Tags

, , , , , ,


“Mara!”

Marie saw her first. There was a stone well next to the rose patch, and what looked like a pile of white linens was crumpled at its base. It was Mara, her head down and her arms clutching a black jacket. Around her feet, pools of dark liquid gleamed red in the moonlight.

Mrs. Hunter ran across the garden. She turned around to face the guests, stumbling backwards. She pointed behind her at Mara.

“Murderer!” she said again, this time not in a scream but a sobbing whisper, her pointer finger stabbing the air towards Mara’s body collapsed on the ground.

Marie took Mina’s hand and dragged her over to the well before Mrs. Hunter could reach her. Fa and Morgan arrived soon after. They helped Mara to her feet. She was still clutching the jacket, and, with her white dress unfurled, it was clear that bright red blood was seeping from the jacket onto Mara. The morning’s radiant smile had fallen off her face; she was sobbing, her body convulsing uncontrolably.

“What happened?” Fa Switch said. She supported Mara with both arms, and though her voice carried a touch of concern it was still stern and disciplinarian. “Mara,” she said. “Tell us now.” The guests had been inching closer, some driven impetuously forward by curiosity, others lingering hesitantly for fear.

“Graham,” Mara said. Her voice was soft and shallow, and she gasped for air. “I couldn’t find him. I was looking for him, and then, I saw him standing next to the well with another figure. I could feel something wasn’t right. Then the lights went out, and when I got here, this was all I found.” She held up the jacket. It was clear now that it was the tuxedo jacket Graham had been wearing.

“Did you see who the other person was?” Fa said.

“No,” Mara said, breaking into a fresh sob. She doubled over onto her mother’s arms, and Fa, with a face unmoved, propped her back up. “All I saw was a shadow,” Mara said. “It didn’t even look human.”

Mrs. Hunter and the rest of the party reached the well. They stood ten feet back, as if afraid to come closer.  Big gleaming droplets were running down Mrs. Hunter’s red face. “My son!” she said. “You killed him.”

The crowd clamored. Behind their expressions of horror were twisted grins of excitement. The town of Ambrose had never witnessed a public murder.

Mina ran forward. “It wasn’t her!” she blurted out. “She just found the jacket. She saw someone else do it!”

It was as if a bubble had popped. Ms. Hunter pushed Mina and the other sisters away—they had lined up in front of their sister to shield her from the jeers of the crowd—and grabbed Mara by the shoulders.

“Liar!” she said. She shook Mara for a moment and then Fa swept her backwards with a push of the arm. Mrs. Hunter shrieked. “Liars! Murderers! I should have known not to let my son associate with the likes of you! I should have known better. Graham…” She put her face in her hands and fell into a group of townswomen who had gathered behind her. She looked up, holding onto their shoulders for support.

“Liars!” she said again, a fresh burst of energy throwing her arm out again accusingly toward Fa and the Switch sisters. “Murderers! Tricksters! Witches!”

The clamor broke loose and shouts exploded in the air. The entire wedding party had gathered behind Mrs. Hunter by now, the shorter people standing on their tiptoes to glimpse the scene. Faces turned from curiosity to fear to anger, and soon it was not just Mrs. Hunter shouting the words. “Murderers, liars, witches,” the townspeople spat at the family. Mara sunk back into a heap on the ground. Mina sat down next to her and held her hand. Morgan and Marie stood in front, Morgan’s face blazing with defiance and Marie’s exuding cool confidence, staring down the crowd.

The sheriff pushed his way to the front of the crowd. At first Fa Switch stepped up, her eyes filled with a cold determination that would sent chills down the strongest man’s spine. They said: dare to touch my daughter and see what I will do to you. But Mara stood up slowly and walked forward, saying almost inaudibly, “Take me away.” Her sisters pulled her back. She brushed their efforts away. Her face was fallen and resigned.

A search party was organized to look for Graham, or his body, despite Mrs. Hunter’s objections. “You’ll never find him,” she screamed, her arms flailing and tearing into her hair. “The witch would have made his body disappear. She destroyed him, she ate his soul! My poor boy…” But the team of ten men were sent out just in case, even after the garden was scoured and no trace of Graham other than the bloody jacket could be found. Mara was hand-cuffed and taken away. As she walked towards the sheriff’s car with her hands behind her back and the sheriff at her shoulder, the crowd became silent and parted to let them through. She stepped into the car, with barely a glance at her mothers and sisters, and was taken away to the local holding house.

The streets were loud with gossip as the townsfolk headed back to their houses. Lights burned in windows until late in the night as families stayed awake to contemplate and discuss the turn of events. The wedding had brought all it promised and more. People recounted how beautiful the bride had looked in the morning, and how in the evening she had seemed to age, with mean wrinkles coming out of her face. They spoke of her white dress, spotted with blood so it almost looked like she was the one who had been killed. Children, tucked into bed but wide awake, whispered tall tales to each other about who had seen her pull out a knife from her mouth and plunge it into the mayor’s son’s chest, about how they had seen her sucking the blood from Graham Hunter’s neck. Deep into the night, the town of Ambrose lay awake, alert, terrified and exhilirated. The only house that seemed to be completely silent was the house on Tamany Lane, the rickety old house of the Switches.

Advertisements