Bringing Life to Death

by L.M. Dameron

 

     I hit play and watched myself in the recording. But what I saw wasn’t what I remembered. It was the first night in our fixer upper, an 1886 Victorian Gothic, and we were exploring from the attic to the basement.
     We spent hours in the attic, drawn to an oversized antique trunk, its tarnished brass trim and leather straps securing its heavy lid. We picked through treasures of handwritten letters, vintage photos, a book of incantations, and a yellowed lace and satin dress that my wife adored. “This is heaven,” she said, holding the dress to her collarbone.
     Seeing as I’ve always thought of witchcraft as the devil’s work, the book gave me chills. I laid the red velvet book to the side, having no future plans of unlocking its fastened gold hinge, for which, luckily, I found no key. Besides, our interest lay in the other items – for me it was the old photographs and for her, the dress.
     We rummaged through the old photographs and noticed an odd occurrence: each woman was wearing the same dress – the dress in the trunk.
     “Obviously, it’s an heirloom, passed down through the generations,” she concluded.
     “Put it on. I’ll take your picture, and we can add it to the others,” I mused.
     “It’s so old. It may rip.” Nevertheless, the pull to this dress was mesmerizing. She gave in, slipping the dress over her shoulders with little effort, like it was made for her slightly more than slender build.
*****

 

 

     We left the attic and traced a maze of bedrooms, baths, and closets on the second floor; all of which provided perfect corners for hiding places. Upon entering the master bedroom, she gleamed, “This was designed for a queen.” The corner bay windows were trimmed in stained glass with a full-length seat running underneath. Its tufted red velvet cushion had been well preserved. A vaulted ceiling with exposed crisscrossing wood beams added character to the room while a multi-colored stone fireplace ran the length of one wall.
     “Gosh, this dress is getting heavy.” Her hands lifted the skirt from the floor as if to alleviate its weight. Funny thing, she felt the heaviness dissipate after leaving the room.
     On the other hand, when we stood at the balcony, overlooking the main floor, she started choking, tugging at the neckline. “This dress is really starting to bother me.”
     “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” I said, running down the stairs then facing her with my phone on video.
     “You’re silly,” she giggled, descending the steps like a model.
     “Okay. Just a quick look in the basement.” I handed her my phone. “Here, watch your video while I get the flashlights.”
*****
      I was returning from the truck when I heard my wife’s scream. I found her curled up against the wall, eyes squeezed tight, and arms wrapped around her knees.
     “Alise! Honey, what’s wrong?”
     “Look. Look at this!”
     “It’s just the video I took. You coming down the stairs.”
     “Play it again.” She pleaded. “You don’t see them?”
     “See who? I only see you.”
     “The man, like a shadow, and the woman hanging?”
     “Where?” I replayed the video – she’s coming down the stairs, the yellowed lace and satin dress flowing, and my voice, “Scarlett O’Hara has nothing on you, babe.”
     Nothing. We watched the video once more. Again, nothing.
     “I swear that I saw them.”
     “Babe, it’s just your mind playing tricks. Your imagination is in overdrive.” I kissed her forehead while rubbing her shoulders.
     “I know what I saw, and it freaked me out.”
     “It’s okay. I promise. I’m here now,” trying to calm her hysteria.
     “Maybe you’re right. Too much excitement for one night.” However, I knew she wasn’t completely convinced as she glanced to the second floor balcony for reassurance.
     “Got the flashlights,” I said, handing her the smaller of the two.
*****
     The dimly lit darkness below had me second guessing this trip for my wife’s sake; still, my curiosity was getting the best of me. I flipped the light switch as we started down the steps, the few bald bulbs providing more shadow than light, so I was thankful for the flashlights.
     Our silhouettes elongated on the stone walls, and our footsteps echoed as we made our way cautiously to the far back left corner, the musky smell of fresh earth suffocating.
     “I think there’s a door here. Maybe a cellar. Kinda smells like one.”
     “I’m ready to leave,” she announced.
     “Calm down. Just a minute.”
     “I can’t calm down! I think there’s someone down here.”
     “There’s no one here but us. See?” The flashlight’s beam stopped short of reaching the depth of darkness surrounding us, casting more shadows.
     “I don’t like it down here.”
     “Chill out. You’re just jumpy. And I wanna check out this door.” I yanked on the cold iron handle and felt the door give; the cool draft of wind rippled my skin with chills. For unexplainable reasons, the hairs on my neck and arms were like needles, pricking just beneath their surface. I released the breath I was holding.
     “Something’s not right. There’s evil here, and I feel it like a nail piercing my spine. We’re leaving. Now!” She demanded.
     “Stop! You’re starting to make me jumpy.”
     “We’re not alone!” She whispered through clenched teeth, grabbing my arm.
     “Alise, get a grip! Just chill!” I jerked my arm away, throwing her off balance.
     As I saw her stumbling backwards, I reached to grab her, but I was too late – my fingers only brushed where I needed to grasp. Then, she floated, like falling through water, weightless. Her throat grasped for breath.
     She was being wrapped in a thick, black mass. Her arms reaching, the lace and satin dress looking white again. It was like bringing death to life again. The thick wooded cellar door slammed. And she was taken before my own eyes.
     “Alise!” My voice echoed through the still blackness, bouncing off stone walls. The lights blinked, and the wires seared. Banging my flashlight gave momentary light that confirmed I was now alone.
     I ran upstairs, calling her name over and over. And, then, I found her.
     I sat in the floor and started the video. And that’s when I saw him – balled up hands at the end of muscular arms, barreled chest rising and falling with each ragged breath. And above his head, the body of a woman, dangling from the second floor banister. Slender and petite, ankle-length flowing white dress, limp arms at her sides, and bowed head with long waves of dark hair covering her breasts and abdomen. I froze. Air from my lungs were trapped in my throat. She was wearing the same dress Alise was wearing.
     The room began spinning, closing the walls around me, trapping me. My mind screamed, but my mouth choked. I squeezed my eyes. On my hands and knees, I crawled and found the wall, and crouching, I cradled my head in my hands.
*****
     Our last memory of one another was not our looks of horror and shock as she was taken in the basement…
     I saw her hanging from the second floor balcony.
     She watched me run when offered the choice to join her in spirit.
     We promised till death do us part. I chose the death of flesh, not the eternal life of spirit. And, now, death had us infinitely separated.