“Ashes” Fiction by Ethan Maiden

There you go, daddy. There you go to the next place where mummy is waiting.

I was there when he stopped breathing. Just like I had been there with mum. I had become some kind of grim reaper watching over as they passed over. Did I feel fear? Of course. But did I feel sorrow – unashamedly not.

It hadn’t been a secret that I didn’t get on with my parents. I was an only child and their special little daughter. In my younger years I had been spoilt rotten, getting anything I wanted. Dad (Patrick) had been a partner in a successful architectural firm and we had a significant amount of wealth. It paid for my first car, my education and eventual marriage to Stephen. But behind everything, there comes a price and as they say; ‘you reap what you sow.’

*

 Dad’s funeral took place on a blustery morning in March at 11:00 to be precise. It was a small affair with distant family relatives and his old work associates. Dad had ensured he had a life plan and the whole thing had been paid off in advance. All I had to do was arrange the thing and show up.

            I nodded to the, ‘Sarah, we’re sorry for your loss,’ condolences.

            I hate to admit it, but I resented both my parents. I was told to get out and get a job, to fend for myself. I remember the arguing. I could still see mum collapsing to the floor grabbing her chest. She couldn’t breathe. I reached for the phone to call an ambulance but…

I’d tried to be the rock to get dad through the grief. 

            ‘Sarah, I miss her every day,’ dad would say.

            ‘Me too dad.’

            Little white lies don’t hurt … not sometimes.

*

            Dad had insisted on being cremated instead of a burial like mum.

            The ashes were placed in a grey ceramic urn which found its way onto my fire mantelpiece. Stephen said he enjoyed having it there, like dad was still here with us. They had had a special relationship. They went fishing and had a beer watching the game. When mum died Stephen had been the rock to pull dad through the grief.

            ‘Are you scattering them like he asked?’ Stephen asked.

            I nodded, ‘in the sea.’

            ‘When?’

            ‘He said he wanted to go after a week.’

            ‘Huh?’

            ‘He said to me that when he died he wanted to stay just one more week with me, before he is left to rest forever.’

            ‘Well, you have one more week with him, so enjoy,’ Stephen said.

*

            The following day we met with dad’s solicitor. Marcus Hind was a smart chap wearing a navy pinstripe suit, wavy grey hair and thick glasses that showcased his bright hazel eyes. Marcus’ office was on the top floor of the building which housed other small businesses in the centre of town. Stephen and I arrived at just past noon for our appointment.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Dad had been wealthy, that was common knowledge. However how much was still in question. He took early retirement and amongst his assets were a healthy bank balance, a property in Spain and the manor residence where he had passed away.

            ‘You’ll be wondering what details were in your father’s will?’ Marcus asked staring down at the paper.

Oh, you betcha!

            ‘I’d prefer to have him here, Mr. Hind,’ I said, gripping Stephen’s hand.

            Marcus mumbled something I couldn’t quite make out before staring up at us. ‘So, Patrick left the house and the residence in Spain to you.’ Marcus pulled from below his desk a leather black briefcase. ‘Inside this case is the property paperwork as well as the remains of his entire bank balance in cash. I believe it’s in the region of two hundred and forty thousand pounds.’

            ‘All that money can fit in there?’ Stephen asked, pointing with a gaping mouth.

            ‘You’d be surprised,’ Marcus said.

            I went to take it and Marcus quickly slid it back from my grasp.

            ‘There is one more thing Patrick requested.’ Marcus said. ‘The case is locked and will remain locked for the week. In seven days, I will provide the combination code.’

            ‘What?’ I asked, bemused. ‘Is this a joke?’

            ‘Afraid not,’ Marcus said. ‘That’s the conditions Patrick requested.’

            Marcus slid the case back to us. I picked it up, the weight made me almost drop the damn thing. A scent rushed up to me – burnt paper or smoke from a fire. I took hold of the steel handle and left.

            So much money in my grasp … a week will fly by … no problem.

