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Her eyelids fluttered open. She had heard someone calling,
‘Let down your hair,’ even asleep she knew that was stupid. She had shaved her head when her brother and father had been killed.
She had thought she was asleep, but she couldn’t be. The sun was shining into the room, the bars on the window leaving slanting shadows on the floor.
Rapunzel sat up, suddenly very awake, her wakefulness driven by shock. Bars? There were bars on the window? Why?
Then she slumped back into the simple cot, and her eyes took in the bare room. It was painted that ugly greenish colour that health professionals deemed was soothing for patients. She thought it looked like snot, or vomit.
She remembered then.
The noise of the shots, the flashing lights, her world collapsing.
That day, that fateful day, she had lost her father and her brother. They had been praying in the mosque, she had been in the little rented house next door. Tears coursed down her cheeks in rivulets.
They had survived the war, where they had lost her mother to a stray bullet. They said they didn’t target women but Ravi didn’t believe that.
The broken family carried on, her father was the Imam and bowed to Allah’s choices.
Ravi turned over in her cot and began beating the cold wall with her fists, at first with a desperateness like a poor creature buried alive, trying to get out, then it subsided to a rhythm, soothing in its regularity. She added her head to the percussive song her body was singing, bang, bang, with her head, bang, bang, with her fists, and the tears kept coming.
People in green were in her room, they were hauling her away from the wall, there was a sharp prick in her arm.
‘Rapunzel, let down your hair,’ the words made their way through the muzziness.
She woke slowly out of the drugged sleep they had imposed upon her. A moment, maybe two of calm, and then her heart constricted, she remembered, and her breath caught in her throat.
Murdered. Murdered in the mosque, she was going to die now too, because she couldn’t breathe. She clutched her chest as she rolled out of her cot to the floor. Her feet drummed briefly on the tiles, but there was too much of her soft side exposed, her belly and her chest, she curled instead around herself, her vital organs, and her breaking heart.
She felt fury coursing through her now. Who was that? And why were they persecuting her with that stupid name?
Nothing but anger could have roused her, she burned with fury, she strode to the window and clutched the bars. She was about to scream at the insolent b——-d, and even in her despair, she wouldn’t use that word, not out loud at least, but she thought it, she wanted that b——-d to.
‘Go away!’ she croaked.
She remembered now, she hadn’t spoken since that day, her throat had contracted and let no words come out.
Now, now she spoke. And her first words were words of anger, she should feel ashamed, but the anger that had propelled her to the window had remained, coiled burning fury in her belly.
She looked out of the high window in her rage, but there was no one there. She was at least five storeys up, and the only thing that faced her was the very top of a tree.
In the tree sat a beautiful bird, it had hypnotic eyes.
‘Ravi,’ it said in her brother’s voice, she loosened her hold on the bars in surprise.
‘Ahmad?’ she asked in her broken voice.
‘I have come to help you,’ the bird said.
‘But you called me Rapunzel,’ the young woman retorted, she heard her words from a distance, as if someone else was speaking, but no, she wasn’t speaking, she was sleeping, she was sure.
‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.’
The maid awoke in her tower room, she had been placed there to teach her to love her old husband, dragging her from her home, her hearth, and her betrothed. The Lord of this land chose whatever peasant girl he wanted.
He had fallen for her beauty and her long long hair. They had locked her in this tower, but she still had her eating knife at her belt. She had hacked off all her hair in rage, and left it in a dark pool on the floor.
‘Let down your hair!’
She leapt off her pallet of straw on the floor and waved her hand between the bars. She understood at last.
Rapunzel silently set to work, twining the beautiful strands into a long hair rope.
Ravi had torn the bedding into strips and silently twined them together.
She would escape.
She brought her rope of torn sheets to the window and secured them to the bars, how would she get through them?
Her beloved climbed the rope of hair and reached her room, he had brought a sledgehammer tied about his waist.
She pulled with all her might, and the bars not securing her rope loosened in the ageing concrete, Ravi fell on the floor, splintered cement all about.
The bird stood on the dusty sill.
‘You can do this Ravi,’ he said.
‘Just hand over hand, if you fall, I am here to catch you.’
Rapunzel squeezed out the window and not without fear. With some slipping and sliding, she landed safely. Her beloved held her and they stole silently away. But Ravi dangled some feet from the ground.
