's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" All the Kings Horses "

Submitted by Nelke

“This Claire not”, she said, unblinking.

“Shhhh” I replied, and caressed the good side of her face. She did not react to my touch. “I love you, Claire. No matter what.”

“No no. She left.”

I had strapped her on an old table with a harness I had scrambled together from belts and ropes. Not that I was afraid of my own daughter, but we had had a rough beginning. Coming back from that dark place, from the cold… it must have been so scary. Furthermore, my child had always been rebellious.

“Do not say that about yourself. It was very hard bringing you back. You have rested now, you should talk to me”.3

“Claire left. The real Claire. The soul left.” Her voice was a soft monotone, barely above a whisper.

Her eyes were staring ahead. She was so convincing. But I knew what I had done, and I knew she was back, whether she wanted or not. It hurt to know she was lying, that she was still trying to get away from me, but she was with me at least. And we had plenty of time to repair what was broken between us. I caressed her again.

“This is just rotting meat”, she whispered. And I could not bring myself to listen any further. I kissed her forehead, and covered her eyes so she would rest.

It had been so hard to bring her back to life. In that period, her smell went from a whiff to a stench, sweet and heavy and wrong a bag of fruit left under the sun for too long. What I had done to her stopped the process, if not reverted it to some degree, but she was still not pretty to look at (it was not as if she would look good anyways, with that new haircut she had).

Half of her head was missing, shattered beyond repair. I had picked up the pieces I could find, and spent a whole afternoon putting them back together like a jigsaw puzzle, but many I could not find, or they were gone. If you peeked inside, you could see the skull was hollow: the brain had splattered on the floor and the walls, and I had to wipe it off. I had filled the cranium with old newspapers, and given her a knit hat to make her appear whole. It would have almost been acceptable, were not for the sunken look of that half of the face, which I could not repair, at least not without breaking her jaw too. And I wanted her talking. She had explaining to do.

The rest of the body had been both easier and harder. Harder, because moving her had been no small task, with my bad back and all. Easier, because her broken joints simplified a lot the task of washing her with a sponge, sew her holes shut, and put some clothes on her. I had to hastily modify one of her shirts and a skirt so I could put them on from the front, and also because of all the weight she had gained when she was away, but she looked lovely nevertheless, just like in her childhood, before growing up and rejecting the garments I used to make for her.

I left the basement slowly, never turning my back to her, repeating backwards the exact sequence of steps I had taken for the ritual. A useless caution, I know, but I did not dare to just break my step.

When I finally reached the kitchen, the hot air of the summer afternoon hit me like a slap in the face. I collapsed on a chair to regain my breath, and sobs started to swell into my chest. It was relief, maybe, or just the tension leaving my body. She was always so difficult.

We had parted in bad terms. The last week before she left we argued almost non-stop. I tried to stay loving and patient, but she kept pushing me, slamming doors, answering in monosyllables. She wanted to leave the house and go study somewhere else, somewhere far away, in a place full of bad people who would make her forget everything I taught her. Of course I refused, explaining my reasons like a good parent, but she did not want to understand. One evening, she just packed up all her stuff and left the farm.

I tried to block her exit, begging her to reconsider, but she did not listen. She just shoved me to her side, hurting my shoulder, and disappeared into the darkness. I tried to run after her, but she was gone down the road, and I did not know what direction she had taken.

Do you know how it feels? When your own child hates you? I could not breathe, and I thought I was dying. I felt as if my lungs and my chest were filled with broken glass. I wailed and yelled into the night, but she did not come back. I drank half a bottle of liquor and scratched my face, and fell asleep on the couch.

The next day I woke up to her mutt licking my hand. I kicked it away and kept drinking, anything to numb the pain. The following days are a haze: I looked for all the alcohol in the house, even the casks of homemade liquor in the cellar. I threw up everything I ate, and punished the dog every time I saw piss and shit in the house.

After ten days, there was nothing left, and my baby had not come back. My hands were shaking and I could only feel hurt and pain inside. I found the dog cowering in a corner, and it reminded me of her. I kicked it until it bit me. This made me lose it: I took a shovel and killed the ungrateful little bitch.

I went to the bathroom to clean myself up, sober for the first time in days, and I could see myself clearly. I was not a nice sight: I had not washed up or changed my clothes, and I was covered in vomit and blood. I probably stank, but I could not smell it anymore. My face was a mess of bruises, I did not remember why. I had probably fallen at some point. My eyes were red and swollen.

I was just a sad, old woman. The house was falling apart, and the pens with the animals had been empty for months, after I sold them. My daughter was there to bring money into the house anymore, and my meagre savings would be gone in a matter of weeks. There were not many things left to do for me.