*

            There is a powerful aura around the thing(s) you want the most. The wealth alone in this case was enough to see me through the rest of my life without struggle. Stephen and I had agreed early on in the relationship that we wouldn’t have children. We or more I was selfish. We enjoyed our extravagant holidays and lived the lifestyle we wanted – a life with freedom and without restrictions.

            I set the case on the kitchen table and went to the lounge. The urn stood tall on the mantelpiece.

            ‘This is your last joke, huh?’ I asked. ‘One more week?’

            The urn stared at me and I felt tingles spread across the entirety of my skin.

            That night – it started.

            I woke at just past midnight. Stephen snored next to me as per usual. For some reason I felt wide awake at such a nocturnal hour. Ice filled the room; it felt more like December than early spring. I sat up and rubbed my arms to remind my body of warmth. When I exhaled I saw my breath float and then evaporate before my eyes.

            My surroundings felt off. I could swear I was being watched. I glanced around the shadow filled room. For some reason our eyes like to play mean tricks on us and I’m sure I saw a silhouette run across the landing. Nothing was there obviously, but I couldn’t shake the unease festering in my gut. I laid on my side and held my eyes closed hoping for the sleep to take me. Eventually it did.

*

            The following day I stood staring at the briefcase on the kitchen table. I stroked and smelt the leather. The combination was set to 0-0-0. I thought about rolling the numbers to see if I’d drop lucky. Maybe there’d be a click and the fortune would be mine.

Jokes on you, papa.

My hands moved closer but before I could make contact there was a small bang from the lounge.

            I headed in and saw that the urn had moved across the mantelpiece to the right by at least a foot. Stephen was at work so there was no way he could have moved it.

            ‘Hello, someone there?’

            My spine arched, just like a cat when you give it a stroke. I had to get out of this place. I threw on my jacket and headed out. I wanted to stay out as long as possible; being alone in this house had my nerves jingling.

            I walked to town to buy a few groceries, that passed a little time and hopefully Stephen would be home by the time I got back. I bought the essentials – milk, bread, eggs and a bottle of white wine.

            On the way back, I saw a homeless man sat on the street. He wore a red beanie hat, green jacket and had facial hair to his chest. He sat sorrowfully with a steel cup that held the change he had been given throughout the day. I ransacked my pockets to see if I had anything to give. My hand waddled out a measly £1.34 but as Tesco say – ‘every little helps.’ I bent down to throw it in the pot when the homeless man stared up at me.

            Have we met?

            ‘I have no need for your blood money,’ he said.

            I stopped before dropping it in, startled by what I’d just heard, ‘what?’

            ‘That money is no good to me.’

            ‘I … I don’t know what you mean,’ I said shaking my head in disbelief.

            ‘You know exactly what I mean,’ he replied, toneless.

            I put the coins back in my pocket and hurried back up the street not daring to look back.

*

            I was pacing the kitchen when Stephen arrived home.

            ‘Sarah, what’s wrong?’ he asked, dropping his work bag down.

            My arms were folded and I bit my nails.

            ‘Something’s not right Steve,’ I said.

            ‘What do you mean?’

            I pointed to the briefcase. ‘Ever since we brought that thing back I’ve been feeling … strange.’

            ‘Strange?’

            ‘I … I can’t explain.’

            He moved closer placing his warm hands on my shoulders. ‘You’ve been through a lot,’ he said. ‘First your mum and now your dad in a short space of time. The grief has no doubt taken its toll on you.’

            ‘That’s not it Steve … I know something is wrong.’

            He grimaced and assured me nothing would happen whilst he was here. He would protect me.

*

            Stephen could say what he wanted but when night came that’s when the shadows played their devious tricks.

Again I woke in the middle of the night. For once Stephen wasn’t snoring. I think it was worse that I was engulfed in silence, it somehow made the atmosphere eerier. At least Stephen’s heavy breathing brought a realism to everything.

            The cold fell over me the same as before. I sat upright and stared at the open bedroom door which led to the landing. The staircase creaked. My heart thundered. Thud … thud … thud.