She would have to drop.
She felt fear, and she was glad. If she felt fear, then she no longer wanted to die. Praise be to Allah.
She looked up to the top of the little tree, a sparrow flew off with a tiny cry.
Ravi fell to the ground in her tattered pyjamas and stayed where she had fallen for a moment, she was so grateful to God, and to her brother. She was in some physical pain, yes, but he had roused her from her miserable madness, with their old game.
He used to tease her because of her long hair, she remembered now that he had called her Rapunzel, and lovingly mocked her for her fondness of western fairy-tales.
She rolled under a nearby bush. She had to escape from this place, she would just walk away in a minute, but she was so tired, and how could she go on without her family?
She would just close her eyes for a moment, she was so tired.
And that’s where they found her, her body had gone cold, her eyes were staring at the nearby tree, and there was a faint smile on her face.
Ravi was running to her brother, she reached him and grabbed his hand.
‘That took you awhile,’ he said, and he smiled.
‘I’d forgotten our secret speech,’ and she skipped as she had as a child.
‘We will be ok here,’ she said. ‘I always wanted to live in a fairy tale.’
Melissa Miles was born in the US, but resides in NZ. She has had many professional iterations, acting, teaching, film-making, but she is now focusing on her writing, and caring for her aging menagerie.
Published to the Kaidankai on January 26, 2022.
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I work seven days a week. My job is to look after graves and mourn for the dead on behalf of the bereaved. Every morning I start out at daybreak. Always in suit and tie, carrying a folding chair in one hand and in the other, a custom-made briefcase that holds what I need to maintain a presentable gravesite.
While visiting the dead I always have something to read. Some of my clients prefer I spend time quietly with their buried. Others hand me prayers and personal messages to recite; and most of them tell me what kind of flowers to buy.
Saturdays and Sundays are my busiest, from sunup to sundown. Done at noon on weekdays I go to the Toluca Tavern, where I have lunch with Joey. He is of good character, with a childlike sense of wonder. Years ago Joey had taken a spill on his motorcycle. The brain injury had left him not quite right. He works at an office building as a gofer. He is unhappy with it, but knows it is about the best he can get.
During lunch, we talk of simple things, all of which helps pass the time in a congenial way. He is the only person I don't mind seeing so often. When done, Joey goes back to work, and I go to the bar. It quiets down after lunch. No drunks around to bend my ear.
I'm a slow drinker; I never drink too much. I need to keep a clear mind for the dead.
If I had not taken my work so seriously, the unearthly events that took hold might never have happened.
It began nearly six months ago, on a Sunday, during my last visit at Hillsdale. I was graveside in my chair, mesmerized by the sunlight that angled into the chiseled letters of the decedent's name: Barry Martin Burke.
It had been a long day and I was tired. Leaning back, my eyes fell shut and the name stayed in my thoughts. For some reason, I don't know why, I pictured the chiseled letters one at a time while repeating the full name to myself. When done I heard: "Feet…gangrene..."
I told myself I had fallen asleep and dreamed the voice. Tried it again and heard, "Damn tubes—get 'em out!"
With this second try I knew it was not a dream, the sound of the voice unfamiliar, different from my inner voice.
I decided to check on Barry Burke's last days. He had died a week earlier, his brother Samuel a new client.
That same evening I was with Samuel Burke on his porch. He said his brother had been a diabetic who did not heed the advice of his doctor, refusing to change his diet and all. The result was deterioration of the heart and kidneys; along with gangrene of the feet, both amputated.
Since then I have called on more of the dead. Some have a word, a phrase, a sentence or two. Three of them speak what amounts to full pages.
Echoes of their last thoughts, the last desperate push of the brain; the electricity, the transmission of sound waves that linger in the air. I had somehow become their receiver. I don't think about how or why anymore. I am willing to accept my ignorance of such things.
One afternoon, at my usual seat at the bar, I was entertaining myself with the paper's crossword. I glanced up to see Nick restocking the shelves for the night crowd, and there she was, at the other end of the bar.
I had seen her here before, once or twice a week, late-afternoons, coming in as I was leaving; always dressed fashionably, midnight hair and blue eyes making her all the more attractive.
She caught my stare, returned it with a smile and came down to my end of the bar. Her hand reached for the stool next to me.
