The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
A Kiss of Flesh
by Scarlett R. Algee
The cold iron handle of the mausoleum’s door shifts at my touch, unlocked, and I pause. Doubt gnaws at my gut as the package inside my coat shifts, and for the thousandth time I wonder what I’m doing. My hands bear fresh calluses and blisters from the spade, garden soil clinging to the whorls of my skin.
My fingers cramp as I open the door. A sprinkle of rust flakes shower down on me, but the squeak of the hinges is a whisper. Inside, all of the unused niches in the marble are filled with her little flickering lamps, their smoke twining up through the gratework in the ceiling. Inside, on the solitary slab, she sits cross-legged in a ragged white dress; her bare feet are long, graceful, the nails painted with a dark gloss. Her hands lie in her lap, palms down; but unlike their nether counterparts, her fingernails are torn short and caked with dirt.
Her eyes are closed, her breathing even. Waiting for me, I think at first, before I realize: asleep.
A leaf, brown and crumbling, rests in the black mass of her hair. I pluck it out. She opens her eyes.
“Claude.” Her voice is dry reeds and disuse, but she smiles.
“Delphine.” A grin comes to my own lips before I remember the bundle in my coat, wrapped in oilcloth so it won’t leak. Ghoul, monster, woman: she’s more beautiful than the last time I saw her; more beautiful than the first time, when my spade broke the surface of a grave and she looked up at me with a rib in her jaws. Infinitely more so than the woman I’m forced to call my wife. “I brought you something.”
Delphine slides to her feet, fits herself into my arms like a missing piece of me, kisses me with the sweet foulness of her mouth. When she pulls back, the light glistens on the long sharp facets of her canines. “Show me.”
The oilcloth crinkles as I retrieve it, as I put it in her hands to open, to release the perfume of decay. She studies the small contents, the plump but blackening flesh; she spreads the tiny limbs wide, and her mouth creases in uncertainty. “You would bring this to me?”
I swallow, dry-mouthed. Never before has she refused one of my putrefying gifts, although never before has one been quite so personal. Still, I hope, I’ve known her too long, too well, for her to hate me. “Yes.”
“Claude.” She lifts her yellow eyes from the lifeless babe to my face, questioning. “This is your son?”
“He lived an hour, Delphine. It’s been five days.” When had her voice dropped to a whisper? When had mine? I cup her cheek in my hand, smearing earth across her skin. “I can’t give him a better resting place.”
“You honor me too much,” she murmurs, and her grip on my dead child’s body has become tender, maternal. She should have been a mother; she should have been a mother to this boy. He would have lived. “Will you stay?”
Tomorrow, in my garden, I’ll rebury a little bundle of bones. Tonight, my place is here. “Yes.”
Delphine cradles the infant to her breast with one hand, wraps the fingers of the other around my wrist. She digs in. “And when there are other sons?”
I lean in first, so that our foreheads touch; then I pull away to look her in the eyes. I’m going to Hell for this, and she’s worth every step. “Then perhaps there will be other gifts.”
Her eyes soften, along with the line of her mouth. She lets me go. “Shut the door.”
I do as she says. And I hear it while I’m turned away, the tearing-silk sound of her teeth sliding into flesh, and I smile.
Fiction © Copyright Scarlett R. Algee
Image courtesy of Nina D’Arcangela
More from author Scarlett R. Algee:
The Lift: Nine Stories of Transformation, Volume One
The hall is dark and the overhead light flickers. Sounds echo, and there’s a creaking and clanging that gets louder as you stand in the semi-dark. The elevator opens and you’re offered a ride. Step inside and ride it to the story chosen for your transformation. Don’t be afraid, for Victoria, the mysterious girl who operates The Lift, waits to guide you. Set in the same world as the award nominated audio drama, The Lift’s first written anthology features nine all new stories by fan favorite writers and special bonus content by creators Daniel Foytik and Cynthia Lowman. The collection is brought to life with beautiful illustrations by Jeanette Andromeda for each story.