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This is last week's entry for Microcosms which earned an Honorable Mention. I avoided horror, although it's still dark and does has the element of the horror of a drug-addicted life, but there is also romance - although not in the conventional sense being an affair of a different kind.
Elements included were: Drug addict; Victorian London; Romance
Edward slicked back his hair and pulled on his frayed jacket. Beyond his lodgings, the streets were crowded with those eager to escape the drudgery of their lives. Closing the door behind him, he too joined in their flight from reality, merging with the shifting shadows distorted by the dirty orange glow of streetlamps, becoming a ghost as the fog cloaked the poor of Stepney.
He walked quickly, eagerly, had money in his pocket, thought of nothing but his love. Her slender curves, her smooth perfection, would be waiting for him on that low bed where behind hanging curtains they could pass the time in pleasurable indulgence. But he wanted more of her, wanted her for himself, did not want others to share in his love. Tonight, he decided, she would be his and his alone. She was his one and only.
Mother Flanagan let him in, followed him through to the small low room where his love’s pleasant scent drifted towards him. She lay there, waiting. His and his alone. Behind him, Mother started to say something. She was the gatekeeper who allowed admittance. Get rid of the gatekeeper and all would be his. Still with a smile on his face, he swung round, pulling out a knife in one smooth movement. She barely registered what had happened before the life fled her eyes. Edward stepped over her body and firmly barred the door to the street. No one else would pass tonight.
Now it was just the two of them. Always they joined in silence, he cupping her in his hand with reverence before taking the sacrament of the pipe, inhaling her essence. In the bottle at his side, the rest of her waited … as she did in opium dens across the city. Poppy had other lovers.
Apparition Lit hold a monthly flash fiction competition, each on a different theme. Only the winner gets published. I enjoyed writing for February's contest which was based on Margaret Atwood's Marrying the Hangman and the idea that a woman condemned to death could be saved if she married the hangman or persuades someone to become a hangman and then marries them. Although I didn't win (as usual), here it is:
The Wedding Dance
He is the wall. I am the mirror. We stand opposite each other in the darkness, speaking in death’s competition, our voices, disembodied, seeking each other out. We are disturbed by the ritual of the prison day.
“Morning, Susan,” says the gaoler. “How’s the courtin’ goin? Wedding bells yet?” He smirks and leaves me a bowl of watery gruel.
I kick the dish over and watch it seep into the filth-crusted straw. I might lick it up later if I get hungry. I return to my wall, my rock, and murmur into the crack through which we communicate.
“You can save me,” I whisper. “Become the hangman and marry me. I will live.”
“I am a servant of God,” he says. “I sinned and must now pay, but I will not, I cannot kill.”
He is a sanctimonious prig, has defiled his flock and still claims the moral high ground.
“Why?” I ask, “Because of the collar at your neck? The words in your Bible? Do they not exhort you to save the fallen? Redeem yourself and save me.”
She pictures the man of God on the gallows platform, noose in hand. Sees him slip the canvas hood over the head of the condemned, pull the lever, hear the snap of bone … She smiles as she recalls that sound, so clear and pure followed by the percussion of the dance.
“You like women,” she continues. “With me at your side, you would no longer need to look elsewhere, your virtue would be restored … think of the nights … of young flesh. I am young you know, and many call me beautiful.”
“The gaoler has described you to me,” says my intended.
I detect desire in his voice. My turnkey has served me well and one night with him was a small price to pay.
“I can be yours,” I murmur. I hear him groan and I know he is mine.
The next day the cell is empty.
“Seems we’ve got ourselves a new hangman,” the gaoler says. “He’s a good ‘un, certainly knows how to fix a noose. Three drops today already.”
I eat my wedding breakfast and smile. The turnkey will take me to my husband. He offers me his arm and we walk together, leaving cell and prison behind. In the carriage sits the vicar whispering prayers which I ignore.
Up the steps I walk and I face my hangman. He wears a mask and starts to take it off. I stop him. It is the perfect outfit for my groom. Confusion clouds his eyes as the priest prays for my soul.
“Good morning, husband,” I say in a wifely voice. “It is a beautiful day for our union, is it not?”
“There has been no wedding …” His voice is muffled by the cloth but it does not hide his anxiety, his desire.
“No wedding? Of course there was. We exchanged vows when you took to the gallows. We consummated our union when you slipped the rope around your first victim’s neck. Did you not enjoy the fragility beneath your hand, the sweat of fear, the climax of the drop. When you killed—for me—we became one. We have no need of words from that book of the damned.”
I knock the Bible from the priest’s hands. He is furious.
“Deliver us from this abomination,” the minister cries, pushing me into the hangman’s arms in his fury.
At first my new husband doesn’t move and then he forces the hood over my face, thrusts the noose around my neck, pushes me to the trapdoor. “Bitch,” curses the hangman, “Devil’s whore …”
He sees the truth of me at last, almost, for I am not the Devil’s whore … I am his daughter. I do not fear the drop. I have fallen so many times and will do so again and always it is with the gift of a soul for my father.
The bells begin to toll. It is time for the Wedding Dance.
A writer - I think that says it all.