A little something to get you in the mood for trick-or-treating...
As part of my effort to submit something, somewhere each day in October, I came across an open call from Firbolg Publishing called "The Rogues Gallery." As they explain it
A newspaper vendor in the nineteenth century could always ensure sales with the gruesome cry “Murder! ‘Orrible Murder!” Published around 1870, the Victorian tabloid The Illustrated Police News took this business angle to heart. It had the largest circulation of any periodical of that time and fed the public on a weekly diet of real-life horrors calculated to chill the strongest stomach and boost the next issue’s sales.
So our charge was to write 500 - 1,000 words, using one of the photos they provided. You can see the full slate by clicking on the "Rogues Gallery" link above.
Here is the photo I chose.
And here is my story.
"A New Beginning"
Abigail reached out deliberately, and found her powder puff. She applied a light dusting to her nose and chin, then replaced it just so. Next, the lipstick, which she always kept to the right of the powder tin. Satisfied that her lips bore a satisfactory shade of red, Abigail put down the tube.
After the year she had had—they had—she wanted this, their third anniversary, to be special.
And unmarred, as was last year’s.
“Nathan?” she called. “Nathan, could you please come here for a moment?”
She strained to pick his footsteps out from the mélange of creaks and groans typical of an older home. Hearing none, she felt a slight, rising sense of panic. Deep within, she knew nothing was wrong. She knew he would come. He always did. But perhaps this time...
“No!” she said firmly. “He would not leave me. Not today.”
Slightly more than one year ago she had remarked—completely innocently—how intriguing she found a new appliance that she had seen on display at Harrods. The gas-fired stove, the placards proclaimed, would “revolutionize the culinary arts.” Abigail did, indeed, love to cook. But she so hated their coal oven, as its messy soot would speckle her frock, frequently white, as white was her preferred color.
Returning from an afternoon stroll the day of their second anniversary, Nathan said playfully, “I have a surprise for you.”
“What is it?” gushed Abigail, who had always loved surprises.
“Come with me,” he said, covering her eyes with his beefy hands.
She could discern that he had led her into the kitchen. Before she had an opportunity to guess, her removed his hands. There, before her, stood a shiny new stove.
“Oh, Nathan!” she said as she threw her arms around his neck, and showered him with kisses.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
She bit her lip and nodded.
“You are going to enjoy a special meal tonight, Mr. Graves,” she vowed.
Unfortunately, the dinner did not go as planned.
Checking on the roast, she found it half cooked, and the oven considerably cooler than she would have expected. She called Nathan, and asked if he could take a look at it.
“Stand back,” he cautioned as he leaned into the oven with a lighted match.
A blue ball of fire erupted from within. The force threw her back. She landed supine several feet removed from her previous position. With great effort, Abigail managed to raise her head. The last thing she remembered seeing was Nathan’s waistcoat afire. The last thing she heard were his screams. Then, a second wall of flame spat out, and headed toward her...
“Damned oven. I never should have asked for,” she said, quietly, as she placed on her right wrist her favorite bracelet, Nathan’s gift of two years ago.
The door creaked open. A skeleton—bones blanched, eye sockets hollow—stood menacingly in the half light.
Abigail stared into the mirror, but did not react to the walking corpse.
It drew nearer.
It stopped just within arm’s reach.
“I apologize for my tardiness, dearest. I was down in the library, and did not hear you at first.”
“Would you help me with my corset?”
“Of course, dearest. And happy anniversary.”
She began to cry. He gently shushed her.
“Now, now. There’s no need. You’re not still blaming yourself for what happened, are you?”
“No,” she lied.
But how could she not? How could she not carry guilt, and regret the burden she had imposed upon Nathan? She certainly felt like less of a wife. They’d not shared their marital bed since that night. He claimed—indeed, avowed—that the pain had, for all intents and purposes, completely subsided. Still, while asleep he oftentimes would fidget, he would say, and feared that he would disturb her rest. She said that she believed him. But late at night, many nights, she would hear him wailing, his moan easily traversing the thin wall between their chambers.
In fact, she had not felt him, touched him, since that awful day. When she awoke, she realized
that someone had carried her to her bed. Her head ached, and her world was black. She assumed that it was midnight. But the ambient air felt warm. She reached up and felt her face. Her eyes were bandaged. Terrified, she sat upright and called out. “Hello! Nathan! Anyone! Is anyone there?”
She heard labored footsteps enter the room.
“I’m here, dearest,” came Nathan’s voice, somehow different.
“What happened, Nathan?”
“What do you remember?”
She had to pause, and work to recall. As the memory came flooding back, she screamed.
“My god, Nathan! The fire! You were on fire.”
“I’m fine. Do not concern yourself with me. It is you, whom I am worried about. Because of your—”
“My eyes?” she asked hesitantly.
“The doctors say that you...may regain your vision.”
One year removed from the accident, she had not.
“Now, now,” Nathan reassured her. “Abigail, dearest, you can be brave. You are brave. I confess that I admire your strength, your perseverance, in this face of this adversity.”
She muttered a subdued thank you.
“Do you remember what I told you a few days ago?” Nathan continued.
She did. He told her, promised her, that their lives would return to the way it had been. That they would enjoy a normal life once again.
That was not quite what he had said. He said they soon would enjoy a new beginning. Yes, “a new beginning.”
“How is that?” Nathan asked, pulling the laces.
“A little tighter, if you can.”
Sensing him, how close he stood, she hazarded a reach back to touch his hand. She fought herself to refrain from recoiling away from its icy hardness.
“Nathan!” she gasped. “You must eat more. You’re nothing but skin and bones.”
He smiled, his grin grotesquely wide, unfettered by lips. “You’re half right.” He gave the strings one final, supernatural tug. “And soon, dearest, you shall be as well.”
Feel free to share your thoughts about "A New Beginning."