Roses, by Morgan Hyde
I will never forget the way they smelled: sickly sweet, like rotted roses. Mother was facedown on the ground, her neck ripped apart, her head barely still attached to her body. Baby John’s head had been crushed like an egg against the stove, and he lay tossed in the corner. Tamara lay still on the floor, facing me with serenity. But her pretty blue dress was now a dull brown. She had been stabbed, again and again, and now she lay dead in a pool of blood.
I couldn’t believe my eyes, but the smell was everywhere, shouting the truth I did not want to face. My family was dead, slaughtered while I was away. I had been shadowing my mentor, attending to a sickly lady on the other side of the valley. It was pure chance Mistress Slate had asked me to go along last night instead of another apprentice. Pure chance the case was tough, so we stayed the night, and pure chance it was far away, so I was arriving home at nearly noon. Pure chance that I also did not lie dead.
There was no sign of Father in the house, though he should have been home last night. Whoever had done this must have caught him in the forest, returning from his work or heading out this morning. If he had been there, he would not have let his family die without a fight. He would lie dead beside them, and since he did not, his body must lie somewhere in the forest. I would have to search for it later. His spirit wouldn’t settle until his body rested in the Earth by blood of his blood. And I was the only one left.
I didn’t have time to go to a neighbour’s for help. My family needed to be buried as soon as possible, and as blood kin, the brutal task fell to me. I tried not to see what I was doing as I worked. I tried not to hear, or feel, or smell. But I could not stop my thoughts from circling back again and again: who could have done this to them? They had been murdered by someone they had trusted, that I could tell. Someone who seemed harmless. Mother wouldn’t have turned her back otherwise. But who could it have been?
By the time I finished the burial, only an hour remained before sunset. I stared at the crude headstone, with the three names on it. How could I be the only one left? I prayed my father was still alive somewhere, unlikely though it was. Tomorrow morning, I decided, as soon as it was light, I would start my search. Until then, I would make the empty house my fortress for the long night. I washed myself at the well as best I could, not daring to go down to the stream to bathe. What if the monster who had done this came back?
Thankfully, I could do more than pray it did not. I went inside the house, locked the doors, latched the windows, and barred every entry with furniture. Only when I had thoroughly barricaded myself in did I realize I ought to have a weapon. I thought longingly of the many tools in the barn. I wanted a pitchfork, a shovel – something longer than a knife, something to keep a monster at bay. But the sun was setting, and I was not brave enough to venture outside again.
Instead, I pulled the legs off our kitchen table, sharpened them with the one knife we had indoors, and hardened them to points in the coals of our fire. I tucked one of my makeshift spears into my belt, lay the others within easy reach, and then settled in to wait out the coming darkness.
It was quite dim but not yet full dark when I heard a knock on the door. I waited.
Father’s voice. He was alive!
“Lilian, what happened? I spent the night in the forest, and worked again today, and I come home to find a grave…” He sounded broken, grieving, in shock – but he was alive! I pulled my barricade away from the front door and ran outside. Father was standing by the grave. He looked gaunt and empty. I ran to him, threw myself into his arms.
“Oh Lilian – I am so glad you’re alive!” He pulled me close and stroked my hair. I leaned into him and took a deep breath, finally able to relax. But something wasn’t right. No – it couldn’t be! But it was.
I gathered my nerve and grabbed my stake from my belt. In one strong thrust I drove it through my father’s heart. He fell to the ground, writhing in pain, but no blood came from his body.
“Lilian,” he cried, “Why? I am your father!”
I stood in silence and watched as the light faded from his eyes. Then I locked myself back into the house, though I knew the monster was dead. His hands had smelled like rotted roses.