Well, it has been over two weeks since I have written a “weekly” story for you, my dear readers. Sorry about that. I felt too busy the first week, and too sick the second. I hope you will forgive me, although I have been reading many horror comics of late and a short novel from the same genre this evening, so – my influences usually rearing their heads with little subtlety – I may not make you smile this week. Hopefully the story will be a good one, but I’d best get started if we are to find out.
THE UNFINISHED CHAPTER
The pain in Rothschild’s chest did not subside as he walked slowly from the bureau and sat on the edge of the bed. What was it he had just felt? What was it he had just heard? He was in the middle of packing, and he turned to gaze at the shabby old suitcase on the bed. Shirts, trousers, and a selection of underthings looked back at him. The book. Where was the book he had only just thrust on top of the pile?
His thoughts drifted back to the last time he had packed this very suitcase. The last town. The last wedding. What was her name? Sheila? Shirley? Why, it had only been last year. It should not be so hard…
Shirley. Yes. That was it. Shirley Evanston. Evanston when he met her, but not when he left. Not then.
It had been spring then, too. When he first met a young Shirley Evanston who would, in mere weeks, take the name Rothschild. Young, beautiful, and, of course, very, very wealthy. It was an old game that Rothschild played, but he played it well. Every time.
He had learned of young Shirley and her inherited wealth before ever going to that town. Where had it been? Somewhere in New England? Why was it so hard to remember? And why was he suddenly so cold? So very cold. Just like the weather there in Maine. Yes, it had been Maine. She had lived in a large house near a place called Somes Sound.
Rothschild had read of her inheritance and her beauty and her reclusiveness, none of which, as it turned out, had been exaggerated. But he had found a way. He had kept all his facts about her written down in his little book, his “lover’s journal,” as he called it. Notes from his readings and his own observations littered the pages in chapters. That chapter, of course, had been named after Shirley. There were others from his past. Shirley Evanston had been chapter 13. He would write in the book on every rare occasion when she would leave her house for some reason, to go to the store alone, to go to the library alone, a movie, a walk. Alone, always alone. Broad-rimmed hat, sunglasses, darkly pretty dresses. Alone in manner as well as company. Her parents had passed away in a boating tragedy. Her life had apparently passed with them. But Maxwell Rothschild sought to change all that. Some times took longer than others, but when he set his mind to change a woman’s manner and her company, he never failed.
Once he had learned her habits, he began to insinuate himself into them. Running into her here, crossing her path there. Always polite and deftly ignored, but only at first. How many weeks that time? Longer than usual, perhaps. But the lonely never forgot how lonely they were, no matter how hard they tried. The veneer fell in time, and Shirley Evanston no longer went to the store or the library or the movies alone.
Sitting on this bed now, pain in his chest, two minutes worth of mystery clouding his brain, he wondered for a moment why he was thinking of Shirley and not of Denise. Denise who he had been at work on here in upstate New York for the past month. Chapter 14, Denise Ingals. This was, after all, the room Denise had paid for. But he was only staying here until their wedding the following day. Proper Denise. No living together before the wedding. That was fine with Rothschild. Anticipation was a powerful tool, and there would plenty of living – and dying – once they were wed. But here he sat, thinking of Shirley Evanston-Rothschild. Perhaps it was what he had heard mere moments ago? What had that been?
“Lover,” she had called him back then, although they, too, had never actually made love at first. In their hearts they were lovers, she had said. He had promised that once they were wed and lovers in body as well as spirit, then she would have his heart completely. Striking through the carefully placed shroud of grief, piercing her own heart of loneliness, his words worked wonders.
“Now,” he had said after their first night together as man and wife. “Now you have not only my heart, but all of me.”
“But it is your heart I treasure most,” she said. And then she cried. He had stroked her face and kissed her tears and professed his love over and over while he was already thinking of ways to kill her.
Stairs were always convenient, and there were plenty of those in her enormous house. But Maxwell Rothschild was not one to rest on the uncreative solution, nor one to ignore his own vicious sense of irony. And so a boating tragedy was arranged.
A picnic? Out on the Sound? It would be lovely. Had there been reports of a storm approaching? But young lovers fear nothing in the throes of passionate happiness. They are untouchable.
Out and back, my darling. Out and back. The storm will never touch us.
Of course, the storm did touch them. Rothschild waited for it. And he waited alone. Far out on the water, no one had heard poor Shirley’s protests as her husband forced her over the side of the boat and explained, as the grim often do, why they were on the water. Why he would not be helping her. How he had met her, and why. All this as she treaded water and tried repeatedly to scale the sides of the boat.
“You cannot have my heart,” he explained as she finally gulped in water, unable to stay afloat or keep only air in her lungs anymore. “You never did.”
Art by Josh Judd
And then he waited for the storm. Taking no precautions, he let the vessel be rocked by the force of it. “An inexperienced sailor,” he would say, and he made sure to have his own injuries to show how the storm had almost taken him, too. He hit his own head on the rails and on the deck and he bled in the rain and did not try to find his way back to shore when the fury abated. He allowed himself to be discovered, groggy of wits and crying crocodile tears for his lost wife. She was found, she was buried, and he was rich as he left town too “grief-stricken” to remain in her old house.
Was he feeling guilt? Surely not. But he dared not look down at himself. Something was very wrong here in this room Denise Ingals had bought and paid for. The memory of Shirley Evanston-Rothschild burned him. Had he not moved on many times before? Had he not moved on to this upstate New York adventure with Denise? Denise, Chapter 14. And where was that book? He had just tossed it onto the suitcase when something had happened. What had happened? What had he felt? What had he heard?
“That feeling,” a voice said off to his left. “I suppose it’s shock.”
He turned, and there she was. Denise was sitting in the chair by the window. When had she gotten there? And what was she looking at? Why was he having so much trouble making sense of anything? Shock, she said. Shock?
“So, I’m chapter 14, am I?” she said, flipping the pages of the book she had taken from his suitcase. She stopped and held up an open page for him to see. It was the first page of Chapter 13. Shirley Evanston. “But you haven’t finished this one yet,” she said.
He shook his head and continued to say nothing. He was so very cold. Was this indeed what shock felt like?
“I almost made a huge mistake, didn’t I?” Denise said. “It’s surprising and it’s awful, but I’m glad she found me in time. You’d think I would have been scared. But she made so much sense. And her story is about as persuasive as they come.”
“Who?” he stammered as the fog grew heavier in his eyes.
Denise grinned a sadistic, satisfied smile. “The one who really has your heart,” she said.
And then he heard it again. The sound he had heard just before the spasmodic pain in his chest. The rib-wracking, blood-covered pain he dared not look at. The sound came from behind him.
“Lover,” said a spongy, wretched voice filled with bubbles.
Rothschild did not turn before dying there on that bed. He did not want to see the rotted, sodden thing behind him, or what it was most surely holding in its dead hands.
Whoa. Hope you guys like horror stories. Um, happy Valentine’s Day! 😉
See you soon,