Little Windows, by Kevin Harkness

Little Windows was first published in Trembles e-zine in the Nov./Dec. issue.

St. Paul’s Hospital, January 2, 1985

It was because of my Pa that I kept going back to the queer little churchyard and those gravestones. He’d always hated me. I killed my mother, he said. And I was born two days after the century started. Too late for the New Year’s Baby prizes and gifts. A fool from the day I was born. According to him.

Give me a moment, Father. Let me catch my breath. While I still have it.

I told him about the way in, where the iron fence met the wall. Fallen stones, rusted iron. He slapped me hard, told me to stay away. So I went again, and again. To spite him. Because he wouldn’t follow me there. No one would. Except her.

Not yet, Father. Bless me later. After I’ve asked for forgiveness. If you can.

There’s wasn’t much there. The burned church’s foundations. A long stretch of lawn grown up in bramble and young trees. And the windowed stones at the top of the hill. I always went to them first.

I can see them, now, in my mind. Lined up in three rows. The first of ten. Then another row of ten. And finally a row of eight. The last two spaces were left. Clear and ready. Nothing like your cemetery, Father. You can see who died rich over there. But these stones were all the same. Squared like chimneys. Each made from a single block of smooth, black stone.

Looked like Japanese lanterns. Like I saw in the war. Some of them had windows too. But on all the sides. These were only on one side. And had old-fashioned bulls-eye glass.

You could see the stones were hollow inside. And the glass let you look in. Or out.

She said it was for the Resurrection. But that’s coming from the East. Isn’t it, Father? These stones didn’t face East. Those little windows looked West. As if they were turning their backs on the Lord. I told her that. But she didn’t listen. Not to me.

She was the Doctor’s daughter. As close to royalty as you could get. I was nothing. Living in mudtown. Looking at a mud life as a hired hand.

She followed me there. On a day when I was bruised and hurting. She’d been trying to get in for a long time, she said. She smiled at me. I showed her the way.

Her teeth were so white. I can still remember that. I suppose she wasn’t very pretty. A thin face and quick movements. Like a fox when its spotted near the hen house. I can still remember those long fingers.

They stroked my cheek. She called me clever.

No Father, that ain’t my sin. I could take that to the grave.

Give me a moment, Father. Breathing ain’t easy now.

She told me to meet her again. There by the stones. On Sunday after service.

She brought something with her. They were old newspapers. Yellow and stiff. They had pictures that showed the hill. Showed the church newly burned. The blackened timbers and window frames. All gone by then.

She showed me other pictures. Older, showed the church standing. I couldn’t read, so she smiled and read the newspaper stories to me. There was a man named Kershoff. Run out of Russia. He came here to build that church. Some of his followers came with him. Others he found here.

Showed me a lean, bearded man. Bible in his hands. Rosary around his neck. Not from a newspaper. Set in a small, silver frame.

No, Father. I don’t know what religion he was. He and his kept separate from the town. Nobody knew what they did. Until the fire.

They found things up there, Father. All of men and women burned up. And other things that weren’t right. The old folks said so. Kershoff left instructions on how they should bury them. Those stones were set out, ready.

She was looking for something. Searching the stones. But there weren’t any marks on them. Just those little windows. She fussed over them, and then got mad. So mad, she kicked one.

I told her to stop. Those stones went down deep. Anyone could see that. I didn’t like to think. About what they were resting on. She got mad at me then. Told me to go to Hell. I’d never heard a girl say that before.

She told me I wasn’t nothing but a mud boy. Said she was too good. To hang around with the likes of me.

I knew she was right.

But she made up right away. She was after something. Something she needed me for. I didn’t mind. There wasn’t nothing I wouldn’t do for her. I can still see her smile. Her eyes flashing.

Sorry, Father. This ain’t easy.

She made me promise to come again. The next Sunday. And to bring a shovel.

I guess she was looking for something. Treasure maybe. Or something dearer. The man in the photograph. He had the same light, fierce eyes. The same long, narrow face. Like her. I wondered if the Doctor knew. If he knew about that picture.

I couldn’t sleep for thinking of it. Even in this dying body, I feel like I’m fifteen again. Lying in my cot. Looking out at the dawn sky. On a Sunday morning. My Pa never heard me leave.