"Do you mind?" she asked.
"Not at all," I said.
Nick set her drink down in front of her. "You two deserve a formal introduction." Then said, "Mary Miller, I'd like you to meet Mister Bones."
"You're kidding," she laughed.
"Kind of," Nick said with his boyish smile. "That's what I call him, because of his occupation." Nick turned to me. "Last time Mary was here I told her what you do, but didn't mention your name. So let me start over." He said, "Mary Miller, like you to meet Jack Turner," and Nick went back to restocking the shelves.
"Mister Bones," she snickered as she offered her hand. I took hold of it. When we broke the clasp I was left wanting more of her.
"Yesterday," Mary began, "Nick asked why I was crying in my drink. I told him, and he thought we ought to meet."
"That's why you're here earlier than usual?"
"I'll take that as a compliment," she said. "You've noticed me coming in while you're leaving."
"And a compliment for me, you remembering our paths crossing."
Mary gazed at her vodka tonic and took a sip. Good sign, I thought. If she were a hard drinker, she would have been nearly done with it by now.
Setting her glass down, she telegraphed a touch of sadness. I said, "Would you like to tell me about it?"
"Karen, my sister..." Mary took a deep breath. "Karen died young, from respiratory failure," she told me. "I don't visit her grave anymore because..." Unable to go on, she turned to me with moist eyes.
"I understand," I said.
Mary smiled a little. "I thought maybe if you had the time to care for her. Sundays, if possible? You don't have to decide now," she added as she wrote her number down.
Another good sign; considerate people are hard to find these days.
Soon as I got home, I went over my books and rearranged things. It was not easy fitting her sister in on Sundays. When finished I called Mary. She asked if we could meet for lunch tomorrow and go over the details.
I hesitated. It would be a weekday and not fair to Joey, cancelling our usual lunch.
"You still there?" Mary asked.
"Sorry—yes," and I went on to tell her about Joey's condition. How disappointed he would be if I cancelled. "Why not dinner instead?"
"No, I think I'd like to meet this friend of yours. Let's make it a threesome."
Yet another good sign of character.
After we disconnected I called Joey and explained what had happened. He was happy to hear we would be a threesome.
The next day I was at the Toluca Tavern a little before noon. Mary arrived soon after. We waited for Joey before ordering. I took the opportunity to tell Mary my going rate for representing the bereaved.
"Sounds reasonable," she said.
It was an unusual response coming from a prospective client. Not a single question about what she was going to get for her money. I then proceeded to give her the details. During this, I became aware of the other men in the room, their glances and stares. Being with such an attractive woman lifted my spirits.
Joey appeared. He stood by his chair and gazed down at Mary with his childlike smile. I introduced them. Joey gave her a bow, and then sat. During our meal, Mary chatted with him, seemingly not bothered by his pauses as he searched for the right words. Overall, we had a nice time.
Afterward the three of us stood outside the tavern. Mary and I said goodbye to Joey, and he again gave her a smile and bow. Then he walked off toward the building he worked at.
"Nice man," Mary said. "Such a shame… those little bows were kind of cute."
I walked her to her car. The Bentley convertible and her clothes reflected rich but she herself did not. Maybe it is just me, but I have learned that people with a lot of money are more trouble than they are worth.
The next morning we woke at my place in bed together. For me, it had been one of the best nights ever. Maybe for her too, possibly.
I cooked breakfast for us. While eating we agreed to take both cars. That way Mary could show me her sister's grave, then leave me to go about my regular visits.
The sky over Woodgate was clear. Mary's midnight hair glittered in the sunlight. She carried the flowers she had bought on the way. The sheen of their crimson petals turned her blue eyes into the color of daybreak.
She took my hand in hers. We walked up the hillside and came to Karen's grave. Mary placed the flowers against the headstone; the chiseled dates telling me Karen had died at twenty-two.
"Almost a year," Mary sighed. "The stone has lost its shine, and the grass looks terrible. Woodgate," she sneered. "Must be cutting back to please their parent company's stockholders."
Her comment surprised me, coming from someone with money. Not in the mood to discuss the rights and wrongs of big business, I said, "No problem for me to get the stone like new. And fixing up the grass wouldn't be any trouble." Then asked Mary if she would like me to say anything during my visits, something on her behalf.
