Editor’s Note: We here at Circlet Press want everyone to be able to enjoy our stories. In that spirit, please be advised that the following story deals with the subject of suicide in a detailed fashion. However, if you can muster the strength to read it, I do highly recommend that you do so as this story is truly unique and beautiful in its own way. Thank you.
by Trisha J. Wooldridge
The bathtub and suds were just for effect.
Imogene leaned over the white, molded plastic edge, gritted her teeth, and sliced the razor down her wrist. Quickly, she dropped her hand so the thick red ran into the warm water bucket beside the tub. What was the use of a bath if you were going to sully it with blood?
She would have preferred a clawfoot of ivory porcelain, what most would call antique nowadays, even if it required boiling her own water. Modern, standard bathtubs lacked romance.
The amphetamines made her hyperaware of the Timpani-like headache. Depressants may have dulled the pain, but it was faster this way. Faster, and she was awake, alert, ready. Last time, he had abandoned her too soon.
“He” was the wrong word, but “it” was too impersonal. Her relationship with Death was far more intimate than “it”–and the sexual ambiguity was part of what Imogene found so infatuating. She knew they belonged together, no matter what any grand universal laws said.
While she was still conscious, Imogene didn’t want to think of “lately.” She remembered the first time. The first time she had been curious. And angry. Angry that her father who’d loved her well and given her everything she desired was dead. Angry that her cold mother didn’t seem to care and was flirting with other young, rich men. Angry that she had been about to be paraded out as an eligible young woman in the last dress her father had bought her.
I shall make a beautiful, eligible corpse for my Debutante Ball, she had thought as she had drunk the entire bottle of laudanum the doctor had left to help her mother “get through this difficult time.” As ill exhaustion had taken over, she’d arranged herself prettily, as if already laid out by the coroner—hands folded across her chest.
When she had heard a noise, felt a breeze, she’d figured someone had been about to ruin her plan. Then she’d smelled the rich, sweet scent of earth and decay and had felt an unnatural thickness to the air. When she’d recognized who attended her, she had somehow pulled her consciousness back to berate Death, itself, for taking her father.
Imogene looked down at her arm. Was she bleeding faster than usual or had she taken too many drugs? Her memories were already getting dark around the edges, fading.
And she did not want that. She wanted to remember Death being surprised–impressed, even–with her tenacity. She wanted to remember their first conversation. And her first request for a kiss, which Death had given.
A kiss and more. Imogene had woken up in the family crypt, alive, beside a Death who had trembled at its own rebellion of Law. Who had asked for another kiss before Imogene would leave to find a new life elsewhere. A second chance.
Not even a year had passed in that second chance before Imogene had decided to summon Death once more. That visit they had explored beyond kissing, and Imogene had been left to live again. Thus passed, to Imogene’s reckoning, over a hundred and twelve years. With the time between her summonings growing less and less.
Lately still nagged at her brain, and she couldn’t push it away. Lately, Death had not been the same. Sometimes bringing her back in the moments Imogene did, in fact, lose consciousness. Like last time.
She could not, she would not let that happen again. She and Death had a special relationship, and nothing could take that away. After all, Death had to come when she summoned. That was its entire purpose.
Foreverness drifted by before the small bathroom filled with familiar sensation of warm and cold breezes carrying the scent of ash, earth, and dampness. In front of the sink, but not reflected in the medicine cabinet’s mirror, grey-white linen fluttered, shrouding a form that was neither male nor female. Hair, dark as a freshly dug grave, danced on the crypt wind. The shower curtain and toilet paper trembled in the dead breath’s wake. Parchment skin stretched over a skull revealing no hint of muscle or vein save darkness around the sharp, empty eyes.
Death folded its arms. Skin-clad skeletal hands tapped blackened nails on the burial cloth robe. “I said we were through,” said the voice as androgynous as its form.
