The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Nikki Blakely
The old woman stood near the window, her figure a darkening silhouette against the fading daylight that filtered in through a thin curtain as it undulated softly in the evening breeze.
He would come today, she was sure of it. She had felt it in her bones weeks ago, the intensity growing with each passing day until finally that morning, the pain so mighty she almost could not pull herself out of bed. And the bones were never wrong; not just the ones she kept in the small velvet pouches tucked away in the heavy mahogany trunk Maman had given her, but her own bones, the ones that had carried her flesh since birth, and would one day carry her to her grave.
She didn’t often get visitors to her little house at the end of La Rue Du Fonce. Most tourists satisfied themselves with visiting the establishments at the beginning of the street and having their fortunes told by means of tarot cards or tea leaves, perhaps even a palm reading. Most didn’t really want to know what their futures held; rather, they wanted to hear what they wanted to hear. But sometimes there were others; ones who were willing to look the devil in the eye if they might see their truth there. It was them who ventured down past the shops selling crystals, love potions and dreamcatchers, to the darkened house at the end of La Rue.
Maman had named her Cherché, and even though she did not speak French, she understood the word to mean “to look”, because, as Maman had explained to her — only when you look, will you see. And Ché, as she liked to be called, understood that if she looked hard enough, she would see things others could not, because Ché, just like her Maman, and her Grand-mére, and her Arriére Grand-mére and on and on back to 18th century Haiti, was a Manbo, a Vodou Priestess.
There was another with a storefront on La Rue that claimed to be such, who, according to the sign in the front window, read not only cards and palms, but bones as well. Intrigued, Ché paid a visit one afternoon and, requesting a reading, was surprised to find the Priestess to be a girl of no more than fourteen years, and her reading bones, kept in an empty cigar box, were from nothing more than a grocery store chicken.
Ché had chicken bones, of course. Along with sheep knuckles, squirrel, cat, bird, opossum, rat, and others, each polished to a gleaming white and enclosed in their own black velvet pouch. Her bones, handed down from her ancestors, had all come from the ritualistic animal sacrifice required to give the bones their power, such was the old way.
The bones the girl laid out held no such power, but after she told Ché her fortune — she was soon to go on a journey — Ché smiled and slid a ten dollar bill towards her. It was then she noticed the white man standing in the corner, his skin a yellowish pallor, like spoiled milk and his pale blue eyes following her as she left the store.
Ché looked out her front window once again, and was startled to see a skeletal face looking back at her. Her heart jumped as she thought Papa Legbo himself had come to collect her, but then the man stepped forward and she saw it was the blue-eyed man from the shop up the street.
“Madame,” he said, “I’m sorry to bother you at such a late hour, but as you felt inclined to sample my wares, so am I inclined to sample yours.”
Ché opened the door, and motioned him towards a table and chair in the middle of the room, then took her place sitting opposite. Leaning down, she opened the ornately carved trunk, then ran her hand through the stacks of velvet pouches, listening intently for the distinct rattle to tell which set of bones spoke for this man.
She heard a faint click-click-click, and saw a pouch near the bottom tied with a gold string twitching. She picked it up, and dumped the contents out onto the table. The man’s mouth hung open, his eyes widening in terror as the bones came together, forming two skeletal hands. Fingertips dug into the table as the hands pulled themselves towards him, then jumped to his throat, and began to squeeze.
“You are soon going to die,” Ché said, and smiled.
This piece has such great atmosphere – I was totally immersed in your setting. The ending was particularly satisfying – all charlatans beware!
Wonderfully eerie and dark.
I almost feel sorry for the “skeletal” stranger. She could have fed him lunch, first. Seriously, good one!
I love the unfolding to this story, thinking fate would fall upon her, but never seeing that twist at the end. 🙂
Wow! What a great story. Richly told with an unexpected ending.