Ekphrastic piece inspired by Sign of the Ram, undated, oil on board. Photo Courtesy of the New Britain Museum of American Art
“You don’t have to do this, Elvira.” I turned towards Grey’s voice, gripping onto the bed frame just a few feet from where he stood. His ashen eyes stared into mine as the blood trickled out through the corner of his dry, crusted lips. “We can find another way. I’ll help you.”
“Nothing can stop what has already been done,” I said. He leaned against the far wall of the bedroom we once shared, a bright red slash across his chest. The dagger, red with his blood, slipped out of my shaking hands and clanked against the wooden floorboards. “I’m sorry, Grey.”
I watched the life slowly leave his body; his head slumped on his shoulder as he slid down the length of the paneled wall, leaving a trail of blood on the copper-stained wood. The ground shook with the thud of his body hitting the floor.
“I did love you,” I whispered to my dead lover. “You saved me.” I had spent the year forgetting how it would end. He was brought to me, not for the company, but for his soul.
Ten souls, ten years. Finally. Like clockwork, the voices of those killed before returned as Grey’s own soul found its way out. Their screams shattered my eardrums.
I grabbed the dagger and ran my finger along the sharp, blood covered blade—wincing as the metal broke skin. The vanity mirror reflected my bloody nightgown; splotches of red trailed the length of the white cotton. I snatched the black cloak hanging by the vanity, wrapped it around my neck, and bolted for the door.
I hurled myself down the stairs to the main foyer. The candles along the walls drenched the manor in rays of dancing embers. I felt my lungs close as I collapsed onto the floor at the base of the stairs. The screams reverberated throughout the halls. I couldn’t sense time passing. After what felt like hours, I placed my bloody palm against the cool hardwood floors, hoisting myself up onto my feet. I reached for the two metal-door handles and pulled with every bit of strength I had left. The doors opened with a jaw-chattering creak, and the candle flames shook violently before being snuffed out from the incoming wind. I fell forwards into the dark pit of nighttime, looked up at the sky, and took in a breath of the cool winter air.
The midnight moon illuminated the sky. I stood on the gloomy earth, facing the house I had spent a third of my life trapped within. My naked feet, coated in a thick layer of mud, trekked through the dense eerie mist, carrying me closer to a bare, dead, looming tree. Glancing behind, I saw a single golden candlelight spill through the bedroom window. For a moment, I thought I saw his dark shadow within the dimly lit window. I felt the house pulling me back. That house, in a twisted way, brought about a sense of safety. Even with the loss of life and the noise, I felt in control within those dark walls.
The voices of the dead echoed within my head, sending aches down my spine. Yet the stillness of the night, matched with the luminescent full moon, sent an unfamiliar wave of silence through me. With each step through the mud, the painful wailing became drowned out by the low hum of crickets, and the wisps of wind sent shivering goosebumps along my skin.
One hand, clammy and frozen, gripped onto the rough bark of the once vibrant apple tree, while the other wrapped around the hilt of the dagger; its frayed handle, drenched in Grey’s blood, dug its way deep within the gash spread across my palm—his attempt at an escape. So brave. The ones before him, those who were drawn to the house, didn’t put up much a fight. Their deaths were painless, swift, forgettable.
They all had to die; their lives broke the curse placed on my soul. I watched the suffocating fog that surrounded the estate, fade away into the winter soil, revealing a fortification of a densely wooded forest wrapping around the house.
The souls, slain by the same blade, lie out in pits underneath the ground I stood on. I took their lives, buried them, and lived in that house hearing their cries, wails, and screams at every hour of every passing day. My hands, which once were pure, untouched, and innocent, have been drenched in blood from those sacrifices.
A rumble started below the earth, sending a shockwave towards the wooded barricade in front of me. The tremor knocked me to the ground; I threw the blade to the side as my body collided with dirt, and my hand still throbbing from the gash, seared as blood combined with soil.
The earth split open, and the moving dirt shifted the dead up—bones, decomposed flesh, and shards of blood-soaked fabric rose to the surface in front of me. A wafting smell of decay filled my nostrils, forcing me to dry-heave into my elbow. The quake ruptured the delicate seam between life and death all the way to the edge of the forest, and with a deafening thunder, the trees blew out in all directions to uncover a blackhole—a doorway to freedom.
The curse was lifted. I felt around for the dagger; I snatched it up, clenched it with a frozen grip, and lifted my disheveled body up off the ground. Tripping over jagged terrain, I eyed down my escape, ignoring the newly formed pit holding the sacrificed souls.
Glaring back at the house, I felt it reaching out with a cold, lifeless touch. “I’m free,” I whispered to it, as I turned around, faced the exit, and bounded into the darkness.
Hayley Fiedler is a student at Central Connecticut State University