The Coven of Dead Girls
by L’Erin Ogle
The key turns in the lock and you step inside. Until you, we have been adrift in waiting, silence heavy in our bones. Time passes slowly inside these walls, dressed in our plastic coffins. Your sister follows you inside and looks around.
“This isn’t a good place,” she says.
She’s right, but you’ll chalk it up to the way Connie’s always existed partially in the real world, and part in another place where everything is gauzy and insubstantial. You don’t even hear her, but it would have served you better if you had.
Hindsight can be a real bitch sometimes.
You carry in boxes, your entire life divided into cardboard squares, labeled in block letters, marked by a black sharpie. KITCHEN. LIVING ROOM. WINTER CLOTHES.
There is a box that says PERSONAL.
Everyone’s got a box of memories they lug around. We’ve seen this before. People come and people go. No one stays here very long.
You peel the sticky tape away. The duct tape peels up (of course it’s duct tape—we are familiar with that, all of us) and it makes a sick screeching sound that echoes through the spaces between us. We hold our breath and peer over your shoulder. What kind of man are you, anyway?
There are photographs and love letters and even a couple pictures of a naked woman named Jane. Her name is scrawled on the letters, printed on the marriage certificate, and the divorce decree.
You unpack and put your things among us and you don’t notice the walls moving when we sigh. Over the years we have cried so many tears that the yellow flowered wallpaper has begun to detach from the drywall. Tears of regret, of rage, of blood. If you were to peel back the faded yellow sheets, our wet copper scent would fill the air. But you don’t. You would blame it on faulty wiring anyway.
You are not a person of abstracts. You believe in absolutes.
You brother’s realtor found this place dirt cheap. He didn’t mention the people from before, the ones who left with dark circles under their eyes, or the man who lived here when we moved in. That man went on to his own future, maybe as bleak as ours. He props himself up on a cane and trawls the urine scented halls of his retirement home. The taste for blood is still blade sharp inside him, but his hands, his body are too soft and weak to sate it.
When Connie visits, she stares at the walls, but we do not move. Our business is not with her. Our business is with you. If you were to ask why, we would not have an answer. We have been here a long time. We don’t have anything else to do.
At night you hear things. Creaking, moaning floorboards, a disturbance in the air. You blame it on the house settling, as if houses like this ever really settle. As if they could.
We are here behind squares of drywall, wrapped in plastic, sealed with caulk. Night makes us restless. Night reminds of how dark this place can get, how much it can hurt here.
All sixteen of us wear the maroon scarf we were strangled with. After all this is over, they will uncover us and they will dream about the scarf, a shade too dark to be blood but violent all the same. What’s with the scarves? they ask, and we could tell them but no one listens to dead girls. We didn’t matter that much when we were alive.
There was a red scarf in his past. Of course, there was.
His mother wore the scarf around her neck until she got all boozed up. She would rub it across her face, smearing her lipstick. She was lonely and sad and she didn’t pay him any attention until the drink allowed blackness to fall over her mind. Then, she made him crawl in her bed and drew the scarf over his body, flicking his privates, laughing at his smallness.
She should grieve this but she doesn’t. To be fair, she doesn’t remember all of it, but there are fragments of her wrongs embedded deep in her soul. She turns and twists restless in her own grave. She knows there is something to atone for but she is too frightened to search for it. This is the nature of alcoholic parents. They cannot face their cruelty. They do not want to see the scars.
Sixteen skeletons, thirty-two femurs. One of Eleven’s legs will be crushed by the collapse of a weight bearing wall. She knows it will happen but she doesn’t care. I cannot understand that. I am still angry. I am still a whole person, even if I am a skeleton. I turn in my plastic prison, my teeth stripped of gums grinding at the thought of such an insult, being turned into dust.
You put a picture of Jane on the wall. You still love her. Jane is beautiful and her hair is the color of sunshine. We drink in the warmth of it, gulp it like the poison we swallowed to get here.
The poison was different for each of us. Rohypnol, heroin, alcohol, whatever he had, whatever it took. Were there girls that didn’t take it? I don’t know. Even ghosts cannot travel through all of the places and all of the people.
Sometimes I start thinking about that, if I’d never taken that drink. Regret has teeth. It can cut you up into pieces and leave you gasping at the unfairness of it all. Maybe you know about that, though I find it hard to believe.
You know me, I whisper in your ear, so like a sea conch. My words turn into waves crashing out into the world. You wake, as your kind tend to do, startled and afraid. We like that, most of us. I like it. I can taste the fear coming off you and it satiates my fury.
I don’t know why I am so angry. Times doesn’t heal all wounds. My rage did not dull with the years. I fought so hard, but he was so much stronger. I want to hurt someone, so they know exactly what happened to me. I want to be the one doing the hurting, to be so powerful no one ever hurts me again.
He tries to dream of us, that old man with the cane and the scar above his left eyebrow. The one he says happened when a hammer fell off a high shelf in the garage.
That was me. That was the heel of my shoe.
When he tries to dream of us, we feel it plucking at the air around our wall space. We lie still and quiet and we picture the scarf.
He wakes up screaming.
One day he will twist his sheet into a noose. When he drops his weight into it, everything turns red. But not today. We’re not ready yet. We have a lot to show him first.