            Mum?

            I struggled to breathe.

            My throat felt as though it was closing with a barricade of ice.

            I gasped trying hard to suck in the air.

            Stephen woke and started shaking me by the shoulders.

            ‘Jesus Christ Sarah, what’s wrong?’

            ‘Mu … mu …,’ I mumbled pointing to my throat.

            My whole body started to shake.

            Stephen laid me down and held me tight.

            ‘I need to call an ambulance.’

            And then the ice in my throat melted. The beating in my chest relaxed and the air returned to normal.

            ‘I … I don’t know what happened,’ I said finding my voice a few moments later.

            ‘You looked like you were having a heart attack,’ Stephen said.

*

            The following two days and nights went without incident. I put the episode down to a panic attack with everything that had happened lately. Still the briefcase sat on the kitchen table. I had to fight the urge to keep my thumbs from scrolling down the numbers. I wanted what was inside … I needed it.

            My hands reached down and I started on the numbers one through nine on all three dials. After an hour or so I flicked them all back to 0 with a huff and sigh.

            A few more days … that’s all.

            It was that night when my fears were suddenly turned up a notch. My eyes popped open to the cold air. This time I felt no struggle to breathe, well not initially. The cold air puffed out of me and I swamped the quilt to keep warm.

            The stairs creaked and not in the way we expect in the midnight hour. They creaked as if someone was climbing them. Something was coming up the stairs.

            I rolled onto my back staring so hard I thought my eyes would pop out of their sockets.

            Time stood still; I was frozen in time.

            Next to me Stephen slept silently. No snores; no heavy breathing and I actually thought he could be dead.

            I glanced up and saw … it.

            The face.

            The right side of a pale white face peeked at me from behind the doorframe. Its hand crawled round spidery and gripped hold of the frame.

            I wanted to scream. My heart wasn’t beating, it felt like it had stopped altogether.

            Then real fear struck me. It was my dad.

            His black eye on show had sunken into his skull and his pale face matched the moon which crept through the curtains.

            A sinister smile crept on the corner of his lip. Crooked teeth fell from his mouth. Dad was mocking me. Even from the grave he was still making my life hell.

            I rolled Stephen over.

            His face had changed.

            Lying next to me now was dad’s frozen corpse.

            This time the screaming did come and I was shaken out of my fit of fear by Stephen.

*

            I tried to explain everything. Stephen looked understanding but I knew deep down he doubted my every word.

            ‘It was just a nightmare,’ he said.

            I walked to the lounge and stared at the urn. That thing was fucking cursed. Could it really be that dad was still here in some way? I pushed his face out of my head.

            I went to speak with Marcus.

            After explaining everything he sat in silence gathering his thoughts.

            ‘I want that code,’ I said. ‘I want to get the money, take the keys and get the hell away from here.’

            Marcus tapped his fingers in a praying pose against his lips. ‘You have twenty-four hours before you get the code, Sarah.’

            ‘No; I want that damn code now!’

            ‘Twenty … four … hours.’ 

            ‘Well I’ll just take that urn and scatter his ashes in the sea if I have to. Good riddance to him.’

            ‘That’s up to you,’ Marcus said.

            He wasn’t budging his stance.

            I got up and stormed out of the office.

            If twenty-four hours was all I had to wait to get my hands on all that money then so bloody be it. One last push of patience.

That night I got in bed early.

Stephen had stayed downstairs to watch the game with a beer.

When I woke this time, Stephen still wasn’t beside me.

Stood above me was my mother.

Her decaying corpse stared down at me.

Her once tanned face was now rotted flesh and bone.

The stench made me want to vomit.

Mum was almost bald but a few loose strands of frizzled hair.

‘M … mum?’ I muttered.

She wore the white gown she had been buried in, it was dirty with stains of mud and earth flowing from knees to her chest.

Then I heard the distant sound of thud … thud … thud.

That horrific noise.

Was it my heart or hers? I couldn’t be sure.

‘Mum … please.’

