Psychopomp Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 7

McKenzie Hightower | 7

The peasant girl rang the bell each and every night until one day, as the sun rose up high in the sky, she disappeared. Everything was quiet and no one spoke about her absence. But slowly, one by one, each and every villager lit a candle, the flames flickering along with their hopes as they arranged them in a giant ring around the town. They did this because no one knew how to ring the bell as Mona had, with her bleeding palms and the flowered veil that covered her face. Eventually night came as it always did, with the moans of ghosts and the hushed whisper of leaves against stone—but there were no bells. It was silent. Everyone waited.

The spirits came when it was darkest, but no one was asleep. Their long nails scooped through the ring of flames until, one by one, the circle of candles was extinguished, and pearls of wax dripped from their fingers.

Did they hurt anyone, Mademoiselle? Did they kill someone?

Hush now, child.

They did not kill anyone. They slipped inside their minds instead, their darkened eyes and sallow skin becoming the villagers’ darkened eyes and sallow skin. There was no more order. No balance. The ghosts drove the villagers mad. They set their own grape fields ablaze, mother and son rutted together, and the holy man poisoned the well.

I don’t . . . I don’t know if I like this story.

It went on like this, each and every night when the spirits came.

Time passed. Flowers no longer lined the streets of the village, and the Bastion du’Leon citadel began to crumble. Moss grew in between the stones, and rats infested the roof, the sound of their nails skittering across the rotten boards just as maddening as the spirits. Putrefied flesh, soft and viscous from the rain, gathered in the gutters until hands eagerly scooped it up, still dripping, to make a thin paste to clog up the cracks in their houses.

Rituals developed. Villagers cut off their fingers, so they could not start fires, grip knives, or hold down soft unwilling flesh. They boiled down their