The Secret of the Charred Widow

Submitted into Contest #130 in response to: Create a title with our Title Generator, then write a story inspired by it.... view prompt


Horror Thriller Drama

"Promise me you'll keep on living, Mia," he whispered through strained breaths. His lips had lost their color. His eyes still shone bright with love but shared immense sadness and guilt. He felt guilty for leaving us behind. Even on his deathbed, Evan was selfless. I smiled through my tears and took a deep breath, hoping to breathe him in and keep him with me for longer. 

Evan passed on a Wednesday. The weeks that followed were excruciating. People faffed, oh, how they faffed. Meals, hugs, phone calls, and flowers came with love but made no difference. Nothing could erase my loss. My son, Matthew, was my only light in these dark days. I had made a promise to my true love. We would carry on living. 

The decision to leave our home seemed impulsive to most, dumb even, although they didn't dare to admit it. Sometimes you just needed to listen to your heart, I knew, and this was one of those times. The home I had shared with my husband still smelled like him. The rooms seemed to taunt me, sharing memories of times that had passed. 

As we drove into the grounds, I felt lighter, fixed somehow. Matthew looked out of the car window and said, "Bird, Mummy, bird, bird!" I smiled at him warmly. He had struggled, too. Endless nights of screams, nightmares, I suppose. He started wetting the bed. I hoped that this move would be just as good for him as for me. Mike and Lydia waited on the porch. The house was well-lit, open, and inviting. I had fallen in love for the third time in my life. But, of course, Evan was my first, Matthew my second, and now I truly hoped this beautiful home could be my third. 

The sale went swiftly, and before I knew it, the home I had shared with Evan was filled with boxes, ready to be shipped to a new beginning. I couldn't wait to start afresh. When Mike had called the week before, I was terrified that he had changed his mind. It turned out he had a favor to ask. "I am worried about my mother's comfort during our move out of state, you understand," he said awkwardly. He continued to ask if I would mind her staying behind until they were set up. "She's old and mute, Mia. I promise you'd hardly know she's there," I could hear the plea in his voice. I agreed, thinking that a silent old woman couldn't do much harm. In fact, I hoped it would be good for Matthew to have another adult around. 

Our moving day seemed never-ending. Fortunately, I managed to get Matthew settled early in the evening. The boy seemed exhausted, and he didn't put up a fight. By the time the last moving truck left, I had collapsed on the sofa and drifted off. I awoke with a fright, not knowing where I was for a moment. "Matthew?" I called out. Darkness surrounded me like fog on a mountaintop. I sensed some movement behind me. I held my breath, knowing it wasn't my son. He wouldn't move around in the dark. He had the same fear of darkness that I had, fear of what might be lurking unnoticed. Moonlight fell through the large windows of the living room. There was just enough light to see the silhouette of a woman moving through the space. "Mike's mother," I whispered to myself with a sigh of relief. "Hello," I said to her softly. She moved past me slowly, silently, without making eye contact. Darkness feasted on her silhouette until she was gone entirely. I took a deep breath again, an effort to steady my nerves. Finally, I found the light switch, and the room became familiar once again. I poured myself a glass of wine and decided to call it a night. The unease in my belly was only moving jitters; I tried to convince myself. 

As sunlight danced through my bedroom window, I stirred and smiled in response to hearing my favorite sound. Matthew was laughing. He hadn't laughed since Evan took his final breath, and hearing it brought tears to my eyes. I threw my robe on and called out to him. My feet felt cold on the wooden floor, which creaked with every step, proclaiming my journey through the house. I called out again, but there was no response. I stopped in my tracks when I noticed Mike's mother's bedroom door was open, and I heard Matthew giggle once more. I braved myself and walked into the room, hoping I looked calm and collected. The room was dark and dusty, unlike the rest of the house. An unpleasant smell filled my nostrils and made my empty stomach turn. "Matthew?" I said when I saw him sitting on the old woman's bed who faced away from me. "Oh, hi, Mummy," the boy answered happily. The woman didn't turn, failing to acknowledge my presence. "Come, sweetheart, let's give the lady some time to rest," I said with a smile, hoping neither of them couldn't hear the uncertainty in my voice. He smiled at her and jumped off the bed. Only when he took my hand I realized I had been holding my breath. I led my son out of the moldy room and closed the door. 