She pointed at me and her mouth gaped open as though yelling at me, the way she had done all those years ago.

My dad again peeked from the doorframe smiling with that mocking dead expression.

Thud … thud … thud.

The beating of my heart grew.

Thud … thud … THUD.

I couldn’t breathe.

‘Mum … dad … please,’ I strained.

I fell to the bed and started to panic. My hands and toes tensed so hard I thought they’d snap like chicken bone. The muscles and veins in my neck bulged from the thinning skin. This was it; I was dying and my parents were embracing every second.

Stephen came running up the stairs; dad retreated out of view and mum crumbled to the floor vanishing in an instant.          

‘Sarah … Sarah!’ he yelled shaking me.

I managed to take in some much needed oxygen and filled my lungs to capacity.

‘That’s it baby, long hard breaths,’ Stephen reassured me.

My hands relaxed. My muscles started to unclench.

Stephen grabbed hold of me and hugged me tight.

‘Where were you?’ I asked still catching breath.

‘I fell asleep on the sofa.’

‘You were supposed to be here … to keep me safe.’

*

The day I’d been waiting for had finally come. After a long and otherworldly week I’d get what was due to me. But first I had business to attend to.

I grabbed the urn and threw it in the car. Stephen was working so I had all day to carry out the task in hand.

The seafront was an hour’s drive away.  It was a gusty day which suited me. On the way I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear-view mirror.

Jesus Christ Sarah, you’ve aged. Your eyes have bags dropping near your chin. The creases in your face crater like the Grand Canyon and that hair is in dying need of a colour.

Don’t worry we’ll have plenty of cash to sort these things out. All in due time.

It was my mother’s voice that spoke the words.

‘So, you think you can still dictate my life, huh?’ I asked the urn sat innocently beside me. ‘Coming to me in the night … and using mum!’ I said shaking my head. ‘How dare you use mum to get at me. No … no sir; it will all be over today daddy.’

Sarah, you sound hysterical.

I parked at the pay and display next to the beach. £1.30 for an hour’s stay was fine by me. I used the change which should have gone to that homeless chap that freaked me out. Grabbing the urn and my umbrella I headed out down the stone steps. The beach was quiet, a few dog and casual walkers here and there. The sea – wild with a strong scent of salt infiltrating my nostrils.

Surfers would embrace these high waves.

I reached the sea and put down my umbrella. My feet paddled in the ice-cold water and I took the urn holding it out in front of me.

‘Dad. I want to say something. What I put you and mum through was wrong, and I apologise. Thing is, you being in my home is a constant reminder, and I don’t want reminding of the last time I saw you alive. The night terrors are obviously my mind playing the guilt card. I hope you understand. Farewell daddy; be at peace.’

I unlocked the urn and emptied the contents into the sea.

Rolls of money fell into the water.

Bundles of £50 notes held by elastic bands washed out to the sea. There must have been a dozen or so.

What the hell?

I checked the urn and it was empty. Just an empty ceramic container. No ashes and now – no cash. The sea carried the money out and into the waves. I stood speechless as they disappeared under the water.

*

I ran back to the car as fast as my legs would take me. I yanked out my phone out and dialled Marcus’ office.

‘Hello, Marcus H-’

‘Is this some kind of a joke?’ I asked.

‘Sorry?’

‘The urn … it was filled with cash, not my fucking dad.’

‘I see. You scattered it then?’ Marcus asked, irritatingly calm.

‘Yes I scattered them. What’s going on?’

‘Come by the office and we can sort this whole thing out.’

‘Give me the code,’ I said.

‘Pardon me.’

‘The code … give me the fucking code to the case.’

And then Marcus gave it me. I questioned whether he was joking.

He wasn’t.

*

When I arrived home, I ran to the front door with excitement. My hands rushed the key in the lock and I shot through to the kitchen. The briefcase stood on top of the table as I’d left it. I pumped in the code and pulled back the lid.

My hands clasped my mouth like I’d been hit with an arrow in the chest.

Thud … thud … thud …

I took a double take to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me.