 I took the blade of a shaving razor I had under the sink, very slowly because my hands were shaking, and I cut my fingertips to the bone in the process. I imagined the face of my daughter, when she would come back and find me in the bathroom, but then I realized that she would not ever be back. I would die and rot, forgotten, in the middle of nowhere. Insects would crawl all over me, until there would be nothing left, and my daughter would not remember me. She was happier without me.

That broke me again. I started crying, and I hit the mirror, and I breathed deeply to muster the courage to cut myself. I talked to my reflection, just like my mother had always forbidden me to, and told her how I felt, about my helplessness. My only fault had been to love my child too deeply. I asked the mirror for forgiveness.

And the mirror talked back.

When I think about it, it’s all foggy. I remember that my reflection talked, and all of a sudden she did not look like me anymore. Or yes, in an odd way. The thing in the mirror looked like a mannequin with my face stretched thin over a smooth knob of a head, but she spoke with my voice. Of what, I cannot remember, but I know she asked me a question, and that I gave it an answer.

Several hours had passed when I woke up again. It was already dark. I sat down very carefully, surprised to find no pain or soreness in my muscles. I stared at my hand, and from the back of my head came a knowledge that had not been there previously, but had the texture and the feel of an old memory. I knew the names of my bones: scaphoid, lunate, triquetral and pisiform, that joined with the trapezium, trapezoid, capitate and hamate. I knew the names of all the bones in my body, and the muscles, and the organs. I knew how my cells broke down substances to make it work. Moonlight came through my window, and I could say in what precise second photons had bounced from it from the sun.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and explored the new contents of my head. It was as if I had moved from an apartment into an empty mansion, full of dusty chambers and labyrinthine corridors. I could feel something else in my head, a welcoming and soothing presence. I tried to get a glimpse of it, but it seemed to evade my consciousness. I just knew it was the thing in the mirror, that was now living with me, helping me. It flooded me with warmth and light, and I knew everything was going to be OK.

I knew the mechanism of a diesel motor and how to assemble and disassemble an assault rifle. I knew of modern things and things long forgotten: the real origin of the planet, the lives of the things living under earth that used to be men and women, the nature of the art commonly called “magic”. It was a gift given to me by something else, something out of our reality, and it was given to me so I could put it to a good use.

And I knew how to find things if I looked for them.

My daughter had switched off her phone so I could not call her, but I could track her down this time. It would be so easy. However, she was mad at me, and, although she was the irrational one, I had to be the bigger person again and give her something. So I came up with a plan.

The living and the dead are not divided by a wall, but by a membrane. It is more flexible than people might think, and sometimes, if you are very careful, it is permeable. You cannot make something dead truly alive, but you can make it acquire some of the qualities of life, provided that you kill something too in this side of things. This is one of the things I learned.

I got her dog on the kitchen table. Although only a day had passed, it was June, and it smelled even worse than in life. Its hair was matted and dirty with blood and shit. Flies were coming into its eyes and mouth.

Preparing the things took me two full days, during which the eyes sank into the sockets and her belly swelled like she was pregnant. Luckily, most of the ingredients from the ritual can be found in a Wal-mart nowadays, and the rest I got from a pond next to my backyard and the traps in my cellar.

Reliving it was faster than I expected. I followed the sequence that created a set of instructions to Death. I drank what I had to drink, and said the patterns of syllables that needed to be said, and all of a sudden my strength dropped, and I almost fell to my knees. My vision blurred for a moment. A whine came from the table.

The dog moved: it was not alive, as it was not breathing, but it moved its head and lolled its tongue. Its paws were shaking as it tried in vain to stand up. Then I took a step towards her, and its eyes opened in recognition, and it became very still.

That night, I loaded the thing in the back seat and went to look for my daughter. I was exhausted, for I had given some parts of myself to make the dog move again. There were a couple more lines in my face. But I did not want to wait any longer.

It is very easy to track someone down if you know how to. You just have to follow the moon, and the traces the people leave with their wills and memories, just like a slug leaves a trail. When I found out where she was staying, it became obvious in hindsight that she had all planned the night she had left me. I thought she had been crazy at first, to leave on foot with only a handbag, but she had someone waiting for her. She had probably gotten a second cell phone to make escape plans with the person she was living with. And it was another woman!

I stared at the lighted-up windows of the house she had been holing up, grasping the steering wheel until my hands hurt. The mutt moaned in the backseat, but I did not have the energy to make it shut up. I tried to discern my daughter’s silhouette, but I could not see her.

I stayed up the whole night, without moving the car. I stayed immobile until my back screamed, and my limbs threatened to not obey me anymore. I thought about going into the house and smacking her around, I was so furious. But, at the end, love won the battle.

I saw her leaving the house in the small hours of the morning, when the night was at its darkest. She probably had a job somewhere to provide for herself, now that her mother was not there for her. I drove slowly by her side and called her name. I saw her startled, and then she recognized me.

