Feel the Death
By Jae Mazer
The rickety bus creaked and heaved, fumes vomiting from its tailpipe as it trembled down the old road. Mia and Sachia held on to each other, watching as the barren wasteland outside raced by the windows.
“We’ll be there promptly, girls.”
The driver’s voice was wet and wrapped in a cackle that couldn’t quite find an escape.
Mia shuddered. Tears glazed her eyes.
“It’s okay,” Sachia said, squeezing Mia’s hand. “We’ll be there soon.”
She doesn’t mean it, Mia thought. She’s still angry.
As if on cue, the home appeared over the lip of the next hill, staring in wait up the road at its feet.
“Will it hurt?” Mia asked the older girl.
“No,” Sachia said.
“Will it be frightening?”
Sachia didn’t answer.
Mia looked out the window. The bus had slowed considerably, the tyres upsetting a minimal cloud of dust. Tumbleweeds blew across the dusty ground, catching in cracks and bouncing into the air.
“Will I blow away to dust?” Mia asked.
Sachia said nothing.
Mia wasn’t ready. When the bus pulled up to the behemoth of a structure, she remained firmly planted to her seat, even after Sachia stood.
“C’mon,” Sachia whispered, a hint of panic escaping its constraints. “Don’t linger. They’ll come out and get you, regardless.”
Mia got to her feet, despite the lead in her stomach. She shuffled down the aisle, Sachia tugging her sleeve the whole way.
The air should have been fresh, should have helped to quash Mia’s fear, but no. It wasn’t fresh. It wasn’t anything. It was a stale, stagnant yellow blanket that hovered in Mia’s nostrils and lungs; tight and still and bland. A suffocating nothingness.
“It’s not warm,” Mia said, her voice breaking. “It’s not cold. It’s not anything.”
“Hush,” Sachia said, jabbing her sister in the ribs.
The headmistress stood on the step, patiently awaiting their arrival. She was stunning, Mia noticed straight away, with a black dress and blue-black hair. She was beautiful and terrifying, pale skin glowing from beneath the slits and ties of the dark fabric.
“Promptly now, girls,” the driver said, rushing the stragglers off the bus. “We haven’t much time before I fetch the next lot of you.”
And with that, the last of the girls, two young beauties that looked almost old enough to drink, were off the bus and waiting in a trembling cluster at the base of the front steps. The bus pulled away, clouds of silence billowing in its wake.
There was no wind, no animals, no one was talking. The headmistress stared into each and every set of eyes. No one dared allow breath to pass their lips. A buzzard cawed in the distance, the sound of nails down a chalkboard. Mia startled, and Sachia held her tighter. The headmistress met Mia’s eyes, and for the briefest of moments, Mia thought she saw a smile threaten to emerge across the woman’s stoic face.
A gasp rippled through the pack of girls when the headmistress spun around, her raven-coloured hair whirling in a pirouette as she clip-clopped into the house. The girls looked at each other, eyes pleading for a prompt, for a suggestion, for a hero that would lead the way.
One girl, a strawberry blond with a college bow in her hair, took the first step. Her bravery opened the dam, and the girls moved in unison, up the stairs and into the house like a swarm.
The inside of the house smelled of campfires and copper, and the air was wet and heavy. Though beautiful on the outside, its interior was dilapidated, yellowed walls peeling strips of paint and ceilings sagging and stained brown.
“What is that smell?” Mia asked, tugging on Sachia’s sleeve.
“Shhh,” Sachia scolded, swatting her sister’s hand.
“But it smells so awful,” Mia said, tears welling again. “Like the slaughterhouse—”
“Because it is,” Sachia snapped, raising her finger to her lips in an attempt at silencing her frantic sibling.
They moved from the entrance into the main room. The only room on the first floor. A massive wood stove sat against the far wall, covered in pots roiling with steam. Long wooden benches lines the room like church pews, empty, save scraps of food and chipped dishes.
The strawberry blonde hesitated only a moment before walking forward and taking a seat at the end of a pew in the first row, folding her hands neatly in her lap like the proper miss she clearly was. The others followed suit, but with much less grace, stumbling and seating themselves with an awkward hesitance.
“What are we doing?” Mia asked, looking around the room. It was barren, except for the wood stove, pews, and meager leavings of occupants passed. “What is this?”
Sachia didn’t answer.
She’s done answering, Mia thought. She’s angry.
