Thain in Vain’s week 42 challenge was to take any story previously submitted and finish it. I read through a lot of entries but finally settled on TiV’s story she submitted for the week 38 challenge. I remember the first time I read it wondering how Josie was going to get her revenge, so I decided to try my hand at it. The first part of the story is hers in purple and I pick it up in black. I hope you enjoy.
Josie Zefher stood in front of shelves full of heads in jars, animal and human, lined up like pickle jars in grocery store. She stared at the heads, shrunken and petrified. They stared back at her through murky green water and scratched glass.
A sign to the left asked customers not to touch the jars. She thought that seemed a tad unnecessary, until a jar containing a floating cat head caught her attention. The head was facing down, and she reached to jostle it back to face her. Just as her hand gripped the jar, a stern, female voice with a clipped tone cut through the stillness, “Please, do not touch.”
Josie snapped her hand back, “Sorry,” she called into the small space.
“Not to worry, dear,” said the voice from behind her. She turned to find an old, ancient really, woman, wearing a tartan shawl wrapped around a set of frail shoulders, her pursed and wrinkled face, rivaled those in the jars, with eyes hidden by sagging lids. It was her long, full hair, a coxcomb red hair that stuck Josie. It seemed wrong on her, but Josie couldn’t quite put her finger on why.
“I love your shop,” said Josie. She watched as the old woman hobbled closer, clinging to her cane, an elaborate wooden thing that resembled a branch with knots and knobs. He red hair fell forward, concealing her face. Too youthful, thought Josie. That’s it. It was not the hair of a woman half her age. She wondered if it was a wig.
“That’s nice to hear, lovie. The Belfry Odds likes you, too. Is there anything I can help you with?” Her voice was clear and strong. And too youthful, again Josie thought.
“Honestly, I just stepped in to waste some time before meeting my husband for lunch.” She checked her watch. She was to meet John at two at the new restaurant in the Warehouse District, and he didn’t like it when she was late. She understood, as he was a busy lawyer, and had finally made partnership. Sometimes, she it seemed she didn’t see him for weeks at a time, but she again she understood he was building a life for them.
“Before you go, sweetie, let me show you my most recent acquisition. It’s exquisite.
“I really must get going,” said Josie.
“Please, dearie. Humour an old woman.”
Josie sighed, “Okay, just for a few minutes.” Josie followed the old woman as she hobbled towards a small doorway at the back of the store. Josie looked at her watch again. She would hurry this along, humour the old lady, and have a great story to tell John. The old woman pushed aside a curtain of beads, the jittery cacophony startled Josie. The hair of her neck prickled at she entered the small room. She wanted to turn and leave (run), but didn’t want to offend the sad, old woman, so she pushed past her gut feeling and entered the room.
It was dark. She heard the flick of a lighter and crackle of a wick as a candle sprung to life, illuminating the small space. As her eyes adjusted to the light, Josie looked around the space that she was in, but that seemed to occupy her. She felt as though she had been here before, in this exact moment, thinking this exact thing. A rush of chemicals flooded her body, making her feel queasy.
“Over here, Joss,” a voice said from deeper in the room. It was the old woman’s voice, but it was different, deeper, and Josie detected a smirk. She was positive she heard the old woman say Joss, a name she hadn’t heard in a long time, but how could this woman know that name. She followed the flicker of the candle, deeper into the room.
“Here it is,” said the old woman as she came into view, her red hair, aflame and cascading around her face. Her cane was hanging on a shelf next to Josie’s head, and she was standing upright, holding a small, dark wooden box. Josie moved closer to the woman, and peered in the box. It contained a tiny human skeleton, nestled on a bed of purple silk. The pale, fragile skeleton was on its back, staring upwards with dark, empty sockets. Josie jerked back and turned to leave.
“This is Joss. You remember him, don’t you?” Josie felt her world shrink and implode as a cascade of memories flashed across her consciousness. She remembered how proud John was at the prospect of being a father. He had told their friends and family, decorated the baby room, and decided a name even before she had hit the first three months. He wanted to name the baby after his grandfather, Ross, but she didn’t like the name. He suggested Joss, and she feel in love with it.
