Monthly Short Story Winner: Corpses
Corpses. Still trickling blood or ancient and dusty. Result of a horrible crime or a fatal accident. Left where they should be or somehow missing. Stone-dead or fake and still alive. Anonymous or well-known. Pumpkin-spiced or…okay, I think you got it. There’s a lot one can say or write about a corpse and our entrants came up with some good ones this month!
1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. One or more corpses must play a crucial role.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
This month’s winning story was by T. O. Munro (@TOMunro on Twitter) with “Where There’s a Will”.
Congrats on your win!
You can find all our entries here.
And now on with the story!
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“Where There’s a Will”
by T. O. Munro
It was good to be home. I drew in a pointless breath, dragging the soft perfume of mother’s flower garden through a nose that had lost its sense of smell long ago. I pulled the coat more tightly around my shoulders. I used to feel the cold more, but now the welcome embrace of fleece lined leather was more a comfort to the soul than to the body.
The thick gravel of the drive crunched and slipped beneath my feet, as treacherous to the balance as the softest sands of Biazi. Ah those happy childhood summers, mother, my siblings and me. I had been her favourite, always, and now the prodigal son returned.
I found my way guided more by memory than sight. My distance vision was not what it used to be, turning the finely carved frontage of my parents’ mansion into a white blur. Only slowly did its features resolve into windows and doors and a shape standing sentinel duty beneath the portico.
To his credit Sejev didn’t bat an eyelid at my return, the consummate butler he stood ready to welcome even the most unwelcome of guests.
“It is good to have you home at last, Master Tomas.”
“Are the others here?”
“You are the last to arrive, sir.” If there was an intended rebuke it didn’t show in his tone. He hurried on, “A sad day, sir, may I extend my own condolences.”
“I want to see her first, before I meet them.”
“Your mother is in the green room, sir.” Of course, her own private receiving room. Even father would never have had the temerity to enter it without knocking.
I could hear a bubble of chatter from the drawing room, a tinkling laugh so inappropriate for the occasion. One of my sisters no doubt, or perhaps Ernest’s latest wife – whatever her name was. They would all be there and I wasn’t ready to face them.
A footman emerged from the side passage bearing a tray of fizzing champagne flutes one handed. He stumbled when he saw me, the tray tipping sideways in his shock and then, as he attempted to arrest the toppling slide of the glasses with his other hand, he succeeded only in volleying the entire assembly up into the air. I ducked into the green room, pulling the door closed even as the shower of wine and glass crashed into the floor followed by the dissonant cymbal of the tray hitting the tiles.
There was silence for a moment, the kind that settles after every disaster be it great or small, and I took my chance to greet my mother once more.
They had laid her in an open coffin. Mahogany. She would have liked that. Ernest at least was not skimping on the expense. The undertaker had done a good job, though it helped that mother had always been a beautiful woman. She fell a decade short of the three score and ten that was her due, but she had always looked younger than her years. It was vanity in the end that killed her. The riding hat might have constrained her flowing mane of suspiciously blond hair, but the hat would also have saved her skull when Milady’s stumble threw her mistress from the saddle.
Life is cruel like that, death too. It separated us now just as much as it had ever joined us.
I could say that she looked like she was sleeping, but there was a waxy sheen to her skin that could not be stroked away by my soft grey fingers. Who knew what damage the undertaker’s art might have done.
“What are you doing here, freak?” Hanerila’s shrill shriek shattered my reverie.
Despite the intemperate urgency of my sister’s question I turned slowly, not wanting to try my rickety knee. It had a habit of popping out and popping it back in was – if not especially painful – something of an awkward contortion. They stood in the doorway, doubtless told of my arrival by the glass juggling footman. Hanerila led, the others followed, Ernest hovering at the back.
As she narrowed the distance between us I saw that fifteen years apart had barely treated my eldest sister any better than it had treated me. The beauty of her youth had softened into lumpen middle-age, a pudding of a face in which two black eyes shone with hatred.
“Who said you could come?”
“She was my mother too.”
“You stopped being her son when you dealt with that devil. Mother said you were dead to her.”
I smiled cautiously – never a truer word as they say – before launching into a defence of my employer. “Kirren has been a loyal friend to me, I owe him everything.”
“Still owe him, according to what I’ve heard,” the woman by Ernest’s side spoke. Even my faltering eyes could see well enough to tell she was a stranger to me. The latest Mrs Ernest, I presumed.
“Petsin, how nice to finally meet you.” I plucked the name from my memory, a court announcement in some rag that Kirren had once passed on to me. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to the wedding.” None of us mentioned the fact that I hadn’t been invited.
“How much did the bastard charge you for his services?” Petsin brushed aside my pleasantries, evidently not a currency she dealt in. Poor Ernest, doomed always to seek out wives more strident than his sisters. “I hear Kirren’s wizardry does not come cheap.”
“He has been kind enough to let me work off my debt through indentured service. Another ten years should set me free.”
Hanerila snorted, hands on hips. “That’s what brought you crawling out of the dark isn’t it. Mother’s will. You want a share in the estate, to pay for freedom from your dark mage.”
They misjudged me, but then they always had, and that tragedy with the runaway cart had only hardened their prejudice. I tried an air of wounded innocence but I suspect it resembled more of a leer. I had not done much looking in mirrors lately so I was out of practice at facial expressions.
“My needs now are few and simple, sister dear. I want no more than what is my due.” I knew mother had left me more than my fair share. She had never really liked my sisters, nobody did. And she thought Ernest’s staggeringly poor matrimonial choices proved him unfit to be trusted with a legacy of any significance. Half the estate was to be mine. “She told me about the will,” I said. “I know she never changed it.”
Hanerila’s lips spread in an ugly smile, like a duellist who knows that only their pistol is loaded. “I’ve read it too, you get half of everything.” The smile broadened as she pulled the trigger. “Unless, that is, you predeceased her!”
Ah, she had me there, I had to admit.
Ernest’s friends all had an absurd fondness for life insurance which I had never understood – why worry about looking after those left behind once you were dead? Kirren by contrast did a remarkable line in death insurance, the business of helping people look after themselves after they were dead. His policies were expensive, too much for me to pay for all upfront. But I had not regretted it. Knocked down by a runaway cart I should have been dead, in fact I was. But the joy of necromancy is that death really isn’t the end. Thanks to Kirren I could walk and talk and function pretty much as well as I used to, though to be honest a dead body wasn’t so good at the mundane business of repairing all the knocks that life so irritatingly threw in one’s path.
“So, my zombified brother,” Hanerila crowed. “You can just shuffle out of here. We only want the one corpse in this house today. And try not to drop any fingers on your way.”
Ernest had the grace to look a little shame faced. “She is right, Tomas,” he said. “Petsin checked with the lawyers.” A helpless shrug, an apologetic grin and then an offer in compromise. “Maybe you could take a keepsake to remember mother by?”
I smiled. “Well there are a couple of things I had in mind.”
* * *
Kirren was bent over the counter when I got back to the shop, getting ready to re-animate a mouse that the cat had caught that morning. He looked up at the jangle of the bell; I stood in the doorway savouring the moment. Motes of dust danced in shafts of sunlight, beads of sweat gleamed on the necromancer’s bald head. “Ah, you’re back,” he said. “Did it go well?”
I shrugged, careful not to test my suspect collarbone. “Well enough.” I waited. It didn’t take him long to notice. Kirren was always an observant fellow.
“Ah,” he said. “I see you have your mother’s eyes.”
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Congratulations again to T. O. Munro! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.