanced at Beryl, then said to her mom, "Dad is dead."

A look of horror came over Beryl's face, and she ran to her bedroom, from
which pitiful moanings could be heard. When the moanings had subsided,
her dad tapped on her door. When she opened it, he handed her an
envelope with her name written on it. "I found this on Dad's kitchen table."
He hugged her and left.

Beryl stared at the wavy handwriting on the envelope and cried until she fell
asleep exhausted. When she awoke, she carefully slit the envelope open
and read this message:

"Tell Beryl that Burnette is happy in paradise, but that it would make her
sad to be told that Beryl had abandoned dancing. Tell Beryl that if she will
come to this apartment at a time when no other mortal is here, I will teach
her certain aspects of artistry in dancing that if practised will enable her to
make important contributions to the art of dancing in the near future."

To this was appended a note by her grandfather. "Beryl, this message was
spoken to me in Latin by a spiritual being whom I believe is one of the
nymphs written about in ancient Latin texts."

After reading and rereading this strange message several times, Beryl
thought that it would be unwise to share it with anyone, so she hid it away.
When her dad asked her what was in the envelope, she answered that it
was a request that she would not give up dancing because of the death of
Burnette. That seemed to satisfy her dad. He made no request to see the
letter, and her mom's failure to ask about it indicated that her dad had not
said anything to her about it.

After the funeral, Beryl asked her dad if she could spend some time alone
in what had been her grandfather's apartment. When her request was
approved, Beryl became very nervous. She was afraid that nothing would
happen, but she was also afraid that she would see the nymph that her
grandfather had written about.

When the time came, and she was left alone in the apartment, she took
out of her purse the letter from her grandfather and softly recited it. She
then silently looked and listened for anything that might indicate the
presence of a spiritual being.

When her dad returned to pick her up, he noticed that Beryl had an air of
confidence about her. "I don't know exactly what you were searching for
by being alone in this apartment, but you seem to be coming away from it
happier than when I dropped you off here."

Beryl answered, "Dad, I now realize that Grandfather's message was true. I
must return to dancing, and I must excel at it. Someday, Mom and you will
be proud of me."

After a pause, her dad said, "Beryl, your mother and I are already very
proud of you."

To a hidden glade in Italy that had somehow escaped both the wars and the
advancements of human civilization, her haunt for over two thousand years,
the nymph had now returned. She was bidding farewell to the animals and
birds in her haunt. She touched or patted some of the creatures and lifted
some of the birds to fly off from her fingers. She stroked the bark of the
surrounding ancient trees. Removing her footwear, she padded barefoot
across the mossy ground. Then, as the shadow of a cloud rolled past, and
the glare of the afternoon sun again pierced the darkness of the surrounding
woods, she looked upwards and slowly ascended through the foliage into
the light.

The loss of her presence would allow her former haunt to be defiled by the
revelry of satyrs and the carelessness of mortals, but it was necessary that
she should leave, to prepare for her coming resurrection.

-

seven years later

Eliot Jacobson was the son of a wealthy banker. Although Eliot had
majored in business, during his college years he had also become a lover
of the fine arts. Before graduating, Eliot founded a company that quickly
cornered a developing market before any other company could compete.
He then sold his interest for an enormous sum of money, and retired to
become a patron of the fine arts. The newspapers hailed him as one of the
most eligible young bachelors in the city. Several women were vying for his
attention.

However, before marrying, Eliot wanted to complete a major project to
promote the fine arts of the city. He wanted to use some of his wealth to
produce a motion picture that while telling a good story would also be a
showcase for the authors, actors, painters, musicians, and dancers of the
city. From his attendance at nearly all fine arts events in the city, he knew
who was especially good at one's art, and he began recruiting such
persons for his project.

When the filming finally began for "Hillside Mansion", Eliot convinced his
director that it would be nice to have solo dancing interludes between some
scenes, and since the movie was to have a happy ending, a final joyous
dancing scene that would continue through the credits at the end.

The director smiled. "I think I know who the solo dancer would be."

Eliot snapped back, "There would be tryouts for the part, and I would not
be making the choice."

The director apologized. "I am sorry about my suggestion, but you have
been dating a certain ballet dancer lately."

At the tryouts for the solo dancing part were a number of young ladies
vying for the role, one of whom was also vying to become Eliot's wife,
the ballet dancer he had been dating. The judges, however, chose another
young lady, who had recently graduated from college, Miss Beryl
Harrington. The judges were impressed with the graceful confidence that
Miss Harrington exhibited, and when the ladies were asked to express joy
through their dancing, none of the others came anywhere near to matching
the pure exuberance displayed in Miss Harrington's performance.

When finally completed and presented, "Hillside Mansion" was praised by
the local media as a wonderful expression of the spirit of the community.
Although it barely made a profit, it achieved all that Eliot Jacobson had
been hoping for. Attendance at cultural events in the city definitely
increased after the movie had been experienced by nearly a fifth of the
city's population.

The only one unhappy about the success of the film was Victoria Sloan, the
young ballet dancer who had been dating Eliot Jacobson. Not only had she
failed to get the solo dancing part, but Eliot had stopped dating her and
had begun dating Miss Beryl Harrington. When the media reported that Mr.
Jacobson and Miss Harrington were engaged to be married, Victoria Sloan
was livid. A confrontation with Beryl Harrington had to come, and it did.
"First you stole my part in the movie, and now you are stealing my
millionaire!"

Soon after their honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson approached Miss
Victoria Sloan with a request that stunned her. A second film was already
in the works that would also have dancing scenes, and they wanted Miss
Sloan to be the solo dancer for them. Victoria was so surprised and
delighted by the request that she was speechless. Eliot added to her delight
by saying, "By the time the new movie is ready for filming, Beryl should be
nicely pregnant, and since you were the runner-up at the previous tryouts,
I want you for the part."