"No, I don't think so," she answered despondently, grieving eyes on the headstone. "It's more important that you care for the grave... take the time to sit with Karen."
It was then I wanted to tell her about the voices. That if I felt like it, right here and now, I could call on Karen and hear her last thoughts. Last thoughts that would return to replay in my mind from time to time.
She would not have believed it, so I let it go. No one would have believed it.
Mary never demanded too much of my time. I was free to listen to the voices when they came. If they came while with Mary or Joey, neither of them seemed to mind my distraction. They accepted what they believed to be my quiet nature.
Mary again joined Joey and me for lunch. During the meal, the moisture in Joey's eyes became apparent.
"Is there something wrong?" she asked him.
He choked up and said, "I been, been laid off."
Mary placed a comforting hand over his.
That was when I came up with something.
"Joey, you know I like my weekday afternoons off. I could teach you what I do, get some new clients and let you handle weekday afternoons." Then added, "I'll take a twenty percent commission and we'll both be happy."
"Com…mission?" Joey muttered.
"In other words, you'll get most of the money the client pays me."
I had never seen him so elated.
Mary sent me a warm smile.
Teaching him at first was a struggle, but then with patience on my part he became more proficient. Joey took pride in the custom-made briefcase I had purchased for him. When I presented him with a folding chair he laughed and said, "Take bus, always have seat."
I put flowers down on Karen's grave every Sunday, and told Mary I had gotten the headstone as good as new, and had turned the soil and planted grass seed that was coming up a solid green.
I had never called on her sister. It did not seem to be the right thing to do. Until last Sunday, when I thought it might bring me closer to Mary. In my chair at Karen's grave, I closed my eyes, the headstone took form and I began.
"Karen Patricia Miller..." repeating it while picturing each letter of her name. Then it happened, the gasps for air between the words and phrases "Can't breathe—sister—do this—poisoned."
It went on like that for a while. It was not too difficult to put together. Mary had killed her sister.
Damn it! It was not grief Mary had felt weeks ago when she had shown me Karen's grave. That was why I had been hired, Mary too guilt-ridden to visit Karen on her own.
Confused about what to do I left Woodgate and went to a different bar so I would not run into her. I got drunk for the first time in years.
The next morning I woke in the stench of my vomit. I soaked my clothes in the kitchen sink, and then got into the shower. The warmth and steady sound of the water was a relief.
Then the voice came, gasping same as yesterday, clearer now: "My sister — poisoned me — can't breathe — someone — help me..."
I called Mary and said I missed her, told her I overslept and would take the rest of the morning off if she would come over.
We hugged and kissed, undressed and got into bed. Before getting started, I asked her about Karen, saying that I would like to know more about her. Mary shut her eyes and lay quietly. I did the same and waited.
"I gave my parents a lot of trouble," she said at last. "It was because of Karen. She always got what she wanted. I hated her for that." Then said, "Our Mom and Dad were a lot older than most parents. They died a year apart and just about everything was left to Karen." Mary rolled over against me and whispered, "When Karen died I got every penny of it, and I don't hate her anymore. Funny, isn't it?"
"Very," was all I could say.
One thing led to another. I spread her legs and drove into her with a hard passion. I was angry about what she had done. It meant that I would lose her.
We lay there afterward, both done-in, and then I could not help it: "Your sister was murdered," I said. "Poisoned."
Mary propped herself up. "Why did you say that? Who told you that?"
"There's something you should know," I said. "It'll be the strangest thing you've ever heard, but it's the truth."
I told her all of it. When finished, she denied her guilt and said I either had made up the whole thing or was downright crazy. That did not surprise me. What did was the way she said it, with a coldness I had never gotten from her before.
I said I could prove my ability to hear the dead. Turning on my computer, I showed her the cemetery list and asked her to choose one for us to visit. Mary thought the trip was going to be a ridiculous waste of time.
We dressed and ate in virtual silence, got into her Bentley and headed out to Fairmount. While driving she had a change of mood, seemingly unconcerned about what I had told her, going on about what a nice day it was, then telling me about a movie she would like us to see.
At the cemetery I had Mary pick two graves, opened my appointment book and showed her they were not under my care.
