The bride fled through the dark forest, and her dead husband followed. She didn’t need to look back to know he was there just beyond the bend, calmly collecting the distance between them. When the wind whipped the trees, she could smell him. Sea and rot, like burst fish afloat on foam. He was coming for her. Oh, yes.
She’d held a yellowed pillow over his face until his feeble hand gave up trying to claw it away, then used the sheets from their marriage bed as a funeral shroud, wrapped him tight, and sunk him deep beneath the surf. As her tiny rowboat bobbed in the water, she’d felt free for the first time since hearing his diagnosis. She was no longer bound to this broke man who had once been her husband—the roguish professor who had charmed her with Byron and Keats when she was barely more than a child and far too naive to appreciate the awful weight of for better or worse. She kept her vow for three years—one for each year of their marriage. Nothing more was owed.
Buoyed by youth and money, she gave up the ocean for the forest and started over. White chocolate and amber replaced ointment and sick as the perfume of her daily existence. She indulged in rainbow-coloured cocktails with a fashionable crowd. She delighted in a string of lovers — men and women alike with exotic carnal appetites. She did all the wonderfully frivolous things she’d ached to do during the many months her husband had withered, and soon, the memory of what she had done was no more than an old wound, often felt, never examined.
Eventually, she met a man from a well-to-do family and fell in love. He was guileless and kind, and nearly a decade her junior. She accepted when he asked for her hand, and they set a date. The night before they were to wed, she went to sleep with a headful of champagne and dreamed of a sopping figure with a fish-eaten face emerging from beneath lapping waves. She awoke and shot bolt upright in bed, clutching her soft sheets to her chest.
In the morning, she put on a cheerful face and her satin and lace white gown but couldn’t loosen the fear that gripped her heart. As the minutes ticked by, the air seemed to swell with the odor of brine and salt. She felt him out there, approaching.
Finally, she could stand it no more and took off running from the chapel through the trees. She ran until her lungs burned and her legs shook. But it wasn’t enough. No matter how fast she ran, he was still there, still coming, still tethered to her. He would never tire, never change course, and eventually, he would have her again. With the certainty of the damned, she knew it was only a matter of time before bony fingers gloved in decayed flesh wrapped around her slender throat and squeezed.
Keith J. Powell
Keith J. Powell writes fiction, CNF, reviews, and plays. He is a founding editor of Your Impossible Voice and occasionally tweets @KeithJ_Powell. He has recent or forthcoming work in Rejection Letters, Cloves Literary, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Bending Genres, and New World Writing. www.keithjpowell.com
The Ekphrastic Review
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