“Will you be with me when the time comes?” Caitlyn asked.
Her voice was soft and cracking due to dehydration. Even with the saline solution being pumped through the IV she was still far too weak to talk properly. Her lips were white and cracking like the earth in Death Valley. Henry tightened his grip on her hand, not by much but to acknowledge her request.
“What happened out there?” he asked.
“I will tell you, but first I need some ice. Feed some to me as I talk so I can at least keep my mouth wet enough to let you know what happened.”
Caitlyn’s breathing was labored. This and the dehydration caused her to talk much slower than she normally would. She knew that there wasn’t much time left, and she had to tell him what had happened, but she didn’t want to relive that night. Her eyes closed for a long time as she collected her thoughts.
Henry released her hand and went to get some water. He came back with the little pink bucket filled with little square ice cubes. Caitlyn’s mouth opened slightly and he slipped one in. He noticed even her tongue was a pallid pink, almost white. Once the ice was in her mouth he reclaimed her hand, it felt like leather. Her face looked fifty even though she was only twenty-eight.
“I decided to go into the mountains for the weekend, I just couldn’t be around you after what you did. The sun was bright and it would do me good to get away. I had been to the Flatirons so many times, too many times with you, so I decided I would go more towards the Devil’s Backbone.”
Caitlyn paused here, her thin hand reaching for the little pink bucket. Henry saw what she was trying to do and fed her another ice chip. Her eyes closed with her mouth as she let the water slowly trickle down her throat. It felt good, but immediately she could feel her throat drying again. She tried to swallow, and it hurt too much. She would have started crying if she was able to.
Henry took her hand once more; this time he noticed she was still wearing her ring. It seemed like it should have fallen off long ago. The band was far too large for the little meat she had on her hand, but it still would have a little trouble getting over the knuckle, not much but enough to keep it on. It surprised him even more that she didn’t take it off, he was sure she would have.
“I knew that area was known to have covens. There was a community that lived there which everyone knew was into that shit. Most people thought they were into Wicca, but a few said it was much worse than that, that some were into darker things. Things which would make the devil blush. I never believed any of that stuff would work, I told you that before. But I was wrong. I saw things which make me believe, make me know that something else can be channeled by those people.”
The heart monitor started to race, it was the first time Henry had paid it any mind. His own heart started to quicken just from the sound. His hand tightened on her withered remains. The only reason he loosened his grip was due to the weak groan she let slip from those cracked lips.
“Sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay. I don’t think I have much left in me tonight, but you need to know what happened. It all happened that first night. I set up my tent, God, I wish you would have come with me. I shouldn’t have left, a fight would have been so much better.”
Henry looked down at her wedding band once more. The matching one he wore on his left hand felt like a sham for the past few days. Now it was even worse. Now that his wife had been through so much, and he wasn’t able to be there with her because of his stupid actions. Tears welled in his eyes, as he felt the soft touch of her dry skin enclose around the back of his hand.
She was far too good for him. Even as she lay dying, she was comforting him more than he was able to comfort her. He felt less of a man for that.
“I forgive you. It was a moment of weakness, I just wish it wouldn’t have been like that. But don’t worry about it now, just let me finish.”
She pointed towards the bucket again and he slipped another piece of ice into her barely open mouth. Once she was trying desperately to get the ice to melt he had a chance to wipe his eyes. His own hands shaking more than hers. Caitlyn looked at him, a weak smile spread across her face, one of the small actions she could make to comfort him. Henry looked away, unable to look at her.
“I had my tent up by the time the sun was starting to go down and it was around that time I noticed I heard something. At first I didn’t know what it could be, but after a while I was able to make out that it was people. It sounded like they were singing, which is fine, Colorado is a strange place. But I figured it may not be a bad idea to see if I could find where they were. If people were out there maybe they would want to talk, or get drunk, which was more of what I needed. And, I have to admit, I was feeling lonely.”