Ashes.

The entire case was filled with ashes.

*

Marcus sat behind his desk. I stormed in and smacked the table.

‘What is happening?’

‘Oh Sarah. You have been a naughty girl.’

‘What does that mean you fucking weasel?’

Marcus slipped his computer screen around to face me. On the monitor was the image of a hidden camera. It was staring at my father’s bed. My dad was in it.

‘Where did you get this?’ I asked.

‘Well, you see that your father had become quite suspicious following your mother’s untimely death. So, he set this camera up for proof if he ever needed it, which he certainly did. Didn’t he Sarah?’

‘No … this isn’t happening …’ I muttered, unable to steady myself.

I fell into the chair.

‘Let’s have a watch, shall we?’ Marcus said and pushed play.

I remembered. I didn’t need to see it, but I couldn’t take my eyes away. I entered the bedroom whilst dad was asleep. I remembered his face. I took the pillow and held it tight against his face. I pressed down harder and harder. Dad’s hands gripped as he fought, damn he tried to fight. Yet he was frail, all too frail. I pushed harder until he fell limp …

‘Oh dear Sarah,’ Marcus said. ‘First your mother and then your father.’

Thud … thud … thud.

‘Dad … had suspicions?’

‘The constant discussions over money? The arguing? He heard you say that you’d kill her?’

Mum needed an ambulance. I could have saved her but I didn’t make the call. I watched her die in front of me. Thud … thud …

‘He set me up?’

‘Of course,’ Marcus said ‘He was a dying man but you couldn’t be patient could you, Sarah? You had to have his fortune didn’t you?’

I was close to tears. Marcus had the incriminating evidence and my life was over.

‘The money in the urn was all that was left,’ Marcus continued. ‘Patrick had sold the property in Spain and donated his fortune to charity. The only possession he had was the manor house, which he has kindly left … to me.’

‘You?’ I asked.

Marcus chuckled. ‘He came to me with his suspicions a while ago and we made a deal. And when you make a deal with me, the agreement is final.’

‘Who are you?’

Marcus just smiled. There was a burning behind those eyes – a blackness.

Suddenly fear had substituted the rage in me. This … thing in front of me made my stomach churn.

‘What are you? Is that what the combination to the case was – a clue?’ I asked.

‘I take great pleasure in seeing a sinner’s world fall apart.’

‘The night terrors … the homeless man, it was you, wasn’t it?’

Marcus again smiled with his crooked teeth and burning eyes. ‘I like to have my fun now and again.’

I rushed to my feet almost stumbling to the floor. The blue carpet had changed to bare floorboards. The nice paint of the office had started to peel away. Marcus just sat watching my disbelief as the surroundings fell to desolation.

I ran out of the door which fell from its hinges to the floor. I headed down the stairs. The other small businesses in the building were vacant. Not a soul in sight. I fell through the door and turned to see the entire building boarded up and worthy of demolition.

I had to get home. I had to see Stephen.

*

I flew over the speed limit the whole way. I wasn’t thinking straight and who could blame me?

When I arrived home, a police car was parked outside the house. What had happened now? Had that Marcus thing got to Stephen?

I ran in the house and found two officers with Stephen huddled around his laptop. My face fell. They turned. I saw behind them the footage of me suffocating my father playing on the screen.

Tears fell down Stephen’s cheeks.

‘Sarah … how could you?’ he asked.

‘I … I’m sorry.’

The police officers moved toward me.

The briefcase of ashes remained on the kitchen table; the code still read 6-6-6.

Copyright © Ethan Maiden


Bio:

Ethan works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire.
Writing fiction has become a hobby over the past couple of years and he hopes to one day publish a novel.
Ethan notes Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft as influences behind his work.


4 thoughts on ““Ashes” Fiction by Ethan Maiden

  1. Ethan, I am so glad I took the time to read this today. Just about to read your other ones then I’ll drop you a message but this one. WOW. Such a good twist 🙂 I sort of sat there waiting for it but didn’t see it coming. Great job.

    Like

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