After calling on each, Mary wrote down what I had heard. It took all day to verify their last thoughts. While driving Mary home she still doubted me, but then answered herself: "No, I was the one who picked the graves."
A moment later she said, "Okay, Jack, let's go on the theory Karen was poisoned but didn't know who did it. Since it was no secret how I felt about her, she would've figured it was me—wouldn't she?"
"Suppose so," I said. The notion of someone else having done it grew more plausible as the seconds ticked by.
"It doesn't matter how I felt about Karen," she said. "I want to get whoever killed her." Parking at Mary's building, she looked me straight in the eye. "You'll help me, won't you?"
I was in love with her. I had to give it a chance.
Soon as we got into her condo, Mary opened the foyer closet and parted the hanging coats. "Karen's old papers," she told me, sliding out two boxes.
We carried them to the kitchen table. Mary pulled the papers from them and made two stacks. "We'll each make our own list," she said. "Names, addresses, phone numbers of everyone Karen had come in contact with." She then poured us some wine and began to prepare dinner.
Busy at the stove she asked me to get two pads and pens from her office desk: "Right-hand top drawer."
I left the kitchen and returned with pads and pens. I sat at the table and started on my stack of papers. Before I knew it, dinner was ready. We fed ourselves while we each worked on our own list.
When done, Mary put Karen's papers back in the boxes. We moved into the living room and sat on the sofa, where we rewrote our two lists into one, beginning with the people she thought to be likely suspects.
Mary was obviously tired, yawning and soon asleep against me, midnight hair splayed over my shoulder. I stood and gently repositioned her. As I did, I had a flash of dizziness.
Turning off most of the lights, I went to the boxes in the kitchen. Carrying them into the closet, the dizziness hit me again, harder this time. So hard, I lost my balance, dropped the boxes and fell to my knees.
I sat back and had trouble breathing. That was when I saw the vial that had fallen out of one of the boxes. I picked it up and looked at the label. I had seen the name before, and then remembered it from a book I had read.
No trace poison... left the kitchen for the pads and pens…
Mary stood in the near-darkness, blue eyes on me as if she were standing over my grave.
I'm a San Quentin prison guard. I felt compelled to write down what you have just read, just as Joey had told it to me, exactly as he hears it in his mind. Seeing him go through the struggle of writing it down himself brought out my better nature, I suppose.
What follows is what Joey would like to add, as written by me. I tried to clean up the grammar, along with his choice of words.
I hear my friend in my mind, saying over and over what you have read. That is why I killed Mary at her sister's grave. I stabbed her many times with my gardener's trowel. No one believes why I had to do it. The doctors say the voice I hear in my mind is playing tricks, or that I am making it up to avoid execution.
I killed her for him. He was my only friend.
Phillip Frey's history includes professional actor, produced screenwriter and writer/director of three short films, one of which showed at the New York Film Festival. He is now devoted only to writing prose. He currently has the privilege of his short stories appearing in various literary journals and anthologies.
Published to the Kaidankai on January 18, 2022.
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When Nenek disappeared, everyone panicked. She simply left for her usual walk and didn’t come back. Mum was beside herself with worry. My aunts basically started calling everybody, demanding, beseeching, begging for her whereabouts.
Nenek’s memory had been slipping ever since. It started with small things first: forgetting to put certain ingredients in her cooking, misplacing items, mistaking names. She brushed our concern off, saying it was just old age. She hadn’t joined us on our nightly hunts for months. Her joints ached, her fingers stiff. She hated flying for too long.
She had been such an inspiration for the younger women, my sisters and cousins. We were a big family, yet we often got together for meals. Our blood was thick, our love was thicker. Nenek would cook our favorite food. Rendang. Curries. Even her special rojak which we must have every Saturday. Mum told us that Nenek taught her and her sisters how to sing and hunt. Sniffing out pregnant ladies in the vicinity. Looking for willing men. Mum was distraught that this era – Nenek’s time – was ending.
“It’s not a sin, you know,” Aunt Rashida said testily after we heard the diagnosis from the doctor. “Dementia isn’t a sin. It’s part of getting old. People get it.”
I remembered Mum glaring at Aunt Rashida, while Aunt Zaiton pretended not to listen to the impending argument. We all stood outside the consultation room, digesting what we had just heard, refusing to accept reality as it was.
