I count…eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-seven stairs to a door unlatched, swaying on creaking, cracked hinges. I stagger through the smell of decomposing potpourri and malt vinegar, reaching to find a window. The curtain is damp with rot and the infectious spores born from a century of unventilated stagnation litter the air in the sunlight’s illumination.
Her body lay still and white across a cold stone slab. Her face locked in a state of fear. I don’t imagine this woman had grace. She looks scornful and homely. For all the brambles I’ve fought to get to her, I was anticipating more beauty and less slobbery snoring. They’d reccommended a kiss to dispel some curse, but I can’t bring myself to get close. Her lips are cracked and calloused from her slack-jawed respirations. The stench of something dead within her throat. I won’t kiss that.
The covers are heavy, damp and diseased, like the curtain, and as I pull their weight off her body the wretched odour of moisture and decay propel me backwards. Rancid milk and composting faeces. I let the open window disperse the air while I lose my stomach, just a bit, on the floor beside her.
I begin again to undress the girl. Beneath her gown, the smell is oddly sweet. Lilacs. Her heart never changes pace as my finger pushes through her preserved, soft, warm commodity. A veil of anticipated tenderness. The girl stirs. I turn and count the stairs …eighty-seven, eighty-six, eighty-five, eighty-four…
She had been asleep for a while now. Grandma had the foresight to leave the potpourri out, but the stench of malt vinegar was growing by the day. Each step echoes as he climbs. She counts them. Eighty-five. Eighty-six. Eighty-seven. She hears the door creak as it opens. Heavy boots as they step into the room. There was no knock. There never is.
A breeze flutters the sheets that wrap around her. It is chilly. It tickles her greasy skin. He moves to the window and throws open the curtains. The sunlight is hot on her exposed flesh. He comes close to the bed. He smells like blood and blackberries. She pictured him as handsome, but she had been dreaming about someone else these past hundred years.
He grabs the sweat sodden sheets and drags them off her. The chill prickles her skin to goose bumps. She smells bile and it is a moment before he returns to her. Mom and dad are still downstairs, he walked past them on his way up. She feels a finger on her, callous and dithering. It runs lines through the sticky film that covers her body. Her mouth is dry. She feels the nightgown slip off.
The finger begins tracing again. His breath is forced past an excited heart, hers remains steady. Despite the sweat, its cold inside. She gives like a melting marshmallow. She shivers. She hears the door creak as it closes.
by Eileen Walden and Sam Tempest