Long ago, a New England widower promised he would shield his only child, a young daughter, from the dangers of the world, but he could not govern against disease, and one day the village doctor diagnosed the girl with consumption, the very illness that slayed the widower’s wife.
The widower cursed the heavens for his family’s poor luck. He begged for a cure and howled until a passing migrant heard his cries. “But your daughter is not ill,” the migrant promised. “I have witnessed such horrors aforetime in my travels. It is your late wife. She rises from the grave and drinks the girl’s blood.”
The migrant explained in great detail how to free the girl from such torture, and though the widower initially took his visitor for a fool, after watching his daughter’s body dwindle and drain of life, he obeyed the stranger’s instructions with frantic determination. Under a moonless night sky, the widower exhumed his wife and carved out her heart, which he hewed to empty of his daughter’s blood. Then he burned the organ into a fine ash, returned his wife to the earth, and wept as he carried the powdered heart home for his daughter to eat.
“I offer your cure,” the widower said as he roused the girl from a fitful sleep. In response, the girl, beaded with sweat and watching her father’s wild eyes, refused his trembling hand.
“Obey me, daughter,” the widower demanded. Again, the frightened girl shrank from her father. She pointed at his arms, smeared in blood, and threw herself to the floor. The widower, exhausted, scrambled to reach her.
“Will you not see? I am saving you!” he bellowed, fearing a solitary life. The widower pinned the girl to the floor and felt her frail body succumb below his own. He forced open her clenched teeth and released the ash. “You will consume these ashes and you will be saved!”
Benjamin Woodard is Editor-in-chief at Atlas and Alice. His recent fiction has been featured in, or is forthcoming from, WhiskeyPaper, Hypertrophic Literary, and New South. Find him online @woodardwriter or at www.benjaminjwoodard.com.
Image: Greg Ortega