by MARIE ROBINSON
or Mr. Ripley Trembley, the bed in which he lay had always served as his place of rest each night; but now it had begun to serve as his final resting place. Mr. Trembley was dying, his head was boiling with fever, and all that could be done was to wait for his eyes to close a final time.
The bed had also served as his wife’s deathbed, but this had never bothered Ripley, never crossed his mind, not even now.
There weren’t many thoughts he could force his mind to focus on, all of his attention was directed on the throbbing behind his forehead, the heat and the sweat dripping down his
face and soaking the sheets below.
He lay still; the only sounds in the room were his shallow breathing and his thumping heart. His eyelids began to flutter, and he felt himself drifting away on the lofty cloud of sleep, a great feeling of relief coming with it.
Just as he had fallen under the cloak of unconsciousness, he was ripped from this state by a tapping sound. He kept his eyes closed at first and tried to identify the source of the disturbance with ears alone. It seemed that the sound was coming from the window, and with great reluctance he rolled his heavy head to the side and opened his eyes.
Perched on the other side of the glass was a stout black crow, its beady eyes peering in at Mr. Trembley. As he stared at it with a furrowed brow, it began to tap its beak upon the glass, the same sound that had drug him from his slumber.
“Shoo!” He hissed, coughing as the word ran hoarse in his throat.
The crow ceased its tapping, gave a final cock of her head, and fluttered off.
Ripley rolled his throbbing skull back over and closed his eyes once more, this time in silence, and drifted off to sleep.
A tapping pulled him from his dreams once again, and Mr. Trembley’s eyes snapped open and darted to the window. There sat the same crow, knocking her shiny black beak against the glass.
“Go away!” Ripley cried. The bird didn’t make to move; she simply kept her steady tapping on the other side of the window.
“Charlotte!” Ripley called out.
A young woman entered the room. She had straight black hair, falling down past her thin shoulders, and she wore a plain blue cotton dress and an apron tied across her waist. She had a slight likeness of Mr. Trembley, but her long face was much softer. Her cheeks were plump and pale, and her dark eyes, eyes that once shimmered, now had a glaze over them like a stagnant pool. Her smile was small and kind, but stale; the poor girl was hardened by this act, all to familiar to her. She had been the caretaker of her dying family members many more times than any young girl should, and her years surrounded by death and grief and sorrow outnumbered those filled with innocence and laughter and life. Charlotte had cared for her darling brother—who died only four years after having been born—and of course, for her mother, who never in her life was able to receive the love she bestowed upon others.
And now she had to care for her father, a man who loved neither her nor those she had put in the ground. Oh, how she hated him—how she wished she could merely let him die without a second thought, just as he had done to the others! But Charlotte did not have the courage to do that; she was weak. So, she continued to tend to him, waiting with agony for the day his labored breaths ceased.
“Yes, father?” She said, wiping her hands on her apron.
“The damn crow at the window won’t leave me alone,” he groaned, his eyes closed.
“What crow?” She asked, cocking her head sweetly, putting on her much-loathed facade of happiness and obedience.
“The one at the window. It keeps tapping on the glass.”
“Well, maybe she wants you to let her in!” Charlotte giggled. “Either way, she’s gone now.”
Ripley only just realized that the bothersome little noise at the window had stopped. The room was silent now. He rolled round in his bed and saw that the window frame was empty, save for the dusty blue sky and swaying stalks of grass.
“How are you feeling today, father?” Charlotte asked, reaching down to feel her father’s forehead.
He simply replied with a dramatic moan and squirmed away under her touch.
Charlotte snatched her hand away and bit the inside of her cheeks. She wished to strike him, or to storm away and shut the door—and lock it.
“Your temperature is pretty high, but you insist on being covered by all these blankets. Might I open the window to let some air in?”
“No!” Ripley yelled, immediately reproaching and clearing his throat, repeating in a softer voice, “no.”
Mr. Templeton awoke in the middle of the night to a small voice whispering to him.
It sounded close, as if it was in the room with him, but it was muffled.
“Ripley, how are you feeling?”
He thought at first that it was his daughter, for it was a female voice, though raspy and hoarse; but when he opened his eyes he saw that the door was shut and that he was alone.
The room was dark, there was only a thin silvery layer of light that clung to the walls and the sheets on top of him like a shroud. Night had fallen, seemingly hours ago, for the light under the door had gone and his bedside candle had burned down to its end. He listened for any sounds about the house, but the silence was thick. The harder he listened the harder it pressed itself against him, the pressure of it building on his chest; not even the wind blew.
“Over here, Ripley!” Called the voice; it sounded like wind-rustled leaves.
His head felt like the inside of a boiling egg. He rolled it to the side and squinted as the bright moonlight hit his eyes, sending a searing strike of pain through his skull.
As his eyes adjusted he saw a small, crude figure at the window, the head moving in quick, jerky motions. It was only when he saw the wings unfold and flap that he knew it was the crow.
“There you are!” It croaked. “Why don’t you come open the window so I can come inside? It’s so cold out here.” There was a singsong notion of humor to the voice, as if it were suppressing a laugh.
Ripley was completely oblivious to the supposed temperature outside; his body was on fire. His bedclothes were drenched in sweat and stuck to his skin uncomfortably.
“I’m dreaming,” he mumbled. He felt like his swollen head was forcing his eyelids shut.
A shiver rattled through his bones as the bird seemed to laugh.
