by Ana Brazil
Enjoy this never before published dark short story perfect for your Halloween reading!
It’s confounding that all of your clothes have been pulled from your wardrobe and tossed into a stout oak barrel. And that your strop and shaving brush were thrown on top of them. You wonder for more than a moment…where is your razor?
And it’s entirely wrong that two dark men are carrying your furniture—your bedstead, your stool, her mirror—down the wide stairs, out the door, and into a dray marked Brown Brothers. And what about the boys who are rolling up the carpets in the downstairs rooms? You don’t know their names.
And this other man…with his oiled hair and groomed moustache. Clean collar and cuffs. And a suit. No, you don’t know him either. But the girl he’s talking to is your own. Your Lizzie.
But even she is unknown to you now. You don’t understand why dark circles hang under her eyes or why diamonds dangle from her earlobes. Or why her pockets are full of dog biscuits.
For a moment you do remember this: your daughter is anxious; your daughter is angry. She disagrees with you often; she spits at your wife. But why she is standing at the fireplace like the maid at twilight, you do not know.
* * *
“But we had an agreement,” Tom Tufts leaned toward Lizzie as she struck a match. She poised the thin flame under a single piece of paper and watched as the edge of fire circled the paper.
“We agreed about it,” Tufts softened his tone. He thought to put his hand lightly over hers, but she clutched the box of matches possessively. “You said you would sell the house to me.”
Lizzie lifted her skirts and ground the burnt paper under the toe of her new boot. She stuck her hand into the fireplace and pulled at the flue. Closed.
“Well, sir,” she said to the ashes. “I decided against it.”
Tufts followed Lizzie out of the room. She closed and locked the door behind them. He followed her down into the cellar where she shut the spigot of the dry tub. She walked up stairs to the second floor. Tom Tufts followed her. In each room, Lizzie ensured that windows were shut, the flues were closed. Each door to each room was closed sharply and locked loudly.
Tom Tufts made mental notes as to how he would describe it all in tomorrow’s Boston Sensation: Acquitted Murderess; Strange Behavior; Spinster’s Severity.
At the window of her own room, he watched Lizzie caress the lace curtain before securing the lock. In the guest room—where her step-mother was found—Tom Tufts heard Lizzie spit on the floor.
Perhaps a special edition was warranted?
* * *
You want to warn the man with oiled hair. She’s not the type of girl you should allow to get worked up. Once she’s upset, she pouts for hours. Days, if she feels like it. She demands a firm hand. Especially about pigeons. You want to warn the man with oiled hair, but you can’t remem—.
* * *
Tufts followed Lizzie down the stairs to the first floor. He must work fast. He does not want the house for himself, for he is a man who likes to keep moving. But there are larger interests at work here. Interests who know the value of owning this house. Of being able to manufacture eye witness accounts and charge entrance fees. Tufts has been promised a large fee of his own and he does not want to lose it.
“You haven’t mentioned marriage this morning.” Lizzie turned on Tufts. “Isn’t it time for you to propose again?”
Tufts ran the back of his index finger along his moustache. A proposal would do no harm. It was not the same as a ceremony, not the same as a wedding bed. And it had worked for him many times before. “If I thought that you would—“
Lizzie folded her arms across her chest. “You know I wouldn’t.”
Lizzie did not allow him to follow her into the sitting room, the room where her father’s body had been found on the sofa. When she returned to the hallway, Tufts put his arms around Lizzie, clutching her pounding heart into his embrace. She looked away from him, her muscles only tensing tighter. He released her slowly, knowing he has lost the house, but removing the box of matches from her pocket.
She had been playing with him, and he refuses to allow her to defeat him. As they stand inches apart, Tom Tufts strikes one of the matches. The fire flares between them. “I have an idea. Why don’t you just burn it down right now?”
Lizzie takes the box from Tufts but does not bother about the match. It sizzles down to his fingers. “Burning down the house won’t end anything. Until the end of time, this will be Andrew Borden’s house.”
Lizzie walked purposefully down the hallway and to the front door. Tom Tufts had no choice but to open it for her. She nodded for him to precede her, and Lizzie was the last to leave the house. She locked the door with a key slipped from her pocket. She shook the doorknob hard and then stepped to the street and nodded to a man in bowler hat, the leader of the workmen.
The workmen brought out ladders and wood. They lined the wood up perfectly against the window casing and nailed the wood clean into the house. Tom Tufts could only imagine how the house darkened from inside.
He stuck the matchstick stub between his teeth and ground it to slivers before spitting it out at her feet. “You didn’t sell it, did you?”
“Only spiritualists and sensationalists wanted to buy it,” she replied evenly. “To raise the dead and excite the living.”
A new thought came to him and he leaned close into her, so close he whispered to the comma of wax in her ear. “Do they haunt you, Lizzie? Your Papa and Step-Mama? Do they soil your sleep and chill your bones?”
He was too close to see her expression, to know if he had hit home or if she stood coolly.
One of the workmen tilted a ladder against the house and another climbed up. Together the two hoisted lumber, nails, and hammer to the second story windows. Lizzie followed to watch them. And followed again as they moved to the other sides of the house.
Finally Tom Tufts understood: Lizzie would remain until every pane of glass was entombed.
* * *
The door is closed shut. The house is darkening upon you, as though a nor’easter has overtaken the sky. One window darkens and then another and then all.
You go for the matches, but they are gone. And where is your razor?
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