Her words were broken by a cough that was dryer than some papyrus left over from ancient Egypt. Dryer even than her voice, but not much. Her face gnarled as she coughed, and she tried to sit up, but she was far too weak and in far too much pain to do so.
“Sit down Caitlyn,” Henry said. “You don’t need to put yourself through any more pain than you are already in.”
With his help she was able to lie back down and get comfortable, well at least as comfortable as the situation would allow. It took a few minutes before she was able to return to her story. Time in which Henry found to smooth her hair and give her a kiss on the forehead. She returned his affection with that same weak smile that broke her lips open slightly. A thick blood started to seep from the cracks. It was so dark it looked more black than red. He tried to wipe away the blood, but it was so thick it left a dark crimson stain on her face. Henry realized her blood was as thick as tar, and his own mouth went dry at that realization.
“It was a long walk; that should have been the first thing I noticed was wrong. They were in the woods, you know how far away the woods are from the Backbone. It took me ten minutes just to get to the tree line. It was also closer to that community, the one where the witches live. But I didn’t think anything of it, I just kept walking to see who was singing and what they were saying. There was more than one voice, I could make out that much at least.
“The wind picked up and I heard a tink-tink sound. I shined the flashlight into the woods and saw bottles hanging from the trees. Hundreds and hundreds of bottles. None of them looked alike, but there was one thing they all had in common; each had a little piece of meat on a string hanging inside and were sealed with wax. Blue, green, clear and frosted, each one hung from a different branch.”
Once more she pointed to the ice bucket, the rhythmic beeping had slowed again, but it still seemed a little jerky. At times it would spike with a few rapid beeps then fall to the normal rhythm. Her hands would tighten on his, not hard, Henry didn’t think she was capable of using too much energy to make the squeeze hard, which made his heart sink a little deeper in his chest. He knew that she was in this situation because of him, and that wasn’t what he wanted to be thinking about.
“When I was in the woods I still couldn’t make out what they were saying. Not because it was too faint, but because they were speaking in a different language. Aramaic or something like that. Something so different from English I couldn’t even begin to guess where it was from.
“I saw a fire, and it pulled me closer like a moth. There must have been ten people dancing around that fire, each of them singing that strange song. I couldn’t see how many of them were singing, because they were wearing masks, but it sure sounded as if they were all singing.
“Ugh, those masks were hideous. They were pure white and contrasted well with the black robes they were wearing, but they weren’t human faces, they were dragons or demons or something like that. The only other parts that were white were the gloves they wore and their sneakers. I didn’t think any of them had seen me, so I kept moving closer. Not close enough to feel the heat from the fire, but close enough to see what they were doing. I didn’t want them to know I was there, I had a gut feeling about that. I knew it would be bad if they knew I was watching.”
Henry swallowed hard, his throat was going dry. This time after he had given her a piece of ice he took one as well. The heart monitor had started beeping quickly again. Although it seemed impossible, Caitlyn was getting even dryer. Her hands felt like sandpaper and her eyes looked smaller than the sockets they were in, her voice had even gotten hoarser. When she spoke it was just louder than a whisper.
“They stopped singing and one of those people in the blank white faces came forward with a bottle. They put it above the fire, hanging it from some makeshift gallows which was erected above the flames. It wasn’t long before the glass started to have a film on the inside, spreading like a cancer until the entire bottle was covered with it. I thought it was a film at least, but it was smoke. Then they popped a hole into the wax which sealed it and removed the cork. The smoke came bubbling out but didn’t drift up towards the moon, instead it fell to the ground and started to build on itself. I know it sounds crazy but that is what happened. It happened like that until it made the figure of a man.”
Caitlyn’s eyes closed, if it wasn’t for the heart monitor Henry would have thought she had died. His hand gently rubbed her arm until she opened her eyes once more. When he first started to move his hand up her thin arm he was disturbed by the dry scratchy sound it made.
