THE DEATH HOUSE
by TIMOTHY BASTEK
hey crept down from the mountains each night and peered through Moira’s window. Their eyes shone in the dark and their teeth glinted with the moon. “Now?” they asked. “Now?”
“Patience,” came the reply.
She resided in the house alone, as was customary in the village. Only the other women were allowed within its perimeters, but they left as soon as her body showed signs of failing. After all, their only job was to make her comfortable before the end. And comfortable she was. The house may have been small with only one room, but it was warm and cozy with a fire burning in the hearth. She lay in a large bed with thick blankets and feather pillows. Directly across from her was the front door. To her left stood a bookshelf stacked full of all the books she could ever wish for, if she had the strength or desire to read. To her right was the window where she saw the leering faces of the mountain-folk.
The night the women retreated to the village, only one came and stared at her through the window, nothing more than a shadow in the empty desert. The second night it returned with a companion. “Now?” whispered the new arrival. “Patience,” the first said. With each passing night, more and more came down, until the pale glow of their eyes surrounded the house.
“Do not be afraid,” her grandmother had said when she herself had stayed in the house many years ago. “With my death, I give you life, for this is how our village is protected.” It was a pact formed long ago, before even Moira’s grandmother was born. A pact that saved the villagers’ lives as long as the lives of the old and dying were given to those who dwelled within the mountains.
Moira had wept the morning she returned to the house with the rest of the village to gather whatever remains were left of her grandmother. As Moira lay in the same bed her grandmother and parents had lain in before her, she wondered who wept for her now. Her brothers had all been claimed by the plague, and her husband left long ago when he discovered she was unable to carry children.
Back in the village, the townsfolk would be preparing for Moira’s final night in the house. Their windows would be bolted and their doors latched tight. There would be no movement to and from the village, for no one was allowed to leave while someone stayed in the house. The other women would hold their children close in an attempt to shield them from the mountainfolk’s joyful screeches.
Tonight was to be her last in the house. She took short, shallow breaths and her eyes grew heavy. Outside, the mountainfolk became restless. Their small bodies quivered with glee and their eyes shone with hunger. “Now?” they whispered.
“Now,” came the reply.
Timothy Bastek lives in Arizona and studied for one year in Sweden. He has had one story published in the past, a collaboration with his friend Taylor Packer, entitled "The Black Elm," which was published in Volume 8, Issue 3 of Tales of the Talisman.
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