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The Wandering Corpse
written by: P.C. Darkcliff
I knew Auntie came to kill me the moment she entered my bedroom. I saw it in her eyes, which shone wildly like the eyes of a rabid animal. Auntie looked very scary in the moonlight that came through the curtains. She made faces as if she had bitten her tongue. The continuous clamping of her big, yellow teeth was horrible to hear.
Her dress was unbuttoned up front, and I could see the red flesh of her breasts. She was often nervous, and she would wail and rock her upper body and scratch her skin with her long fingernails until they bled. Poor Mommy had told me that Auntie had been doing this ever since my Uncle’s death. Auntie had been wearing that black dress every day since then, too. Uncle had died before I was born; Auntie and her dress were quite smelly, and the skin was gone from Auntie’s breasts.
Mommy had always said that Auntie was “in-sain.” I don’t know what sain is, but Auntie was in that thing a lot that night. She slithered toward me like a lynx, her hands outstretched, her large teeth going clap, clap, clap in her grinning mouth. She knew I was awake, but she didn’t care. Before I could even sit up in my bed, she wrapped her fingers around my neck and started to squeeze.
I wanted to tell her to stop hurting me, but I could only gurgle. I tried to pull her hands away, but she was too strong. I jabbed my fingers into the sticky flesh of her breasts. She howled in pain but would not let go.
My heart started growing inside my chest. My head throbbed and burned. Tiny gray specks started to dance in front of my eyes. They grew and turned black.
When I opened my eyes, Auntie was gone. I gazed at the cobwebs hanging from the beams of the ceiling, trying to remember what had happened. I realized that I had fainted and that it had saved my life. Auntie surely thought I had died, and so she stopped strangling me.
I heard her snoring in her bedroom. And I decided to kill her.
I know that little boys have no business murdering people. But they have no business being murdered, either. And I knew that if I didn’t kill her, she would kill me, as soon as she realized that I hadn’t died. And she was evil and in-sain, and she deserved it.
I know very well it was Auntie and not the wolves that had killed poor Mommy. Wolves don’t use axes but fangs. And I had seen blood all over the blade of the ax we have in the toolshed. I never even got the chance to say goodbye to Mommy—Auntie said the wolves had dragged her into the woods. But I know she lied.
Poor Mommy! She had always been so good to Auntie. They used to live happily in the village behind the woods. But then, when she heard about Uncle’s death, Auntie spent every night walking around the village banging on people’s doors and shouting that they were his murderers.
Uncle had been killed by the Kaiser’s soldiers in a place called Prussia. The Kaiser didn’t live in the village, and no Prussians either. Auntie didn’t mind that, though, and she kept threatening people that she would murder them. In the end, the mayor and the constable told Auntie she had to go.
I think that Mommy loved Daddy, and she already had me and my sister in her belly. But she knew Auntie was too in-sain to be alone, and so Mommy said goodbye to Daddy and took Auntie here to this lonely cabin. And Auntie repaid Mommy’s kindness with murder.
And my poor sister Ronnie! She didn’t deserve to die either. But I’m sure she hadn’t drowned in the tub on her own. Auntie had tried to drown me, too, only two weeks ago, while she was giving me a bath.
Auntie never bathed, but she insisted on bathing me every Sunday. And that Sunday she noticed that I had a few hairs—well, you know, down there. And she got furious as if it was my fault! She yanked at the hairs until I cried out, and then she pushed my head under. The soapy water stung my eyes, but I couldn’t stop looking at Auntie’s grinning face that floated above me. Fortunately, our old good cat Freddy jumped on her back while she was bending over me. She got spooked and let go of me before I swallowed too much water.
Ronnie was buried in the backyard, at the edge of the woods. It was only me and Auntie and Freddy the cat now.
And soon it would be just me and Freddy.
I waited for a while, and then I crept outside and rushed around the cabin. The moon was already setting behind the spruces at the bottom of the backyard. But I could see well enough.
There were piles of trash all along the back wall—Auntie threw everything she didn’t need out of the windows, but she never bothered to burn it later. A few raccoons rooted through the garbage. They glared at me as if I was an intruder. The stench from the outhouse was pretty bad that night. The backyard was sad and weedy, the woods black and scary. It was a terrible place to be buried in.
