Welcome to Stories from the Dark, Episode 2 – Black Widow. I hope you enjoy it!
An organ moaned at the head of the small church. Rows of seats faced forward and held a scattering of mourners, speaking in hushed tones and dabbing at their eyes with crumpled tissues. Others milled about, eyeing those across the aisle with suspicion.
The empty pulpit had been pushed to one side. A simple black casket sat in a position of prominence with the left side open. Gold-fringed fabric and a bouquet of white roses rested over the right. Beside the casket stood a wreath and a badly cropped picture on a stand, pixelated from being blown up too big. The young man in the picture smiled like he did it too often. His overbite showed the tooth he chipped after his first time skateboarding at the age of fourteen. A self-induced bowl cut showed he still had not secured a well-paying job after moving out of his mother’s house at the age of twenty-seven.
Under the picture, a name written in gold paint was surrounded by tissue paper flowers. Arnolfo Cornelius Kacper. His friends called him Ghost, mostly because he was invisible in a crowded room and tended to knock random objects over as he passed them by. His mother called him Arnie.
Few in attendance spoke, and those who had kept their recollections short and to the point. He was a good lad. So much ahead of him. Such a shame. One of the cousins on his father’s side, which explained a lot, shared a story of how Arnie often spoke of dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse. Few of those in attendance appreciated the sentiment.
It was at the point where people were searching for an excuse to leave, knowing that more of the ceremony would come the next day, that the heavy door at the back of the church snapped open. A woman with running mascara and tangles in her dark hair pushed past a confused usher. She walked forward with uneven steps, the heel from one shoe in her hand. The right shoulder of her dress rode low. Snags marred her stockings at the knees. Her breath hitched, but she contained her grief at that moment.
Those nearest to the aisle either nodded or backed away. With the exception of the odd whispered question, the room fell silent. Standing in front of the casket, the woman set a bulky red leather purse by her feet, then hung her head and wrapped her fingers around the broken heel.
“Hi, Arnie. Sorry, I’m late. Hasn’t been the best day.” She sniffed and wiped her sleeve across her eyes, smearing tears and diluted mascara down her face. “Hasn’t been a great couple of days, to be honest. It wasn’t always this way, though, was it?”
She smiled through her tears. “I’ll never forget the day we first met. You were such a cocky little prick. Said one day you were going to have my heart. I told you that you couldn’t have it. Not ever.” Her chin trembled, and her lips pinched tight. “Then, somehow, it happened. It became yours, and everything and everyone that came before didn’t mean a thing.” She crossed her arms and focused on the bouquet of white flowers on the end of the casket, already beginning to wilt. “But you know what? I’ve been thinking about it. A lot.” She gave a nearly imperceptible shrug. “And I’ve decided that I’m going to take it back.”
The woman flipped the broken heel into the casket and knelt beside the red bag. She took out a canvas pouch, like an oversized pencil case, then stood and dropped it onto Arnie’s chest. Turning her eyes to the ceiling, she kicked off her shoes. “Sorry in advance.”
She pushed out a deep breath, grasped the cloth covering the lower half of the casket, then swept it and the bouquet of flowers to the floor. Ignoring the gasps from behind her and the crashing notes of the organ, she pushed up on the lid with both hands until it stood upright.
From there, her hands moved fast. She unfastened Arnie’s suit jacket, unbuckled his pants, and pulled down his fly. Reaching over him, she clutched an arm and a leg, then rolled him toward her. She wiggled the canvas pouch free from between the casket and his body, then removed what looked like a fat pen with a rectangle battery plugged into the end and a small black vial from the pouch. Holding them in one hand, she slipped the fingers of her free hand under the waist of Arnie’s pants. It took three sharp tugs to expose his naked form. After removing the cap from the vial and setting it on one cheek, she dipped the end of the pen in, and leaned over the casket.
The pen hummed as she dragged it across the cold skin on Arnie’s bare ass. She dipped and scratched, dipped and scratched. She worked the tip back and forth over a crooked heart with “A + C” scrawled in the middle.
“Oh, did I tell you why I was late?” The woman reached out for fresh ink and continued with her task. “I spent most of the morning stranded on the side of the road. Goes to show that if you had spent as much money on oil changes as you did on big wheels and stupid mufflers that piss the neighbours off, your piece of shit might not have died on me in the middle of nowhere. Don’t worry though, it’ll have a good home, for a little bit at least. I sent the tow truck driver away with Tatiana’s address. Gave him an extra twenty to park it on her lawn. It’ll be nice for her to have something to remember you by. You know, since I put all your shit in the dumpster yesterday and burned it.”
She held the pen away and looked to the back of Arnie’s head. “I didn’t want to believe it. I really didn’t. How could you, with the way your dad treated your mom? I know how much it hurt you both. My friends told me, over and over. I told ‘em you said it wasn’t happening. They asked me what made me think you was telling the truth. I didn’t have a real answer, so I decided to ask Tatiana. She told me, sure enough.”
