The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
They look like old bones, but they’re so much more. The Earth belongs to us in this brief spark in the darkness that is human life, but it reclaims us all in the end.
He was only twelve, and surely he would be safe with eight other boys and two troop leaders. One weekend away from the safety of home. But one of those men wasn’t a man inside; he was a monster. A blow with a flashlight and a violent struggle, and then he went out with a shoestring, ironically, from his beloved boots. The monster did what monsters do, and he dumped the mutilated body here. But the boy remains. Maybe not in his former state, but here nonetheless. Now the boy is a stained ulna, accompanied by a clump of fire-red hair. Caught amongst the detritus is the decaying leather cord of the friendship bracelet they’d made that day. It had lasted for the rest of his life, just like he promised.
The cello was her greatest love, her greatest master, at least until Sheila. She threw it all away. At fifteen. She’d been a prodigy, but she turned away easily. For her. For love. Breathless nights of planning, throwing the essentials in a bag; it was a betrayal to them, but she wasn’t planning to be gone forever. Just one trip through the woods, so her parents couldn’t track her, and Sheila—the only one who understood her internal turmoil—would meet her at the pier with forget-me-nots—her favorite—on the other side of the mountain. But that moment will hang in time forever. Tree roots are treacherous in the dark, especially when you’re a scared young girl. Sheila eventually went home, believing her love had abandoned her courage. Her family moved on, assuming she had cut them out of her life, never realizing that her love for both them and her partner was her truth. After the head wound against the base of the oak tree, she’d felt all right for a few hours. Then came the dizziness, the nausea, the lightheaded shortness of breath. She lay down to sleep a while, and sleeping she will always remain. An earthquake-triggered rockfall brought her here, where she is a humerus among the bracken, a small brown box, sparkling promise ring still inside, an eternal symbol of her love, only revealed to the universe.
He thought the world was his for the taking. Getting his Eagle Scout badge cemented that. Sharp blue eyes and hair like soft wheat, a crooked smile that charmed all the girls. He was headed to university in the fall—a soccer scholarship. But his true passion was sculpture. His parents were so proud. One last hike, he’d said. One last view of home before I conquer the world. That evening he sat down on a cliff edge to watch the setting sun. Without warning, it gave way, trees falling with it, and—mercifully quick—that was the end, a sharp branch puncturing one eye socket and penetrating into soft brain tissue. He’s here now, a prominent, strong femur, an engraved hunting knife—a gift from his father—rusting in the loam inches away. He thought the world belonged to him, but he, like all of us in the end, finally found that he belongs to it.
She was a being at the edge of water and light. A ballerina who loved poetry, romantic comedies, and strawberry wine. A blossoming career before her, but blurred by pain. She wanted to rediscover the universe through the great, wide green. After he left her, she wanted to show that she was strong enough alone, but humans are breakable on the outside. One misstep on a rock, a small splash in a rocky brook, and time went on. All that’s left is a scrap of white denim on a water-smoothed tibia, resting softly on the leaves. As soft as her her hands used to move as a swan in white lace.
She would like where she is now. A fitting ending. A wildlife ecologist, a proponent of the beautiful, wild spaces of this incredible, dying planet, she was here to save what was here and rebuild what was possible. She always wore her lucky hairband in the field—had since grad school. It had been lucky since she successfully defended her PhD in front of an all-male committee, standing tall instead of crouching down, for once. By chance, while observing a family of foxes, she’d espied some rare purple flowers on a slope beneath a limestone overhanging. It was steep, but she knew how to anchor herself. Specimens bagged perfectly, labeled just so, logged in her red leather field journal. She was a perfectionist, if nothing else. But she had a soul that appreciated what lay beneath it all. She turned around to look out over the woods, taking a breath of fresh air, and knew nothing but joy when the stone overhanging crashed down, crushing her instantly. Pieces will lay there, perhaps forever, but the dark-haired woman who laughed at raccoons and tried so hard to find meaning in the tittering of the night owls is now fragments of a scapula and clavicle, the only parts that escaped the boulder, a lens from one of her beloved instruments her last mark upon the Earth she loved so much.
