Woebegone Miracles

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write about a character with questionable morals.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction Black

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

It's only by the grace of the gods that Francis doesn’t laugh at her mother-in-law’s bellowing wails. Davith’s funeral had ended three hours ago but Maryanne Warthwood had always been dedicated to her dramatics. 

It was no secret that Maryanne hated her eldest son; he wouldn’t like the foods she wanted him to like, wouldn’t go to the university she wanted, and refused to marry the woman she’d prepared for him since he was six. Everything Davith did was a crime after that last slight, but now the woman of sixty-five years cries buckets in a corner behind the head table, a half empty wine glass in her hand, while her three remaining children do their best to ignore it all. Robert Warthwood, ever the reluctant husband, blankly sits at the other end of the table and gulps from a wine bottle, the dark liquid spilling down his gray beard and onto his suit. 

Francis shifts uncomfortably in her seat, feeling a kick beneath her right ribs and rubs slow circles on her protruding belly. She takes a sip of her water. It was all a game to them, she had come to learn. The ruined lives and destruction and death was something the Warthwoods did because they had so much money and so few ways to spend it. So they lied, stole, and threw each other to the wolves at every inconvenience. And once one of them inevitably died, they gathered on this mountain to force tears from their eyes and gorge themselves on alcohol. 

A woman coughs in the back left corner of the room. 

The rich are a whole other species, she thinks while picking at her criminally unseasoned green beans and dry meatloaf. The only positive thing that came from being in their good graces was gaining access to Mount Hightide. It was a beautiful church, literally carved into a mountain and looking like a pavilion more than anything else. The sanctuary itself is round, the spaces between the six columns blocked by red curtains, thick and unmoving despite the winds. From the high vaulted ceilings, rectangular lanterns hang. Within black iron, glowing red candles drip wax and spread the saccharine stench of chemicals and apples through the room. Davith was allergic to apples. 

Her sister-in-law coughs beside her and Francis makes herself startle. She lightly places a hand on Rebecca’s and gives her a concerned look. “Are you alright, Becky. You’re not sick, are you?” she says, eyes wide. Rebecca interlaces their fingers and gives her a reassuring smile, her blue eyes dead. 

An elderly man coughs in the center of the room. 

“No, this is just a bit too spicy for me. I guess I’m just not used to ethnic foods.” Rebecca shrugs her shoulders and tucks some blonde hair behind an ear. “Where did you buy this from by the way? I never had anything like it.” Francis barely stops herself from laughing. From the other side of her, Jared snorts. 

He leans forward, looking across Francis to give his twin a mocking smile. “I cooked it, dumbass. Guess I can’t expect someone like you to know what good food is, though.”

Rebecca scoffs and crosses her arms, metal bracelets rattling irritatingly. “Oh please, you go to India for a year and think you're hot shit. That trash you served is so white bread it might turn Francis’s baby pure,” she says. Patting their interlaced hands, Rebecca graces Francis with a faux-determined look. “Don’t you worry one bit, Frankie, I won’t let this idiot hurt you. Can’t let the family chocolate bar go to waste, now can we?”  As she sneers at Jared, Rebecca gives Francis a limp side hug. 

It would be so easy to slit her throat. 

Rebecca takes Francis’s plate and reaches around her, dumping the cold food onto her twin’s while grinning a nasty grin. “There, now my favorite sister has been saved.”

At the frontmost table, a little girl loudly complains about a stomachache. 

“Ha. Ha.  You and your fucking jokes,” Jared grits out through his clenched jaw. Francis glances down to see his fist balling up. “I—”

“I don’t get it,” Graham’s high pitched voice interrupts. The youngest of the Warthwoods’ main family leans across the table to get a better view, his completely untouched food threatening to stain on his button-down shirt. His wine glass is empty. “Is Jared’s food too spicy or too bland?” He leans closer to Rebecca and says loudly in what he must have thought was a whisper, “Or were you lying?”

Rebecca releases Francis and slaps him hard across the forehead. Francis produces the loudest gasp her voice can allow, covering her mouth with a shaking hand. Beneath the altar where the head table sits, the conversation of the branch families dies completely. Maryanne’s sobbing cuts off like a suddenly muted television and she appears behind Rebecca. In a quick move, she cocks her fist back and punches her daughter in the head, Rebecca’s face meeting the plate with a startling clatter. Her wine falls off the table. Jared’s snickering is not quiet as he refills his wine glass. He stops when his mother taps him lightly on the shoulder while giving him a disappointed look.

