Ashes

Ashes
by Marcus Church

By way of celebration, they took Scott’s ashes to the bluff at Barrett’s Point and let the wind take them. As the Pacific thundered and crashed on the sandstone below, the swirling motes twisted and twined as if struggling to find the form they used to hold. For a heartbeat, Izzy imagined a face in the cloud, and the shadowed pockets of its eyes seemed to regard her.

Her scalp tingled.

He knows.

Karl draped an arm about her shoulders and said, “At last, that fucker’s out of our lives.”

Izzy shrugged his arm away and watched the last of her husband disperse over the sea. “It seems so surreal. Like a dream …”

“I know,” said Karl. Izzy felt the abrasive rub of his stubbled chin against the nape of her neck. His arms snaked about her waist, pulling her tight against him. “Thanks to hubby’s life insurance, you’re a rich widow. A hot, rich widow.” He tongued her earlobe.

“Please, Karl.” Izzy tried to break away from him, only to have Karl strengthen his hold.

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing. It just doesn’t seem right, that’s all.”

“What? Doing it up here, or getting away with murder?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’m being silly.”

His hand slipped under her blouse and groped its way to a breast. “Try and relax. We’ve got nothing to worry about. Soon as the money comes in, we can say adios to this shithole and start living the good life.”

She felt him harden against the small of her back. The wildfire his touch lit in her took hold and Izzy yielded to his desire, rejoicing in the ways he used her.

After, when they lay on the grass beside one another, spent and basking in the mid-afternoon sun, Izzy thought she saw the shape of a man in the shadows of a nearby stand of trees. Her initial alarm dissolved when the shadow faded.

A trick of the light, that’s all.


The wind sweeping in from the southwest grew chill as night settled in. Izzy sat at the dining table nursing her third glass of cheap red, flicking through paperwork from Scott’s lawyer. All the bureaucratic bullshit was doing her head in. There were myriad forms to read and sign. She glimpsed a figure on one of the pages and the number of zeros made her stomach squirm.

You’re rich, you’re rich, and all you had to do was become a cold-hearted bitch.

A mirthless sound escaped her and she lifted the glass to her lips. A thud from the rear of the house made her jump and crimson rivulets dribbled down her chin and over the Vera Wang coat Scott had brought for her in New York.

“Shit,” she said. Chair legs shrieked on floorboards as she stood to inspect the damage. What did her mother say was good for red wine, salt and water or vinegar and water? In the kitchen, she grabbed a roll of paper towel and began blotting the spatter.

Thud.

Izzy froze.

Thud.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she muttered. Holding her breath, she waited for a repeat of the sound. When it didn’t come, she moved from the kitchen to the lounge and looked down the long, dark hallway. A cool breeze swept through the passage and made her flesh prickle.

“Get a knife, girl,” she said. “Get a big one.”

Izzy crept along the hallway, knife gripped in her white-knuckled hands, ears pricked for any strange sound. The door to Scott’s study stood ajar. Through the slender opening, bluish light flickered and she heard muted voices. Izzy slipped her hand in and fumbled for the light switch. White light lit the room and she pushed her way in, whipping her weapon in the air before her.

A laptop sat on Scott’s—no, Karl’s desk, with a movie playing. Izzy scanned the room but found nothing out of place, just the laptop and whatever movie Karl had left playing. She crossed to the desk as a woman started panting on the screen. At first Izzy thought it was some porno Karl had downloaded, but then she recognized Carla from the Country Club and the familiar oriental tiger tattoo curving from Karl’s left shoulder blade, under his arm and finishing with the roaring maw and forelegs dominating the left half of his stomach.

Her grip tightened on the knife and she snapped the laptop shut.

On the fringes of her vision, she perceived a shape hovering in the doorway.

“Scott?”

But when she focused her gaze, the shape dissolved.


By midnight, the cheap red was a stain in the bottom of her glass. The knife lay on the table beside the empty bottle. For an hour before Karl swaggered through the front door, Izzy had studied the distorted reflection of herself in the blade, wondering if that image were the more accurate representation of her soul.

“What a fucking night,” said Karl, slouching in a chair opposite her. “Gonna be great telling those arseholes where to shove their job.”

He cracked open a beer.

In her initial rage, the thought of gouging Karl’s balls from between his legs had appealed to her, but in the intervening hours, the cold and the alcohol-fueled loneliness had wormed their way inside her.

“You okay?” said Karl.

No, I’m not. I found your movie, the one with Carla and her fake tits. So why don’t you go pack your bags and fuck off.

“I want you to hold me and say you love me.”

They rutted like animals on the shag-pile in the lounge and afterwards, while Karl lay there panting how fucking awesome she was and how, when their money came through, they’d be doing it under the stars on some beach in Hawaii, Izzy’s thoughts wound back to the half-glimpsed shape in the doorway and the feelings of guilt and shame it had conjured.


Izzy woke with a pasty mouth from the wine and carpet burn on her knees. Karl snored beside her, legs splayed, his manhood lying flaccid in a nest of neatly trimmed hair.

In the kitchen, she lifted the knife from the table and as she moved to return it to the block, a black cloud flirted on the periphery of her vision. She tried to focus on the haze, to discern its shape, but it twisted and swirled out of view.

“Scott?”

Karl stirred as she entered the lounge room. “Wassup?” he said, barely lifting his head.