You keep waking up at night. You can hear things moving but no one’s there. Sometimes there is the faintest sound of screaming. You start leaving the TV on to drown it out, but we change the channels.
Shadows appear in the hollows beneath your eyes. We have been erased, yet we still leave a mark.
The old woman in her coffin, we visit her too. She made him, and he made us.
I wasn’t a bad girl. I didn’t deserve what happened to me. I cried my first year here. I asked myself over and over, what did I do wrong?
I took a drink at a party.
I asked God, too, but he never answered me.
There were girls like me that lived here after him. Girls with long hair and straight teeth who laughed. Who slammed their doors and talked about boys and tacked pictures on their dressers. Girls who had futures as bright as Jane’s smile beaming from the picture you hung.
Right in front of me, all the time, all the things I could never be.
We asked each other that so many times. We guessed. We thought about it. We went into him to see for ourselves. Eleven and Three and Five, they must have hearts not as withered and shriveled as mine. They could still feel sorry for him. Knowing what happened to him just gave me another person to hate. It never made me feel sorry for him at all.
She lies restless in her coffin and we knock on the lid. We whisper terrible things to her. We haunt her worse than we haunt you. There will be no peace for her, until there is peace for us.
Maybe she had her own horror story. But I cannot find it in my soul to care.
Your ex-wife, the luminous Jane, visits. You have an ex-wife that still cares about you and I am a skeleton wrapped in a tarp. How is that fair? You are a person and I was a person and I died and no one cared and you mope your life away and everyone cares.
Jane tells you Connie is worried about you. You look tired, she says. She wears her concern like a scarf, bright against her skin.
I can’t sleep, you tell her. There’s something here with me.
Jane asks if you’ve thought more about seeing someone. About your father. How you love and hate him. I see the marks he left on you. Sure, I get it, he didn’t hit you, but he said things to you. He made you feel like nothing and opened wounds that never healed. We all carry scars with us, from this place to the next.
We don’t have names anymore. We are the sixteen. I am Twelve. Three thinks you’re handsome. Five says we should leave you alone. But the rest of us, you make our teeth set together. We see you, the movies you watch on your laptop, browser set to private. We see what you want to do.
If I could free my fingers, I would gouge your eyes out.
Time passes funny here.
I have a list of all the things I’ve never done.
I’ve never kissed another girl. (I would have liked to.)
I’ve never made love. (I have had sex. Forcible, awful, soul murdering sex.)
I’ve never gone to college.
I was never a senior.
I never drove.
I never met my father.
I never fell in love.
I never went to a concert.
I never left the great Sunflower State of Kansas, even.
It’s a pretty long list.
We fourteen (minus Three and Five) talk about what we will do when we break free. I want us to ring your bed so you wake up staring up at a circle of dead girls. I want to smell the urine you let loose. I want to lean down and suck your scream out. The things my dead heart wants sets me trembling. It makes my bones chatter against each other and you sit up in bed. I scream as I remain a statue and then—the fury in me becomes a raging hot thing in my chest. It crawls up the scythe ladder of ribs and leaps atop the humerus, slides down the bone slide and into my first finger on my right hand. My finger jerks. It cuts a hole in the plastic. It jabs at the drywall. The heat pulses through it. There is a small, starburst scorch pattern burnt through the wallpaper.
Connie sees the mark two days later.
What’s this—she says…
She touches her fingers to the small, tiny hole. The wetness of our tears sticks. When she lifts her hand, the wallpaper peels away. We wait and we plead, FIND US.
Oh GOD, what is that smell? She puts her hand over her mouth.
You come to see. It overpowers you both. The stench of decay assaults you, dead girls rotting in plastic coffins. You lean down and peer into the hole. My finger, dirty white porous bone, points at you.
Oh, God, you say. Oh, God.
God has nothing to do with this place.
You get a crowbar. You find the seams in the drywall. You pry a square out.
You know what I am when you see me. My teeth gleam through the plastic.
I think it’s a body, you whisper.
The end is coming fast. I knew it, I saw it, but now it is here. Connie is screaming into the phone. You’re just standing there, with tears in your eyes, like I matter now. I’m sorry, I think you say, but you are hard to see. You are turning transparent, blurring around the edges. Now time is moving too fast, the last of the sand through the hourglass.
I can feel myself becoming light as air. When I push my ghost fingers against the plastic, they pass right through. People are here, but they are vague shapes and their voices are muted and distorted. Don’t, I try to scream, but nothing comes out. Don’t do this to me!
I don’t want to leave! I’m not ready! I never got to do anything! All I did was die! Don’t I get ANYTHING?”
About the Author
Ms. L’Erin Ogle is a writer, mother, and ER nurse living in Lawrence, Kansas. She has recent stories at Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, and Syntax & Salt. Her website is lerinogle.com.
About the Narrator
Nika Harper is a writer and performer who spends long, solitary nights on the internet because her brain won’t shut up. She lives in Los Angeles, CA, where she houses her collection of magic wands and an overwhelming stockpile of empty journals. You can check to see if she got any new tattoos recently at ThisisNika.com and chat about horror on Twitter @NikaHarper.