Flash Fiction: Emotional Labours


Some gothic horror fun for Hallowe’en. Cross posted from Medium. Happy Hallowe’en to everyone who follows this blog.

There are subjects in every family which are not spoken of. In mine, it is my father’s death. Since my father died when I was five, spending time with my family has been a chore. The manner of his death was ridiculous, because my father cannot do anything that is not ridiculous, but also more ridiculous is the pretence his death never happened. Inevitably the whole charade will slip, he’ll walk through a wall without thinking or drip the ectoplasmic remnants of the puddle he died in all over the hall floor and my mother will loose another piece of her favourite china at the kitchen wall.

We have always spoken of my mother’s nerves but really it is my mother’s anger that hangs over us and makes my father’s death an impossibility. I suspect they would both be happier if he were simply allowed to pass in the ordinary way. She has always found him the most infuriating person and her anger has always brought out the worst in him. But I’ve noticed as I get older that people are prone to falling into habits and in time those habits become cages. So it was with my parents.

Those of you who are eldest children will understand there are certain emotional labours which befall us, to which our younger siblings are blithe, if not entirely oblivious.

Unfortunately, my younger brother and sister had invited me to a family get together which I felt obliged to attend.

My sister, Millicent, sent a handcrafted invitation to each of the family, even though most of them are still in residence in the old family home. My brother, Algernon, phoned me to ensure I’d received mine and spent a painful fifteen minutes extracting praise from me which he would pass on to her. She included my partner, Francis, but I refuse to involve him in our ludicrous affairs, having carved out a small niche that is entirely apart from them.

I suspect my siblings have become somewhat deranged over the years, maintaining their blithe spirit.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to fix them for you?” Francis asked, as I picked up my sword cane and made for the door. Outside, the rain poured down in a solid sheet and the taxi driver tapped the steering wheel impatiently.

I stood on the threshold and sucked in a breath. “They’re still my family.”

“Is that not rather the point?” Francis asked. He did away with his own many years ago without a great deal of fuss. The police have still to find any suspects, though they nebulously blame the act on occult practices. He considered me from under his heavy brow and then with a wave of a hand, added, “Well, if you change your mind….”

“Of course,” I said non-commitally. He is wont to fly into a funk if he thinks I’m at all critical of his life choices.

I found some consolation in shutting down all small talk on the taxi ride over. I caught myself sliding the blade from my cane absent-mindedly when it winked at me in the streetlights.

Milly and Algy crowded me as soon as I was through the door of our old pile, deluging me with hugs and kisses which I tolerated for a few moments before setting them both aside.

“Did you like my invitation?” Milly asked. She was dressed as some kind of witch, with her hair teased into a demented fuzz around her head.

I slipped the grey card from my jacket pocket and ran my finger over the real spider she’d trapped there under a plastic coating and the ‘Trick or Treat’ she’d scrawled across the top in someone’s blood. “Charming,” I assured her. “Very inventive.”

“Papa’s in disgrace, again,” Algy confided. He’d favoured a vampiric costume for the evening. “He keeps re-enacting his death. I don’t think he can stop, poor thing. It’s driving Mama wild.”

“Do you think you can fix him?” Milly asked. Francis’s offer ran through my head. Milly meant it in a completely different sense, of course.

“Oh, do try, Gus,” Algy pleaded. “You were always ever so good at that sort of thing.”

I nodded and went through to the sitting room, my cane tapping lightly across the ornate hall tiles. My father lay hovering an inch above the floor, face down in a puddle of blueish-grey fog. He was particularly insubstantial.

His words came back to me from that day. You can drown in a puddle of water, Gus. Only takes a couple of inches.

And of course, I hadn’t believed him. And of course, he had to demonstrate.

I walked over to the centre of the room, where he lay. A spectral chill cooled me to the bone. What had I said?

Nothing. I’d giggled. And then he’d turned blue and my mother had looked up from her roses and seen us. She’d come flying across the lawn.

“What are you doing, stupid man?”

I turned to her now, standing in the doorway. Yes, that’s just what she’d said that day. And then she’d pushed me aside and hauled him up by the back of his tweed jacket. But it was too late, of course.

I knelt down by his side, as I had that damp autumn day, and pressed my palm down on the back of his head. Just so. And she came flying across the room.


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