Mia looked around at the other faces, pale and sullen, streaks of dusty tears marring blotchy skin. A small girl, no more than 5, was trembling violently, despite the tepid air.
So young. How is she here?
The little girl looked up at her with wide blue eyes, lip trembling, blonde hair soaked in brown crud.
They ate in silence. Bowls of gruel from a pot on the wood stove were doled out by a hefty woman in a burlap dress, mouth stitched closed, nostrils flaring from the influx of air. Mia cringed when the woman handed her the bowl. The woman paused, smiling, the heavy twine stitching her lips together tearing her flesh ever so slightly.
That twine is damp with blood, Mia thought, her eyes fixed on the meaty, cracked lips. That’ll infect in no time.
The smiling henchwoman waddled away, gristle dripping from her ladle to the floor. Mia did not eat. She held the bowl in her hand, watching globs of meat float around the brown sludge.
“It’s time.” A bald woman with thick veins protruding from her head stood in the doorway, filling it with her great mass of muscle. “Five at a time. No dawdling.”
“At least it’ll be quick,” Sachia said.
Mia eyed the girls lining the pews. Twenty. At most.
Too quick, Mia thought, her heart pummeling her ribcage.
The strawberry blonde, who had proudly taken the first spot in the first row of pews, now looked like she deeply regretted that decision. She was in the first five. She wasn’t so quick to lead this time.
“Let’s go,” the bald woman barked.
The strawberry blonde looked at the girls, her eyes frantic and too afraid to cry. Everyone looked away as if ashamed by her weakness. Her sobs became audible, and her body convulsed with tremors of fear. The bald woman rolled her eyes and stepped forward. She wore heavy, shiny black boots that crept up to her exposed groin, the laces threaded straight through the muscular flesh on her thighs. Those heavy boots clopped so loud Mia was sure they would break right through the floor. The bald, booted woman grabbed a handful of strawberry blonde hair, and lifted the girl off the pew. The girl screamed and writhed, but the bald woman didn’t flinch. She held the girl, suspended a good foot off the floor, and walked out of the room.
The next four girls followed without argument, looking at their feet rather than their violently struggling comrade. Mia watched as they exited the room, feet shuffling, eyes darting around. It pained her to see their fear, their uncertainty. She looked back down at her gruel.
Time passed. Maybe minutes, an hour, Mia couldn’t be sure. The room was quiet, except for the growling of tummies, and the occasional whimper from someone who couldn’t hold their fear any longer. Just when Mia thought the tension might turn her inside out, a crash came from the upper floor. A girl in the pew ahead of her screamed.
“What was that?” Mia asked, searching Sachia’s face.
Sachia didn’t answer. She was looking up at the ceiling, watching the candle-lit chandelier swaying from the boom.
Another boom. And another.
Five in all.
Then silence again, other than the tinkling of the yellowed crystals on the swaying chandelier. The girls looked up, watching the light dancing off the walls as it swayed to a stop.
“C’mon then,” a voice boomed. “On with it.”
The bald woman was once again standing in the doorway. Her platform boots were still laced to her long legs, but Mia had not heard her clomping down the stairs. When she left the room, though, she was clomping, even louder than before. The second batch of girls didn’t waste any time, following close behind the sound of the boots.
Mia wished she was with them.
The wait was agonizing.
The crashes were louder this time. The floor above creaked, and gyprock rained down in a fine powder with each of the five booms. But this time, there were screams. Blood-curdling and high-pitched, gargling and desperate. Mia looked up at the ceiling, and saw the water spots along the trim growing darker, wetter…
The next batch of girls were already standing at the door before the woman appeared from the foyer. These girls did not go quietly. The bangs were accompanied by ear-piercing mewling and gagging sobs. The walls shook, the wood cracking from ceiling to floor with bang after bang after bang.
Mia’s pew was the last one left. By the time the bald woman was standing in the doorway, Mia was regretting wishing the time away. She did not want to go. She did not wish for it to be all over. That room, with those splintered pews and that nauseating gruel and that terrible, horrible woman with the stitched smile didn’t seem all that bad now. Mia could comfortably see herself spending an eternity there, bottom full of sores from being pressed onto that wood, stomach burning from consumption of that lardy stew.
Now, staring at the back of those boots, at the platform heels and blood spurting from the holes in the bald woman’s thighs, Mia thought the room with the pews had been paradise.
Up the stairs they went, avoiding holes and missing boards. Mia stumbled and reached for the handrail, but quickly recoiled when she grasped something slick and wet.
