Warning: domestic abuse, alcoholism, violence, gore
A rogue wind, cold and angry, howled the door shut behind the couple; startling a whimper from the woman. The drunken husband, Winston, scoffed and mocked his wife, Cornelia, before dumping more whisky down his gullet. He launched the empty bottle at her head, but missed and staggered into a wall.
“You are pathetic.” He blew cigar smoke in her face, then doused the raging red tip on her exposed shoulder. She flinched, but old wounds reminded her not to utter a peep.
Cornelia had not meant to marry a violent man, as Winston’s inclination toward brutality began subtly, after they were married. A derogatory comment here, a backhanded insult there; but soon his verbal abuse blossomed into beatings and grew exponentially alongside the drinking. At first, he promised to quit; but he lied. Similarly, he lied about salvaging their marriage by spending a night in the haunted, Haven House.
She shivered as a chilling draft ruffled her curls, and ever-so-faintly whispered, “You posses the power to change your life.” Worriedly, she glanced at stumbling, oblivious, Winston and relaxed after confirming only she had heard the whisper. She shook off the chill and tried, once again, to rekindle her long-broken relationship with the man she married.
“Haven House has been in my family for centuries. Grandma said ghosts of our family members roam these halls.” Cornelia smiled shyly and reached for Winston, hoping he would remember the early bond they had shared over spooky places and ghost stories.
“Ha! You’re Grandma’s a crazy old bat. I never believed any of that paranormal hoo-do,” Smacking her hand away, he rejected her and tore apart the last shred of hope she savored for their marriage.
*Where did I go wrong?—a single, self-defeating thought nagged.
Time stood still around her as she came to grips with the truth: Winston never loved her. Her mind, like a movie reel, replayed the events of their relationship.
Years earlier, Winston had charmed her at a gathering for their local chapter of Ghost Trackers. Cornelia, born with a sixth sense that she rarely divulged to others, (not even her husband), was fascinated by paranormal studies. With her ample trust fund, she invested in gadgets and equipment that the group used for tracking ghosts. After a quick courtship, Winston and Cornelia toured the country as paranormal investigators and enjoyed the early days of wedded bliss.
*Was it blissful, though? Perhaps, I have overlooked a few details.
The movie reel in her mind screeched to a halt, then rewound…back to the beginning.
“You must see The Truth before becoming The Change,” whispered the wind.
She replayed the scenes in her head; this time without excusing or censoring Winston’s behavior.
With scale-free eyes, she reviewed each memory, horrified at the cunning way he chipped at her soul. Aghast, she conceded to the fact that he had manipulated her from the start by gradually siphoning her sense of self until she became his personal punching bag, his dammit doll.
Cornelia’s chest heaved hot with rage as she flipped the switch; finally directing blame at the adulterous bastard who deserved it. She acknowledged her husband’s preferred lover; by his side, in his mouth, fondling his crotch—the ever-present bottle.
* If he would stop drinking, we could be happy. I know he is a good man underneath the alcohol addiction.
“Good men do not batter their wives and children.” Again, the wind chilled her with the truth. She gasped and clutched her belly as her body remembered the beating that ended the lives of her unborn twins. Reeling with grief and physical pain at the time, Cornelia had blocked the incident from her consciousness. The whispers of Haven House removed her mental block and empowered her with a new perspective: righteous rage.
“Embrace your power. Become The Change.” The whispering winds swirled around her head, reviving the inner strength that Winston had murdered.
Time and events at Haven House moved forward again as Cornelia’s present-moment consciousness returned. If Winston had been paying attention, he would have seen the changed way her eyes danced in the light. Unbeknownst to her husband, Cornelia had devised a plan.
Thunder crashed and the lights fizzled out, shrouding the couple in pitch-blackness.
“Thank you for killing the lights, ghosts!” His taunt oozed with condescension. The drunker he got, the meaner he became. “Now, I won’t have to look at her ugly mug all night.” He guzzled vodka. “Hey spirits! Do something about her breath in my face.” He shoved Cornelia, bouncing her against a wall so hard she saw stars.
“Upstairs, you fat cow.”
With each step, his vile tongue intentionally cut her down; whittling away her self-esteem—or so he thought.
But, perhaps, Winston underestimated Cornelia.
Step: “Dumb bitch.” (Cornelia whimpered.)
Step: “Useless...” (Cornelia whined.)
Step: “Ugly...” (Cornelia sobbed.)
Step: “Whore!” (Cornelia donned night-vision goggles, her favorite piece of ghost hunting equipment.)
At the landing, she slunk sideways into a crevice and curled her fingers around the blood-encrusted handle of an ax.
Winston belched into the darkness. Cornelia watched him teeter drunkenly atop the stairs and wondered how she ever found such a horrid creature attractive.
“Remember when I chunked you down the stairs, Corny?” He cackled and swung his arms around in attempt to whack her again.
“This is the last time you will lose your head with me, Winston.”
Manifesting her inner lumberjack, she swung the ax; slicing the blade through his carotid and lodging it in his cervical spine. Like metallic-flavored snowflakes, blood splatter covered Cornelia’s protruded tongue. She watched, cross-eyed as bloody blobs dripped from the lens of her goggles.
Gripping the ax handle with the blade stuck deep in his neck, she balanced his beer-gutted meat suit on the edge of the top stair. She relished the shocked terror— in his eyes, for a change.
Ghostly hands suspended his body in time and space as Cornelia dislodged the ax and swung again.
Winston’s severed head bounced down the stairs like a hairy basketball: Squelch thud splat thud splat
Cornelia front-kicked the wavering, headless body and sent it careening after its head. The crack and crunch of Winston’s breaking bones and dislocating joints echoed through Haven House.
She licked her husband’s warm blood from her lip as she removed the goggles and flipped on the lights.
They appeared to her, then. Flickers and whiffs of dancing light frolicked, glistened, and grew into solid forms before her eyes. Spirits of her long-deceased and secretly abused ancestors— some could not find the strength to fight for their lives; others died trying. Cornelia’s jaw dropped open, astounded by the overwhelming mass of the group.
“Our number is many, our time of unrest has been long.” They whispered to her through a gentle wind.
“It only takes one voice to kill the cycle of abuse. You are that voice.” The identical ghosts beside her touched her hand and she recognized them as her children. All the spirits joined hands, forming a circle around her. Cornelia grasped her heart and felt it grow stronger with the love of her family. Ghostly applause filled the room while they cheered for their heroine, Cornelia: the one who conquered the cursed cycle of domestic violence.
(Also, they helped her hide the evidence.)
As she dined on Winston Soup that night, she licked her fingers and raised a toast to her new independence.
“Till death do us part, my darling, tasty, Winston.”
And she lived happily ever after.