She got there first. Watched me come up the hill. Shovel on my shoulder. The morning light was behind the hill. She stood in a kind of glow. I would have died. If she asked me to.

Maybe you can’t understand that, Father. I know. A sin of the flesh. Well, Father. What ain’t?

I dug all day. Where she told me. In the first grave of the first row of ten. There was no difference I could see. She stood over me. Staring down into that hole. It took hours, Father. That ground gave up its dirt hard.

The base of that stone kept going deeper. It felt like that stone pulled me down. Like it had a hold of me. I can’t say why. But it felt like that. Like I’d never get out of that hole again.

It was near sunset. I touched the coffin with my spade. I’d never been there so late. For fear of my Pa’s temper. But I would have taken any beating for her, Father.

I scraped a patch clear. I tapped it with my knuckles. Rang like iron. And it was hot. I laid my hand on it. Snatched it back. That plate was like a manhole cover over Hell, Father.

I told her. And she jumped down, crowding me. She grabbed the shovel to clear more. Her hand brushed mine. I was panting and sweating. Empty. Like I’d dug down into myself. Dug a grave inside myself. And now I just wanted to crawl out.

I thought she was my way out.

I kissed her. God knows if I found her mouth. Or just her cheek. She shrieked and swore. She took the shovel to me. Look. That’s how I got this scar. Here on my head.

What she said to me, I won’t repeat. Not to you, Father. Nor to God. But I guess it filled up the hole inside me.

I put my hands around her throat. There in that grave. I killed her. Bless me Father. For I have sinned.

I came out of that pit. The sun was coming down. I crawled backwards. Out of the rows. Ten, ten, and eight. And then the light hit those little windows.

They took fire in that sunset. Orange and red, dancing. They dazzled me. I rubbed my eyes. The lights danced again. Getting redder still. Then they jumped out of the windows. Like tongues of fire. I crouched there. Stuck to the ground. They floated above the stones. In three rows. Ten, ten, and eight. Till the sky lost its light.

Then they sunk down. Into the open grave. Onto her.

I ran. Ran back home. Can’t even remember if my Pa beat me. The whole town turned out. Searched for her. We looked for a week. The Doctor offered a reward. She was never found.

My Pa never said anything. Not about my cut head. Or coming back so late. On the day she went missing. I think he was glad. Saw his opinions of me proved right. When things calmed down. Said he needed his shovel. If I knew what was good for me. I’d go fetch it.

The way he looked at me. Told me he knew.

I went back at noon. There was no shovel. Nothing to show we’d been there. The grave was closed. The dirt was packed. Like it’d never been dug up. There was no body. I’d feared finding that. More than I ever feared anything again. Till now. There was nothing. Just the graves. And the stones. And the little windows. Looking in and out.

Everything the same. Almost.

I ran away that day. Ran to the army under a new name. That was easier to do. Back then. You might think I ran. Because of Pa. That he might tell on me. For the Doctor’s money. But that wasn’t why.

I was still trying to claw my way. Out of that grave. I’d dug too deep. I’d left myself there. The army didn’t care. Nobody cares what’s inside a uniform. As long as it turns left or right. When it’s told.

It’s time, Father. Forgive me. If you can. I’ll say the words. And mean them. Her face is the one I see. When I wake up. When I go to sleep. Seventy years of that. I don’t want to take her into the dark.

Even if you can’t. Forgive me Father. Promise me. Burn my body. Hide the ashes. I don’t know how far. That fire can reach. I don’t want. That stone’s weight on me. The red light coming down. Through the little window. God, I don’t want. To burn. In the ground.

It’s waiting. For me. You go there. Father. You’ll see. What I saw. When I ran. A row of ten. A row of ten. And a row of nine.

~~

 Kevin Harkness is a writer living in Vancouver, British Columbia.  He has lived through the killing cold of the Canadian North, walked the old graveyards of the East, and now the calls the haunted forests of the West his home.  And he taught high school.  Is it any wonder he writes horror stories?  He is also the author of the YA fantasy novel, City of Demons, published by Tyche Books.
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Posted on January 20, 2014, in Issue 12: The Shadows Only Hide the Monsters: Poe & Lovecraft Tribute and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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