Not a handrail.
A taut set of braided intestines, perhaps from three or four donors, attached at the top and bottom of the stairs on large femur bones.
“Keep going,” Sachia said, pulling her sister up the stairs.
The top of the stairs had a tiny entryway that opened up into one large room that occupied the entire top floor of the house. The ceiling was high, like a gymnasium, and the walls were soiled and weathered, very much like the room below. This room was more barren than that room, though. Virtually empty…
Except for the bodies strewn across the floor.
Mia followed her sister into the room, and her feet sank into the shag carpet. Her toes squished like she was stepping in mud at the bog back home. She wiggled them, grinding into the moisture.
The bald woman was gone. The raven-haired headmistress had taken her place, standing in the center of the room.
Had she been there when we came in? Mia wondered.
“Noses against the wall, girls.”
Nobody moved. Mia looked at the other girls, eyebrows raised, eyes scouring the walls.
The headmistress drew in a deep breath that sucked the air out of the room. All the girls looked at her. Her eyes turned red, and her mouth flew open, splitting her head in two. A tail sprouted between her legs, and teeth jutted from the bottom of her jaw.
“I said, noses against the fucking wall, ladies!”
It wasn’t a voice. It was a feral howl, a morbid bellow that clawed its way into Mia’s ears and dove to the bottom of her colon.
The girls obeyed. Instantly.
It was a pleasant surprise, that wall. It smelled of lavender and honey.
“Sachia?” Mia said, reaching to the side for her sister. “It smells like Mom. Like home. Isn’t it lovely, Sachia?”
Sachia didn’t answer. Mia turned to look at her. Sachia’s face was pressed against the wall, a smile on her plump lips. Mia’s heart was swollen with love for her beautiful sister, her mentor, her caregiver. Her best friend.
Mia yelped as her cheek split open. A tongue, thin and black and barbed, licked across her cheek and in front of her face.
“Against the wall,” the headmistress hissed. “Dear.”
Mia focused on the wall but watched Sachia in her peripheral. Odd. She seems taller, higher…
The lavender and honey was overwhelming. Mia’s nose pressed into the wall, and it received her, soft and supple like her mother’s breast. Mia felt euphoric, like walking on air, and the pleasure intensified. She breathed in and tasted her favourite cookies that Mother used to bake—chocolate chip with caramel drizzle. Mia licked the wall, and her tongue was overwhelmed with the flavours of a hundred favourite meals.
Then came unfamiliar sensations. The smell of lilies on a wedding day that had yet to transpire, the pulsation and flood of sexuality yet to be released, the pure adoration of birth and child rearing.
Pleasure turned to desperation, and then to abject terror.
Mia had never felt those lovely things.
She never would.
She opened her eyes and turned her head away from the wall.
“Sachia,” she whispered.
Sachia didn’t answer. She couldn’t. She would never answer again. Her face was contorted in pain and horror and violation, the front of her white nightgown soaked in crimson. Mia looked down at the waterfall of blood pouring to the carpet and found that she and her sister—all the girls—were suspended several feet off the floor.
Mia looked down at her body. She, too, was but a painting hung on the wall, suspended by a talon that reached into her from beyond the chipped paint, from the opposite side of the house and the hell that lay beyond.
“Hurt?” The raven woman hissed.
Yes! Mia screamed, but only in her head. Her words were muted by the blood pouring from her mouth.
“Good,” the raven woman said.
Mia felt it, in that talon that ripped through her skin and grasped her organs. She felt the receiving end of the blade she had driven into her own mother. She felt Sachia’s hands as they had wrapped around her neck after discovering their mother’s body in the master bed.
She turned to her sister, hanging on that wall, face blue and petechial hemorrhaging brightening her eyes to a glowing red, tears bleeding down her face.
She feels her own hands, like they wrapped around my throat, when she saw what I had done…
“Feel the death you served,” the raven-haired woman said from her perch on the wall.
She fell for many minutes, crashing to that wet carpet, sending blood splashing up and coating the walls, filling her mouth and eyes and ears…
She saw herself fall.
Her body was limp on the ground, a pile of meat flayed out and on display, just like she had left her dear mother.
She looked to the side, at all the other girls, covered in blood, embedded in and beneath the walls, floating, lining the house in horizontal stacks and piles that extended out into the barren wasteland beyond the structure itself. The rows of girls floated for miles.
And in the distance, a plume of dust from the bus approached on the horizon.