With the pen held out, she stretched forward. “The worst part? I didn’t even get a chance to ask you why. Why her, of all people? Now, I’m never going to know. Not ever.”
She continued in silence until the heart disappeared under a glossy black blob, then stood back and admired her work. “There. That’s better.”
The woman tucked the pen in its pouch, then dropped it through the open top of her purse. With her hands gripping the edge of the open casket, she lowered her gaze. “Bye, Arnie.”
Picking up her bag from the floor, she turned away. A thin smile crept across her lips, and her shoulders pulled back. For the first time, she focused on the gaping faces around her. None dared to speak when they saw the fire in her cleared eyes. So, with her head held high, she lifted her purse over her shoulder, walked up the aisle and straight out the door.
In honour of today being World Storytelling Day, I thought I would offer up something new. The idea behind Stories from the Dark has been on the list of things to do for almost a year now. I’m excited to put it out into the world, and to see how it changes and evolves with each instalment. I hope you like it spooky, because that’s what you’re gonna get…
I check my watch. She’s late. I was really hoping she wouldn’t be late.
Gaetan strides up beside me and flicks the butt of his cigarette into the dark. He blows smoke and watches me from the corner of his eye. “Relax. This will all be over soon.”
I chew on my lip and watch the crest of the hill. The cast iron park bench. The Victorian lamp post beside. A silhouette emerges from the shadows and Angelica stops under the bland electric light. Her coat is buttoned to her chin. Dark bangs cover her eyes. Her fiery red lips stand out like the ‘x’ on a treasure map.
My heartbeat hammers in my temples. “Okay. She’s here.”
“I see that.”
“Are you sure this is going to work?”
Gaetan frowns. “Of course. You need to trust me.”
“Right. Trust you.” My hand tightens around the handle of the cloth bag resting against my thigh. “Okay. Be right back.”
Gaetan steps away. “Remember to breathe.”
The click of my heels echo around me as I climb the path. Angelica is still as I approach, showing no recognition, until I stop next to her.
“Hello, Angelica. Thank you for meeting me.”
“It is confusing. Being told that we should not see each other. Then you ask me to meet you here, of all places.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just… I have something for you.” Her eyes follow as I hold the bag out. I swallow against the lump in my throat. “A gift. To say thank you.”
Her shoulders relax and she faces the darkness. One hand rises and pulls the top two buttons of her coat open. The lace fringe of her bra matches her lips. “You know how I prefer to be thanked, and how I show my gratitude in return.”
My intention to maintain eye contact fails. “I can’t. We can’t. You know that.” I stretch my arm. “Please.”
Angelica sighs and takes the bag. With the handles spread wide, she peers in, then for the first time to me. “What is this?”
“It’s, well, it’s a doll.”
She reaches in for the doll and lets the bag fall. When she squeezes the body, it crinkles. “It is made from?”
“Dried grass. I think.”
Angelica scowls. “Thomas, what have you—”
Her breath catches. What little colour her skin held evaporates. The whites of her eyes show, and she folds to the ground.
“Angelica?” I rush forward and take her free hand. The doll is clutched tight in the other. “Angelica, are you okay?” Her skin is cold, lips twisted in a permanent sneer.
I scramble away and run down the hill. Gaetan steps onto the path to join me. “So?”
“Gaetan, I think she’s dead. What did you do?”
“You asked me to take care of your situation. So, I did.”
I lace my hands over my head. “That… that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“Perhaps next time you should clarify your expectations.” He leans out and looks along the path. “Besides, she is not dead. Only, incapacitated.”
“Next time? Wait… she’s okay?”
Gaetan puts his hands in his pockets. “We can discuss details another time, since you now find them of interest.” He walks the path toward the hill. “In the meantime, it would be best if we collect your girlfriend and leave.”
“Close your eyes. Pretend I’m not here.”
The woman shifted her position and lifted her head to flip the pillow to the cool side. Her focus on the white ceiling panels faded as her eyes shut. She folded her hands over her torso and settled. “I can hear you breathing.”
The man cleared his throat. His moist lips smacked when he opened his mouth.
“That’s not helping.” The woman cracked one eye. She wondered why it was so popular, this place, and its promises of miracle cures.
“Let’s begin with a count down from ten. Ten, nine, eight. Breath in from your diaphragm. Five, four, three. Good…” His voice flowed like cold oil. “Now, imagine a calm ocean. The sun is warm and inviting. No wind, no sound but the gentle undulation of the waves.” The man slunk forward in his seat. “Can you see it?”
Under closed lids, the woman rolled her eyes. “I see it.”
The man smiled. “Good.” He laid a metal pen along the spine of his notebook and set it on the arm of his chair. “Now, the sun begins to dim. It’s place in the sky is taken by a great blue orb. It radiates calm. It invites you to peace.”
The woman held her tongue.