Victoria was of course aware that Beryl's performance in the film had
resulted in numerous requests for Beryl to teach girls the art of dancing,
and that Beryl had established the Burnette Burle School of Dance,
named to honor the friend who had introduced her to artistic dancing.

The normally arrogant Victoria was tearfully humbled by this marvelous
opportunity so surprisingly offered to her. She even expressed worry that
after Beryl's brilliant performance in the first film, the public might sense
her own performance as falling off from the high standard set by Beryl.

Beryl gently put a hand on Victoria's shoulder and said, "You are already
an accomplished dancer, and I am willing to show you all the motions that
I was taught, if you want me to."

Victoria asked, "Who taught you those wonderful combinations of
motions?"

With a curious smile, Beryl answered, "Someone with thousands of years
of experience at dancing."

Victoria burst into laughter. "Oh, Beryl, you are too much! Yes, show me
whatever I can learn, and I would very much like to be the solo dancer for
the new film!"

One evening at the Burnette Burle School of Dance, which had recently
moved into its own building, Beryl had been teaching Victoria the complex
moves that Beryl had learned from the nymph. Victoria wanted to stay
after Beryl left, to practise the moves, promising to lock up the building
when she left.

As Beryl drove away, she vaguely noticed a pickup truck parked near the
building with a man sitting in it. After a few minutes her memory of the
man sitting in the pickup truck began to bother her. Victoria was alone in
the building, a building bearing the name of a young woman who had been
violated and murdered. Beryl began driving back.

When she saw the pickup truck, she noticed that no one was in it. The lights
of the building had been turned off. Yet Victoria's car was still in the
parking lot.

In a grassy area near the parking lot she saw a man ripping off the clothes
of Victoria, who was struggling to escape from him. Beryl sped her car
across the grass, maneuvering it so that she could scare the man away.
When he tried to jump out of the way, Victoria was the one now grasping
him so that he could not escape. In a flash of inspiration Beryl maneuvered
her left front tire over one of the legs of the man. As she felt the car rise up
over his leg, she brought the car to a stop in that very position. Masculine
screams of agony told Beryl that the tire was not somehow mistakingly on
top of Victoria, who stood up to nakedly thank Beryl for rescuing her, and
to warn Beryl that the man had a gun.

With the man's leg still pinned beneath the tire, Beryl and Victoria, taking
a route blocked by the cars from the aim of his gun, reentered the building.
While Beryl used the telephone to call the police, Victoria found a dancing
outfit to replace her ripped off clothing.

As the first police car arrived, the sharp sound of a gun being fired was
heard. The man under the tire had shot himself. The police got Beryl's
keys so they could move the wheel off of his leg and rush him to a hospital.

Although it was a terrible experience, that was the night that Beryl and
Victoria became best friends.

A week later, two police detectives came to the house of Mr. and Mrs.
Jacobson to share some information with them. "Because the man who
shot himself to death at your school of dance had a pickup truck parked
near your building and the truck was loaded with arson materials, we
thought he might have been planning to burn the building down. While
speculating on why he might want to burn it down, we remembered that
the Burnette Burle you named your school of dance after had been the
victim of an unsolved violent crime seven years ago. We got permission
to compare DNA samples between the dead man and that of the rapist
who killed Miss Burle. There is a one hundred percent correspondence.
We thought you would like to know this before it is shared with the media
during a special news conference tomorrow morning."

Beryl's mouth dropped open. "You mean the man whose leg I drove my
car tire on top of is the man who violated and murdered Burnette Burle?"

"That's right, Mrs. Jacobson. We discovered that the sign on your school
of dance building is visible from the freeway that the man drove on to get
to and from work. Apparently, seeing the name of Burnette Burle every
day had become an irritation to him, so he decided to burn the building
down. Apparently, assaulting Miss Sloan was not a part of his original
plan. It is lucky for her that you returned when you did."

After the detectives left, and the Jacobsons had discussed the situation for
some time, Beryl became silent and stared off into space. After she had
ignored several questions from her husband, she finally spoke. "Remember
when Victoria asked me who had taught me some of the more innovative
combinations of motions in my dancing?"

"Yes, and I remember your answer. 'Someone with thousands of years of
experience at dancing.' What did you mean by that?"

"I have a letter that I think you should read."

Beryl went to their bedroom and pulled out of its place of hiding the
envelope containing the letter written by her grandfather just before he
died. She handed it to her husband, who read it aloud.

"Tell Beryl that Burnette is happy in paradise, but that it would make her
sad to be told that Beryl had abandoned dancing. Tell Beryl that if she will
come to this apartment at a time when no other mortal is here, I will teach
her certain aspects of artistry in dancing that if practised will enable her to
make important contributions to the art of dancing in the near future.
Beryl, this message was spoken to me in Latin by a spiritual being whom
I believe is one of the nymphs written about in ancient Latin texts."

Eliot asked Beryl, "Did a nymph teach you how to dance so joyfully, as
you did at the tryouts and in the film?"

"Yes."

"Have you seen her since?"

"No."

"Do you expect to see her again?"

"Not as a nymph. She told me, in English, that she had been a teenage girl
who had been violated and murdered in the days of the Roman Empire. In
the spirit world she was invited to join the order of nymphs. Her haunt has
been in Italy for over two thousand years. She told me that she was about
to leave her haunt to prepare for her coming resurrection."

"You have indeed made important contributions to the art of dancing, and
in the process," said Eliot as he gently embraced her, "we met." -

MIDI sequence of "Dance of the Dryads", an 1884 piano piece by Edward MacDowell

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