Black Petals Issue #90 Winter, 2020

Death Rattle
Home
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
BP Artists and Illustrators
1957-Fiction by Michael J. Moore
Black Dog-Fiction by C. P. Webster
Curse of the Candles-Fiction by Jerry Payne
Death Rattle-Fiction by Jan Cronos
Estranged-Fiction by Alan Trezza
The Return of the Ferryman-Serialized Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Scarlet Bedroom-Fiction by Daniel K. Merwin
The Soul Destroyer-Fiction by James Flynn
The Packing Bay-Flash Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Jizo-A four-poem Japanes Theme Set by Dee Allen
Blood-Red Drops-Poem by Chris Collins
The Great Universe-Poem by Hicham El Qendouci
Female Mischief-Poem by Hillary Lyon
Worm-Poem by Hillary Lyon
The Lycanthrope's Lament-Poem by Hillary Lyon
The Sea-Poem by Jason Rice

90_bp_deathrattle_afknott.jpg
Art by A. F. Knott 2020

Death Rattle


By Jan Cronos

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 mother’s favorite.  

 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.

Frightened, 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.   

“Did you hear it?” Cara asked the ICU nurse.

“Hear what, dear?”

“Just before she died—a sound like the slush of melting ice in whiskey.”

The nurse’s 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.”

Cara made a face. “I don’t drink.”

The nurse shrugged and hurried off.

Cara kissed 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.

The 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 Christmas.

The priest sighed. “It was not unexpected, Cara. Your mom’s illness was chronic, her addict’s thirst unquenchable.”

That night, 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 rattle.

“Mom?” She squeezed her eyes shut and the sound was gone.

That morning, 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.

The 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.

“I’m afraid we have to examine the corpse.” The priest’s face was furtive, evading her stare.

“That’s sacrilege. I won’t allow it!”

Looking down, the priest fiddled with the cross. “It may be a sin not to.”

 

Cara gave 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 lining.

Cara was nauseated. “What is that?”

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.”

“Oh, my Lord! Is my mother’s ghost haunting me?”

The priest shuffled his feet. His face was chalk.

“Please, father.”

The priest stared at the figure of Christ. “I guess we’ll have to find out.”

 

That evening, he came to visit Cara and she was relieved to see him.

“If your mom’s ghost is here, I’ll exorcise it,” he assured her.

When Cara retired, the priest reclined in a chair at the foot of her bed, forcing himself to stay awake. Soon, he dozed.

It was just 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.

 Going to Cara’s bed, he stared down at the young woman. Her forehead was lined and creased, her lips were dry leaves.

“Wake up, Cara. Wake up!”

Cara 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.

Cara’s 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 whisky.”

 “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 parva, Cara,” he said sadly. “It’s inside you now. And it really loves to drink.”

 

The End

 

 

Jan Cronos, mindgrin@gmail.com, who wrote BP #90’s “Death Rattle” and BP #89’s “Grandad’s Legacy,” writes in the NYC metropolitan area. Genres include science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Formats range from flash fiction to kindle novellas.

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications