She Was Only a Savage’s Daughter
By Ronald Cypress
Zillah was almost a myth to me before I knew who she really was. It seemed to be that way for most us, but I was just kid when I first found out about her and where she had come from. Most of what I heard about Zillah came from the grownups that were around me, people like my parents, other adult relatives and some neighbors. Even before I understood what she had supposedly done and her history I was aware that Zillah was bad. The whole town seemed to believe she was that way.
She lived in a very small house; some referred to it as a shack but it wasn’t one. I used to think the color of the house was faded black, but now I think it’s gray. It doesn’t matter because Zillah doesn’t live there anymore, and the house has been abandoned and left to slowly decay. The now mostly shattered windows were always dirty when Zillah did live there. I remember going up to them one time when I was a little boy and trying to look into the home. There wasn’t much to see. There wasn’t much furniture in the living room. The only things I remember seeing are the fireplace and a wooden rocking chair. I hadn’t looked in too long because I was scared of Zillah coming out and catching me. I knew that if she caught me spying on her and was able to grab me she would probably drag me into her house and murder me. From what I had heard, it wouldn’t have been the first time she slaughtered someone. It was in her to do such a thing. Her father had been a ferocious beast who went by the name of Noah. I have a few memories of him from when I was real small, and all of them are bad. Noah died when I was about seven. They found him by the side of the road one morning. I believe his heart just gave out.
He had a home right there with Zillah, but Noah was always travelling around our town and some say he rarely ever went home. Everyone was afraid of him. I think he was drunk sometimes. Most of the time he was just crazy. That’s all it was. He would talk to himself and sometimes he would yell at people. He accused people of trying to take things from him, and there were always warnings about what would happen to anyone who was caught going after his stuff. I heard that Noah loved to talk about how hard he worked and how he wasn’t going to let anyone take away what he had earned.
No one could ever tell me what Noah did in the past, before the madness and alcoholism took his mind. I figured that he must have done something productive because he did own a home and he was able to buy things. But no one could tell me about his past life. All they wanted to talk about was the badness and his barbarity. There were enough tall tales about him that they could have filled a book. The ones that stick out to me are those that dealt with his violent side. I heard Noah killed a man one time, ate all the skin off him and locked the bones away in his closet. Some said that he hadn’t eaten a whole person, hadn’t killed anyone but had attacked and bitten several people at different times. There was a woman who worked in the cafeteria at my elementary school, and a piece of her left ear was missing at the top. People said that Noah had attacked her on the streets and bitten it off. So much violence and destruction that I can recall seemed to be blamed on Noah. There was the church that burnt down. That was him. Had to be because there was a demon in him. There was the man that some people discovered hanging from a tree branch with his skin badly burnt. That was Noah. Apparently the man had given him a bad look. There were the two local women—two community leaders—who were found in the creek. They said he did that. He was vicious enough to take down two people at once.
When I was young I believed Noah must have done those violent acts, but I eventually got old enough to realize that couldn’t be. If he had done those things, then surely he would have been in jail. I’m sure that Noah did attack people, but I don’t think it ever got too bad. Whatever he did and didn’t do, Noah was the worst person in our town. He didn’t belong in the area. Shortly before he passed, Noah took to walking around the town without any clothes on. My parents talked about it at dinner. They said that he didn’t belong with the rest of us. He was giving us a bad name. I know Noah was arrested whenever he went around town naked. My folks said the police got him off the street but just let him go eventually. I could hear the disgust in their voices as they spoke about it.
I don’t think anyone was too sad after Noah passed.
Up to that point Zillah had spent most of her life in his shadow, but once her father went away the word got around about her. Everyone said she was wild just like her old man. She liked to eat flesh too and was bound to start attacking people on the streets. Zillah had been well hidden when her father was around, but we began to see more of her once he died. I guess she didn’t have any choice. She had to make it on her own.
