or, 'motionless in the midst of chaos'
She was, pale and drawn, her arms as thin as matchsticks; a stick woman creature,
she was sickness to look at, but when she moved, seemed to be a sleek alabaster spider. Her black cloak threw her into sharp contrast, making her hair and skin ethereal. In the mist, she glowed; a strange, jaded creature.
There were almost twenty of them, in the same somber attire,
a husband, widowed,
relatives and friends, a reciting priest,
the tiny altar boy, his eyes wild and offset by ebony skin, skin blending with funeral clothes. How he hated coming down to the miserable graveyard. How he hated the smells - of incense, dirt and decay that drifted on the mist. Oh, how he despised it, having no choice in the matter.
He was I.
When they lowered the coffin, I swung the incense burner dutifully, circling the pit. My eyes passed over those gathered, those whose eyes were averted, all of them dressed in black. From the meager crowd, there were no tears; it seemed the woman in the ground wasn't worth a little saltwater.
It was late in the afternoon, now, and the mist was rising – fabricating a damp, heavy silence that clung to my ears and eyes. Chilled fog was crawling into my skin and ingratiating itself with my blood, forcing clammy sweat onto my palms. And, oh, how I longed to shrug off the black cloak that covered me up like I was dead, the cloth I carried on my back…
ready to pull over and hide my stricken face, eyes rolled back into my head,
I was ten years old, and I knew I was already wearing a shroud.
But in the mist, how perfect she looked. As they walked to the foot of the grave one by one, bowing, paying their respects, I thought I saw her mouth twist in contempt. No – I looked again – she was herself again, with her marble statue face. She wore it until, at long last, it was her time to approach the grave.
Her step was so uncommon, I stared. I had been staring for quite some time. But she walked toward the grave as if she had been waiting, for so much longer than I had been staring at her. In my heart, twisting with unspeakable fear, I thought that maybe she had been waiting for longer than I had been alive.
She strode to the pit. And when she looked at the coffin in the ground, I could see her eyes go thin and unforgiving.
"I pray for you," she said, and a couple of the people gathered started. All the others had mumbled their prayers for this soul, unlistened to in the grace of the forest's damp silence. She spoke aloud, abandoning privacy, and I felt my heart race at the ice-clear sound of her words. There was no tears, no tremble.
"May you rest, Mother," her lips were white with fury, "in hell!"
She spat into the hole, hitting the coffin squarely. A tiny piece of her heart ripped itself out of her, and floated down to rest in the grave beside it, like a bloody snowflake.
I saw it.
They saw it. And shock echoed around the clearing with her words. A woman gasped. A man flinched. I felt my eyes get wider. One grey-haired mourner looked as surprised as I felt, but he looked at her with recognition.
"Ariana," he whispered, but everybody heard him.
The pale girl looked back at him, a mirror of surprise. Then her lips twisted into a long, scornful smirk.
"Hello, father," she said, in the same cold voice. Her tone made me want to run, flee for my life.
"Ariana's dead," a wrinkled woman whimpered, grabbing his arm. She resembled him, down to the stare in her eyes. His sister.
"Is that what they told you?" Ariana asked, still with the same eerie smile. "How neat. 'Ariana's dead'. Did you have a cheery little party like this for me, then?"
"Stop it. You're insane!" the old man's voice shook a little; from what, I couldn't tell.
"Oh, how long has it been, father? Ten years? It's been a long time between check-ups. What if I got better, hm? Were you just going to leave me to rot? Your only daughter, your precious little girl, all chained up... in that... nuthouse."
"You didn't get better, you crazy bitch," he spat, looking as scared as I felt. The derisive smile on her face had faded to something more dangerous. Her eyes flashed across the circle.
"They let me out, didn't they?" she asked, taking a step toward the grave. "Mother thought they wouldn't."
"Stay away from her!"
"How did she die, father?" Ariana asked, bitterly. "Did her venom finally choke her? Or is the coffin empty? Did you ship her off to a prison, too?"
But Ariana was slowly skirting the grave, and each mourner she passed was too terrified to stop her; a couple even stepped back a little, fearful to get in her way. But none of them watched with as much horror as her father.
"I was Daddy's little girl, wasn't I?" she asked, with no attempt to hide her taunting. "I was only six! And the things you did to me father, oh, who could ever forgive you?"
"Yes, be quiet, Ariana. That's what you wanted, isn't it? You wanted me to keep quiet." I could see her in the diminishing light, so close now – close to him. She was leaning down to talk to him, towering over this shrunken old man. Staring into the pathetic gaze of the man who had destroyed her innocence, all those years ago. "It was our little secret, father, wasn't it? Be quiet, you said. But it was eating me alive, Daddy, from the inside..."
He was gaping like a fish. Speechless, finally.
"When I finally talked, you told Mother I was crazy," she continued, her eyes burning with darkness. "You put me in an asylum. You killed me, Dad."
"Yes!" she screamed, louder than his denial. "You killed me! You took my soul!"
The old man cracked. He whipped away from her, tried to run, but he was too slow. She grabbed his arm like a vice, both of her hands pulling on his elbow. The onlookers were frozen as they watched the pair. For a split second, she almost looked like a little girl again, tugging on her father's sleeve. She leaned in close to his ear, her lips parting just slightly. I was the only one close enough to hear her whisper, just three words.
"…Come and play."
Then she pivoted, swinging him around her in a full body throw. He staggered on release, swaying frantically on the brink of the freshly dug pit – before he could shout, the loose dirt gave under his feet, and then he disappeared. There was an audible thud as his body hit the wood of his wife's coffin.
Ariana pulled a bottle out of her cloak, looking serene. Before I could see her hand move, she'd struck a match, and lit the rag at the top of the bottle.
"Ariana!" her father shouted from the pit. "Get me out of here!"
"Burn in hell!" she shrieked, hurling the bottle into the pit. There was a deathly roar, and flames shot out of the grave like a furnace, incinerating everything within it. I felt the heat scorch my face, and stumbled back in a daze.
The spell broke on the surrounding people, throwing their circle into anarchy – a woman screamed, and several mourners turned and ran from the flames. The ones who remained backed away, glancing anxiously toward the path. Only one stood perfectly still.
Ariana watched the flames with a tortured look, motionless in the midst of chaos. I have never seen anything so horrific, so beautiful, as that single tear that dripped from her cheek,
as she watched her retribution burn.
A/N: I have avoided editing and posting this for four months because it's so experimental - far outside my comfort zone. Definitely keen to hear any critique, especially on dialogue/narrative style. Thanks for reading! :)