Once we were back in the kitchen, I made him his favorite, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "Sides off, mummy," he'd always remind me. I watched him munching on his breakfast with the delight that could only be seen in the young. Carefree, innocent, unaware. "What were you laughing about in the old lady's room, Matthew?" I tried to sound nonchalant but failed. "She told me her secret," he said between bites. Unease spread through me like black ink on a white sheet of paper. "But she's mute, darling," I said, although the statement felt more like a question, an inquisition. "I don't know what that means, Mummy, but she's funny. She's my friend. She says she's cold again," my son said, taking the last bite of his sandwich. He smiled at me; brown and red stains circled his mouth. She won't be here for long, I thought to myself and hoped it would be true. 

Unpacking lay ahead of me like a mountain needing to be tamed, so I started lining up the boxes in the living room. Matthew offered to help but lost interest very quickly. Every box brought back memories, ripping off scars that had begun to heal. I missed my husband more with every item that we shared being unwrapped. I let my tears flow as I worked through what had to be done. It wasn't until I heard Matthew laugh that I realized Mike's mother's door was open again. I could hear him talk happily. I also heard rhythmic shaking. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Between his giggles. "Matthew? Come here, love," I called when I reached the bedroom door, not wanting to go into the room again. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard his footsteps on the wooden floor. "Mummy, she's cold again," he said when he saw me. The familiar sound of a notification on my phone interrupted my planned response. I needed to tell Matthew not to go into her room again. I'd do it as soon as I checked my phone. 

A voice note from Mike was a welcome sight. Maybe he was ready to collect his mother. "Come, sweetheart, let's go see the garden," I said to Matthew, suddenly needing fresh air. This idea was welcomed with a big smile and a few jumps. "Yes, yes, yes," he shouted as he headed out the door. He ran straight for the swing under the big tree in the middle of the garden. It was a beautiful sight. Lush green gardens spread as far as the eye could see. Picturesque. Home. 

I smiled at my son and felt thankful. Then I remembered Mike's message. I played it at full volume while enjoying the natural scenery that spread before me. "Hiya, Mia. I hope you guys are settled and that the move went smoothly yesterday. I wanted to thank you for being willing to care for my mother. Your generosity is heartwarming. I'm glad we decided to bring her along. She's been magnificent with the move." I didn't hear the rest of the message as the phone fell to the ground. I turned and noticed Matthew was no longer outside. The door on the porch stood wide open. 

I ran into the house, hysterically calling my son's name. I knew where I'd find him, call it mother's intuition. The door to the mysterious woman's room stood open once again. An intense smell filled my senses—something unwelcome, dangerous, a poison ready to consume everything in its path. Matthew sat on her bed. She was facing away from me once again. Tsk, tsk, tsk, the thumping went. It seemed to get louder and louder until it was nearly deafening. "Matthew, come here right now," I screamed, although my voice sounded small and pathetic. "But she's cold, Mummy," Matthew replied, looking only at the woman. "She is tired of being cold," he said. His voice sounded unusual. Tsk, tsk, tsk. The noise was coming from his little hands. Within them, he held a box of matches. 

"Matthew, come," I pleaded now and felt unable to move any closer to him as if there was an invisible shield keeping me from my most treasured. I screamed as my son struck a match and dropped it on the bed. Flames started to spread instantly. The silhouette of the old woman disappeared, taking with it her secret; the secret of the charred widow. 

January 24, 2022 02:23

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Hannah Barrett
23:49 Jan 31, 2022

Whoa! This was awesome, Louise. You paced it really well and the tension built perfectly. This line? "Darkness feasted on her silhouette until she was gone entirely" SHUDDER! Well done!


Louise Muller
01:49 Feb 01, 2022

Thank you so much, Hannah. I appreciate your feedback very much.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.