I know my next guest in the 13 Days of Horror feels right at home here, among horror and talent and he should—he is a skilled illustrator, author of Tales of Hit Men and the Occult), and founder and editor of Red Skies Press, with a growing list of anthologies under his cape: Howl: Dark Tales of the Feral and Infernal, Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and Bizarre, and coming soon, Their Dark Masters. Please give a big welcome to a good friend and the candid tell-it-like-it-is editor, Mark Anthony Crittenden and his excellent tale, Fourteen Ounces of Vinegar.
Fourteen Ounces of Vinegar
by Mark Anthony Crittenden
Liana traced her fingers around the box. It was wrought iron, the size of a small dowry chest, yet light as a bread basket. Its silver casing was lined with intricate depicts arranged in a radiant pattern around a single eight-pointed star. The intaglio glyphs suggested insect shapes, and this lesser mosaic formed the basis of a larger and more complete picture-the unmistakable face of a woman.
She let her fingers hover there, over the beautiful face on the box. She raked her nails over the impressions in the lid, and lightning bolts of desperation and envy rolled across the barren landscape of her features. The murky music of old phonograph records issued from the back of her mind between the screeching of the neighborhood brats, who taunted her from a safe distance on their bicycles outside.
“Liana Graves is the May Haven witch! Burned up the pastor and threw him in a ditch!”
…Parsley, sage, rosemary, and…
“Crazy old bitch! Crazy old bitch!”
…My funny Valentine, sweet comic Valentine…
They slapped each other and guffawed like hyenas, as was their custom; until she inevitably made her way to the windows to show them her wretchedness. They would not be satisfied until they saw all the gory details: her lazy eye, the matted lunatic-hair, the utterly dejected and absent stare mixed with all the rage they could stir into it. These were a few of their favorite things. She did not indulge them today, and they peddled away empty-handed. She opened the blind to a slit and watched them fade into the dusky afternoon, between high elms, the waning sunlight glistening off their handlebars under a canopy of prefab rooftops.
“Oh, my dear, dear sweet darlings,” she cooed. “When you have understanding of the darkness, I doubt you will be so bold.”
She swept over to the phonograph player and dropped the needle back on to her favorite Kitty Kallen vinyl. Sweet music filled the room, and Liana let herself fall into a swoon. She hoped it would hold the other voices at bay, the ones that rose from the heating coils and the old drains, and wafted up from under the cellar doors. The ones that reminded her that so much bitter business lay ahead. The phonograph player hadn’t worked in years, but she heard the music just the same.
Blow me a kiss from across the room
Say I look nice when I’m not…
The old pipes rattled and separate voices gurgled up from them, horrible melting voices, epochs-old. They whispered incomprehensible things in old Latin and Golgothan, and she nodded feverishly in recognition.
Whether the day is bright or gray
Give me your heart to rely on…
She poured a concoction of vinegar and mandrake juice into a fourteen-ounce vial. She hovered over the silver box, hands shaking, almost spilling the liquid on the wooden floors.
“No, Master,” she said to the box. “I wasn’t going to deprive you…”
An image hovered to the forefront of her senses, clouds of fuchsia forming in a pool of ink, black-rimmed eyes that glimmered with an untamed angry yellow light.
“I wasn’t going to, Master. We two are as one. Remember? We two are as one…”
Liana knelt by the box and poured the vial into the fissures in the lid, the way the sisters had taught her so many years ago.
She knelt by it, rocking back and forth, trying to hear the music but none would come. She cradled her elbows and scratched nervously at her arms. The storm clouds gathered outside and lightning raked across them in silvery flashes. An instant darkness folded around May Haven as Liana rocked back and forth, eyes fixed wildly on the box.
The rain came quickly, pelting the sides of the windows and casting long, running shadows across the walls. There was a sharp clicking sound, and the turning of gears as the locking mechanism opened from inside the box. Liana turned away, head in her knees, averting her eyes from the thing that she both loved and feared the most.
It rose from the box, draping viscous entrails, flailing like tentacles that splayed out below the dripping head. Its female voice was terrible, serpentine.
“The bastard sons of Abel encroach upon me,” it hissed.
“I can’t stop them, Master. There are too many.”
It hovered close behind her, beaming yellow eyes gazing without mercy.” And they will not suffer a witch to live.” Its answer was final, decisive.
It pressed its rotten green lips to Liana’s neck exposing long serrated fangs. Liana closed her eyes, and whimpered her last breath before feeling the razor sharp agony grind into her jugular. It bled her quickly and slithered back to its resting place. The lid closed and locked in place.
Days later, the house was boarded up and covered with police tape. No one knew the exact details, but the boys were quick to make up their own wicked versions of what happened to Liana Graves. Presently they sat on their bikes and dared Billy Preston, their newest member to finish the task appointed to him.
He set his bike down and approached the front steps, spray can in hand.
“Do it. Do it. Do it,” they chanted. “She killed a pastor, you know.”
Billy ran up the steps and sprayed the message as quick as he could. The other boys glanced around for oncoming cars. Billy stopped briefly, thinking that he heard an old phonograph playing inside.
“Come on, come on, let’s go,” they giggled.
He sprayed the last glob on the front door and stood back to admire it.
Here lies the May Haven witch.
Off they rode into the sunny afternoon, and Billy had found acceptance among his new friends. They collaborated on a story in case anyone asked them about the desecration of the old house. When they decided that everything was in order everyone went their separate ways.
Billy went home, and to his surprise there was a package on the doorstep addressed to him. His birthday was less than a month away, so it must have been an early present. He peeked inside for a sign of parents. They were still out running errands. He ran the box upstairs to his room and cut the packaging tape with a kitchen knife. He removed the stuffing and pulled out a large iron box with a silver lid.
The sun disappeared suddenly and Billy pulled the drapes aside to see rapidly advancing storm clouds. “Strange,” he thought.
He ran his fingers across the designs on the lid, curious as to its origin, and feeling pretty anxious about opening it. An image hovered to the forefront of his senses, something like clouds of fuchsia forming in a pool of ink. There was the faintest smell of vinegar.
He slid the box under his bed. He didn’t want to know just yet. He lay back with arms folded behind his head.
“Night will reveal all,” he thought to himself.
“Yes, yes. Good boy,” a voice seemed to whisper from somewhere far away.
2010 © Mark Anthony Crittenden
BIO: “This story is a small taster from Their Dark Masters, an anthology of profoundly disturbing vampire tales, the first installment upcoming from Red Skies Press. Consider this book required reading if you’re a horror fan. Authors include such greats as Barry J. Northern, Lily Childs, Rebecca L. Brown, Marissa Farrar, Erik Boman, Paul Anderson, Gregory Miller, Tyree Campbell, Erin Cole, and Ellen Datlow’s “Best Horror of The Year” honoree: Lee Hughes. The book will be available December 2010 via Amazon and Amazon UK. Remember to sleep on your back, and sleep lightly, lest you miss what crawls on the ceiling.”
-Mark Crittenden, Editor http://redskiespress.proboards.com/