This story is by Tiffany Lafleur and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The horizon was a brilliant orange, foretelling another warm day to come. Gold and burgundy hints of autumn tinted the leaves as summer slowly faded. Abigail quietly sat on her porch and sipped her tea. It was one of life’s simple pleasures that remained. She’d lived a good, long life. Her three sons had given her seven bright and healthy grandchildren. She saw her boys often, and could always count on them to return to their childhood home to help their mother when needed.
She was proud of them. Considering the monster they had for a father, Abigail was grateful all three of her boys had turned out well. Abigail had not had a family. Her mother died when she was very young, leaving her father to raise her alone. He’d taken on three jobs to pay for Abigail’s studies. Sometimes she wondered if it would have been best if she had skipped school, instead. It would have saved her a lot of grief.
After all, it was where she met Andrew.
They met in her junior year, while he was on the cusp of graduating from law school. His magnetic charm made people flock to him, and he’d quickly skyrocketed to the top of the university’s social status. The women wanted him. The men wanted to be him. He and Abigail had connected instantly, and before she knew it, they were engaged. At Andrew’s request, she had foregone a career to focus on building their family. She’d given birth to their first son, Robert, within a year of their marriage. Mark was soon to follow, with Peter not long after.
The start of their life together had seemed blissful enough. She learned early quickly that Andrew had a temper, but as long as Abigail didn’t do anything to anger him, he was a kind and loving husband. She knew all his dislikes and avoided them at all costs. The one thing she couldn’t control, however, was when he drank.
Alcohol fueled his temper like gasoline on a fire. Occasionally, she had to barricade her and her boys in the attic while Andrew sobered up. Sometimes, she just had the time to lock her boys away. The bruises always healed quickly, but the fear remained.
As time passed, Andrew didn’t need alcohol to trigger his violent outbursts. A cold meal, the boys roughhousing or a shattered glass on the floor was reason enough to have hell to pay. Abigail had done her best to shield her children from their father’s anger. For every hit they took, Abigail too ten. After a bad fight, Andrew would stalk off into the night and disappear, sometimes for days at a time. But he always came back. Groveling, he’d apologize and promise never to lay a hand on them ever again. He blamed the boys, Abigail, work, the weather.
It never took long for his promises to fall through. Soon, he stopped promising. Then he stopped apologizing.
Eventually Andrew’s disappearances became more frequent, longer. His absences offered them respite. Abigail would dare hope he would never come back. But he always did.
The worst fight had been the last. Robert had grabbed Andrew’s hand as he’d drawn it back, protecting his mother from another hit across the face. With a cold fury, Andrew had smashed his son’s face against the wall, breaking his nose. Livid, Andrew threatened to keep pulling his arm back until Robert called his mother a whore. Robert never wavered, and Andrew’s promise came through. Robert’s shoulder dislocated, popping out of its socket. Cursing, Andrew had packed a suitcase and left.
Abigail wished some act of God would strike Andrew from their lives. She hated him with every fiber of her being, yet the fear of leaving him was greater than the fear of staying. Andrew had connections with politicians and police through his law firm. He would find them if they ever left. There was no telling what would happen if he did.
After two months, a letter from Andrew came in the mail. He was leaving her, wanting nothing more to do with Abigail and their sons. That day, Abigail bought a maple tree sapling and planted it on the Western part of their property, just before where the fields started. It became an emblem for the start of their new lives.
Sitting on her porch, Abigail was happy. Despite the hits, the bruises, the cuts and the shouts, she had still had a good life. The maple tree in her yard had been a testament to that, growing taller and fuller every spring. But after fifty years of proudly reaching to the heavens, its days had become numbered. Soon, the tree would be cut down. It broke Abigail’s heart to know it would be gone.
When she had planted it she was the last house on her street before the fields started. But then the empty lot next door was sold, a house built, and her tree found itself two feet over on her new neighbour’s lawn. Luckily, her neighbour promised never to cut it down.
But then he moved. And a young, arrogant man moved in with his wife. Abigail had never formally met them until the husband, Paul, had called a lumber company to come cut the tree a month ago. His wife found it to be an eyesore. Abigail had shuffled as fast as her old legs could take her and shooed the workmen off, arguing the tree was on her property and they had no permission to cut it.
Paul had been quick to stomp over, knowing full well the tree was in fact his. Abigail blamed it on her advancing age and selective memory. He’d offered to buy her another maple if she’d pay for gas. But she didn’t want another tree. What she wanted was for that tree to stay.
Abigail took another small sip of her tea. There was one option that remained. The Final Wish clause. Upon the death of an individual, if they had included any final wishes that were easy for the town to cover, the town would do so.
In Abigail’s will, she drew upon the Final Wish clause to include the protection of the tree. She had drafted an account of her difficult past, and how even after her death, the tree would be a symbol of rebirth for her sons. She had done all the appropriate paperwork. There was only one problem.
The clause would only come into effect upon her death.
Abigail pulled her sweater around her shoulders a little tighter. The cold had started to seep into her bones. Her cup slipped from her grip and shattered on the ground near her feet.
Abigail had lived a long, happy life. Even though there had been years of darkness and dread, the good outweighed the shadow Andrew had cast.
The cyanide was slowly taking effect. Every time she blinked it became harder to open her eyes again. Her breathing became laboured and difficult. Her hands and feet were numb and seized with an uncontrollable shaking. Tomorrow, she would be found sitting in her chair. And then her wish would come into effect. The tree would be protected. It was better this way. She was ready to leave this earth. And besides, she wouldn’t want the tree to be uprooted and have Andrew’s bones strewn across the lawn.
After that fight, he’d left for two months. She’d dared hope he had gone for good. But like the boomerang from hell, he came back with a vengeance, roaring drunk at four in the morning in the middle of a thunderstorm, yelling for her to unlock the front door and let him in.
That’s when she’d snapped. She’d taken the baseball bat by the door, met him outside and whacked him on the head. She hit him again while he was writhing on the ground. And again. Over and over. Until his head was a misshapen pulp and his chest had caved into a bloody mess. The crunching of his bones was covered by the deafening thunder, while the rain washed away the blood pooling on the grass.
Years of fear, loathing, disappointment cumulated in each blow. Every hit was a release. She dug his grave on the edge of the fields, burying him in the early hours of the morning. Then she wrote a letter and posted it to herself. When she told her sons their father was out of their lives forever, a weight lifted from their shoulders. They eagerly helped her plant the tree she had bought, oblivious to the fact they were helping seal away their mother’s crime.
She could feel the fingers of death taking grip on her stomach, creeping around her heart. She smiled, knowing her secret would die with her.
In order to vanquish her monster, she’d had to become one herself.