Contest #205 shortlist ⭐️

The Widows of The Comet

Submitted into Contest #205 in response to: Make a character perform a ceremony to set something or someone free.... view prompt

6 comments

Thriller Drama Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

You are looking at us. Wide eyes, fearful eyes. Help me. 

You, the woman, are haggard, sunburnt, too young for her skin. You suck the last bits of ash from your cigarette and vie for your husband’s attention. A bad husband, by the looks of it (and we know what a bad husband looks like). He, the man—hard-muscled, veiny, sickly pale—picks at the raw skin of his elbow. A cut, a weakness. You’ve been driving all night, you say. A place to sleep would be lovely. 

Happily, we oblige.

We walk with you toward the mess hall. You question everything—the shoddy white panels chipping from walls, the overgrown grass that stretches for miles, accompanied only by staggered hay bales, perfectly circular, not a strand out of place, as all things here should be. You question the wind, the dust it carries, how often we choke on our words. You note the photographs of only grinning women infesting the hall like a virus, an epidemic, generations of photos, polaroids, overlapping and fading, crawling, sunbaked, while your husband narrows his eyes in unspoken question.

Their faces are painted red, say his eyes. Why?

We never answer, no matter how deep our desire to satisfy you.

Your husband tugs on your arm. You flinch. You freeze.

You “check in.” There’s a rusting key, a room with a bed and a bathroom, a place to eat in the morning, two chilled bottles of water in your hands. We have thought of everything, and you are grateful. You grind out apologies through your pearly teeth and placate your husband, a nervous man, and a man who grows angry when he is nervous. We understand you completely, immediately, though you may not understand us. 

You will. 

You shut your cabin door. One story, pointed roof with a sharp steeple that could split flesh, four wooden windows that slide open and closed, open and closed. It is one of the few cabins left unoccupied. You will love it darling; the breeze coaxes you in the summertime.

You open the window and forget to close it, and we can all hear you shouting, back and forth, a battle of expletives, though while your husband’s voice is his sword, yours is your shield. His titan cry crescendos, and you take it. You should have driven farther, he says. This place, this unmarked valley in rural Arkansas, is uninhabited for a reason. You should leave, you should leave, you should leave.

Your husband tires of his tirade, and we, a circle of bodies, creep closer, a vacuum for your pain. Let us have it, let us take it, now that it has nowhere else to go.

You collapse onto your new bed. It’s stiff, but your shoulders are rigid. You have carried his weight for too long. 

We do not disperse. We edge closer still, watching, waiting. You need to drink the water. It is good for you. It will refresh your sallow skin. Here, you will not smoke cigarettes. You will inhale, and we will exhale, and you will feel as if your breath is ours. 

You sit up. Clutch a pillow to your breast, try to use your mobile phone. It won’t work, but we always let guests try. Hope and disappointment make you thirsty. Finally, you drink. So does your husband.

Within minutes, you are both dead to the world. 

Preparations begin. 

We fasten our mouth coverings. Cotton, pristine white. We dress in robes of the same color. We brush out our hair. You will grow out yours someday, so that it reaches your back, so that you are like us. Twilight paints the spotted sky a melancholic hue. Slowly, we exit our cabins and bow down to the moon, one by one, until we are all kneeling, complacent, silent, as celestial worshipers should be. 

Between our cabins and the mess hall, we form a pointy sort of shape. The Comet emerges from the crowd. Her boots indent the brown earth, a mark of her importance, her immortality. We stand, barefoot; we have not yet earned our soles—our souls. We were ephemeral once, and now, we will become stardust. Don’t you want to become stardust, darling?

Centered, surrounded by us, her children, The Comet speaks. We have memorized these words. We have etched them beneath the bands of our hearts. 

One day, she says, you will all be stars.

We speak beneath our masks, a voice: And you will be the moon. 

A few of us return to your cabin. We take care of your husband first, bind his hands and his feet, trace his screaming lips with our blades and recoil into our inhibitions. We’d like to rip them away, but it’s too soon. For now, he sleeps, a rag doll.

