Lizzie screamed— a ripping noise that brought her back to herself, back to her body that was being crushed under the weight of her twitching husband. She struggled against him and screamed again. He gurgled and flecks of pink-tinged spit showed at the corners of his mouth. His eyes were wide and bulging, his face an inch from hers. He lurched, crushing her, and she screamed again and pushed and pushed and managed to roll him off. She leapt up, panting.
Bluebeard lay half on the bed. His arms and legs twitched, his jaw was clenched. His eyes were too big, and they rolled in his head. He looked like a horse gone mad. Lizzie watched him. She stood in her ripped dress and shook at the sight. He was dying and she was killing him. He gasped for breath with such force she swore she felt the walls draw closer. And then he looked at her.
His eyes blazed. His pupils were so large his eyes looked black. He gurgled, struggled, and then he heaved himself up. He fell back on the bed, but he pushed one cramping arm beneath his body and righted himself. Lizzie stared. This was not possible. It could not be happening. He growled. In spite of herself, she leaned closer, “What?”
He swung wildly and she leapt back. He caught the key and yanked. The chain snapped and she cried out. He stood. He swayed like a tree awaiting the final blow of the axe, but he stood. Then he took a step.
Lizzie scrambled backwards. He was a monster, truly a monster: joints locked and body lurching. He gurgled again and this time she understood the word: “Kill.” He took another spasmodic step, swiped at her, and at last she jumped to her feet.
She ran out the open door. The half-torn dress slid down her legs, trapped her knees. Then the fabric jerked and she flew forward and skidded on the carpet. Bluebeard grinned and yanked on the train of the dress and she slid closer. She clawed her way forward, wriggled and turned: she couldn’t get free. He lunged and grabbed the back of the bodice and pulled upward. But the missing buttons and the ripped front gave way. Lizzie twisted and dove, slid out of the armholes, somersaulted and was free. She stumbled to her feet and took off again at a sprint. Behind her Bluebeard howled and she heard the sound of fabric ripping, then the footsteps of a giant.
Her breath burned in her throat but she ran without stopping, without thinking. She burst into the North Tower and heaved the loose flagstone up and grabbed frantically for the key. He was yelling, he was near. She dashed up the steps, he threw open the door and she fell with a yelp, cutting her shin on the stones.
Even in his inhibited state, he bounded up the stairs behind her. Lizzie raced, she flew. The stairs were a blur and then suddenly there was the door. She slammed into it, smacking her hands hard against the wood. She fumbled at the lock. The key wouldn’t go in! She pushed and scratched and then it slid forward, clicked into place. She turned the key, grabbed the knob— and Bluebeard grabbed her by the hair.
Lizzie screamed. She leaned backward; his grinning, frothing face leered at her. But she held onto the knob, and when he reached with a jolting hand for the dagger at his belt she yanked hard and he lost his footing. He slammed into the tower wall and slid backward. She turned the knob and pushed, tumbled into the tower room. She threw her weight against the back of the door but it sprang open and sent her skidding across the floor and into the wall. Blue ghosts gasped and gasped again when Bluebeard staggered into the room, dagger unsheathed and waving blindly. His arms jerked so that he was as likely to cut his own thigh with the swinging blade, but his eyes focused only on her. He spat through clenched teeth.
“Stupid… Wife. In the tower… like all… the others.”
Lizzie’s shoulder throbbed where she had smacked the wall, still, she pushed herself to her feet and backed away. He laughed and lunged at her. The dagger flashed past her face and she ducked.
“Help me!” she cried to the ghosts, but they only hovered there.
Bluebeard laughed. He stumbled after her, circling closer to the porcelain tub. “You… have no… power. No… names.” He swung the dagger again, and again she dodged.
“Hescher! Jacobi! Somebody! Help!”
Bluebeard was stumbling less, invigorated by the chase or simply too large a brute for the poison, she didn’t know, but he was moving with more accuracy, standing straighter, his gaze steadier.
His eyes pinned her and she stumbled, bumped against the tub. Blood sloshed over the side, spilled on her stocking feet; she lost her footing, slipped, slid, windmilled her arms.
And then one was caught in his vice grip. He leaned over her. She could feel the tremors shaking his body, but this was it, he had her. He raised the dagger.
“You… don’t… have… anyone.”
She shook her head. The ghosts were silent. Her friends. She’d be with them soon, her only friends in this—
“Bri! Help me, Bri!”
There was the sound of a gong being struck, and a sickening, wet smack. Bluebeard’s eyes bulged, he swayed, and for the second time that night, he fell heavily forward.
Lizzie dove to the side. Bluebeard fell like a mountain. He smacked his forehead against the tub and crashed to the floor. Behind him, chest heaving with the effort, was Bri. In her hands she held a large cast iron skillet.
Lizzie gaped at her. Then she grinned and rushed at her, hugging the girl over and over. “You came! You came!”
Bri only said, “You called me.”
The ghosts crowded around. Eldest spoke. “Who is this girl? How did she come to be here?”
“She’s a servant. She’s bound here by a debt. But she told me her name— the only name in this whole cursed castle!”
“But how did you come?” asked Eldest.
Bri looked at the floor and shivered. “I serve the house. The Master and the Mistress. She called me by name.”
Lizzie held her by the shoulders. “Thank you, Bri. You saved me. You saved us all!”
“He’s not dead.”
Lizzie turned. Olive, the ghost who had instructed her in making the poison, was bent over Bluebeard’s still body.
Olive shook her head. “The poison would kill an ox. He could still speak, still move. You saw it. Something is wrong— it’s not working.”
“But what do I do?”
Olive shrugged. “Maybe he can’t be killed.”
They all stared at each other. On the floor, Bluebeard inhaled a ragged breath. Apple floated forward. Her kind face was now set in a motherly determination. “You need help, Lizzie. You can’t do this by yourself.”
Lizzie turned to her. “I know that! I’m completely aware of that! But there is no other help! Only ghosts and nearly-ghosts. I need real people, flesh-and-blood, I need—“ she stopped. Apple waited. Lizzie’s throat clenched. She swallowed hard and turned to face the porcelain tub. “I need bodies. You said…”
“Put us back together, Lizzie. Try it.” All the ghosts waited.
Bri stepped forward and lifted the skillet. “Shall I keep watch?”
“Yes,” Lizzie nodded. “Yes.” And she plunged her hands into the pool of blood.
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 Arrowsmith DeCoux