I buried the bodies of my sisters beneath the flagstones of my parent’s estate. In hindsight, it would have been kind to mark their resting place with a trinket or pretty bouquet; but I don’t intend to let these graves bloom.
My father has always referred to me as The Parasite. When I was young, I was desperate for him to beat another with this disgrace, but from growth comes the realisation that these gifts are an advantage. Only the strongest survive, after all.
My mother is a saint. But like those gods we are raised to admire and fear, she is rarely within reach when you need her. My father is a more constant presence. He haunts this house, snarling from his throne. His hatred of me is a tangible thing, spreading tendrils through this bitter, crumbling house.
I am the eldest of seven, the seniority in a house full of women. I have always been less than ordinary, a being merely taking up my space rather than demanding it. As they came, one by one, the blackness within my heart mutated and grew. It is said that my arrival was punctuated by three melancholic kraws at the stroke of midnight, the next morning the ground was littered with the corpses of crows. They have been my permanent shadow, always at the window, trailing long coat tails in the shadowy places of my psyche.
I couldn’t stand the raw, untouched possibility my sisters represented, I could see their lives spread out, lives of happiness, accomplishments, love. I was trapped in this place, trapped by my father. It was made clear to me that there was no space left in this world for me to succeed with them around.
On the eve of womanhood, I decided that no longer would I skulk in the shadows, if my time wasn’t coming, then neither would theirs. I waited until my mother was called away for work.
I drowned the youngest, then blinded the one who marvelled at the beauty of the trees. The triplets had spent their lives gorging at the dinner table so poisoning seemed the obvious choice. These foolish girls had offered themselves up to the slaughter, their youth had not afforded them foresight. Each slipped from life with the question of why tracing their lips.
My closest sibling, by age rather than bond, refused to make it as easy. The most potential had been afforded to her, she was the kindest of us, the bravest of us and she mocked me with her life. The perfect mirror image of my wretched soul.
Hidden in the basement was a room so out of bounds that even the spiders dared not enter. It was my place, the place my father had assigned to me from birth, for self-flagellation and self-abuse. I knew she had to be there. The bitch had always been unashamedly brave.
The mirrors had been hung long ago by an artist who once owned the house. The walls were a static ocean, some surfaces ornate, some dulled, some scratched and smashed beyond repair, yet still reflective of those shadowy places we pretend not to see in our periphery. It was a small room, merely big enough for the worn armchair she sat in. In that inky reflection I saw a long serrated blade, copied over and over again. She offered a smile.
A hundred young women plunged the knife into the chair, stabbing and cutting and impaling as a thin stream of red trickled down to the floor. I felt calm as I sliced flesh. My reflected sisters breathed hard, their sinews twitching beneath forearms as they plunged the weapon down. From the chair, not a sound was uttered. Even in death, my sister was gracious. Or perhaps she wasn’t and I simply could not hear over my own cries of anguish and rage. With an apathetic sigh, the final sister was extinguished.
The graves took a long time to dig, and longer to cover. Down on hand and knee I scrubbed the stones with steel wool and determination, hair whipping in the freezing bite, leaving slick burns on pallid cheeks. I took something from each of them.
There wasn’t time to clean myself before my father returned from work. Disgusted, his eyes lingered on my shredded body, smeared with dirt and blood. There would be a trip to the pine forest, as was always the case when an indiscretion was made. On these occasions, he would present a lyrical beating wrapped in a velvet bow. Always predictable, always a surprise. He stepped over their graves like it meant nothing.
The forest path had become wild, tendrils of ferns reaching out to snatch a breath of light. All was silent except for the sound of crows.
He wasn’t prepared for my attack, yet still he wrangled, tooth and nail. As I wrestled his bulk to the floor, my fingers around his fat throat, the thought occurred to me that this was the closest to an embrace we had been in many years. He fought valiantly against my rage, but, alas, I had learnt from the best. With a final punch to the lungs, the effect of the violence he had taught us seemed to finally make an impact. Was he proud?
The bile of his heart was choked out with his life. My fingerprints left a necklace, purple and bloated.
I left my father in the forest, for the creatures to gorge on.
The gentle ring of the bell is deafening in the silent house. The misted rain seems to cloak my father’s lawyer like a death shroud as he peers into the shadowed hall. Eyes narrowed, I assess him on the front step. Clearly my father’s body had been found.