“It’s Scott.”

“What?”

“He’s come back to me.”

“S’nothing there.”

True, Izzy couldn’t see the cloud, but she knew where it would be. She quickened her pace along the hallway, and as she pushed the door to the study open, the knife caught the light from the lounge, and she saw her perverted reflection. She didn’t want to be that misshapen soul. Somehow she had lost her way, but Scott had come back for her, to help her get back on the right path.

A form she recognized hovered in the dark room.

“It wasn’t me. You know that, don’t you?”

She flicked on the light and the shape vanished.

“Honey?”

She thought Scott materialized on her left, but when she turned, he appeared on her right.

“Scott, please. You’re making me nervous.”

Izzy twisted and turned, chasing her husband’s image, hoping for his smiling countenance to coalesce before her, but always it dissolved to nothing.

“Please.” Hot tears beaded her cheeks. “I’m sorry, okay?”

She circled the floor before the desk, pleading with the shapeless haze, until dizziness made her stumble.

“If you’re not going to help me, why are you here?”

When next she caught a glimpse of the cloud, she slashed at it. “Fuck you, Scott!”

Again and again she sliced at the particulates dancing at the fringes of her sight. Left and right and left again, then—

“Izzy?”

With a snarl, she leapt for the shape in the doorway. This time the blade found satisfying solidity. She slashed and stabbed and screamed and—

Karl’s fist slammed her jaw, sending her sprawling. The knife flew from her grasp when she hit the floor.

“What the fuck?” he said, gaping at the scarlet gash across his toned pecs. He pulled and probed the flesh about the wound. “This’ll fucking scar. Oh, no …”

His hands dropped to the left side of his abdomen where a wide cut marred the snarling features of the oriental tiger. Blood spilled from the wound to his groin and down his left thigh.

“You crazy bitch.”

“Karl, I …”

His hands clenched as he strode toward her. Izzy spied the knife by the desk and lunged for it. Karl caught a handful of her hair and reined her in, yanking her to her feet. He clamped his other hand about her throat.

“What’s gotten into you? You want the money for yourself, that it?”

“No,” she gasped.

“Then what?”

A figure coalesced behind Karl and Izzy trembled. “Scott …”

“Scott’s dead, Izzy. We scattered his ashes in the wind, remember?”

“I …” Her hand groped over the desk behind her, finding the laptop.

The wraith of ashes loomed behind Karl, and Izzy fancied its brow furrowed and mouth twisted in anger.

“What?” Karl glanced over his shoulder and his grip on her throat slackened.

Izzy swung the laptop, catching Karl on the side of the head. He grunted and stumbled. Izzy gripped the computer tight in both hands and swung for his face.

Plastic cracked. Karl released his grip on her and staggered sideways, throwing an arm toward the nearby bookcase.

“Izzy … fuck …”

She followed him, striking again. A shard of plastic came free of the laptop.

Karl collapsed to his knees. A hand clutched at her thigh.

Izzy bludgeoned the back of his head until he lay prone on the floor. Fragments of plastic and electronic components haloed his upper body.

She panted and sobbed, watching for movement. When he didn’t move, she dropped her weapon and backed away. She sat on the floor, her back to the desk, shaking. Her field of vision had narrowed so it appeared she was looking through a dark tunnel. Izzy hugged her knees to her chest.

Christ, my head aches.

Scott’s remains hovered over her.

You made me do it, didn’t you?

You did!

A strange sensation came over her, as if her head were floating free of her body and the mouth of the tunnel began to close.

What are you doing?


Izzy coughed and spluttered. An acrid stench filled her nostrils and stung her eyes. Wet hair clung to her scalp. An electronic screeching came from behind her. She knelt before Scott’s desk in the den. Karl lay on the floor at the foot of the bookcase, the fingers of his right hand twitching. In her left hand was the red fuel can they used to fill the lawnmower.

Gasoline? How?

A vision came of her striding naked over the dew-covered lawn to the shed at the rear of the yard. It didn’t feel like a memory, more like a scene from a movie she’d watched.

Izzy spun and saw Scott floating in the doorway. Reddish light flickered behind the wraith, highlighting the empty spaces in its form.

The burns on her knees stung and the carpet squelched as she rose to her feet. The stench of gasoline clung to her. She ran her fingers through her hair, over her body. She recognized the electronic cry as the smoke detector in the hallway.

“What have you done?”

The light in the hallway intensified and flames snaked through the phantom and into the room. Izzy screamed and scurried onto the desk as the fire spread. Karl moaned when the flames found his prone form and swept over him. He jerked awake, becoming a roiling, shrieking mass of light and motion.

Fuck! Fuck …

Runs of flame spread serpentine over the floor and the bookcases and cabinets, following the line of spilled fuel.

Oh, God. Fucking Jesus! … Not like this.

“It’s the smoke that kills you,” Izzy remembered someone saying. “You suffocate before you burn.”

That didn’t hold true for Karl. His agonized cries faded and his blackened figure slumped and stilled.

That’s what Scott wanted, for her to share his fate, to become ashes.

“Scott!”

Izzy searched the burning room, but the darkness couldn’t exist in the leaping light surrounding her.

Don’t leave me now.

Don’t leave me now.

Don’t leave …


Copyright © 2015 Marcus Church