Lizzie frowned. “What shoes?”
Eldest gestured to the ghosts. “Do you have shoes, Lizzie? Have you had a pair since you arrived here?”
Lizzie looked at her bare feet, which were nearly as dirty as if she had just come from the field. Then she looked at the silvery blue feet that showed beneath wavering dresses: every woman, dead or alive, was barefoot.
“But— shoes? Why? What’s so special about them?”
Eldest shrugged. “Magic doesn’t have to make sense. It also doesn’t have to be tricky or sophisticated. What happened when you couldn’t find any shoes?”
“I went out in my stockings once.”
Lizzie flushed with shame as she remembered it. “He told me… he told me a wife belongs with a house. He told me I didn’t need a horse because I had nowhere to go. And I felt sorry for being ungrateful.”
Apple sidled up to her. “The thing to remember, love, is that he’s had lots of practice. And you hadn’t, none of us had. That’s part of why he picked us.” The others nodded; their heads were like bluebells swaying in a breeze, and Lizzie thought of the summer, of all the sunshine she had missed, all the green growing things.
“I only tried to be good.”
Eldest jumped in. “Yes, well, you’re not the first. But you’ve been mixed up on what ‘good’ really is. And right now, ‘good’ is shoes, because shoes are freedom, and that is the right of every one of us, yourself included.”
“Right, shoes. But I haven’t seen any shoes in the whole castle— and anyway, how will they help you? You’re already—“ she stopped herself. “Sorry, I’m sorry.”
Eldest waved her hand. “It’s not news to any of us. Here’s the thing, Lizzie: I’ve been here the longest, at least, I was here by myself and the others came after. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and wondering; there are magics that the dead can touch, like a cloth made of moonlight or a confidence carried on the wind. And what I think, from all my eavesdropping and asking is that he took our shoes on purpose. That was the first step to having power over us. It wasn’t just to make sure we stayed in doors; it had some spell to it.
“He took our bodies next— you know what I mean. He turned our own flesh against us with desire. I still haven’t sorted that out— it’s not bad, to be touched or kissed by a man. I know; he wasn’t the first.”
“Is that the part of all this that surprises you most? I think that tells you why it was so easy for him. Why shouldn’t I have kissed a boy I loved? Why shouldn’t you have tried it? Why should being good be a tower we lock ourselves in?” She surveyed the ghosts. Some nodded, eyes bright and blazing, others looked away, unsure.
“And then he took our lives— by sword or axe or knife. He divided us. Do you see, Lizzie? That was the thing that gave me hope! Why butcher us like animals? Because he is afraid! Because he knows it isn’t over, that we can come back. He was too afraid what truths might be told if he buried our bodies. What if trees grew out of our rich soil, and some day a passing shepherd cut a branch and carved a flute? The flute would sing the truth! He has stopped the cycle, stopped us from returning to the earth or ascending to whatever afterlife awaits.
“But because of that, we are not completely dead. See how the blood is still red? See how the flesh is still warm?” She flew to the tub. Lizzie hung back.
“I’d rather not.”
“I have no shame, Lizzie Borden. I have seen myself brought to my worst. I have felt my body quartered and desecrated. And yet I’m still here. And that’s something— that’s everything. And it’s our great power, it’s the thing we have that he doesn’t. Because he is afraid, very afraid.”
“But… the shoes?”
Apple stepped in. “Lizzie, you can bring us back to ourselves. Maybe we’ll live again, or maybe we’ll just be fit for a decent burial. Piece us back together, Lizzie. Find our shoes and put them on our feet. Find your own and walk out of this accursed place.”
Lizzie looked at the ghosts, whose pale face watched hers. She looked at the tub and swallowed hard. “I— I’ll do my best. I will. You’re my friends, and I’ll help you. But… will he die, then?”
“I don’t know,” said Eldest. “I don’t know the magic that he’s contracted. Maybe all that power going out of him at once would stop his heart,” again she looked like she wanted very much to spit, “but we must make other plans as well.”
“But what?” Lizzie’s voice was high; the enormity of the task raised her shoulders, made her breathing shallower.
“Poison,” said the dusky, Spanish voice. The ghosts parted and Olive moved forward. “It is not hard to kill a man who does not pay attention. I will teach you how to make it, listen carefully…”
Two hours later Lizzie was down in the kitchen wiping off the white marble counters and scouring the heavy kettle. They had decided that killing her husband was the more urgent task; when he expired the enchantment might even and break and the ghosts would be freed from their tower prison.
“But without your bodies and your shoes how will you come back to life?” Lizzie had asked.
“May be that we aren’t meant to,” answered Apple. Lizzie didn’t understand how she could be at peace with that, but she also knew it could take days, or, she shuddered, weeks to find the shoes. She had to be prepared for whenever Bluebeard came back.
The thought made her hands shake and she nearly spilled the poison. But she steadied herself and pushed the little cork stopper into the glass and held it up to the light. She had emptied a perfume vial and rinsed it clean; it seemed the least suspicious object she could carry on her person.
The poison in the cut-glass crystal was clear, tinged ever so slightly with lavender. She would slip it into his food or pour it into his mouth while he slept, that much was decided. She couldn’t see how to get it in the food that magically appeared on the long table, but waiting until he slept was by far the worse option: she doubted he would fall asleep while waiting for her to join him in bed.
Lizzie pushed the thought from her mind and slipped the bottle into her pocket. Next she would draw a bath and find a new chain for the replacement key she had discovered in a vanity drawer. She held the two side by side, the fraud and its tarnished and blood-blackened cousin. They weren’t identical, but it was a close enough match, and she hoped he wouldn’t think to check. She hoped he wouldn’t come home for a a week, for a month— that he would never return and she cold just walk out of there with her new friends and forget he had ever existed.
But things we wish are so often in opposition with what Fate has in store, and destinies take time to alter their course: A rider on a black horse rode hard across the land, coming ever nearer to his house and his wife.
Leave a comment and tell me what you like, what images stand out, or your curious questions. (No suggestions/grammar critiques, please). Thanks for supporting my work-in-progress! -Rose