A HARBINGER OF CALAMITY
By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
“Virtue is the root of good fortune, and evil the harbinger of calamity.” ~ -unknown author
I am awakened in the middle of the night… that dark, silvery time between the witching hour and pre-dawn… where even the slightest sound, wrought huge and horrific by an overactive… or guilt-ridden… imagination, is a harbinger of impending danger.
I sit up in the over-sized queen bed and let the red satin sheets slide down, exposing my naked breasts. The faint glow of the moon from a small gap in the curtains picks up the sheen of my bare flesh. I stare out at the semi-darkness of the room, willing the racing heartbeat in my chest to return to normal. It takes me another moment to realize that something in the room has changed. I stretch out my right arm, knowing in my heart what my fingers haven’t yet discovered… she is gone. The warm depression beside me, now nothing more than a memory of the woman whose passion three nights ago stirred mine into a raging fire, brings an almost overwhelming sadness. I’m losing her…
It has been three nights now, since Kathryn made her confession to me… and swore me to secrecy. Three nights… three long nights in which the distance between the two of us only grew. Like the lengthening shadows of a forest in pre-twilight… a portent of the darkness to follow.
“Swear it, Marie… swear on your life… you won’t tell a soul!” The desperation in my lover’s eyes is as intense as her grip on my shoulders, which is becoming rather painful. I prise her fingers loose and clasping the icy digits in my hands, repeat what I have already sworn to more times than I can recount, in the last few days.
“I swear it, love… on my heart… my very soul! Not a word… ever!” I tilt her chin up and our eyes meet. Holding her hands, I stare back… unblinking… willing her hazel eyes to see the truth in the dark pools of mine.
The only sound in the room is the grandfather clock set against the far wall; the metronomic beat of its swinging pendulum is somehow reassuring in the otherwise still room. After a time, there is a shift in Kathryn’s eyes and she slumps against me. I feel the fear draining out her as she presses her body against mine, her arms encircling me. Kathryn’s warm breath and soft voice caresses my ear with both a plea and a promise…
“Make love to me…”
I knew something had changed as soon as Kathryn stepped off the elevator… something had happened that tilted ‘our little world’ on its axis. The rushed beat of Kathryn’s high heels on the marble floor of the Multnomah County Courthouse echoed off the paneled walls as she hurried to my office at the end of the long, wide corridor on the fifth floor. Watching her progress and the look on her face, a premonition came over me. Yet, I couldn’t quite work up the dread it should have engendered.
I followed my lover in the room, closing the office door behind me.
“I did it!” Kathryn’s face was tight with elation, fear and something else I couldn’t place at the moment.
“Did what?” Knowing full well the answer, but needing to hear the words.
“She’s dead!” I froze for a moment, and then sank down into my chair. Kathryn sat on the edge of the desk, looking down at me.
“What!?” While I had been expecting this, those two words still set me aback for a moment.
“She’s gone! Finally! That stupid old cunt… thinking she was going to… well, she can’t hurt us now, baby… we’re free!” I looked up and into the eyes of the only woman… the only person… I have ever truly loved.
For just a moment… less than that even… I thought I caught just a sliver of madness in Kathryn’s eyes. Then it was gone… if it had even been there in the first place.
As a hundred thoughts crowded their way in… one thought came to the forefront… our secret is safe! A feeling of relief washed over me… once I’ve won the election, the whole world could know for all I cared, but just now…
“Buy me dinner, baby, and I’ll let you fuck me all night long!” With a wicked grin, Kathryn leaned over and I tilted my face up to hers… our mouths met… lips crushed together… tongues entwined…
That was four days ago. A lot has happened since then. Things I didn’t put together until just a little while ago.
The morning after Kathryn’s confession and what was undeniably the best sex ever… apparently, murder does loosen one’s inhibitions… the brakes on the Prius went soft and I took out a mailbox and three bicycles chained to a sidewalk rack. Lady Luck was on my side… or, so I thought at the time.
Normally, I would have taken the expressway to work, but a last minute change of plans had me slowly cruising an unfamiliar neighborhood, looking for a co-worker’s little white bungalow; to give her a lift in to the office. Had I not been so preoccupied with work, Kathryn’s lukewarm concern that evening, when I related the incident, might have registered more with me.
The next evening I came within a match strike of blowing myself and the 100 year old Victorian I had spent three years refurbishing, to Kingdom come. It had been a long day and all I wanted was a glass of wine and a cigaret. Kathryn had been called out of town at the last minute, so the evening was mine. I had been just about to strike the match when a tendril of gas wafted across my nostrils.
When the serviceman came out later, he cautioned me that an old gas fireplace like the one I had was prone to lose its pilot light if it wasn’t serviced regularly. I promised him that I would pay closer attention. Kathryn seemed a bit distant when I spoke to her over the phone later. Again… work and the upcoming election overshadowed her reaction to the news.