At first, I thought that she would run away, but I shushed her. She saw her dog at the back of the car, and I saw the hesitation in her eyes. I said that I would give the dog to her if she only talked to me for ten minutes.

I promise I did not want to force her into anything, just talk some sense into her, but she was so cruel. So bitter. She did not want to come back to me. She said that she was an adult woman, that she did not need me, that I was smothering her. She refused to listen when I talked about morals. So I started the car and drove.

She went really mad then, and fear came very quickly. She tried to open her side of the door frantically, and to signal a truck driver on the other side of the road. She attempted to wrestle with me to control the steering wheel, but I just pushed the gas pedal further. Then she started pleading with me. She was crying, tears streaming down her face as dawn came. We were not far away from home, but it was not there where I was heading anymore.

I have thought about what I did many times, and I still cannot justify it to myself. I was mad, that is my only excuse. She had yelled at me and rejected my love and I was seeing red. I wanted to teach her a lesson.

It took more nerve than I expected, driving my car into the pond. I knew I would not drown, for I could control my breath and my body to process water instead of air, but the shock of the cold water was scary. I saw her incredulity and her terror as the car sank, her frantic attempts to open the doors (she did not try to rescue me at any point). She almost made it out, but I turned to her and held her for what looked like hours. She bit me and kicked and screamed for help, but nobody came. We both sunk as the muddy waters filled the car, and she lost her voice at the end and could only gasp for breath. I held her as she died in my arms, and in her last moments she clung to me as if she was a baby again. It gave me hope for her. For us.

Bringing her back was a strenuous and heart-breaking task. I stayed at the cold and murky bottom of the pond for what looked like hours, in total darkness, until I mustered the courage to leave the car and swim back with her back to the surface. Then I had to drag her, several hundreds of meters, to our house. My back and my knees hurt in the last part, when I dragged her corpse down the cellar.

Then, I slept some hours of restless sleep, and I started to prepare the ritual. I was lucky, because I still had some of the things I had used for the dog. Some of them were still alive in their cages.

The process of bringing back a human is harder than the one of bringing back an animal. One of the ingredients was blood from the mother. It did not specify which one, so I used the dried blood from my pads. For a moment I regretted never using tampons, because they would have made my task easier, but I had always believed that decent women did not use them.

I wrinkled my nose as I submerged the pads in warm water to take out the blood. At first it smells like all other body discharges, gross, impure. However, just after a few seconds, the sweat and other discharges wash away, and it becomes pure. Not like a wound. A fresh wound smells like a good steak. Period blood has the sharp smell of iron, and it carries a promise within: the promise of life to come.

As I poured the mix of blood and water into the bowl, I felt something moving in my belly: my ovaries were withering. This is what I gave up for bringing my child back, this and so much more. I fought back tears, why should I cry? It was not as if I had many periods left. I chanted and muttered and smeared her eyelids with my own spit, until she shuddered.

She did not come back easy. She tried to breathe at the beginning, and she coughed water. Her whole body tensed like a bow, and she whimpered on the table. Then she looked at me with bloodshot eyes, and recognized me.

She did not move like a person. Her movements were swift, like an animal, as she jumped at me in an angle she should not have been able to. I managed to duck just in time, but she almost got my leg.

Luckily enough, she was still disoriented and sluggish from the shock of coming back, and I could grab a hammer from the toolbox in the basement, and I could defend myself. The ensuing fight was not pretty, but I could subdue her easily. I smashed her head many times, maybe too many, but I wanted to be sure she would not get up in some time. I regretted the violence just after committing it, but it had been a necessary deed.

I sat down over her and smashed her elbows and knees so she would not move. I cut the tendons on her shoulders and shins with a box cutter, just to be sure, before I got her in my arms and got her on the table. She did not fight back as I restrained her and dolled her up again.

I went back to the pond, to check for traces of what had happened, or bits and pieces that had floated to the surface during the day, but there was nothing. The summer was dry, so there were no wheel tracks. I stared for some time at the brown and stinking waters, wondering if the dog was still undead at the bottom of the pool.

I took as a task to repair the relationship between us: every afternoon I went down to the basement to talk to her and feed her little morsels of raw meat to keep her strength. However, the former proved to be incredibly frustrating, because she refused to reply or to talk to me beyond short, curt sentences, in which she said she was dead. It was so painful. I had gone a mile for her, but she refused to move an inch?

Feeding her proved to be easier. She wanted to resist, and clamp her mouth shut, but her will was not what it was anymore. Her nostrils would flare, and she would look at the piece of meat in front of her face, fighting muscles that did not want to collaborate. Then, every time, her mouth would open on its own, and I would drop the morsel into it.

The first days she would cry as she chewed, tears streaming down her face, but she always looked a little better after her meals: her cheeks would become rounder and rosier for some hours, her eyes a little brighter. However, she was decaying every day.