My peers summed her up very quickly. They said she was so dark and ugly. She smelled like manure and decay. They said they could see the fierceness in her eyes, and said she had made babies with her own daddy but had killed them and ate them. All these things were truths to boys like me. Sometimes I found it hard to believe that anyone so terrible could exist, but there she was walking down the street with her eyes looking up just enough so that she wasn’t bumping into people or objects. The adults just worked around her, but us kids tried to avoid her completely.
Zillah was very present in our neighborhood once she emerged from the house, but after a few years we didn’t see her too often. One evening I happened to overhear my parents talking about Zillah working for some folks who lived in the rich part of town. I guess they had hired her to take care of things around the house. I had a hard time believing anyone would want her in their home, but some of the people in that part of town were a little funny. Money can make people that way, I guess. I think a few of those rich folks even took a liking to Noah when he was alive. They had to be crazy.
The fact that Zillah seemed to have a normal and uneventful life didn’t stop us from coming up with horrific stories about her. A little girl went missing, and we kids came up with a story about how Zillah had abducted the girl and killed her. One of us said it was probably because Zillah was jealous of pretty girls since she was so ugly. I said that she just couldn’t stop eating humans because her father got her hooked on the taste. The little girl was found eventually. They had found her with some man at his house. We all knew what had happened, but we kept talking about what Zillah had probably done to the girl and how the man had been framed for her crimes.
We talked and talked, but none of us ever did anything to Zillah. A few times someone did approach her house like I had. The worst thing that happened was when a boy who was a few years older than me threw a rock at her. It sailed just past her back and landed several feet away. I was with a group of kids who were standing across the street and watching the boy’s actions. The boy laughed after he threw the rock, but the laughter stopped once Zillah did. We waited for her to turn around and confront the boy, but she never looked in our direction. She just went back to walking after standing still for a minute.
Zillah must have known how we felt about her. I don’t think anyone in town ever talked to her unless they somehow got involved in a business deal with her. I’m sure the grocery store cashiers said hello and the bankers welcomed her if she ever went to one, but no one really wanted to talk to her. She was just like her father. I think many of us assumed that she would probably die really soon. That was the thought I had.
Much to our surprise Zillah didn’t die. What happened was that some man showed up in town, a very reputable man named Robert Crawford. I don’t know how he came to be with us, but I know that word quickly got around that Mr. Crawford had a good deal of money and that he worked as a lawyer. Mr. Crawford came to our town a single man, and to the shock of us all he somehow hooked up with Zillah and ended up marrying her.
There wasn’t much gossip about how they had come to be together. Everyone was probably too surprised to come up with anything. All we could do was watch. We watched as Zillah and Mr. Crawford began to be seen out together. Some got to watch their wedding. We watched as Zillah moved out of the house that she had lived in with her father and into a bigger one with Mr. Crawford. We all saw how happy they were together. Once the marriage was settled and official, I got to watch people behaving differently towards Zillah. Shortly before they were actually married, I heard a woman say that Zillah had put some type of spell on Mr. Crawford and that was how she got him. That was the last bad thing I heard about Zillah.
People began treating her like she was some type of queen once she became Mrs. Crawford. Zillah’s marriage had definitely been unexpected, and I was even less prepared for how the people around town began acting towards Zillah. They were calling her ma’am. They were always complimenting here, telling her things like how lovely she was and how nice she smelled. Everyone was trying to be her friend. I even caught my own mom trying to be friendly with Zillah one afternoon at the grocery store. I was there with my mom and became embarrassed by how hard she was trying to get in Zillah’s good graces by complimenting her so much and talking with her loveliest voice. Zillah’s face clearly showed that she didn’t really want to be bothered, though she was smiling. Before my mom finally left her alone, Zillah looked down at me and smiled. My embarrassment grew and I felt shame. I don’t think I’ve ever been so ashamed in my life.
Mr. Crawford eventually took Zillah away from our town several months after they got married. I don’t know where they went and don’t really care. I know if Zillah had stayed around the shame would have gotten really bad. I probably would have fallen at her feet one day while she was out walking and cried for forgiveness. It would have been an honest thing to do. Everyone else was acting so pleasant towards her, but I knew that we had all been conquered. And that was the truth. It’s the one absolute truth I’ve been able to find so far in this crummy town.