We made sure Nenek kept herself active, labeling everything in the house, encouraging her to write her favorite pantuns down on paper (“You know, muscle memory!” Aunt Rashida again). She didn’t want to go to the therapy sessions arranged by the hospital. She was that stubborn, insisting that she was fine. She must have been powerful in her youth. And beautiful too, judging by the old photographs Mum had dug out from Nenek’s cupboards. Elegant, with an oval face, dark expressive eyes. Mum wanted to sort out Nenek’s belongings. She had bags of costume jewellery, sarongs and kebayas. Most of them were intricate. She felt heartsick she might have to give them away.
“God forbid you donate them to the museum,” Aunt Zaiton said severely to Mum. “I will hate you.”
“But you already hate me,” Mum replied mildly without batting an eyelid. Aunt Zaiton hissed and didn’t speak to us for a week.
Yet, Nenek’s disappearance united the family once more. We set out in the evening, when we were the most alive, our blood coursing through our veins like fire. We started by going to the usual places Nenek liked to visit. The stray cats who saw us fled the moment we appeared in the air, our hair streaming in the wind.
“She’s been complaining how hungry she is,” Mum fretted. The oldest of the sisters, she felt the heaviest responsibility on her shoulders. “She hasn’t had her dinner yet.”
The mention of dinner made my stomach growl and my thirst grow. I suddenly recalled Nenek telling me how excited she was, going to the newest shopping mall in our area. I had a hunch where Nenek was.
It was the smell of blood, the beautiful and alluring aroma that caught my attention and made me salivate all over. Women’s blood, most piquant and rich – the fragrance was most potent when they bled. I let my instincts lead me to Nenek.
And there she was, in a cubicle, her face smeared, her teeth bloody. She had overturned the sanitary pad bin in her rush to get to food. When I saw her, she was licking the thick curds of dark blood off a pad. Her usually neat hair was wild, her eyes were fierce with light, her fingers were claws clutching the used item.
“Food, food,” she was muttering to herself. I didn’t think she recognized me at all.
“Nenek, please go home,” I said in a very soft voice. Mum and my aunts turned up at that moment. Their faces were aghast, shocked at the sight of Nenek, their mother, reduced to such a state. Nenek didn’t resist when they pulled her away, gently, from the cubicle. Mum wiped her face with clean tissue paper while Aunt Rashida combed Nenek’s loosened hair. Aunt Zaiton kept watch.
Nobody said anything when we got back. Somewhere in her head, Nenek was already gone.
Joyce Chng lives in Singapore. Their fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Joyce also co-edited THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Their recent space opera novels deal with wolf clans (Starfang: Rise of the Clan) and vineyards (Water into Wine) respectively. They also write speculative poetry with recent ones in Rambutan Literary and Uncanny Magazine. Occasionally, they wrangle article editing at Strange Horizons and Umbel & Panicle, a poetry journal about and for plants and botany. Alter-ego J. Damask writes about werewolves in Singapore. You can find them at http://awolfstale.wordpress.com and @jolantru on Twitter.
Published to the Kaidankai on January 11, 2022.
Today's story was first published on Oculum.
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
I lie, cocooned in rotting satin, splayed by the ooze of bodily fluids despite the pretense of embalming. It was not yet a practiced art. The grisly display of President Lincoln's corpse for several weeks spurred the morticians to go to great lengths to improve his appearance for public display as well as to mitigate the stench of decomposition.
It’s not like I can move. I am firmly planted here, tucked away beneath the ground, imprisoned within a casket and shrouded by a vault, allegedly to lessen leakage when the rains arrive. I assure you, it was not worth the money, although nobody seems to care to hear my opinion upon the subject.
What do they expect me to do here? I have no opportunity for conversations or parlor games or even the ability to taste food and, yes, I recall the sweet amber liquor with a terrible thirst. They tried to say such a desire for the drink may have led to my demise but, even I know that is not true.
How easily he managed to set me aside once my younger niece caught his eye, and with all his gifts and attention, she did not seem to mind at all. I should have been relieved that I no longer had to tolerate his attentions, but I felt embarrassment and irritation that he so blatantly carried on this flirtation, as though I did not exist, or that I had absolutely no recourse in attempting to alter his behavior. A true gentleman might have considered my feelings, even for a moment, and carried on his indiscretions with more decorum. He understood that I was well-bred and of high-class society, and therefore that I would not confront him like a fishwife on the docks and scream out his sins for all the world to hear.