“The figure stood beside the fire and the group started to ask it questions. Strange questions like ‘what do you know of the afterlife?’ Or ‘when will this trial be over?’ Things that meant nothing to me, but must have been very important to others. It dawned on me that this was a ghost they were talking to, trying to get answers that no one from the living world would be able to answer. It was frightening, but got worse when they asked the last question. ‘How long can we keep our coven a secret?’ To this the ghost replied that I was watching them and a smoky tendril pointed towards my direction. I didn’t stick around to see what they would do if they caught me.
“You know how fast I can run, or at least could until I got here. Still the people in the masks were just as quick, if not quicker. I was stumbling through the trees and down branches when I heard them coming after me. I got out of the woods and was able to run faster. It was the fastest I had ever ran, but it wasn’t fast enough. One of them was able to get a hold of my hair. I jerked free but the hand that was holding me must have come away with a handful of my hair. After that I didn’t stop until I was safe in my car and locked the doors.”
Again she closed her eyes. Henry could see how much it was taking for her to tell this story. He wished she would stop, just relax for a little, but he knew that would be the last thing she would do. Her face was thinner than before, cheekbones protruding so far, her face looked like a skull with a thin cloth over it.
“When I got to my car I wasn’t able to start it. I don’t know why, I didn’t care why. The only thing I wanted to do was to get out of there before that group found me. So, I did the only thing I could think of, I ran for as long as I could. But I don’t think I was able to get away. Even though I hadn’t seen any of them I could still feel their eyes on me. I was still miles from any other town, other than the one I wanted to get away from. But I couldn’t run any more. My lungs were burning so badly and so were my legs. And once I sat down I had fallen asleep. I couldn’t help it, a wave of exhaustion crashed over me and I was out. It wasn’t until morning that I woke and was able to start running again.
“By the time someone had found me I must have looked terrible. They took me here and left me once I had gotten checked in. At least they were nice enough to stay with me until they knew I was in good hands.”
The pause was longer this time. The heart monitor had slowed so much that Henry was amazed she was still talking. The beeps were about two seconds apart, far too long for someone to live and still be able to talk.
“I know they cursed me. They must have. Haven’t you noticed that I have been getting worse, even in the short time it took me to tell you that story. I must look like I’m dead already. But there are still some things I need to tell you. I want you to live your life again. Mourn me, but don’t mourn me for long. I’m sure that girl you were sleeping with would be eager to get back with you. Sorry, that was mean and I don’t want you to remember me that way. Be with her if you want, but please just wait a little bit.”
Tears rolled down both of their faces. Henry couldn’t believe she was saying what she was saying. Caitlyn couldn’t believe it either, but she was more upset about dying. It wouldn’t be long now and she knew it. She wasn’t ready, and it made her grin a little. Was anyone ready to die?
“I have always loved you Henry. Even when I had walked in on you. I was hurt, but it hurt because I loved you so much. Please, do what you have to, to…”
The monitor flat-lined. Nurses rushed in and checked Caitlyn. It was clear she was dead, and there was nothing they could really do to revive her. When the nurse had pushed Henry away three of her fingers snapped off in his hand, one of which still had the wedding band on it. No blood came from the missing fingers, it had all dried up.
When the nurse pushed on her chest to revive her dust came out from her cracked lips. There was nothing they could do, and everyone in the room knew it. So they did the only thing they felt they could do, give Henry a few more minutes with his dead wife.
“I’m sorry, honey,” he said over the dried corpse which had just told the story of her last days. A story of fear and pain.
“I never found Lilly attractive. We had sex because it was part of a spell we were doing.”
He reached into his blazer pocket and produced a small bottle with a piece of meat hanging in it.
“But don’t worry, you and I will be together for a long time.”
The bottle began to fill with a smoke as he chanted in that language she couldn’t understand in the woods. Once her spirit was in the bottle he pushed the cork deep in its mouth. He would have to wait to put the wax over it, but that was okay, she wouldn’t get out before then. As he left the room he gave her body one last kiss on the forehead and dropped the fingers on her chest. Leaving the ring which symbolized their vows to be together for better or worse.