The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Naching T. Kassa
Nalin Kratides awoke, her cheek pressed to cold stone, head aching.
She pushed herself up to sitting position and pressed her fingers against her temple to keep the room from spinning. She glanced around.
A table stood at the center of the small stone room and two things sat upon it. One was a small lantern which lit the area. The other was a green glass bottle. Something buzzed around its lip.
Nalin rose to her feet, a chill gripping her heart.
The winged insects, yellowjackets, landed on the soda bottle and crawled about on it. Nalin stepped back and hugged the wall. Though small, their sting held death for her.
She searched the room for an exit, careful to keep away from the table. In the ceiling, ten feet above, the edges of a trapdoor became visible.
The memory of her imprisonment came back in a series of hazy images. She had been called to the home of Elliott Marsten to investigate the murder of his mother, Lila Harris, the Scream Queen. The French castle, an exact replica of Castle Penoit from Lila’s film, The Eyes of the Cat, contained a fully functional dungeon and more than three oubliettes. At least, that’s what Elliott had said before handing her a bottle of soda from the large kitchen fridge. If Nalin had been smart, she wouldn’t have taken the drink.
Elliott, thin, pale and more boy than man, had led her down past the dungeon to the crypt which held his mother’s body, but she hadn’t been alone. John had been with her.
Detective John Warren had accompanied her on the investigation and had, in fact, brought it to her. Only her particular paranormal talents could solve the twenty-year-old cold case. Only she could speak with the dead Lila and discover the name of her murderer.
But where was John? Where had he gone when the drug had finally worked its way through her system and abandoned her to oblivion?
The yellowjackets continued to buzz. One ventured a little farther from the bottle and flew toward her.
Nalin dropped to her knees, her heart in her throat. She stayed on the cool floor until the insect returned to its companions.
Before she had passed out and John had vanished, she remembered her conversation with Lila Harris. Elliott had opened the casket and revealed the withered form of his mother, the dry skin of her face pulled back to reveal a perfect grin. The tunnel had opened before Nalin as it always did in the presence of death, and she had entered it.
“Who are you?” the skeletal form had asked. “Where is my son?”
“He’s in the room, awaiting my return. He asked me to come here.”
“Oh…” the woman said. She coughed, and the dry dust of decades spewed from her throat. “You are Nalin Kratides.”
“How did you know?”
“I may be dead, but I’m far from lonely. Your name has been whispered to me for years.”
“Then you know why I’ve come?”
“You have come to wed him. He’s brought you to meet me.”
Nalin’s eyes widened. She shook her head. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re not going to marry him?”
“No. He brought me here to find out who murdered you.”
Lila rose, her dry skin cracking. She reached out and gripped Nalin’s wrist with her bony fingers. “You must go. Leave now! Leave before he kills you too!”
“Yes. He’s like you. He can speak with the dead. He prefers us this way. He prefers the dead. He’s known of your talent for years and he’s obsessed with you. He wants to keep you—”
“Now, now, Mother,” a voice said. Elliott stepped from the shadows which surrounded them. “Don’t speak to your future daughter-in-law that way.”
Nalin had lost consciousness then. She had woken in the oubliette.
She had to find a way out.
In the lantern’s glow, new evidence of Elliott’s madness came to light. Photographs and newspaper clippings of Nalin covered the stone walls. Many of them detailed Nalin’s cases. One, an interview she’d done for a magazine, spoke of her allergy to yellowjackets. He had researched her well, but he had missed one vital detail.
“John,” she whispered. “Come catch me.”
Nalin removed her shoe and approached the table. She lashed out at the insects, and they rose into the air.
Elliott hurried out of his mother’s crypt and to the dungeon above the second of three oubliettes. John Warren groaned as Elliott passed the instrument of torture, he had tied him to. The chains holding him jangled, but Elliott paid him little heed. He needed to deal with Nalin first.
Nalin. The beautiful woman who shared his talent. How long had he coveted her? Fifteen years? Soon she’d be dead, stung by the insects below. Soon she’d belong to him forever.
He found the trapdoor, quickly lifted it, and gaped at the scene below.
The glass bottle lay shattered on the floor, Nalin’s shoe not far from it. Near the lantern on the table, a tiny black and yellow abdomen gleamed.
Nalin had disappeared.
Elliott rose to his feet. Where had she gone? She was too short to use the table as a means of escape.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned. John Warren smiled and then a fist smashed Elliott’s nose. He fell to the floor, bleeding.
Nalin appeared beside John. She too smiled.
“How?” Elliott cried.
“You shouldn’t have left me the yellowjacket,” she said. “When I killed it, the tunnel opened for me.”
“And when she called me, I pulled her out,” John replied.
“But that’s impossible. That would require the skill of astral projection.”
“It would. Are you good at astral projection?”
“Well, I am.” He dragged Elliott to his feet. “By the way, you’re under arrest.”
“For what? Attempted murder?” It was his turn to grin. “I won’t be in prison long.”
“I’m not charging you with that.”
“You killed your mother,” Nalin said. “I’m sure another conversation with her will reveal how you did it.”
Elliott struggled out of John’s grip and leaped toward the trapdoor. He fell, striking the table and rolling to the stone floor. Something crunched below his left ear, a sickening sound like the snapping of bone. He landed on his back unable to move.
Nalin stared at him from above her face, ashen. She was still the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
He vowed then and there he’d see her again.
Fiction © Copyright Naching T. Kassa
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Naching T. Kassa:
Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.
Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring sixteen stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.
With a foreword by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Linda D. Addison, you are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.
A terrific story.
I agree with Marge – this is so cinematic – I want the movie, the Netflix series – great work.