“I love you, Ronnie,” I whispered when I saw the outline of the wooden cross.
I think I was crying when I entered the toolshed. I wanted to kill Auntie more than before. I decided to kill her with the ax she had used to kill Mommy.
The ax was lying by the chopping block. I picked it up and carried it outside. It was almost bigger than me and heavy, but I was strong, and I did most of the wood chopping this past winter. I thought I could easily kill her. But when the moonlight fell on the bloodied blade, I screamed and dropped it into the weeds.
I wasn’t a monster like Auntie. I could never break her head. I would go mad if I saw the blood and brains run out of her skull.
Couldn’t I simply run away? But I had been thinking about escaping ever since Ronnie’s death. I’d been dreaming about crossing the woods and going to the village and trying to find Daddy. But I couldn’t see a way to do it.
First of all, I couldn’t do it while Auntie was awake, because she would know right away. And I couldn’t do it at night, either. The walk would be too long and dangerous. The wolves were really there—I heard them howling through the woods many nights. And tonight, the moon would set before I crossed the woods, and I would be lost. As well, I never met Daddy and I didn’t know if he was alive and if he loved me.
Mommy used to go to the village every month by the automobile we inherited from Grandpa. She always took me and Ronnie along, probably because she was afraid to leave us alone with Auntie. But we only went to the general store, and we returned as soon as we bought all the dried and canned food the shopkeeper had on the shelves. Once I’d asked if we could visit Daddy. But Mommy only started crying, and so I never asked again.
It was Auntie who sometimes went to the village now, on the days when she wasn’t too much in-sain. Unfortunately, those days weren’t many, and we often went hungry. She could drive well, though, and if she woke up and saw that I’d disappeared, she would take the automobile and go after me. It was impossible to drive fast on that narrow, bumpy path. But what if she caught up with me anyway? I whimpered at the thought.
I had to kill her. There was no other way. I looked at the ax and shivered. Then I got an idea.
I went back to the toolshed and walked to the back wall. The darkness was very deep there, and I had to grope my way around. The top shelf was out of my reach. I walked back to the chopping block and dragged it to the wall. Then I climbed it and took a black box from the top shelf. It was rat poison.
I scooped a handful of the pellets and poured them into the breast pocket of my pajamas. Then I jumped off the block, left the shed and walked back to the cabin.
In her bedroom, Auntie was snoring as if she’d swallowed a pig. I went to the kitchen. The pile of dirty dishes was so high I was afraid it would fall and bury me alive. I rummaged through the sticky cupboards and found what I was looking for—Auntie’s box of oatmeal.
I was lucky because there was only a little bit left on the bottom of the box. She was sure to eat it all in the morning. I took the pellets out of my pocket and poured them into the box. I shook the box to mix the pellets with the oatmeal. Then I put it back and tiptoed to my bedroom.
It was a very long night. When I was already wondering if the sun had overslept, the sky behind the woods finally started to turn from black to gray. A little bit later, Auntie stopped snoring. I lay in my bed and pretended to be dead in case she entered my bedroom.
I heard her walk outside and get water at the rusty pump—water for her oatmeal! Then I heard her in the kitchen. She was probably preparing her breakfast. She went outside again, and I assumed she went to the outhouse. When she returned, I heard her scream at Freddy the cat. Then there was a long silence.
When the sun climbed a little higher above the trees, I dared get up and step out of my bedroom. I tiptoed into the kitchen. I hoped to see her lying on the floor, but she wasn’t there. The box of oatmeal was empty, though. Only a few flakes of drenched oatmeal swam at the bottom of the ugly yellow mug she always used for breakfast. The circles inside the bowl showed me that the bowl had been full before—Auntie had had her breakfast! But where was she?
I went to her bedroom. The door was ajar. My heart beat wildly when I poked my head in. Auntie was sprawled on the bed, her body rigid under the black dress. She often went back to sleep after breakfast. But since the ugly yellow bowl was empty, I was sure that she was dead.
I realized I was a murderer. But all I could feel was a relief. Finally, I was free!
I did not have to fear Auntie anymore. Now I could go to the village and find Daddy—or any other grownup who would take me in.