In a moment of regret, I tried to imagine what that release might have felt like. The idea of belting out shrieks of maddened anger excited me and I wanted to open my dry mouth and scream. But who would hear me here? And would my larynx still be functional.
I am beginning to detest the reek of rot and putrid ooze, sucking it deeply within myself even though I no longer possess functional breathing lungs.
There are moments of confusion, and I struggle valiantly against them, attempting to maintain some small measure of sanity in this lunatic situation. For a moment, I consider that thought. What if I am merely mad? That would be an utter relief, but I do not dare to hope for such a reprieve from this situation.
Overhead, I feel the vibrations of footsteps upon the path, wending their way through the patterns and stones. Are they curious visitors, historians, or those in search of family names?
It seems I am without family—with the exception of that niece.
The footsteps are coming closer, vibrating the ground intensely as they approach me. Since I was planted here, I have had no visitors. The idea is intriguing? I am pleased that I am not totally forgotten.
The tread is heavy…and purposeful… and it halts above me. I feel those feet walking upon me, disrespectfully, blatantly ignorant and without remorse. I recognize the sound of the tread of those feet.
I cannot move. I cannot scream. I can only listen and wait. I smell the scent of flowers and understand that they are being placed above me. I do not understand. Is this some sick game? Bringing me flowers. This is the kiss of the devil. I open my mouth, but my jaw does not function properly and only emptiness comes from my gaping maw.
I am helpless. Totally weaponless and unable to protect myself. Hasn’t he done enough harm?
Undoubtedly, this handsome man presents a fine picture of a grieving widower. A man who has lost his wealthy, beautiful young wife, unexpectedly. Has he summoned the newspapers to take photographs of his mourning stance? I feel the weight of him as he goes down upon his knees.
Where is my young niece? Is she hiding in the bushes, appearing demure and bereaved? Sorrowing for her lost aunt who had given her lavish gifts, a comfortable home and the greatest affection?
I want to move these skeletal arms and hands to reach upward and claw my way through all the layers of the casket and the vault and the unwieldy burden of dirt. Is it possible? How is it that I am sentient and can smell his breath above me, a familiar, once soothing aroma that now it reeks of deceit and betrayal?
What curse is this that I must possess this horrifying knowledge, yet can do nothing to change it? I am a person of action, and whenever I have been wronged, I make certain that I am vindicated and revenged. Is this why I lie awake with rotting flesh and slithering bones? Because I am fired up with the necessity for retribution?
Then I feel the drip, drip, drip of wetness from above. It is not the rain.
I try to move away from it but there is no escape and nowhere to go, no place of safety to hide myself from these droplets.
Murderer. You killed me.
He does not hear me. Or is it that he does not want to listen? Does he dare to deny what he did to me? He took my life. Snatched it from me as though it meant absolutely nothing at all to him.
His tears continue, heavily now, and he is moaning with the sounds of a wounded cur.
I want to strangle him with my long bones and fleshless hands. Wrap them tightly around his neck until the sounds that he is making will be, mercifully, forever silenced.
Yet, I am pinioned here, a butterfly on a stickpin, forever settled into place. How can this be? I do not deserve this.
The air is moldy, wet and rank, and I hear the earthworms moving nearby, interested in replenishing themselves. Their sinuous and slow navigation both fascinate and repel me.
It was that amber liquid, the bane of my existence. I believed it would alleviate some measure of my sadness and provide me with courage. The laudanum my physician had provided freely, allegedly for hysteria—which was a common female diagnosis and helped to keep the women silent and compliant—was always nearby.
One evening, he returned home early from his business affairs and appeared quite pleased with the events that had transpired and wished for me to share in his success. He explained it all to me. I nodded appropriately and signaled for the servants to bring us drinks. It was a rare opportunity for me to have his undivided attention, even though he was speaking about something that held little interest for me.
I sipped my drink gingerly, as a lady must and he downed his drink enthusiastically as men were allowed. I could not scream at his betrayal with my niece. I was a lady. Yet, great ladies before me had found ways to acquire justice. While he was completely engaged in relating the details of his day, I slipped the laudanum into his second drink. It dissolved quickly and glittered in the lamplight beautifully. I was trying not to smile but it was a bit beyond my self-control.
