One for the road
The intensive care unit was overly warm, as if
the air vents were clogged. Perspiration crept across Cara’s forehead like
aphids as her mother lay unconscious. The old woman’s frail chest was ragged,
her lips chapped and peeling. The broken shades of mourning obscured Cara’s
vision. Tiny ice skaters had used her blue eyes as a rink. Blinking, she dozed,
her mouth partially open, one hand clutching a faux leather handbag, her
Images cascaded in Cara’s mind: Mom
holding a liquor bottle to her lips like an infant suckling; the tremors as the
decrepit woman shook with palsy; and the sudden seizures that sent Cara
hovering over her mom, a dragonfly buzzing a carcass. And, behind it all, the
echo of ice cubes clinking in a whiskey glass as Mom drank.
Cara could never understand her mother’s
maniacal refusal to stop, her insistence on guzzling drink after drink. The
addicted woman couldn’t get enough of the acidic fluid that rotted her liver.
A sudden tinkling noise jolted Cara. Her pupils
expanded, dark and marbled. A moment later, Mom wailed and wheezed. Foul air
funneled out the old woman’s nose and mouth, tainting the air. Cara choked and
gagged. The wheezing grew so loud it rattled Mom’s cracked ribs. The noise was
percussive reggae, a metal stick striking a heavy glass bottle. Oxygen whistled from mechanical ventilators. In a slow drumbeat saline plunked from the intravenous.
Cara called the attending. He hurried in, his white coat stiff from starch, his
face a bucket of sour cream. Taking out a stethoscope, the doctor touched
the metal probe to the old woman’s breast. Cocking his head, he nodded to the
nurse. Wordless, she shut down the medical machinery.
hear it?” Cara asked the ICU nurse.
before she died—a sound like the slush of melting ice in whiskey.”
eyes narrowed and her lips flattened. “We don’t allow alcohol here, Miss. Go to
the bar if you need a shot.” Her eyes softened as Cara whimpered. “I’m
sorry, dear. We all could use a stiff drink at times like this.”
face. “I don’t drink.”
shrugged and hurried off.
her mother on the forehead. She wrinkled her nose—the stench of liquor and
sickness revolted her. But she sobbed as she headed home. She and Mom had lived
together for many years. Now, Cara was alone.
afternoon memorial service was brief. Ironically, Mom’s casket was the color of
fine brandy. Cara shook her head. It matched her mother’s eyes. Nobody attended
except the neighborhood priest. His cheeks were puffy and he played Santa at
sighed. “It was not unexpected, Cara. Your mom’s illness was chronic, her
addict’s thirst unquenchable.”
Cara couldn’t sleep. She dreamed she heard ice clink in a glass. She tossed and
turned until her blanket was rumpled. Thoughts curdled in her brain. Kicking
the heavy covering off her body, Cara cried out in pain at a sudden cramp in
her calf. Then, she heard it: the muffled clink of ice striking glass, a faint
squeezed her eyes shut and the sound was gone.
she went to see the priest. Her eyes were gummy and her throat parched. “I
can’t sleep. I hear noises. Am I going crazy?” She swallowed down acid.
priest’s pink cheeks shone against the dull blackness of his frock. He toyed
with the silver cross on his chest. His knuckles bristled with black hair and
his cuticles were shiny. A portrait of Christ hung on the rear wall. It was
raised and thick with gray and black oil paint. Cara shivered. The Lord’s pale
eyes were sallow and stained with red.
we have to examine the corpse.” The priest’s face was furtive, evading her
sacrilege. I won’t allow it!”
down, the priest fiddled with the cross. “It may be a sin not to.”
in and the body was exhumed three days later. The decaying face was slick with
slime and the chest cavity had cracked apart. When they sliced it open, the
guts oozed brown liquor. A gooey sheet, like a moist, partially deflated
balloon, was inside her stomach. Tiny bits of broken glass infested the mucus
nauseated. “What is that?”
made the clinking, rattling noise you heard. It’s called a puella parva,
a demonic creature. It lived inside your mother swilling alcohol. It came to
its terminus, its ending, when your mother died.”
Lord! Is my mother’s ghost haunting me?”
shuffled his feet. His face was chalk.
stared at the figure of Christ. “I guess we’ll have to find out.”
evening, he came to visit Cara and she was relieved to see him.
mom’s ghost is here, I’ll exorcise it,” he assured her.
retired, the priest reclined in a chair at the foot of her bed, forcing himself
to stay awake. Soon, he dozed.
after midnight when he heard it: a muted, clinking sound, as if ice cubes were
rattling in a glass. Shaking off sleep, the priest circled the room, holding up
his cross. “Be gone, ghost,” he stammered. But he saw nothing.
to Cara’s bed, he stared down at the young woman. Her forehead was lined and
creased, her lips were dry leaves.
Cara. Wake up!”
screamed when he touched her. She was having a nightmare. Then she heard it: the
sound of ice clinking against glass. It was louder now.
stomach lurched; hotness seared her throat. Quickly, she got out of bed.
The priest took a metal flask out of his
pocket. A purple vein in his forehead throbbed.
“Here,” he said, “Drink; it’s
“What? I don’t drink.”
But as the priest
uncorked the flask, Cara trembled. The sweetness of the liquor’s scent was
intoxicating. Quivering as if with palsy, Cara grabbed the flask and gulped
down huge draughts. Her stomach churned. From deep inside her, Cara heard the
clink of ice against glass. And then came a gurgling noise, as if a hungry
infant was suckling. She felt nauseated. “Father,” she pleaded.
The priest sighed. “It’s the puella
Cara,” he said sadly. “It’s inside you now. And it really loves to drink.”
Jan Cronos, firstname.lastname@example.org, who wrote BP #90’s “Death Rattle” and BP #89’s
writes in the NYC metropolitan area. Genres include science fiction, fantasy,
and speculative fiction. Formats range from flash fiction to kindle novellas.