The following evening, Kathryn was quiet and uncommunicative. I worried that what had transpired a few days earlier was weighing on her, but Kathryn assured me that wasn’t the case. She said one of her patients had taken a serious turn and probably would not live out the week. Our lovemaking that night was… perfunctory. Kathryn seemed a million miles away. When I awoke the next morning, she had already left for the hospital.
As I said, things didn’t really start to fall into place… the events of the last few days… until just a little while ago.
It all started with a phone call from the hotel Kathryn stayed at a couple of nights ago… or, I should say… supposedly stayed at. That would have been the evening I was almost blown up. Turns out that Kathryn hadn’t stayed at the hotel after all, and the manager was calling to inquire if Kathryn wanted her deposit back, or have it applied to her next visit.
I informed the manager it might be a while before Kathryn returned, and if he could credit the deposit back to our bank, I would be most grateful.
Then I went home to think about a few things.
“Marie… for god’s sake… put the gun down, baby! It’s not what you think…”
“Not what I think? Really? Tell me, Kathryn… what isn’t ‘not what I think’? The brakes on the Prius? Oh, right… that must have been a factory defect. The gas ‘leak’? Well, the fireplace was old… something like that was bound to happen, right?”
My right arm could have been carved from stone… the Sig Sauer P226 doesn’t waver as much as a millimeter. An icy calm comes over me. Kathryn sees the shift in my eyes. She pleads…
“Baby, please… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… please… I love you… I really, truly do… I just… I….” Her voice trails off.
“You just didn’t… couldn’t… believe me when I said… when I swore to you… countless times… that I would never… ever… ever…” My voice chokes a little…
“… tell a single soul… that you killed our mother.” Our eyes meet… and again… she sees the truth in the dark pools of mine.
Only now… that truth won’t save her.
The truth between sisters can’t save her now.
This she sees as well.
“I love you!” It’s a simple truth… and I believe her.
“I love you too, Kathryn. And, you needn’t worry…”
“About what? I don’t…” And then… understanding fills her eyes.
My finger draws slowly over the trigger…
A single tear… then another… spills down my cheek… a tiny river of sorrow…
“I promise, honey… I won’t tell a soul.”
Gads… I did NOT see that coming! You really pulled the rug out from under me this time. Great tale!!
Thank you, Ingrid! I’m glad I can still catch you ‘off guard’! 🙂
Wow, powerful stuff Veronica… and cold, so cold.
Thank you, Thomas… a wonderful compliment! Appreciate it very much.
Veronica, you are an outstanding writer, keep it up!!!@!@
Thank you very much, Jackie! Your encouragement is very much appreciated. ^-^
Modern gothic, good stuff. Because honestly, this is an example that often times it’s the writing itself that carries everything and the writing itself that satisfies in ways points of plot just can’t (not to the same intensity).
Now, in no way to say that the plot (which is prominent to this) is to be ignored, but really, the solid, thick of the writing, the lingering sense, the weight of it takes what could have been a
twist-twist-twist just for vague effect sort of tale into something with gravity, even makes, in the short span, the twists works—because as I’ve always said, twists in the short form, if not handled well, just seem perfunctory, like waiting for a pun or something, not enough time to have been lulled into ones own thoughts, so when they come it’s the same as if they didn’t (no real “twist” just “what happened next”).
Here, because of the prose being entirely about perception, about weight of emotional reaction (teasing with standard tropes of Elections and Secrets) the story arrives at much more than a twist when the superficially taboo revelation is made—it justifies the tone, the lingering, the doubt, the second guessing, the particular statements made on everything from the love making to the motel to the windows to the bare skin to the mother—it moves the secret deftly from
something (I imagine readers never to be dolts, you know) most people would have no problem with (a homosexual relationship) to something the typical gut reaction is to find “worthy of keeping secret” (an incestuous relationship).
And again, the writing keeps this from being the “big reveal” as it stays in the emotional headspace of the character/narrative, letting the crucial information slip out during a genuinely hard and tense scene that, again, emotionally makes sense and is not dependent of the
revelation to carry the whole thing.
Sorry if that’s a bit blathering, but sometimes it’s nice to point out how much prose, atmosphere, just the actual “interest in the pen” carries so much more weight than points of plot.
Thank you very much, Pablo, for your very thorough and insightful critique of my little tale. I appreciate very much your taking the time to comment. I am sure I will look back on these comments often.
I see value in every single person’s comments on my stories and look at them often as learning tools, advice… more than just words, but opportunities for me to improve as a writer.
I am pleased and honored at your words. I do try never to ‘write down’ to the reader. Someone once told me to assume the reader is smarter than you are and he/she can figure things out as long as you have told your story well.
Just one of the things I really like about writing flash… to give the reader that little ‘oh’ moment at the end. But, more than just a twist or an ‘oh, I didn’t see that coming’ moment, but to change how the reader had perceived the story… just a little.
Your writing is amazing…and in the end…sisters….what a profound way to end it.
Thank you, Jackie. I very much appreciate your comments.
I’m glad the ending ‘caught’ you. Yes, it had to be sisters… I didn’t want the murder to be the secret. I needed something else… something to make it more than just another story about one person killing another.
Thank you for reading my stories.
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