Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
A Mother's Undying Love
Submitted by Shakara
ATTENTION/ACHTUNG/请注意/الحذر/주의/προσοχή/注目/ATTENZIONE/OPGELET: The following contains religious horror. No offence is meant to those of faith. It is fiction. Reader discretion advised.
If you are of a nervous disposition, I do not recommend reading this.
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The elderly woman bowed over the table, knobbly fingers fidgeting with the old grimoire, muttering something in Old Hebrew. The stone room was musty, the walls covered in all kinds of miscellanea. Weathered pages penned by unknown writers, dusty robes, cracked pieces of wood, supposedly sections of the cross Jesus was nailed upon, and old chalices. The place smelt of bellflower and frankincense.
Imogen watched on, holding her purse. It was stuffed with more notes than she’d ever held before. Salary, spare change, communion money… All to make it here. Shekels filled her purse. For the wise woman, of course. This had to work. It needed to work. She was not going back unless it worked.
“Are you certain?” the old woman spoke, her eyes holding terrifying lucidity, one a dark blue, the other milk-white.
“I’m absolutely sure.” She replied in a voice like iron. It had taken her weeks to find the ancient town in the Judean Desert. It looked abandoned. Aye. Looked. But she knew.
She put her purse on the table and pushed it towards her. Months upon months of studying, translating Hebrew, brushing up on her knowledge of old Christianity… She had found the place, abandoned to stinging sand and scorching sun. Only the old woman was left, a reminder of the long-ago past, carrying history in her stone home, not only left behind by those who’d fled the town to seek kinder climates, but left also by Death and Time. They’d thought Imogen was crazy for believing such folkloric tales.
Well, if love made her crazy, then she was a Grade-A psychopath.
‘You cannot bring them back’, they’d told her. She wasn’t going to accept that. She’d known pain and sorrow sharper than death. She’d seen the grey, half-formed life, quickly fading. She’d gripped it close to her. So very small, like a little doll not yet finished. So light. So much blood. The doctors had taken it away from her hands soon after.
Miscarriage. It couldn’t have been possible. It made no sense. She ate well, she’d exercised, she never smoked or drank, she took all her vitamins and had every single vaccination… Something about a hormone disorder? Something rare, but possible. Sheer bad luck. What cruelty…
‘Too small for a coffin’, her brother Hector had said. Hector didn’t say anything more once his jaw was cracked in two.
Was he right? So dainty, so… fragile. But she didn’t want to hear that. Was it even a boy or a girl? It wasn’t grown enough to tell. Male or female, she cared not. She’d named them ‘Angel’- her angelic child, and now one in heaven. She’d cried all day and all through the night.
After a quick meal of sambusak, they began. She’d denied the small glass of arak- she wanted to be sober for this.
The woman chanted ancient Hebrew. It was no simple language. Behind the characters was power. In each language, there was a true meaning behind it. Energy from the earth, shaped and warped to the user’s voice. Spells. Incantations. Cantrips. Prayers, hymns, chants, mantras, psalms…
Imogen had struggled to understand Modern Hebrew as it was. She didn’t know how the old woman spoke this older variant. Regardless, she observed. It wasn’t some song. It was a prayer. No, not a prayer. A summons. A call into the unknown to bring forth things from the unseen places.
It had been burning midday when she arrived in Jerusalem. Now, it was coming to the evening. The yellow daylight was fading, bringing a sharp vermillion band to the sky, illuminating the sand like a sea of garnet.
The funeral had taken place almost immediately after. She’d commanded it so.
A beautiful procession, fit for the Pope himself. No luxury was scant. Towers of candles, burning incense of myrrh, stuffed toys, piles upon piles of flowers… Father said it was a bit expensive, but she didn’t listen to him and didn’t look at his worried face. As far as she was concerned, it wasn’t enough. It’d never be enough. Piles of white carnations, chrysanthemums and a few birdsfoot-trefoils.
She’d always liked the colour yellow. Like the sun. Or what Angel’s hair would’ve looked like. She was a dark strawberry-blonde, and Ludwig had very pale blonde hair. Together their child would’ve looked like a perfect combination of them. Perhaps Angel would’ve had her grey eyes, shining like moonstone.
The condolences had piled upon her, but didn’t make her feel any better. Bethany’s flower baskets, Father Feeney’s zucchini casserole, Pauline even gave a sum of money. Bottles of home-made wines. Jars of preserves. All so kind, but so empty.
Ludwig hadn’t attended the funeral. She didn’t see him come, she didn’t see him leave. Why? Angel was his child too. He said something about ‘not being fully-formed’, not a ‘full baby’. No use mourning something that never was, he’d said.
She’d become furious. So furious, she only remembered bits of the event. All the remembered was him shouting, her shouting...