I walked down the hall to Mommy’s bedroom. I knew there was a rucksack somewhere in the cabinet, among Mommy’s winter coats and summer dresses. My eyes watered at the sight of her empty bed. I inhaled deeply her sweet smell which seemed to be still hanging in the room. As I reached for the knob of the cabinet door, I thought I heard something in the hallway. I walked out—and saw Auntie leaving her bedroom.
At first, I was so scared I couldn’t move. I wanted to run outside, but I would have to pass Auntie, and so I rushed to my room. I wished I could escape through the window, but it was too narrow. Not knowing what else to do, I dived under my bed, where I trembled and whimpered like a beaten puppy.
She had turned into a ghost! That means Auntie was going to torture me even after her death! I didn’t think she’d seen me. But what if she came looking for me?
I think I fell asleep. I dreamed about my sister lying in the backyard under a heap of dirt. I dreamed of Mommy rotting in a clearing in the middle of the woods.
One day passed, and then another, and I still didn’t dare leave my hideout. Not with the corpse wandering along the hallway. I fell asleep again. When I woke up, Auntie was standing in the doorway.
I pressed my body against the dusty floor. I saw her snort and spit as if bad smell had hit her nose. But what business do ghosts have snorting and spitting? Was Auntie’s ghost in-sain, too?
A cloud of flies was buzzing around the wooden coffer beside my bed. What were they doing there? There were only my clothes there, and flies never bothered about them. The flies were big and ugly. I think that Mommy called them—
“Corpse flies,” I whispered and shuddered. There was something horrible about that name.
When I looked back at the door, Auntie was gone. I crawled from under the bed, determined to escape from the house and from Auntie and from the horrible flies. I looked outside to make sure Auntie wasn’t haunting the backyard. Through the cobwebs that clung to the window pane, I saw Freddy the cat. He was lying in the weeds. He was terribly bloated—the way rats always became bloated after they had eaten the poison.
A horrible thought made me stagger. Then I did something I should have never done, something terrible, something that sent me screaming out of the house. Tears gushed out of my eyes as I stumbled through the backyard and fell near the little wooden cross. I couldn’t go on; I couldn’t stop sobbing.
“Don’t cry, Stevie,” I heard a sweet voice. “It’s all over now.”
I lifted my head and blinked away the tears. Ronnie was standing by her cross. She was wearing the pretty blue dress we buried her in. Her blond hair was braided, and she was even more beautiful than when she’d been alive.
“I missed you, Stevie,” she said. “But now we are together again.”
I scrambled to my knees and Ronnie knelt in front of me. We hugged, and she let me cry on her little shoulder. It made me feel better.
I gasped when I heard something behind us. But it was only Freddy the cat coming to rub his sides against our hips. Freddy trotted as if he were a kitten again, and he wasn’t bloated at all.
“You silly, silly Freddy,” Ronnie said as she picked him up and pressed her cheek against the top of his head. “Why did you eat from Auntie’s bowl, you crazy old cat? The poison wasn’t for you!”
I shot to my feet when I heard another noise. I saw Auntie open the grimy kitchen window and spit outside. There was a terrible leer on her face, and at first, I thought she was leering at us.
Ronnie put the cat on the ground and got up. “She can’t hurt us anymore. She can’t even see us.”
“So she didn’t…?”
Ronnie shook her head. “She skipped breakfast that day, Stevie. She saw our Freddy sticking his nose into her bowl and she thought it was yucky.”
“So that’s why she shouted at him,” I said.
“Yes, she prepared the breakfast and went to the outhouse. And while she was there, our Freddy emptied the bowl. But don’t worry about it, Stevie. I’m so glad we can finally leave now. Come with me. Let’s go see Mommy!”
I almost smiled as we entered the woods and walked hand in hand down a deer path toward the clearing. Mommy met us halfway there, by the fallen oak. With her long, auburn hair and a white nightgown, she looked like a beautiful fairy. She fell to her knees and spread her arms, and we rushed to hug her. For a long time, we could do nothing but squeeze each other and laugh through our tears.
“I love you, Mommy,” I blubbered over and over as I pressed my drenched cheek against hers.
“I love you too, my big, brave boy!”
We sat on the fallen oak and held hands and talked. I was happy, for the first time since they died. But as we got up and walked to the village cemetery to visit Grandma and Grandpa, sadness crept back into my soul. I wondered if I could ever overcome the horror of opening the coffer and letting the flies alight on my strangled corpse.