This story is by Madame of the Mansion and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s been about ten years now since the death toll came to an end. I could finally go out in public and not hear mention of it. The autumn season would be upon us within a few days but the changes to the trees had started earlier than usual this year. I decided that with the fall colors emerging, it would be a perfect day for a stroll into town.
As I entered the bustling quarter, I saw the mayor and his committee decorating for the annual All Hallows Eve festivities. As I passed, he and I tipped our hats to each other. We were a good distance from each other, but I still managed to notice that his usual friendly grin was somewhat lacking. Nonetheless, I continued on my walk. The sights and sounds of the restless community brought a joy to my heart that I hadn’t felt for some time, especially the rambunctious play and laughter of a group of nearby children. I found a bench near the park to sit and take a moment’s rest. The children ran by me into the park and started skipping rope and singing rhymes. I relaxed and leaned my head into the sunlight as it peered through a cloud. For the first time in a long time, all felt right with the world, until I heard the children start to sing a familiar old rhyme. Joyfully skipping, they chanted:
Here comes the bride
With the shining axe
Beheads her grooms
With one swift hack
Has glowing eyes
And golden curls
Beware the black widow
With the string of pearls.
As simple as that, my lightened heart became veiled in shadow once again. I left the bench and the children behind me. Suddenly, the festival preparations didn’t look so wonderful anymore.
A decade. A decade has passed and yet this town still spreads that horrid tale to their children as if it were some campfire ghost story. I may be the only one who understands the full truth of the black widow bride.
Before all these insulting jingles were sung for the first time, the bride was just as human as the rest of us. She had a husband and three children she cherished. Her only other prized possession was her pearl necklace. Her husband was a dedicated, hardworking man who believed his family should want for nothing. When his beloved wife wanted to take a trip out of town to visit family, he was unable to go with her, but he allowed her to take the children. After returning, the two eldest children fell very ill and were not strong enough to overcome their sickness. Much to the despair of their mother, they died in her warm embrace. She still had one child living, but the heartbreak of losing any children was unbearable. She plummeted into a dark depression. After some months, there was a day she was in the woods behind their home, chopping firewood and weeping heavily. Her husband had joined her to try and comfort her.
“Constance, won’t you come in and rest?”, he asked calmly.
“I wish to be alone.”, she replied, wiping her forehead of sweat before chopping another log.
“There are plenty of rooms inside where you could be alone. Perhaps…”, he hesitated, “Perhaps, you could sit in the nursery.”
Just as these words escaped him, she swung down hard on a log.
“The nursery? You mean the room left cold and empty by the deaths of my children?”
“Constance, I miss them, too. Believe me, but…”
“Believe you? Believe you when you expect me to be perfectly sound sitting beside the beds of my deceased children? Please, just leave me be.”, she turned and prepared another log to be chopped.
“My dear, please…”
“George, please just go back inside.”, she says, anger growing through her tears.
“I said GO!”, she turned fast and without thinking, threw the axe she had in her hand. Before he could dodge, the axe lodged deep between her husband’s eyes and knocked him to the ground.
He seized as his head drained of blood and his body slowly became lifeless. Realizing what she’d done, she ran to him, held him tightly to her and wailed loudly into the woods around her.
“George…”, she cried, “my sweet George, I’m so sorry.”
Between blood-drenched lips, he managed to spill his final words:
And he died in her warm embrace.
I saw it. I was hiding behind a tree a short distance from where it happened and saw it all, heard every scream, every word. My father was dead.
“Mummy?”, I quivered as I slowly approached the scene.
She turned, shocked to know I was behind her.
“Eddie…no. My love, what did you see? I…it was an accident…I was angry. I didn’t mean to…”
The more she tried to defend, the harder it was for her to breathe between her tears. While one hand still held my father’s lifeless body, her other hand reached for me. I stepped back from her in fear.
“My dearest Eddie…Mummy’s not a monster. Please come to me?”
Still shaking with fear, I inched toward her and hesitantly let her take my hand in hers. My small fingers now had my father’s fresh blood imprinted on them. My mother held me close and tight and cried into my chest. I was not even a step away from my father’s body. Too afraid to try to leave my mother, and too shocked to believe what was happening, all I could do was stare blankly at the nightmare around me.
After father’s death, we held a private, closed-casket funeral. Mother had changed drastically after that day. She still loved me with every piece of her broken heart, even more so because I was all she had left in the world. She wanted me to be secure and have a male head of the house to look up to. She, in time, remarried. With her new husband, she added a new strand of pearls to her prized necklace. Not long into the union, her new husband suggested the idea of having children. She quickly grew angry and burst into a million questions as to why I was not good enough to be his heir. I watched silently from a landing on the staircase as the man tried to relax her, but she suddenly turned completely blank and walked away. She would soon return, axe in hand, and almost as though something had taken over her, she swiftly beheaded her groom. The man’s body fell to the floor with a thud and then her mind appeared to click back to normal, except she embraced the headless body begging:
“George, please forgive me…”.
This happened multiple times. A new husband and father-figure would come into our lives. With each newcomer also came a new strand of pearls. The new man would ask her to give him a child of their own and, like that, my mother would disappear. A monster would take her place.
Finally, not long after I had my twelfth birthday, my mother had been caught in the act of beheading her then husband by a groundskeeper peering in through a window. He ran to town and told the authorities. It was over. With an investigation of the grounds, they found small graves that contained each victim. Her crimes considered, she was sentenced to death by beheading. Her last request was that I hold onto her only other cherished possession, the strands of pearls. Before being brought to her fate, she placed the pearls in my hand, kissed it, and said to me:
“Mummy’s not a monster, Eddie. Please forgive me.”
With that moment, I was now alone. My siblings were gone, my father was gone, and now the only family I had left was taken from me. Undoubtedly, I feared her, but she loved me more than anyone could ever understand. We were all each other had.
To know that the tale of the black widow bride has passed through this city as child’s play is a terrible blow to my family history. On the outside, I understand the fear it induces. On the inside, I will always remember every last victim, the cries and prayers of forgiveness from my mother will forever ring in my ears. She may have been a monster to them, but in my heart she was still my mother.