Her skin sagged like an old woman, and dark stains appeared on her cheeks. After the first two weeks, she started smelling again. I pondered for a while the possibility of just letting her stink, as a punishment for her attitude, but at the end I decided to wash her and rub her every day with perfume. I walked two miles to take the bus into town to buy an air dehumidifier so she would not rot.

I tried to bond with her with other activities: every day, I would change her make-up and try new looks for her, and showed her face in a handheld mirror. She closed her eyes every time. I sung lullabies to her, and wiped the dark fluid seeping from the corners of her mouth.

One day, I uncovered her face and her skin was beginning to break. Her face was contracted in a rictus, a mockery of a smile. She whispered something to me in a gurgling and viscous voice. I think she asked me to let her die. I told her that I would only do that when she finally loved me, and she closed her eyes again. I tried to force them open, pinching her eyelids, and in the attempt one of her eyeballs burst. I wiped the vitreous humor with a rag.

I was torn apart by emotions. Part of me felt guilty for strong-arming her that way, but another part of me felt justified. I had been given power, with a scope I could only had dreamed about before, and I had been given them for a reason. I had a mission to save my daughter, to make her renounce her rebelliousness and become whole. I deserved her love and recognition for my sacrifices.

That night, I drove again to the house of the tramp she had been living with. It was a squat building by the side of the road, two miles away from town. Not exactly remote, like mine, but it made so much easier to sneak in and take care of the woman. Although I surprised her in her sleep, she had a gun under her pillow, and she tried to fight back, so I had to kill her quickly. What a pity.

The following day, I brought her head to the basement, and showed it to my child. I tried to explain Claire that she had been a wicked and unhappy woman, and that it had been necessary, hoping that she would finally react to me. And she did it, only not in the way I was hoping.

She screamed. She yelled and yelled in a wordless wail that pierced my ears and made me yell back at her to shut up.

So I made her eat it. I started cutting the face of the woman, little by little, and drop the pieces in her mouth. I saw her trying to close her mouth again, to clamp her jaws shut, but her dead muscles betrayed her again. It was an ugly and sad task, but I did not stop until there was little more than a skull. I told my daughter that I was sorry, but she needed that lesson. I kissed her forehead, just like every day, and left.

Some days after I went down and her tongue was sticking out, it had swollen so much it actually filled the mouth. I could not feed her, and she could not talk. It was actually a relief for me. I prayed by her side, to a God I did not believe in anymore, but I wanted her to feel cared for.

That night, I got scissors and cut the part of the tongue that came out of the mouth. It was very hard, so I could not chop it off, but I nicked it off piece by piece, and pushed the bits down her throat so I would not waste them. She shook and strained against the belts that kept her in place. Afterwards, I took one of my old heirloom glasses and tucked it under her chin, holding it in place with a handkerchief, so her mouth stayed closed and in place. She looked good again.

Dead flesh does not heal like living one: it strives to recover its old shape, but it does not know how. Her left eye tried to grow back, and it first become too big, to the point of distending the whole face and protruding out of the socket. Then it split, like a plant, and grew another iris. It was just like one of these odd desert plants, a succulent, splitting into branches in her face.

The last week, she did not try to talk to me at all, but I could see her shudder every time I went down to visit her. I talked, mostly of happier times, when she was little and the two of us were alone together. She stayed very quiet during that time. I remember feeling hopeful, thinking that maybe she was starting to listen to me.

Yesterday I went back into the cellar and the smell had grown much stronger than before. She did not shake or react when I called her name. I took off her blindfold and there were no eyes to stare back at me.

I pinched her arm, and a piece of skin came off. I stuck a needle in her, but she did not move. The energy around her had gone and she was just an empty, broken doll.

I got a child. Do not ask me where did I get from; children are easy to come by if you know where to look for. Once in my house, I slapped her around until she became docile, and I pushed her down the stairs in the basement, and once downstairs I dragged the little brat by the hair and cut her throat in front of my daughter, but she did nothing. She was really gone.

I yelled and pulled her hair and punched her. I remember her nose breaking, with a little sound like a branch cracking, and kicking the corpse of the brat, and thrashing it around. I wallowed in my pain, and mumbled incoherent prayers to the thing in the mirror, and smashing it into pieces when I got no response. Then, a sudden calm came over me.

The Mirror God was still with me, it had not abandoned me since the first night. It revealed itself to me in many forms: a mannequin with a crude drawing of my face scrawled in the front of the head, a rotting fish, as something huge and wet in the depths of the ocean.

I am now standing up in the bathroom, staring at my own broken reflection. The lightbulb buzzes faintly, somewhere far away. Through the grime and the dirt and despair I see myself and my strength: there are more lines in my face, and my eyes do not shine as they used to, and I do not stand as straight as before, but I am still here.

I am not backing down. I will keep fighting. I will do anything it takes to bring my girl back.