Then Maryanne turns to Francis and takes in her teary eyes. “I’m sorry for all of this, dear. These disrespectful children acting out at your husband's funeral must be heartbreaking,” she says as she clasps Francis’s hands between her own. Her mascara has run down her pale cheeks, giving her an almost clown-like look combined with her crusting purple lipstick. 

Graham coughs. Jared coughs. Robert coughs. 

Francis shakes her head, giving a wobbly smile. Time to turn up the theatrics. In a pathetic voice she says, “It's okay. I know relatives don’t always have to get along. I just hope no one stays mad at each other, I want my little girl to know what having a family is like.”

“Don’t you worry one bit about that. Every one of Davith’s siblings will be on their best behavior.” Maryanne gives all of her children a bland look, each of them tensing under her gaze. Satisfied, she smooths a hand over Francis’s stomach and simpers, “You and that baby will be just fine.” And then she coughs, her body jolting with the force of it as she clutches onto the back of Francis’s chair to stay upright. 

“Maryanne, what's wrong?” Francis gets up and pats her on the back. Maryanne slaps her hand away, real tears leaking from her eyes as she coughs and coughs and coughs. Behind his mother, Jared rolls his eyes. 

Robert throws his napkin down, rises from his seat, and makes toward his wife with stomping feet, a fed-up expression on his face. “All right Mary, what's all this —,” his words are cut off by his own coughing that stops him in his tracks, loud and wet and ringing from his rattling chest. Francis grimaces at the sound. Robert and his wife are not alone in their sudden afflictions.

Soon, Rebecca, Jared, and Graham join them, bending over their plates as their lungs try to force themselves up their throats. There's body-shaking coughing in the sanctuary proper as well. First two, then six, then all of them. Eight hundred and ten Warthwoods fill the church with clamorous, sickly noises. 

Next comes the blood, gushing from wine-stained mouths and spilling down black clothes in rivers. Dark red pools across the floor beneath dropping bodies. Between coughs there are whimpers, tears streaming down cheeks as some try to scream. But they can’t, blood clogging throats in its rush to escape. One man stumbles up and tries to run, falling face first into the aisle with a cracking of his nose. 


Francis watches the spectacle with a smile, stroking her belly when her unborn child kicks again. After a few minutes, she stands and moves down the aisles. Thick ichor soaks the bottom of her black flats but she doesn’t wince. This was expected. Walking past slumped over bodies, she leaves red footprints where the remaining pale stone had laid untouched. She reaches the curtains and uses all of her strength to part them, the sunlight nearly blinding her. Francis steps outside and takes a deep breath, closing her eyes as she does. Opening them again, she gives a satisfied hum and begins her journey down the stairs, a hand still resting on her belly. 

When she turns the bend where the one hundredth step becomes the one hundred and first, she meets the gaze of her father standing a few steps down. Straight backed and stern faced, his shadow envelops her own even though he looms meters away. Francis grins at the sight of him and quickens her pace. When she reaches her father, he opens his arms and gently folds her into him, his white suit not so much as crinkling. Relief lifts the heaviness she’d come to ignore during the last few years and she slumps into his embrace, almost going completely limp. 

“You’ve finally done it,” he says, his voice warm and soft as a feather in her ear. 

“I did,” she whispers back. “They’re all dead.”

“Except for one.” He glances at her stomach meaningfully, smile gaining an excited edge. 

Francis gives a faint laugh, exhaustion taking over. “Just my little Gracie. She's all that's left.” Her father gives her one last smile before he scoops her up and carries her down the rest of the stairs, face and neck clean of sweat and his breathing as regular as if he were resting. For her parents it was always a competition for who could be more athletic. For now the winner was her father; lugging a six month pregnant woman down seemingly endless flights of stairs wasn’t anything to scoff at.

Finally they reach the bottom where the rest of the family waits silently. A sea of dark skinned people dressed in white as if in mourning, the sun casting a harsh glare over their red umbrellas. She gave a tired chuckle as her mother came closer, stroking a finger down Francis’s face. 

“Welcome home, baby,” the most amazing woman in the world says, and Francis cries. Because all the hell she’d been through had been worth it, because they would build a new Warthwood clan, far better than the ones she’d killed. Because her daughter wouldn’t grow up in a world where the rich abused and enslaved and ate the poor. Francis cries because she has succeeded and her parents finally love her. 

August 13, 2022 00:09

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