The old woman, name of Adah, told her she had no children of her own. No siblings, even. No neighbours. It was only her. Adah. Adah. No surname given. Had she forgotten it?
Truth be told, Imogen envied her. Maybe she shouldn’t have tried for children, then she wouldn’t be so sad. But then again, she didn’t want to be alone. No more regrets, no more ‘what ifs’- she was going to fix this.
She sat still as Adah continued the ceremony. The weight of years bowed her head.
‘Post-partum psychosis’. Nonsense. All of it. Useless, stupid nonsense and lies. They’d given her a regimen of Clozapine, two a day. Imogen just poured it down the sink. She was as sharp as a tack, she didn’t need any medicine. Lars from the office suggested that she take longer bereavement leave. Cassidy would fill in the gap while she rested, making the maps and organising the databases. Had they deemed her unfit for work, now?
The vermillion light had darkened, and the sky was turning a deep, royal blue, much like the woman’s other eye. Candles were lit, giving her stone house an orange glow. She read over the old book and had begun to organise curious wooden totems. Some of them looked like small tablets with symbols painted on them.
“The night is here.” Adah spoke. “You must be careful, girl. Do not leave the room. Stay close to the candles.”
“Alright.” Careful? What was there to be afraid of? She felt safe with Adah. Like the grandmother she never had. The old woman closed the curtains.
Faith. Faith had helped her, but not in the proper sense. It’d come to her late in the night, a flash of hope, bright and pure like sunlight after a storm.
Imogen remembered the look on Father Feeney’s face as she discussed the possibility of a resurrection. A mask of revulsion and shock. She knew the story of Lazarus, and even of Christ’s tomb. He’d escorted her out and to her mother’s home in the countryside.
‘Speaking in tongues’. ‘Unholy matters’, blah-blah-blah. Her mother went on a tirade on how it was ‘blasphemy’. Imogen didn’t listen one bit. That brainless heifer had never known pain nor fear like her. Hector was there too, trying to talk sense. Well, writing on a notepad, what with the broken jaw wired shut.
She was too busy looking at the old oil painting on the opposite wall. One of Mary holding the Baby Jesus. She knew the painting well. Mother’s favourite.
The safe was hidden behind it.
One quick swing of the fire poker, one terrified whimper of a code later, and the money was hers. Enough to make it away from here. She didn’t need her parents. She didn’t need her brother. She didn’t need Ludwig. She didn’t need Father Feeney. She didn’t need the doctors or her job at the cartography office. She didn’t need the townsfolk. She was going to see Angel again.
Whether they wanted it to happen or not.
Adah put away the tome, having memorised the necessary lines. She put it away and organised the tablets on the table. Now, the sky was pitch, dotted with clusters of white stars not unlike crowds of candles. She'd seen rows upon rows of votive candles in the church. But she didn't need a candle anymore. She had Adah to help.
She lit the oil lamp on the ceiling, instructing Imogen to take her hands in hers.
“Picture the one you wish to see. And keep thinking of them. Do not let go of the thought.”
“Let go? Never.” Ever since that day in the hospital, it was all she thought about.
She thought about them as Ludwig tearfully announced his reluctant divorce.
She thought about them as she drove away from the town.
She thought about them as she sat on the cramped plane.
She thought about them as she walked around the bustling marketplace.
She thought about them as she rode the camel into the desert.
Her visualisation of Angel grew and grew over time. No longer the shadow, the half-formed doll. A perfect child. Truly living up to their name. With shining grey eyes and golden hair. The quintessential form of beauty and joy. Neither boy nor girl, clad in starlight. Angel.
Adah’s hands were like leather, tanned by the sun, wrinkled like ill-fitting gloves.
She closed her eyes, and Imogen wondered if she had to do the same. She kept on visualising Angel. A reimagining of the birth. A burst of energy and life, yet with no pain. Like a comforting sensation of ears popping, and the child was there. Babbling baby talk and laughing, holding her close, her tired face now a smile.
Angel. Only Angel. She felt she would cry.
Adah twitched, her face twisting in discomfort. Imogen feared the woman was having a fit. She snapped opened her eyes, and though one was covered by a cataract, it seemed to look right through her. Her skin crawled.
“The gate… is open…” she spoke in a voice unlike anything she’d ever heard, resonant and deep, filling her head.
White light sparkled above the table. Imogen thought it was just the moon. It wasn’t.
Not a simple glow of light like a star or lantern. It was like someone pointing a torchlight through a sheet, as if something was trying to poke through the air itself.
“A spirit. The message is heard. Something comes!” Adah cried.
Imogen looked up at the crack in the night, reaching her hand out.
A pulse shot out from the opening, like a ripple through a lake, and the two women were knocked back. The candles were snuffed out, and the lamp span dizzily, its orange light flickering.
