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.