The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Michelle Joy Gallagher
There was nothing inside the tiny room to provide any comfort. No windows and no source of light.
She’d kept track of the days by carving jagged marks into the wall with her fingernails until they broke, her fingertips raw and bleeding. The skin of her index finger peeled away from the side of the nailbed with surprising ease after day 3, and ever since had throbbed angrily with every heartbeat. There were 12 marks carved on the wall that she counted blindly by feel. When her fingers split open too easy and became slick with blood, she kept track by scouring the floor for dead flies and lining them against the wall. When she ran out of dead flies she gave up.
Tracking the passage of days itself had been a challenge. The only discernable change was when she assumed it was sundown, a yellowish flickering light streamed through the bottom of the door. Candlelight. But she couldn’t fathom who would have lit it. Since she woke up here, in total darkness, she had heard no sound. No voices, no footsteps, not even the sounds of the building settling. Just silence and cold. Colder than she’d ever felt.
The wooden door was imposing, but the wood felt old, and there was some give when she tried the lock. She had exhausted herself for days on end throwing the entire weight of her body against it, and although it rattled and groaned with every hit, it stood solid.
After, she’d spent days in a numb catatonia of defeat. She must be hallucinating this. Maybe this was the fever dream of a coma and somehow, someway something would wake her, and she could go home. Home started to feel like an invented concept rather than a place. Time had all but suspended. She’d even tried prying at the torn skin of her fingers, hoping the pain would be the answer. Perhaps her suffering would unlock the door, if nothing else would.
As whatever passed for time dragged on, the door became almost a source of comfort. The wood felt warm compared to the floor. When she leaned against it, it creaked. It spoke to her. And she’d taking to touching the wood gently with her swollen fingertips which had been reluctant to heal and whispering to it. About nothing, about anything. Sometimes saying whatever random word came to her mind. Sometimes speaking it what sounded like tongues she’d heard at her great grandmother’s old one room church. She sang it songs, she murmured her deepest regrets, her most sacred secrets. Maybe she could coax it open that way. Maybe it would have mercy on her.
The distant disembodied glow of candlelight coming through in a thin smile every night, reassured her it was working. Then the light went out. Inexplicably. One of her only remaining comforts. She screamed and she threw her fists against the door, Cold and forgotten in the dark. The door creaked and rocked back and forth on its hinge but caught at the latch on the other side just as it had for what felt like eternity.
“Please.” She said in a whimper. Her fists were bruised, her fingers bled anew.
Suddenly the door swung open inward toward her, as if reaching out to embrace her. Nothing but darkness greeted her on the other side. A fresh gust of air broke her skin out in goosebumps. She fell backward, startled and cried out in the all-consuming dark.
She scrabbled to her feet, using the open door to pull herself up, and then slipped quietly through the doorway into what felt like a large hallway. She felt blindly for the wall and sidled against it until her foot met air. It was the top step of a staircase. She cautiously started down the steps, feeling the fresh air crawling up the stairs toward her. In her excitement, she sped up and caught her foot on the edge of the step, sending her headfirst down the rest of the steps. She rolled to a hard stop at the bottom and assessed her injuries through whimpered cries. Her shoulder was either sprained or fractured, as well as her leg. It felt funny at the knee and upon trying to stand and put weight on it, she collapsed in a heap of sobs from pain, frustration and fear.
She dragged herself across the floor until she felt the wall and then ached her way to a standing position on one good leg. She started limping her way down the pitch-black hallway, feeling the air current intensify. In the distance, a barely discernible glow at the base of the wall began to illuminate her path. She sped up again, forgetting her pain until finally she came to a door. Warm wood, familiar in texture and sound. This had to be it. She’d finally made it. She swung the door open and limped through it quickly, expecting to feel the night air on her skin. Expecting to see stars. What she found, instead was the same room she’d left. The same one she spent incalculable time in. The marks on the walls, the dead flies, the blood. The door swung closed behind her, and a metallic scrape sounded the latch as it was driven home.
Fiction © Copyright Michelle Joy Gallagher
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Michelle Joy Gallagher:
This collection of twelve stories and artwork by women is truly a collection of the macabre. Make a reservation for terror and get ready to delve into the deepest, darkest fears of some of the best writers and artists in the fiction game. Leah McNaughton Lederman has collected an anthology of the truly strange… a tome of the weird. Take a seat and order a cup, you’re dining at Café Macabre!