We tidy your room. It is messy already, messy in the way life is messy, messy in a way that doesn’t exist here, that you will never suffer again. We take you by your arms, your legs, your back and carry you, out, away, to the center of us, between the dirt and the cabins and before the steeple. The Comet nods when we place you in your wooden chair. You are limp, though healthier already. 

We tie your hands to the armrests. The rope treads through your skin and tattoos a rash of ripples there. So taut. Relax into your helplessness. Forget what it means to be autonomous, just for a little while. Lovely, isn't it?

Your head lulls forward. Small and shallow, your breaths are like paper. High cheeks, thin lips. Soon, you will be beautiful. You will be us. 

We shave your head first. You need to start fresh, as we did. Hair grows fast here, something about the air, the way it clings to our bodies like a windbreaker. Time stretches on, and we watch the moon, waiting. Your husband sleeps against the storage shed.  

We clothe you in white. We give you new meaning. A step back, two. You are ready. But not us, not yet. 

If the universe allowed, your husband would watch his fate unravel, wide-eyed and flinching as any of our abusers deserves to go. But the men we find are selfish. They do not understand: this is what they deserve after years of metallic tempers; of carving worry lines into the skin of your forehead; of thoughts of other women (who do not argue or pry, who care for his meandering work stories and answer to his demands); of watching earnest fade into ennui. 

See us? We know what you've endured. Our bones fracture the same way. Our lips curl at loudness. Do you trust us now? You must.

So we carry him. Our hands are calloused, and we are strong. How the earth crumbles at our feet, how the wind lifts us up by our tailbones, how shingles piece fresh skin raw. 

Finally, he is in place. It is time. 

We place a tablet on your tongue. When it dissolves, we pry your eyes open, dry, and you see nothing, and then everything, all at once. Who knew there could exist so many colors? Who knew breath could feel so free?

You rouse, but you cannot move or speak—watch, darling. Only watch. This is The Twilight Dance. 

Bodies stretch your eyes, and bodies lift his body, and bodies twirl in ellipses paths, intertwined; bodies cry out, tribal; bodies fork and flail, fingers toward the sky, feet home in the earth. Horizontal, his skull eclipses the moon, and you stare in awe. So meek now, isn’t he? He cannot shout or cast blame. He can only be, for just a little longer.

You sway forward the little you can, and The Comet nods, and it it written. We continue our parade, rippling white garments bathed in moonlight, ‘round and ‘round and in and out, bend the sky, become the stars, one beast, one heart, beating, pulsing, yawning, stretching, soaring, up, up, up—

The steeple pierces his flesh. It squelches, and we wonder if you can hear it. Your husband’s heart, torn in two, melting red. We retreat as his head sags, hot blood pooling in his hands and feet, mouth wide, eating the earth. You do not flinch or cower. You search for the moon, now visible above his purpling neck, and you smile. You smile because he is gone. Do you see now? Do you see? Your new life awaits you; it begins as his ends.

We coat our fingers and return to you. We paint your face streaky crimson—it smells of flesh and it stings beneath our fingernails. We make you a new face, one you will soon peel away.

Smile, we say. And you do.

Your picture is taken. You join the hall.

We are ultraviolet whirlpools of light. We do not let you blink. You stare, and you see it all: our dance, our small footprints, our bodies like stars, shooting all around you. A black hole grasps your old world and sucks it into its belly, and you are here, you are reborn—reborn in us.

July 06, 2023 08:03

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6 comments

09:40 Jul 07, 2023

Always like the revenge on the abusive husband fantasy.

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Charlotte Kelley
22:02 Jul 07, 2023

Haha, yes! Midsommar, in but 1,400 words.

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Mary Bendickson
16:28 Jul 06, 2023

Must have incredible deep meaning that was totally lost on me. Congrats on the shortlist.👍

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Maya Thoma.MTV
16:23 May 09, 2024

WOW!

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09:01 Sep 05, 2023

https://exampledomain.com/?u=XXXXX&o=YYYYY

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:01 Jul 18, 2023

Congrats.

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