Imogene winced from the dried corpse eyes that still flamed emotion and pain. Between drugs and blood loss, she spoke with a shaking, slurring mouth. “…Had t-to see you again.”
“You always have to see me again.” The being paced, bony feet tapping on faux granite tiles. After the initial glare, it kept its eyes averted.
“I-I… st-still love you…”
“You cannot fathom love.” It stopped pacing and turned its back to her.
“I d-do. And you said I understood, like n-no one else. I’m not s-scared of you.” Imogene’s heart thrashed in her chest like a panicked bird. Beside the tub, she could not see her hand inside the bloody bucket. “Please?”
“Please, what?” Death spun and glared again. “Do my job? How long have I given in to your games? Must we have this dance for another century?”
“P-plea-hshe?” Darkness tinged the edges of her vision and deepened every shadow. Each breath was harder work than anything she’d done in life.
Now that it looked at her, she saw Death’s face soften. She saw the familiar twitch of its mouth, its worrying lips. She watched the clenching and releasing of its hands on its arms. Most of the bubbles in the bath had dissipated, and a flicker in Death’s eye revealed that it had noticed her bare still-youthful body. Another aspect of Death’s gifts and the frequent summonings–she had hardly aged since that day in the parlor.
It jerked its head away with a scowl of defeat, closed its eyes, and stepped toward Imogene. Water sluiced Death’s form as it knelt into the tub to join the dying girl. Moisture darkened the shroud and pasted it to Death like a second skin. Its lips brushed her forehead first: a tickle of dried rose petals. Cool, bony fingers with sharp nails tenderly dragged damp locks of reddish blonde hair from Imogene’s face. She found energy to lift her chin, meet its hard lips, and taste the life it breathed into her. With a gasp, she sat up, entwining arms around the skeletal body and pushing away the wet shroud to reveal the taut skin over bones and the pulse of life that still throbbed within Death’s being.
Death lifted Imogene’s cut hand from the bucket and brought the wound to its lips with a kiss. The left-over blood lent color, like lipstick, and Imogene kissed those lips once more as Death’s other hand pulled her hips against itself. There was pressure against her sex, but she never looked–and had no other lover for comparison. It didn’t matter; their love was their own. She could feel sharp nails recede as its fingers caressed inside her. Imogene moaned at Death’s touch and arched against it. It kissed down her cheek and throat, leaving water-color imprints of her blood down skin that was not as pale as its own.
Imogene tangled and untangled her fingers through thick, wet, black hair, and caressed her hands down the sharp edges of ribs, pelvis, and joints. Death’s breath rattled from its mouth. Imogene felt tingles down her spine as Death pressed its face against her neck and shoulder with gasps. She tightened her grip around Death. Its body felt so fragile, as if any bone could break or its paper-thin skin should tear. As it came, she felt the shifting corporeality, its substance based on the end of her life, fading as it returned life through their union.
Shaking, she clung to Death, laying her head against its angular shoulder. Her trembling lips brushed its ear and she whispered, “See? You can’t leave me. Not ever…” Death stiffened beneath her. “You need me as much as I need you.”
Death breathed deeply and closed its eyes against her face. It pulled from her embrace and took the hand she had cut. Imogene reached for another kiss, but gasped as fresh pain burned down her arm. Her blood streamed into the bathwater.
Betrayed, she saw Death shake its head slowly.
“No more games; I can’t take them any more. It’s over this time. We’re over.”
“No-oh,” she managed before the dark edges of the world overtook her. Not so fragile, Death caught her in strong arms and rocked her lovingly–and without apology.
Trisha J. Wooldridge writes grown-up horror short stories and weird poetry for anthologies and magazines—some even winning awards! Under her business, A Novel Friend www.anovelfriend.com , she’s edited over fifty novels and two geeky anthologies; written over a hundred non-fiction articles; designed three online college classes; and has become events coordinator for Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester. Under child-friendly persona of T.J. Wooldridge, she has published three scary children’s novels, too.
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