After his third drink, I felt concern. I was already feeling groggy from the liquor, yet he appeared to be hale and hearty. I dared not risk adding additional dose of laudanum. I would need that to help me sleep this night. I tried to determine what had gone wrong with my plan. Regrettably, I was beginning to stagger slightly and I did not wish to add validity to the rumor that I was a sot.
He swept me into his arms and carried me up the stairs, laughing like the charming young man who had won my hand in marriage.
A foggy darkness drifted in and out, and I felt inexplicably tired. He must have the constitution of a bull. How could he withstand all of that laudanum I had swished into his glass? I was feeling so exhausted, that I had lost the desire to see him dead. It was as though I suddenly cared little for this small revenge.
I was baffled as to how I suffered the effects of the laudanum-laced drink and he did not.
It was a foolish mistake, one that I shall always regret.
The glassware was a wedding gift. They held the engraved initials of our surname but, in a moment of pique, I had scratched my own initial barely discernable within the gold plating of one special glass. I wanted something that was entirely mine alone. Something that was not under his control. He never noted my little secret etchings and I considered that to be a clever game upon my part. I could not dress as I pleased, but I most certainly could claim my glass.
I heard him call for the physician. A warmth pervaded my senses.
Perhaps he does care for me a little.
He was fluffing my pillows, pacing the floor, and then knelt by my bedside.
“Do not leave me, my darling,” he whispered.
My tattered heart stuttered and nearly stopped and then began racing, fighting for something, trying to attain an unachievable goal.
When the physician arrived, he performed a cursory examination, then noted the half empty glass beside my bed. He sniffed it. I was certain he was going to label me a useless drunk again and I had no means to defend myself against these slurs. Then there was a whispered consultation with my husband.
“Can we try to make her purge?” he asked the physician. There was true terror in his face, something I had never seen there before.
“Her heart is weakened. I am afraid we can do nothing but wait.”
Those words were my death sentence. I tried to lift my head but could not and barely kept my eyelids open as I watched them. How could this have happened? Was it my evil intent that had brought this curse down upon my own head?
Then my eyes slid to the glass, and I managed to focus long enough to capture what I was seeking. Those etchings. The glass was mine. Yet I had been quite certain where I poured the laudanum. My intent was clear.
My husband looked at me with a puzzled expression.
“I knew you always wanted to drink from your special glass, so after you replenished our drinks, I returned your glass to you,” he explained, then reached and soothed my fevered brow. His hand was hot against my clammy skin.
It wasn’t long before the darkness claimed me.
Then I awakened here in this perpetual stygian night, filled with creepy crawly things and the abyss of decay.
I would never have filled the wrong glass. Something is amiss here and I cannot define it.
There he was weeping above me with tears that seemed to burn through me like hot acid. Here I lie, a prisoner with an eternity before me, waiting for this mortal body to disintegrate, piece by piece, until I am at one with the earth. Yet, when all of my parts are gone, will this mind continue? This agonizing questioning screaming sentience? Is there nothing I can do to silence it?
Why is he crying? It is improper for him to weep in this manner when he had so little regard for me in life.
I hear him as he rises to his feet and his foot shifts a few leaves as it is autumn and undoubtedly the graves are covered with the dead foliage. Blankets for the dead.
I believe he will walk away now, having done his duty to his dead wife and provided appropriate regret for any who might be observing him. Then he halts, turns back and says one more thing to me.
“I thought it would be a quick and easy death and you would just go to sleep. I never meant for you to suffer so.”
Then I listen as his footsteps fade in the distance and I even hear the clang of the black wrought iron cemetery gate as he closes it behind him, to keep the dead secure and in their proper place.
Linda Sparks, author and poet, has published 19 books and been published in numerous anthologies. She served as Editor for Valkyrie Magazine. Her favorite genres are horror and science fiction. Her book titles include: The Goblin Hour, The Scent of Ghosts and Magic, and The Ghosts of Space. The Hour of the Witch will soon be published. Facebook: Linda Sparks Author. Her Amazon author page: https://www:amazon.com/Linda-Sparks/e/B06XYTYPXY.
Published to the Kaidankai on January 5, 2022.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.