(c) 2012 Mary Ann Back
From the Journal of Dr. Wallace Fitzhughes
7 April, 1870
Time has not assuaged my hunger for your lips, nor dulled their crimson blush in my mind’s eye. Would that I could join your sweet repose, but the beating heart within my chest denies me. The very blood that gives it life is my sworn enemy! Until the gods assign my appointed hour, each day I shall pen missives to you, imagining your journey were of a temporal duration; thus can I share with you the inconsequential madness of my daily life, whilst fantasizing your safe and swift return.
Mark me, Love. Monotonous though the day had been, this evening passed like none before.
A most extraordinary colleague sought my services – a man of some means, arriving by private coach. Through the window, by lamp light, I discerned a pall that only grief can paint. His name was Winston Twitchell, an apothecary by trade; his desire, to converse with the dead, inside my psychomantium.
“A preternatural portal,” he called it.
“An unrealized dream,” replied I.
Mourning the loss of his daughter, Elsbeth, to consumption, he craved one last glimpse of her visage and, perchance, one last embrace. I agreed to show him my creation, the psychomantium, on the condition that he accept a cruel but absolute truth.
“The chamber is devoid of all but the faintest candlelight. Its walls, ceilings, and floors are draped in black. A mirror hangs mid-wall with a single offset chair. All is as it should be. Many hours have I passed therein, seeking my beloved wife Honoria – to no avail. It pains me to say, despite my most persistent efforts, it does not function.”
Twitchell paused. “Dr Fitzhughes, grief has robbed me of many things, the least of which is pride. There is no peace for me, no sleep, no care for the future. There is only an ache that swallows me whole. Have mercy, Sir. Is it so much I ask? If I fail in the attempt, what cost to you?”
What indeed. I opened the chamber door, escorted him through the blackened void, and tucked him into the oversized chair like a mother bird nesting its young. His eyes wide, in terror or anticipation, I knew not which.
Profoundly moved, I grasped his hand. “Find her,” I whispered, then sealed him inside the black abyss and took my place in the darkened antechamber, watching through a hidden observation hole.
Imagine my dismay when I saw him remove a small metal flask secreted within his jacket! I thought perhaps his nerves were frayed and he required a strong libation, but when he removed the cap steam bubbled o’er the top and down the sides of the flask. He took a goodly swallow of the unknown potion before replacing the cap, shaking the remains vigorously before lowering the flask to the floor. Questions consumed me. What advantage would this tonic bring? How was it made? Be still my racing mind, would it work?
He relaxed, staring into the mirror, eyes heavy but unyielding to the shapes and shadows crafted by the candlelight. His breaths grew shallow and less frequent until his chest refused to rise, yet steam wafted from this mouth as happens in winter’s chill. Ice crystals etched the mirror’s surface; indeed, the outer wall grew frigid – then a blissful glow transformed his face.
“Elsbeth!” Twitchell cried.
He rose from the chair, arms outstretched, embracing the unseen. “I shall never let you go, Child.” A lone tear, slipping down his cheek turned to ice. His joints popped and cracked like water contracting as it freezes. Before my unsuspecting eyes, his entire body froze en masse. Too astonished to look away, I saw his solidified body topple to the floor and sever at the articulations as if cleft!
I retched. Oh, Merciful God, what had we done? Worse still – what lay ahead?
Despite the gruesome scene, I collected myself and devised a ruse for the returning coachman. I rebuffed him with a fabrication – Twitchell elected to walk home on this warm spring night.
Following deliberate calculation, I disposed of Twitchell’s remains, lest they be discovered and accusations fly.
Sweet Honoria, I fear the grip of madness, for the line between reality and fantasy is no more. The night is deep and I am spent. My eyes are weighted with all they have seen, my heart sickened by the unspeakable thing I have done. Pray, my love, that rest and the rising sun restore perspective.
Your Devoted Spouse,
8 April, 1870
I awoke to a visit from the town constable, prompt in his investigation of Twitchell’s disappearance. I held true to my deception and offered nothing further. He tarried unnecessarily, observing me with keen eye.
Despite my misdirection, suspicion will soon fall on me like a swift sword. I can offer no explanation for the manner of his death, nor would my accounting of the evening’s spectral events find favor.
May Twitchell’s remains mire deeply in their fertile graves, lest my life forfeit.
How I envy Twitchell’s destiny – that I could hold you without end! Fear not, my sweet, I shall find you. It is only a matter of when.
9 April, 1870
Comes an angry knock upon my door. The constable returns, sidearm drawn, accompanied by his men. Might some hungry hound have unearthed a grisly treat? Mayhap Twitchell’s limbs scratched and clawed their way up through my garden soil to decry their contemptuous interment.
It matters not. I know my path of choice.
I’ll not await the hangman’s noose. The last of Twitchell’s tonic passes my gullet even as I write. I return now to the chamber, that bleak and glacial tomb, to feel the frigid rush of death sweeping through my veins – to see you, my love, through the mirror’s icy haze, and to share your embrace forever more.
Ms. Back, of Mason, Ohio, was awarded the 2009 Bilbo Award for creative writing by Thomas More College. The characters she creates are often disreputable and are not to be trusted. She kicks them out of the house every chance she gets, when some unwitting publisher agrees to take them off her hands. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including: Short Story America, Every Day Fiction, Bete Noire, Apollo’s Lyre, Liquid Imagination, 50 to 1, Flashes in the Dark, A Twist of Noir, Flash Fiction Chronicles, and Screenwriters’ Daily.