Life and death were his only thoughts, his only options. An abusive childhood in poverty led to a brief high when he put himself through college, but he never found his passion. At least he made money, but not enough to buy true happiness. At fifty, single and balding, he hated his tedious office cubicle, his micromanaging boss, his lonely apartment on the edge of town, and the expectations of his aging mother, a woman who had abused and neglected him, but demanded his every spare moment in her gloomy, ugly nursing home. Not one of the nice ones, with smiling nurses and flowers and field trips, but one of the cheap ones, with broken ceiling tiles, mountains of dirty laundry, and empty-eyed staff who forgot everything from birthdays to essential medication. His only happiness was his dog, Lee, which he had given to a lonely neighbor before his “trip.” He couldn’t walk into that office to be yelled at and accomplish nothing one more time. He couldn’t pick up the phone and hear the screeching of his drug-addicted sister, begging for money, any longer. He couldn’t pretend to not know his mother for the monster she was every time he looked into her hateful eyes. All that was left was endless nights of TV dinners while watching Law & Order, wishing for a different life. One that had probably been unobtainable from the beginning. He parked his car on the side of the highway on a cold September afternoon. He climbed over the barrier, backpack in hand, and entered the woods still wearing a suit, tie, and dress shoes. He walked until it got dark, then he slept near the base of a laurel tree. He found the perfect tree the next day. An oak with strong branches, stronger than he’d ever been. It deserved the life he had been given. The oak would have flourished, despite the hardships. He pulled out the stepladder and looped the rope around the sturdiest of the lower branches, not too close to the trunk. He followed the directions he’d read online and copied down to make the noose. The knot was perfect—the best thing he’d ever made. He felt pride and a stunned sadness as he climbed the ladder. He had no final words to say, no final things to do. He was empty, as he was always meant to be. One step, and it was over. He hung there for seasons—no one was looking for him—but eventually the rope rotted through and animals scattered the remains. Now he is part of a cervical spine, broken but real, just as he was in life, inches from a small, silver cufflink shining in the dust.
A new life for a new woman. Once a hard-hitting Wall Street trader, this powerhouse had powered down to retire early just shy of sixty. A simple cottage, a loving husband, and freedom. She would drink chamomile tea every morning with fresh-baked bread, eggs from her own chickens—a novelty for a city girl. Her soul was always a battle between Emily Bronte and a Hallmark greeting card. Even now, she was still finding who she was. Each morning, after her sunrise tea, she would dress in her running clothes, grab her iPod, and hit the mountain trails. The trails were level, short, and easy to navigate. She never considered that predators might lurk outside the urban areas she was trying to escape. He was a young man, in his thirties, addicted to methamphetamine. Desperate for more while walking blindly through neighborhoods, he followed the affluent-looking woman into the woods. He waited until she reached a lake with a waterfall, then shot her twice in the back of the head. She never knew he was there. A life exchanged for fifteen dollars in cash and a credit card he only got a few hundred out of. He was never caught, and he blended into the rest of addicted society, living his unremarkable life. After being thrown into the lake, her body washed downstream, through some rapids from a recent storm, and into a pool that soon froze over and was covered with snow. A fallen tree dislodged her many seasons later, her long, delicate radius ending up here, the ribbon from her hair caught among some lichen.
He owned these woods for eighty years. Knew them and the wildlife like the back of his hand. He’d sit outside his makeshift cabin and whittle, breathing in the scent of life that was the blue planet itself. He played a wooden flute his father had carved. “Claire de la Lune” was his favorite, sometimes “Syrinx”, though sometimes he would play Bach’s “Partita in A Minor” for his late wife, Agathe. The grizzly had been stalking him for days, and the old man’s senses weren’t what they had been. He never heard the great beast move behind him, didn’t see the shadow on the ground or feel the rough, ragged breath on the back of his neck. Only felt the pain when claws met flesh, when jaws rent tendons and muscle and bone. The bear dragged him to a den. When all the scraps were gone, his skull, mandible still intact, now set upon by birds and small animals of the forest, rolled down a hill and rested here. The flute he played, in his pocket that day, lies there too. And so the man becomes the mountain. Jagged and broken, but home.
Fiction © Copyright Ashley Davis
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
Poetry by Ashley Davis can be found featured in the fall 2017 issue of
The Horror Zine