Wringing his bony, stiff fingers, he struggles to look me in the eye as he mouths, “your father...”
“My father is dead.”
To his credit, his only reaction is the slight draining of colour from his cheeks. Nodding, he pulls a thin folder from inside his jacket. The Will.
He eyes me cautiously as I clench the pages in my fingers, it’s all I can do not to scream. It would be funny if it wasn’t so brutal.
I hereby bequeath this house to my only child, the sole heir of my estate.
I laugh. It tastes of bile.
The threadbare carpet absorbs the slap of my bare feet as I run to my room. Distantly, the front door closes. Tossing clothes into a bag, I whirl about the room, when I spot something on the antique sideboard that makes my heart lurch. A necklace of slim black velvet, fixed with a clasp that resembles three hands intertwined. On the collar of the necklace hangs six human teeth, glistening white like ivory. A beautiful nightmare, tokens from my sisters. The crows must have made it.
Amongst the wetness are petite, delicate rubies, finer than you have ever seen. Moonlight strikes them through the window, casting waves of crimson onto the wall. I smile so hard at their beauty that my jaw aches with the effort of it.
I have realised that this house will always be haunted for me.
By now, father’s body will have succumbed, but after all this time it seems that it was not his snarl or his loping gait that haunted me all these years. It was simply the idea of him. His toxicity has festered the core of our home.
My solitude makes me weep. The fractured sobs find an echo. A kraw.
They’re at the window now.
Shadow envelops the room as the swarm appears, haunting cries sending out the alert. The stabbing beaks of a hundred birds demand entry. A crack. Small at first, then gaping as the glass inverses, shattering like fine crystal. In their furious eyes, black as the night, my sin is laid bare. The cacophonous thrum of wings in the air fill the room.
At once, without any sort of thought, they dive at me, plummeting across the room with such force that the air must bend to their power. With each attack they think less of their own lives; crashing and bruising, bones fracturing and feathers tearing with impact as they ricochet off the floor, the walls, each other. Beaks are embedded in skin, nails forced into plumed bellies. Stabbing and kicking, circling and swooping, we dance together in the darkness, bodies throbbing as one glorious nightmare. They have their way with me, violate me, the savage tearing of my flesh akin to beastly things. Again and again they dive, faster, harder. Spit and blood and wet and feathers. Shreds of myself fall away as my thighs drip with horrified pleasure. I stumble on the corpses that litter the floor. Their claws tighten as a throbbing shriek rips through the air.
I must be free of them, they who see the blackness of my soul and are not afraid of it, will not run from it.
The front door bursts open and I stagger to the ground, joints objecting as bone hits rock. I do not remember leaving my room. If I could only reach the end of the drive, escape the threshold. As I attempt to stand, my ankle is gripped by iced hands; fingers that can only belong to a ghost. The flagstones groan as my sisters’ rise, one by one. They form a circle, tethering my soul to the pulsing house that had never felt, yet had always been so very, violently alive.
The eldest plucks a feather from my hair.
A gentle gasp lifts my cheek from the gravel. My mother stands at the edge of the drive, her lovely bronze hair gently blowing in the breeze.
She watches me as you would a slaughtered deer whose eyes glitter with the throbbing sincerity of death. A mothers’ instinct driving her forward even while the terror consumes her, she starts to move towards me. She breaks the circle of sisters, the imaginary echoes of my wasted potential disappear into the cold.
I understand in this moment that her love could have been an electric force, blinding all who were near, blinding my father, if she had only had the energy. I do not want my mother to suffer, she is too pure for this.
So I smile, a gentle gesture that elicits such a horrified shriek from her that I stop at once. I do not understand. She had always liked my smile before. I suppose the seven ragged stumps where my teeth had been isn’t a pleasant sight, the gaping split a mere memory of a mouth. The thought conjures a laugh and a short snigger of air bursts from my lips, sending a thick black clot of blood to the ground. My mother faints.
Her frail body falls in slow motion, seeming to teeter on a ledge, faltering forward, then back, forward again. She takes such an eternity to fall I pray for the impact. Gravel scatters.
Her white skin is reflective at this angle. We lie there in the dirt, mother and daughter, two generations of women succumbing to the mutilations of men. She for love, I for destruction.
My mouth, sore and bloody, spreads slowly into a grin. I do not bother to rise. The fight has already been won.
Can you hear his cackle, or does it disappear into the desperate screech of the crows circling the house?
They have come for me. At last.