She lost Joss at thirty-six weeks. She knew something was wrong. She felt the loss of the connection, but her body still needed to give birth. She hadn’t thought about it in a long time, choosing to look forward, yet the memory of dilating, pushing, and giving birth to death is ever-present, just behind the mask. Darkness spilled into her vision, as she sank to her knees.
“You don’t know this, but John sacrificed your first-born to me. He wanted to make partner. For his, for your, sacrifice, I have youth, forever. Josie saw the women grow younger before her eyes; the lines and wrinkles smoothing, green eyes growing bright, gnarled hands opening, curved spine straightening. Red hair glowed on the head of the beautiful young woman who now stood before Josie.
“Josie, I want you to have the skeleton of Joss. For your sacrifice, you will have revenge on anyone who has or will do you wrong. John did you wrong. So wrong. Get your revenge for Joss.”
Josie cried out in disbelief. Her pain palatable in the room. Her memories piecing together those last few months before losing Joss. She wanted to believe everything was okay. He barely looked at her and was not there for the birth. He was working on a critical case. Again, she understood.
But not now.
She looked at the woman and reached for the box, “I’ll take it.”
Leaving the artifice of the dutiful wife behind in The Belfry Odds, Josie quietly hurled accusations at John in the restaurant at lunch – cheating, lying, controlling – everything but the real reason she was vibrating with vengeance. His phone buzzed through his shock and the mounting tension, managing to end lunch prematurely. Without a word, she let him leave, let him think she would let it go.
She didn’t have a concrete plan until she arrived home alone, the box still clutched in her arms. Dying was too easy. He didn’t deserve something that simple. He deserved a lifetime of misery to match the holes he had torn open inside her, one in her heart and one in her womb.
Sometime around midnight, she heard the lock turn in the door announcing John’s arrival and she didn’t waste any time continuing what she had started in the restaurant.
She shouted at him, threw things, and followed him in and out of rooms when he tried to disengage. He placated her, begged her, shushed her, worried the neighbors would hear.
She was counting on it.
Finally, in a frozen silence that descended between them, Josie stood at the top of the stairs, John only a few feet away. With a creak that echoed through the stillness of the house, Jose slowly opened the box she still held and showed him the contents.
She watched the color drain from his face and in that moment, she hated him more than she ever thought possible.
Before he could speak, she laid the box on the floor in front of him and without saying a word, hurled herself down the wooden staircase.
“Josie! Oh my God!” She heard John scream before her head slammed against a stair and darkness swam before her eyes. She didn’t feel her body smash against the hardwood floor at the bottom of the stairs, didn’t know how long she blacked out before coming to.
The first thing she heard was John’s voice.
“I don’t know why she did it! Please, you have to hurry. She’s unconscious.”
She slowly assessed her body, checking to feel how much damage she had done. She assumed she had a concussion and her right side was throbbing, all the way from her leg to her shoulder. She decided it was best not to move and continued to lay on the floor, eyes closed, slowly breathing in and out, waiting.
It didn’t take long before she heard the sirens stop in front of their house; heard John run to the door to let them in. She heard them kneel next to her with their equipment, so many voices and noises swirling around her.
“Josie, can you hear me?”
She slowly opened her eyes.
“You’re awake. That’s good. Can you tell me where you’re hurt?”
Her soft voice barely made it past her lips. “Right side.”
She cringed when they put a brace on her neck and heard them lay a stretcher next to her.
“Josie, we’re going to lift you up onto the stretcher. We’ll be as gentle as we can.”
She cried out when they lifted her, the pain intensifying. Once she was on the stretcher, she opened her eyes and managed to find John. He was standing a few feet away, speaking to a police officer.
“You’re saying she just threw herself down the stairs?” She saw him nod and knew this was the moment.
Gathering what little reserve she had left, Josie screamed, “No!” as tears pooled in her eyes and escaped out the corners.
“It was John. He pushed me.”