With Halloween rolling around again, thought one of my favorites short stories for your reading pleasure.
To Have and To Hold
Elegantly foul fingers clawed their way back to the surface. The undead body of a young
woman followed. She rested at the head of the grave as if weary from a struggle with the underworld to return to the land of the living. She hissed a satisfied breath expelling worms, insects, and other creatures from below.
Death tainted hands traced a path of putrified ruin across the jagged letters carved into the crude cross marking her now empty grave. It bore only a first name and a date: ‘Ella October 31, 1842’. Exactly seven days ago she was laid to unrest in peace.
Ella’s rise to her feet was ponderous but determined, her limbs strict with rigor mortis. She ambled past other graves and turned towards the big house, just able to make out its evil outline. The hunger, the wanting that had driven her towards untimely death, stirred in her bloated stomach. She took a first lumbered step forward, dragging the left foot that still bore the bite marks from the hound.
She trudged ahead on a barefootworn path with haphazard shacks lining either side. Eyes followed her for the briefest of moments but turned away, knowing. Each step brought back more of the strength she had in life.
The hound’s familiar snarl greeted Ella halfway to the house. It charged. Jaws wide and snapping. It leapt. She snatched it by the throat in midair and slammed it to the ground. The hound tilted its head and a look that would pass for human horror darkened its face. It scampered away tail wedged between its legs sparing only one cautious look back. Ella plodded on, yearning pulling her to her quarry.
The hound’s racket had roused the man smoking a pipe on the makeshift porch of the small
dwelling positioned strategically between the shacks and the big house. Shotgun in tow, he looked askance at the aberration before him. “What the hell,” he sputtered, wiping at his eyes. He took in the dripping mess that was Ella’s face, half her jaw exposed, her rotting flesh. The man howled in disbelief, taking a step backward.
It was Ella’s turn to charge. The man struggled to raise the shotgun in trembling hands. When she was nearly on him, her outstretched hands inches from his face, he fired. Ella was flung several feet back and landed in a puff of red dust. The man dropped the gun, picked it up again and scrambled forward. His eyes bulged. Even with the maggots struggling to finish the job of decomposition, he recognized the woman with skin that had been the same dark brown hue as his own when he’d sent her to her grave.
In that moment of hesitation, Ella grasped the gun barrel and with a lumbering swiftness, she rose and bashed the overseer over the head with his gun. Ella then fell upon his body and sunk her still solid teeth into his throat.
Ella rose and wiped her mouth on the arm of the rag that had passed for her dress. The shotgun blast had wakened the big house. Oil lamps lit every window and the master and house slaves emerged as Ella slunk back into the shadows. When the mob moved off toward the shacks, she mounted the stairs to the big house, almost feeling her long dead heart thumping in her chest with anticipation. She gazed at the rocking chair in the corner of the porch before the door fell open at her push. Her quarry, her prize was so close but there was something else she needed to do first.
At the top of the stairs, the second bedroom on the right. She found the woman cowering in her bed. Ella tore and bit and consumed. Biting off first, the hands that had slapped her so many times.
Now, she thought. Now.
Back down the stairs, this time she turned towards the sanctuary just off the large dining room.
If she were still breathing, she would have gasped. Her eyes took in the treasure. All the books that had been denied her. She knew the one she wanted. The one she had died for. Ella plucked the book off the shelf.
From the cupboard in the dining room, she grabbed a candle and match. Clinging her prizes to her chest, she dragged herself back to the porch, found the rocking chair in the corner. As chaos continued to erupt on the plantation, torches and lamps headed back her way, she sat down, lit the candle and opened the book to the first page.