Imogen looked up, her ears ringing. She saw the opening pull itself apart, revealing an unknown sky, deeper and wider than the one outside. Endless clouds, rolling dunes, spiralling silver nebulae... The entity came through, sliding into the world, borne aloft on the scent of petrichor and ozone. Fire burnt gold and grey and it frantically hovered above the table, as if lost. It turned to face Imogen, and the fire became subdued.
“Saints preserve us…” Adah stood up, rubbing her forehead. She replaced the candles and relit them, amazed at how much energy that one singular summons had generated.
Imogen must’ve been more ardent than the usual mourner. Adah had to admit, she admired her passion.
She saw the orb and froze in place.
Imogen reached her hands out and the orb settled in her palms. It was just like Angel. The same size, only more beautiful. Clean and happy, their hair flowing in an unseen wind. And moving! Not a frantic twitching, but a euphoric dance. She felt tears rolling down her cheeks.
Adah fell to her knees and began to pray rapidly, gripping a rosary, crossing herself over and over. Imogen held the glittering bundle close to her, feeling better than ever before. All the pain had gone now. The seraphic child reached out a tiny hand to caress her smiling face…
Even before her child was born, even before the conception, she’d always dreamed of what it would be like. With Ludwig by her side, she browsed the baby-goods aisle in the supermarket. Seeing the baby clothes, she preferred the colours of yellow and white. They seemed neutral. Pink for girls and blue for boys seemed too stereotypical. And what if they bought the wrong clothes? Boy or girl, they didn’t mind at all. It was the same with toys. No princess dolls or toy cars here. Just a simple white teddy bear. They’d buried it with Angel.
Of course, she didn’t need to remember that sad scene now. They had returned. Here they were, holding her hand, touching her face, giggling. She looked at the celestial baby and her heart swelled with love.
“Oh, do you want a piggyback ride?”
Imogen laughed as Angel sat on her shoulders, braiding her hair. They were so happy!
And so was she. Despite the heatstroke, the food poisoning, the locals refusing her for thinking such profane ideas, the seemingly-endless trek, begging for coins, fighting off the police, stealing stale bread, Ludwig divorcing her, her parents disowning her, breaking the speed limits, almost getting sectioned-- it all paid off.
Mother and child, together again at last. Never to be separate. Angel clapped their hands. Despite not saying anything, Imogen knew just what they wanted. Home-time!
“Alright, darling, let’s go. Oh, thank you for everything you’ve done, Adah. Thank you so, so, so much. Keep the money. I don’t need it.” She picked up her bag.
Adah didn’t say a word. Was she too stunned by amazement to speak? Honestly, could Imogen blame her? It was all beyond words. Angel pulled at her hair and giggled.
“You’re going to love your room, Angel. I kept it all so very clean. Like the day it was first decorated. Do you like yellow? Ah, but we can always paint it again if you want another colour. Blue, red, purple, orange… Or rainbow! Haha!”
Adah desperately chanted the psalms as she saw the young woman walk away.
She walked to the stone doorway, holding the grimoire close, feeling long-absent tears of terror streak down her face. She held out her rosary and began one final, quavering prayer.
“Remember, O Lord, the God of Spirits and of all Flesh, those whom we have remembered and those whom we have not remembered, men of the true faith, from righteous Abel unto to-day; do thou thyself give them rest there in the land of the living, in thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise, in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our holy fathers, from whence pain and sorrow and sighing have fled away, where the light of thy countenance visiteth them and always shineth upon them…”
She looked on in horror as Imogen carried the rotted grey flesh of the oversized foetus, its swollen cranium bowed, hiding a face Adah dearly didn’t want to see.
It laughed a cold, choking rattle that chilled her to the marrow. She stared with further ardour into the old Hebrew texts. Its clawed fingers brushed through Imogen’s scalp and brain, tugging at her braids like a rider would the reins of a horse to urge it forth. The mother’s eyes clouded over and skin rapidly paled. Adah’s knees buckled and she began to sob.
“What did I call forth? What have I done?”
Imogen was finally going home, and with her baby! She felt stronger now. Happier. Colours were brighter. She felt she could walk all the way back to the city without the need for a camel. Maybe even all the way back to the airport and back home! Anything would be possible now that Angel was with her. Ludwig would be so happy. She would explain it all to her parents, she would apologise to Hector, renew her vows with Ludwig and she would invite the whole town over for dinner! There would be a celebration like nothing they’d ever seen before!
Angel laughed and Imogen laughed along.
A communique from Shakara:
I cannot abide people who bash faith. At all.
No matter if you're Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jainist, Zoroastrian, Shintoist, Sihk, Taoist, secular, etc... We're all human beings at the end of the day.
Let's all be friendly. Don't fight each other.