“You are alone, but content. Feel your body relax. No sensation. No fear. Only the loving glow of the orb.” The man paused, watching the woman’s breath ease, as his own heartbeat increased. “It reflects off of the water. It is the only object in a great void.” He leaned forward on one knee. “The world is fading, but it’s okay. You are safe. You have no responsibilities, no cares.”
The man shifted forward and perched on the edge of his chair. As he scanned the woman, head to toe, the movement of a clock across the room was the only thing to interrupt the silence. The tone of his voice deepened, his paced slowed. “Embrace this new world. Leave the old behind. Can you do that?”
The woman did not respond.
The man swallowed with a click. “Good.” One hand reached out. A tremor emerged as the tips of his fingers grazed the soft fabric of the woman’s blouse, starting near her belt, and moving up.
The woman’s eyes sprang open and locked onto the man. They changed from soft and green to muddied and swirling like a storm cloud. The man froze.
She spoke in a whisper. “Change of plans, you don’t get your jollies today. Hand back.”
The man sat up straight and rested his hand on his knee.
The woman rose up without averting her attention. She ran a hand over her head and pulled her amber hair to one side. “I’m surprised you were brave enough on day one. Maybe brave isn’t the right word. If you’re this careless, I figured someone would have spoken up before they did. Lucky me…” The woman crossed her legs and smoothed one hand over her knee. “I’m going to give you a little control back. Pick up your book. I want you to write something out for me.”
The man sat, unmoving, his eyes wide.
The woman motioned to the arm of the chair. “Go on.”
The man’s hand shook as he lifted the pen and set the tip down on a blank page. His lower lip pushed away from his bottom teeth. Small dark eyes, below the slicked back widows peak and unkempt eyebrows, watched everywhere but the woman’s face.
“I want dates and names. As much detail as you can remember.” She tilted her head. “I’d say you could check the little leather diary you keep in the hidden compartment at the back of your bottom desk drawer, but I’m sure you’ve read back over it enough to remember what I need.”
After a moment of hesitation, the pen scratched in fits and starts. One page filled, then two. As he started the third, the pace faltered. His eye twitched.
The woman smiled. “You just figured out who told me, didn’t you? She probably made a slight movement, or blinked, but you’re so sure of yourself, even as you’ve become so careless. It’s good. Remember her face. Remember who set this in motion.”
The man’s jaw clenched. His body seized as he fought for control.
The woman drew in a deep breath and refocused her attention.
A small noise escaped the man’s pursed lips. The scratching of the pen started once again, slow at first, but soon became frantic. With four pages filled, the man licked at his lips with the tip of his tongue and set the notepad down beside him.
“Good.” The woman snuck a glance to the large horizontal window along the far wall, and the empty air past it. “You know, it’s such a nice day.” She turned her turbulent eyes back to the man. “Wouldn’t it be nice to get some fresh air?”
The man turned his head. He stood and took slow, uneven steps toward the clear pane of glass. A few paces away, he stopped and stared, before looking back to the woman.
She stretched her arms out along the back of the couch and leaned into it. “You’re smart. Figure it out.”
The man’s eyes homed in on the oversized executive desk in the middle of the room, and the marble carving of an ancient fertility god perched on one corner. He shuffled next to the statue, hefted it in one hand, then spun and threw it at the window. As the glass cascaded down, the man was already running. With his arms raised over his head, he dove through the bare frame. He made no sound, until the dull thud of his body impacted on the concrete walk below. In the distance, someone screamed.
The woman stood and her eyes cleared. She mussed her hair and undid the top two buttons of her blouse. With a deep breath in, she wrenched her lips and cried out. “Oh my God, someone please help!”
Through the wisps of smoke from the fire, the first sliver of the full moon rises above the hills. She illuminates the clouds breaking overhead until they disappear altogether and stands alone in the autumn sky. I wish her tidings for All Hallows Eve, speak of the time since I’ve seen her last, and how a handful of weeks can feel like a lifetime.
With one hand tracing the intricate lace pattern of my dress, I remind her of my once pending wedding ceremony. How Aldus and I would have set out for the south the next day to start our new life. I tell her how those days were filled with tears of sorrow instead of joy. My voice is low as I speak of Aldus, his final trip through the valley with a bounty from the markets strapped to his small boat, the storm, and how the black water chose to embrace him.
I compose myself and focus off into the night, a night where the veil between worlds may be as thin as the one that should have covered my face. I search for more to say, but the words do not come. I turn back to the fire. My fingers graze the folded paper on my lap. I clear my throat, make a silent request, then lean forward.
The letter drifts away from my hand and settles on the glowing coals. The corners of the paper curl and blacken. Soon it flares and shrivels, casting light into the eerie calm. As the light fades, my eyes adjust once again to the darkness. A slumped shadow stands across the fire. Long hair stuck to their face. A tattered overcoat, once crisp and new, now dark and heavy with the scent of stale water and earth.
I do not look away as a piece of ashen paper floats away on the breeze. A smile fights for space as sadness flows from my eyes. “Hello, my love.”