The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The wind was warm that afternoon, offering no relief to the hot summer day. A heat wave had left the town in a delirium. Soaring temperatures and a lack of rain made for quick tempers. Templeton, though small, thrived on the fruits of their manual labor. From the outside, the men, women and children looked happy and peaceful. The quaint town was filled with shops where, once a month on the Summer Solstice, outsiders were allowed to visit and purchase items made from their precious resources.
One of the favorites was the fine, scented soaps made by Widow Jane.
June – Night of the Strawberry Moon
“Good morning, Widow Jane,” Vicar Darland said from the doorway of her room. Jane’s silhouette was a frail shadow against the pale yellow of sunlight embracing her from the attic window. The Vicar’s greeting sliced through her peace, raking through it with his jagged edged voice.
Turning to face him, Jane smiled when she saw how the years had been unkind to him. He was much rounder and his posture crooked. Gout had forced him to limp. His bones had deformed at the weight and burden of carrying him.
“It is a bright day, indeed, Father Darland.”
The Vicar’s face pulled inward. His already small, beady eyes nearly disappeared among the folds of crepe like wrinkles hooding his eyes. His blotchy skin reddened with his unspoken anger as he stared her down. She was a woman in her forties now, but he still blamed her for the death of his only son to whom she married when they were fifteen.
“Tis the Summer Solstice and th’ Strawberry Moon. I trust y’ have th’ soaps ready?”
“Of course, what else is there to do in this prison you keep me locked in?” Jane swept her hand to the right and motioned toward the wooden trunk near her bed. The Vicar hobbled like a wounded animal over to it and used his cane to shove the top open. The scent of lavender and sage filled his nose and he smiled, exposing his rotting teeth. Her soaps were like gold to the town. People traveled from near and far to purchase it every year.
Slamming the lid shut, his smile faded and he looked at her, “Good t’ know your good for somethin’ t’ this town besides killin’ its folk.”
Jane’s nose wrinkled at the stench of halitosis coming from the Vicar’s mouth. Closing her eyes, she held her breath and turned her head toward the window to avoid the smell and his slanderous words.
Jamming the cane down on the wooden floor, the Vicar signaled the men to enter and they took the large box of soaps out. Jane watched as the Vicar hobbled out behind them, locking the door as he did. When he was out of sight, Jane slowly melted down into the padded bench in front of her window and looked down. Her fist rested in her lap, balled so tight she could feel her nails etching into her skin.
“My love, forgive me,” she whispered, “I did all I could to save you then. Still, the night swept you away from me.”
The Vicar’s son had taken to a fever on the night of their wedding. Jane, who had loved him since they were children tended to him all night with the remedies her mother had given her as a healer and midwife. In the morning, the Vicar and his men came to pray over his son for divine healing but found him already gone and Jane asleep across his chest. When the pulled her away, screaming, the priests claimed to have found evidence of Witchcraft.
“I will set it all correct, for both you and my mother. And if the winds be willing, they will carry my soul to thee this night.”
Opening her fist, she stared down at a small, wooden talisman. It was a moon being held by three figures; her husband, her mother, and herself. Holding back the tears, she pulled a pin from the hem of her dress and pricked the tip of her finger. A crimson bulb of blood rose and she pressed against the pad of her finger with her thumbnail for more before dabbing it on the wooden trinket.
I curse this night
For all who bathe
Beneath its light
Let thy rays bring mother’s tears
Let darkness raise thy father’s fears
By my blood make it so
By her blood make it so
By his love make so
Stepping to the window, Jane watched as the moon drew closer. The women and children laughed and danced excitedly, walking past her prison-home with their bags full of her homemade soap, oblivious of her existence. Pressing her hand and her lips to the window’s glass, she waved to the ones who bothered to look up. Some children caught a glimpse of her and began to cry, others turned pale as sheets.
Bonfires and festivities rang through the night, until the moon was at its highest peak. It looked farther away, leaving the world in a darker shade of night than normal. Still, the town celebrated. They danced and bathed in the water until every last one of them fell asleep.
In the morning, the door to her prison was opened. The Vicar, looking more haggard than ever stood looking in at her. He never celebrated with the villagers and, more importantly, he rarely bathed. He knew when the sun rose and the bodies lie cold and lifeless, Jane had poisoned them all.
What he found when he entered was the body of Jane lying in bed wearing her wedding gown. Beside her on the table was a cup of tea, and a plate of strawberries coated in a strange powder.
Fiction © Copyright Lisa Vasquez
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Lisa Vasquez:
A plague has washed upon England’s shore, bringing death in its wake. While the sickness plucks the lives of the victims indiscriminately, something else moves in its shadows, using it as a cover. Bodies with no sign of infection have been brutally murdered and dismembered. Suspicions already surround the infamous Doctor Wulfe when his eccentric behavior takes a more sinister turn. His interest in the young Morrigan spirals into an unhealthy obsession. Angus manipulates her father, giving him hope of a cure in return for his daughter’s hand in marriage. But, when his bride-to-be awakens with an insatiable appetite, will she be forced to go through with the arrangement? Or will the plague save her from a deal made with a devil? “Unfleshed is an exquisite dive into the madness brought on by love … a rose nourished with blood, rendered with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. A compelling blend of Mary Shelley, Baz Luhrman and the Grand Guignol!” —John Palisano, Bram Stoker-winning author of NERVES