“No, you’re not!” It said happily. “Open the window.”
“A fever dream of some sort…” A fresh cold sweat was creeping down his face.
And then began the tapping. The short, sharp pangs screamed in his skull. He know not how long he lay there, frozen stiff in his heavy, burning, miserable body, but eventually he descended into a prison-like sleep of no dreams, only stark blackness.
The next morning his daughter fed him a soup; the flavor of which he could not determine. It felt sickening on his tongue—the thickness of it reminded him of the mucus that constantly flooded his mouth—he refused most of it.
Charlotte clenched her jaw each time he wrenched his head to the side and made some brattish groan when she poised a spoonful before his lips. She wanted to hurl the bowl, stand up out of her wooden chair and scream down into his graying face. Instead, she simply put the bowl of soup on the nightstand. She had tried. At this point what did she care if he didn’t want to eat? Although, it did annoy her how he chose to waste away like this; not giving a thought to how she was dedicating all of her time to keeping him alive.
As Ripley rolled his head away from another spoonful of the dreaded stuff, he opened his eyes and saw the blunt black frame of the crow perched at the windowsill.
He gasped and tore his eyes away from the sight, closing them tightly. “There it is!”
Charlotte was startled at his sudden burst of emotion—it seemed to be terror. “What?”
“The crow!” Ripley cried. “The damned crow that has been plaguing me. Look! It’s at the window!”
She looked up to the solitary window in the room and saw nothing but a bright, beautiful day that she was able to have no part of.
“I don’t see anything, father.”
He snapped his neck back round to look and was horrified to see that the beast had vanished.
The whole night, Ripley had been watching the candle on his nightstand burn down, dreading the moment when the wick expired. As soon as it happened, in a whisper of smoke, darkness befell the room and there came again the hiss at the glass.
“Please,” Ripley sobbed, “leave me alone.”
“Do you want to know how I came to speak?” Asked the crow, cocking her head. “I plucked out a woman’s tongue. Carmen’s!”
Ripley began to grimace at the image behind the crow’s words, but froze when he heard the name she had uttered.
“What did you say?” He asked cautiously.
She cocked her head to the other side, her black eyes twinkling with moonlight. “I said I ate Carmen’s tongue. You remember Carmen? The woman you shared a bed with as your own wife wilted away in the very one you lay.”
Indeed, he remembered Carmen. The memory slithered through his mucus-coated head to the front of his mind.
He was drawn to her because she was beautiful, of course. She had rust-colored hair and green eyes that smirked up at the side, much like her lips. But Ripley had never really valued a woman’s beauty, or a woman’s words or thoughts. What attracted him to Carmen was that she would give him what he desired—a physical relationship. His wife had been sick, deteriorating in this bed for weeks, and all she did was sob and sleep. He needed a release—not intimacy—but a release, and Carmen was willing to give him that as often as he wanted.
“You foul creature!” The crow spat, as if it had watched the memories unfold in his mind—memories of gasps and grunts and thrusts. “Did you even know she died?”
He shook his head. He did not.
“Your visits gave her hope for love, but when they ceased she discovered you for what you are. Just before loneliness tore her heart in two, she cursed your name and, from her broken heart, I flew forth!” The crow outstretched her wings and began beating them madly against the window.
Ripley tried to cry out but all but came was a stifled groan, not nearly loud enough to reach his daughter’s room. He trembled beneath the covers that he gripped with gnarled fingers, his eyes fixed in horror on the ghastly bird.
“And if you let me in, I will eat out your heart so that another may live, one who deserves a life of love and happiness—that which you denied her! So, let me in, Ripley… Open the window…” And with this last taunting whisper the crow began to tap her beak on the window with such ferocity that Ripley feared the glass might begin to crack and shatter at any moment. His eyes rolled back into his head and he fainted.
He awoke to an unexpected sense of euphoria. His skin did not feel stale as it usually did, but breathed; he felt clean. He kept his eyes closed and nuzzled under a cool and caring caress.
A light glowed through his eyelids and he looked to see that the room was filled with daylight. He felt so good that he thought he might even be able to sit up, but before he made to do so he noticed that the room was empty, the door ajar, and that the caress on his cheek was that of the breeze.
His heart froze as he turned his eyes to the window and beheld the crow perched in her usual spot, except this time no glass separated them. As Ripley’s lips parted and a scream ripped from his throat, the crow lifted her head and cackled wildly, flapping her wings and flying into the room.
When Charlotte returned to her father’s room with a fresh bowl of cool water and a rag to wash him, she found his lifeless eyes gazing desperately into hers. His face was transfixed in a state of terror, his jaw slack, his eyes bloodshot. The blankets were rolled down to his stomach to reveal the white night gown he had on, soaked with blood around the breast. There was a gaping hole in his flesh, and his very heart was missing.
Before Charlotte could react she heard a soft knocking at the door. She took quick, small steps, carrying a fistful of her skirt in her hand, as she had a habit of doing, and twisted the silver doorknob.
She cocked her head and smiled sweetly. “Hello, mother.”
Marie Robinson is a young woman from St. Louis, MO who has a passion for all things macabre. This includes, but is not limited to, film, literature, and artwork. She has a strong interest in the paranormal and is also a studying folklore expert. As well as being a horror fiction writer she also writes reviews and original content for several websites including Fascination With Fear, Destroy the Brain, and Film-Addict.
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