Welcome to the 9th annual #SpookyShowcase, a Halloween artist and author showcase. A full schedule of submissions can be found here so you don’t miss a single entry for THESE DEADLY CURSES. Now, on to today’s submission!
Thanas by Carol S Ahrens
“Scared, little girl, ain’t ya. Yes, you is.” The old woman crooned, her grey hair smelling of oil and spice. Holding the young woman tightly, she patted her on the back with large worn hands.
“Sleep is what you need. I get you somethin’ to help you sleep. Then you be better, yes you will. You’ll see.”
The old woman’s voice sounded dreamy, distant. Stumbling into this strange environment, Amanda Jane Forester whiffed a musty, stale smell before observing her surroundings. Sparsely fitted with worn and aging furniture, probably surplus from thrift shops or curb side, the small apartment gave proof of economy. A sagging brown and orange floral couch, a small dented and rusted card table with two mismatched metal folding chairs, several chipped end tables and a coffee table, none of which matched, completed the main room. Of notable absence was a visible television, radio, computer or even reading materials. On the wall were faded landscapes of brewing storms. There were also a few ancient portraits. A ragged poster proclaimed:
Sadness flies on the wings of the morning and out of the heart of darkness comes the light.
– Jean Giraudoux
“Are those some of your relatives?” Amanda asked.
The old woman smiled a toothless grin.
“They be some of my children who come here for rest. Jest like you.”
Amanda said nothing, but wondered how the old woman could have children seemingly hundreds of years old.
The old woman directed her to the bathroom down the dark hallway. “There be some soap and water to wash up with. And a robe.”
Amanda looked at herself in the bathroom mirror. Tears streaked a tired face. A face that was bruised, battered and bloody. A face of someone in her twenties who now looked more like an old hag. Her blonde hair, cut short, stood out in different directions. A torn white t-shirt barely covered to her hip hugging blue jeans.
Who am I? She wondered. She splashed the water on her weary face and gently soaped and rinsed. The robe was ragged, but clean. As she entered the main room, her skin began to feel as if an army of mites was trying to eat its way out. No amount of scratching relieved the problem. The old woman observed this quietly, disappearing down the hallway. She emerged with a dark, creamy substance which she began to rub gently on the young woman’s arms. It smelled horrible. The itching disappeared immediately.
“What is that stuff?” Amanda questioned, wrinkling her nose as she did so.
“Sometin’ my great granny taught me to make centuries ago. It may not smell nice, but it works. At times like these we all get the ‘itchies.”
The medicinal smell made the girl shudder.
The old woman’s voice drifted away to the kitchen.
With tears drying slowly on Amanda’s cheeks, she drew a deep breath. She sat herself on one of the rickety folding chairs. How had she gotten here and why was she here? She vaguely remembered the hours before. Something about a man dumping her in an alley. Who was he? As hard as she tried, she could not remember more than that. A deep, dark midnight had fallen on her mind. It was impossible to go there and retrieve the memories.
The old woman returned humming an unfamiliar haunting tune.
“Here you be,” she smiled as she handed her guest a tall glass of brown liquid. “Drink it all now girlie and then sleep.”
“Who are you?” Amanda asked. “And why am I here?”
“Some call me Ma’am, others call me Thanas. It doesn’t really matter.”
Amanda sipped the strange liquid, marveling at its peculiar minty taste. She really could not remember who she was. Where did she live? Did she have family, a job, friends? Her mind offered no answers only more questions. She was so tired. Then Thanas led her to a small, dark, closet-sized bedroom.
For a brief moment, a childhood rhyme passed through Amanda’s mind.
Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posie, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
An old, wood framed army cot with an upturned crate for a night stand and a solitary metal chair were the only pieces of furniture in the room. On the disintegrating floral papered wall hung another poster: Death may be the greatest of all human blessings. Socrates
Yawning, Amanda asked, “How did I get here?”
Thanas shook her dark head covered in tight grey curls. “It matters not how you got here. Your past is gone. It will not bother you again. Come now. Lie down.”
The old woman covered Amanda with a moth bitten wool blanket.
Then she heard Thanas leave the room humming that same haunting melody.
Sleep came quickly. Dark. Very dark. And cold. Amanda shivered but did not wake when Thanas returned, covering her with a worn down quilt.
Amanda was five years old again. The wind blew, from where she did not know. But she knew it was cold and dark. She was frightened. Her brown eyes wide with terror. The thin rag of a dress did little to provide comfort from the piercing cold. Her shoes were worn thin with holes in the bottoms. Grimy socks sank below her ankles, her legs bare and bony. She clutched a worn and tattered teddy bear in one arm, while wiping the tears on her cheeks with the other. One of the bear’s arms was missing as were both of its button eyes.
“Momma, where are you?” she cried
There was only the wind. Moaning. Cold. Lonely.
No one answered her call. The desolate landscape offered no shelter. The only light appeared from a sliver of moon.
“Momma, Momma.” Her small chest heaved with sobs too big for one little girl.
It was close to dawn when she woke. Thanas sat on the single chair in her room.
“What’s happening to me? Why am I here?”
“Aah, child, your questions cannot be answered simply. You are ill and I can help you. Your mind is poisoning you.”
“I’m not a child” she whispered.
“You are all my children,” Thanas clucked. “Your family has abandoned you in your hour of need. Damnant quod non intelligunt. Now I am your family. I’m all you need. I will take care of you.”
Where were her mother, her sisters, her children? Did she even have any? Why had they all gone away?
“I can’t go on like this,” she sobbed softly.
“I know,” Thanas murmured, patting her on the head.
“Here, drink this. It will all be well.”
Amanda drank. The mint taste was even stronger. Perhaps there was a hint of rose as well. A strange, floral scent filled the room.
It didn’t matter, really, what it was. Amanda was beyond tired. Exhausted. It was enough. She entered into the darkness again. The child was gone. The light vanished forever.
About the Author
Carol Ahrens is a retired minister in the United Church of Christ. For many years, she has written sermons as well as articles for the local paper. Her interests, beyond writing, are gardening, reading, and spending time with family and friends. She believes that a little bit of kindness goes a long way. Born and raised in the Midwest, she did make her home in Northern Maine for a year before moving back to Illinois where she now resides.