This week, in response to an assignment from my journalism teacher for a 500 word “free post” about anything I’d like, I present to you a short story of my own creation, featuring an illustration also done by my own hand. I haven’t dusted off my writer’s hat in a long, LONG time (we’re talking like eighth grade here, ew), so not sure how this will go. Either way, hope you enjoy!
The Madame lived alone in an ancient house atop the hill overlooking the small village. Although surely grand some time ago, it now lay crumbling and covered in vines, swallowed up by the once carefully tended garden, alone and abandoned. The Madame had been beautiful once, the people in the village would tell you, seated at the bar of the local tavern, drink in hand. Hair like an actress straight out of a film reel, red lips dripping with cigarette smoke and sex appeal, swaying hips that caught the gaze and carried the imagination of single and married men alike. It’s a damn shame she married that rich bastard up the hill, a red-eyed old man in a woolen cap would sigh, taking a solemn sip of his drink. She always did look sharper ‘n a snake in those cute little dresses.
In those days, with her husband’s wealth and influence in the little town, the Madame lived a charmed life; a never ending waltz of galas, teas, charity benefits, balls. She was the very picture of a social butterfly, fluttering animatedly from politician to tycoon, a knowing touch here, a winning smile there, sucking up their attention like her own sweet nectar. The parties at the house on the hill were the talk of the town back then, and the lights in the windows would stay lit long into the early hours of the morning when the guests would file out into the newly minted light like waning specters, dressed in wrinkled chiffon and crushed taffeta.
The earlier years of her marriage to the affluent young baron of business produced three daughters, each prettier and sweeter than the last. Lily, the eldest, with her mother’s delicate complexion and fluttering fair lashes; Violet, the middle child, who possessed the same sensual pout and insolent, flashing eyes; and Rose, little Rose, whose sweet, open face and sun-kissed curls so resembled those of her mother. You could never meet kinder girls, an older woman in a hand-knit sweater made of thick, steel gray yarn would murmur, bony, arthritic hands trembling. So kind, and so lovely.
And then came the accident. A terrible shame, terrible shame, the shuffled whispers would come, the quiet shaking of elderly heads. Three young flowers dressed in black, their mother behind them with her hands on their shoulders, elegant and composed in her grief. A coffin lowered into the ground to the solemn mumbled prayers of a priest, the entire village in attendance, clinging to their coats and shifting from foot to foot in uncomfortable, heavy silence as the final rites are performed. Three flowers and their mother step into their shiny black car, crawling up the hill like an insect and disappearing within the trees. Three flowers and their mother, disappearing into the house on the hill.
There were many rumors after that. The Madame, overcome with grief for her husband and unable to take care of three young children, sent her daughters to separate boarding schools to be brought up there as she herself quickly became a recluse. Or perhaps she and the daughters moved out of the house under the dark veil of night, free of curious, gossiping village eyes, leaving the house on the hill to crumple in on itself under the careless watch of some addlepated caretaker. And then there were rumors of a darker kind: the Madame took to the occult, attempting to conjure up the ghost of her husband, dragging the daughters into her coven; she poisoned all of them, including herself, and the bodies have never been discovered; they haunt the house to this day. The tavern would fall silent, people staring into their drinks, each imagining the fate of those kind, lovely girls and their beautiful mother.
If you happened to be brave enough to step foot into the house on the hill — any villager would be quick to advise against it; nothing good can come from the faded memories in that house, the Madame would be displeased to have her privacy intruded — your feet would first catch in the undergrowth. Plants everywhere. Ivy overtaking the skeleton of the emaciated grand staircase and spilling to the crumbling floor, mingling with crumpled food wrappers and weeds. Mold on the walls, licking at the wallpaper, peeling and faded with an indiscernible pattern coated in grime. Animals have made their home here, their droppings scattered in the remains of the entrance hall, and the beam of a flashlight falls frequently upon the flicker of eyes that quickly wink and scuttle away. The main staircase is impossible to climb without the possibility of serious injury, and the next option is the doorway to the dining room, shards of a shattered chandelier sprinkling fractures of light across the walls and dirt-encrusted floor. This room is just as messy and overtaken by the elements as the last. So is the next, and the next after that, and the feelings of foreboding and fear would begin to recede from anyone who had made it so far, reassured that there is nothing left of the house and its inhabitants save memories and dirty curios of the past decomposing underfoot.
However, if you have particularly sharp eyesight, something might jump out to you before you turn to go. Another door, cracked slightly, tucked behind the partially collapsed ceiling of the sitting room and easy to pass over if you aren’t looking for it. Step carefully over the mixture of house remnants and plant matter, slip through the door. There’s something slightly off about this room, despite it being just as dilapidated as the others. And then the smell would hit you. Rancid, thick, inescapable; it sticks in your nostrils, so strong you could taste it. Death.
The source of the stench: three large flowerpots in the center of the room, kept immaculately clean, the floor around them carefully dusted and clear of the filth that covers everything else. If your stomach is strong enough for you to be able to, you might step forward, feeling a sense of utter dread in the depths of your being. Upon closer inspection, the flowerpots have been lovingly labeled with red paint that is scratched but still legible, in effeminate, flowery print. From left to right the pots read LILY, VIOLET, ROSE. If you were still undeterred by the now overwhelming urge to turn immediately and run as far away from the house as you could, you might step closer. Then you would see it. Mingled with the dark soil in the top of the pots, locks of sun-kissed curls, shining dimly in the light.
That’s when you would run.