Death’s Twisted Tales

by J.J. White

About The Book

“Every story ends in death if one waits long enough.” So quotes Death as he introduces twenty-eight twisted tales for your literary enjoyment. Written by award-winning author, J. J. White, these stories weave their way through the odd, the eccentric, the suspenseful, the vengeful, the evil, and even the hopeful, with the hapless characters hurtling toward their surprising and inevitable demise, much to the approval of our macabre narrator. All of these tales have been previously published in both national and international publications with many winning awards in distinguished competitions put on by Writer’s Digest, the California Writers Club, the Oregon Writers Colony, the Arizona Mystery Writers and the Florida Writers Association, to name a few. So sit back and enjoy, for as The Grim Reaper promises, each story has a happy ending. Someone dies.


Get Up To Speed

This is story twelve of twenty-eight short stories with the death theme and all for about the price of a candy bar. A candy bar will just make you fat so buy Death’s Twisted Tales and lose weight.

The Hook

Lizbeth’s Ghost

Introduction by the Grim Reaper

Lizbeth is a tortured girl, bullied from birth, full of hate, full of vengeance, a vengeance not to be held in check for she is capable of intense malice and destruction that must find release as a solace for the potentially murderous child.

My kind of girl. Dear to my heart, if I had one.

Her father, Andrew, is an important man with a career not unlike my own, an undertaker, benefiting from others’ woes, a man of means who shares none of it with his lonely spinster daughter.

This can all change if Lizbeth succumbs to her late mother, a specter who haunts the poor girl, nudging her toward evil. These specters are a problem for me since I deal with the undead. Specters refuse to accept their fate. Eventually they are corralled back into my employers’ fold, though not without resistance.

The positive side of this tale is that our specter encourages the demise of the living. Something I can relate to.

LIZBETH’S GHOST

The face appeared as it always had, protruding from the ceiling in the center of a tile framed by cornice molding as if it were a portrait crafted by a master. A citrus scent filled the room.

Lizbeth stared at the ghoul from her four-poster, unafraid. Why, she had not feared her mother’s specter for years, not since 1865 when as a five-year-old, she had run screaming to her father that a ghost appeared before her, spoke to her, introduced herself as her deceased mother, and asked her to perform horrible, unspeakable crimes against him and his new wife. Lizbeth’s father dismissed his child as a troublesome, annoying thing and warned her never to speak of the false apparitions in his or his wife’s presence again. And she never did.

The ghoul’s appendages slashed at the air of the dark bedroom, as if struggling to swim, arms and legs flailing helplessly, reaching for invisible holds to tug its gray torso from out of its plaster prison.

“Lizbeth, pull me through, love. Help your mother to come visit. Take me from the dead and among the living, my sweet, precious child.”

But Lizbeth had learned years ago, twenty-five years ago to be precise, that her mother only wanted her to let her guard down in order to—to what? What was the best word to describe what had happened? Combine? Integrate? Become one with Lizbeth? She had once tried to explain the process to her sister, Emma, but like Lizbeth’s father and stepmother, Emma dismissed her fears as imaginings, a bit of spoilt food or the hallucinations brought on by the patented elixirs. A child’s dreams, but Lizbeth was no longer a child, now a spinster of thirty-two and, by God, not of her own making. Any chance of marriage had been ruined by her tight-fisted father and his ungodly fat wife, Abby Durfee Gray, who insisted Lizbeth call her, “Mother,” though Lizbeth would never give her that pleasure.

The insidious ghost moaned as it finally pulled itself free of the obdurate ceiling and now floated gracefully about the darkened room as if blown by zephyrs, the apparition gray, then brown, then coal black. Lizbeth kept guard, knowing her mother could enter her body only from the front. The ghost cried, louder than before, frustrated, each time Lizbeth rolled to block her.

“She plans, my darling daughter. The jezebel plots with your father to rid you from Front Street, from your home. I know this.”

Lizbeth sat up, still wary of the slow moving ghost. Her mother had taken over Lizbeth’s body only a few times over the years but each instance had ended horribly, the ghost forcing Lizbeth to confront her father and step-mother with ridiculous demands that alienated her family from her. Lizbeth’s dead mother’s desire for vengeance was so strong there was no telling what she would do if she entered Lizbeth’s body again, controlling her daughter’s actions and thoughts like a puppet master, Lizbeth helpless to the strings.

“She plans, you say?” Lizbeth asked. “She plots with my loving father to rid me from her, from my house? Please Mother, tell me something I am not aware of if you must keep me from my sleep. My father’s obese mongrel has desired my riddance since the day they married.”

The ghost dove toward the bed quicker than before. Lizbeth merely turned again on her side.

“Yes, darling, two years past my death, still warm in my grave, he marries Miss Gray as if I never existed. And oh, how I missed my little Lizbeth, so young, two years old. Tell me you remember your mother. Tell me you loved me and missed me. Tell me.”

“I was too young.”

“Tell me you remember my songs as you suckled, twirling my hair with your pink fingers until it was perfectly curly. Tell me.”

“I do not remember. I have had a pleasant day, Mother. Leave me. Go back to the attic and ignore your hateful longings. Abby will die soon enough from age and sickness. She and my father will die soon enough.”

But Lizbeth didn’t believe they would. She and her sister, both spinsters, had no means of support or any money of their own. Her penny-pincher father spent all on Abby, not them. Lizbeth had depended on David asking for her hand and rescuing her from ending up an old maid, but something had suddenly changed his mind. Was it the paltry dowry? He did not need money and she was still attractive. What made him change his mind?

Her mother hovered on the side of the bed as if sitting on it. She grasped Lizbeth’s hair to move it aside the ear, but her hand passed through one side of the head and out the other.

“I can tell you why,” the ghost said.

“You read my mind, Mother.”

“Yes. Always. And what a sweet thing it is. Your father, my beloved Andrew, lied to your young man.”

“He did not.”

“Oh, yes. I can see more than just this room, darling. He told your beau that you were not a maiden as the boy expected.”

“Why would he do such a thing?”

“The jezebel. She detests you, of course. Since your confrontation, she has hated you to the point that she now plots to rid you from her presence forever. This, I know.”

“But it was you, Mother, you inside me, you who fought with her, you who fought with father! I had nothing to do with that!”

“Yes, but that does not matter now. Regardless of fault, she plots your murder. She and Andrew speak of it daily. That is why I am here to warn you, my darling, to help you stop them.”

“How?”

“Let me in.”

“Never again.”

“But I can stop them, love. I can do what your pleasant disposition is incapable of doing. Please let me be in peace knowing I have rid God’s world of the evil that would hurt my precious daughter. Let me in.”

“No.”

“Then ask him. Ask him tomorrow about your beau, and why he would not pay for your coming out and why he makes you and your sister throw slop buckets in the backyard when he has the money to install indoor plumbing. Ask him.”

“I will. Now leave.”

“And ask him of your pigeons.”

“What?”

“Your pigeons.”

Lizbeth kept a dozen pigeons cooped up in the barn. They were her pets, her friends, each one named after a Dickens’ character, her favorite, Pip, a grey black that pecked affectionately at the birdseed lovingly fed by Lizbeth.

“What of my pigeons?”

“Ask your father. He hates you. They hate you and plot to kill you but you must let me in and we shall kill them first. Let me in. Let me in. Let me in! Let me in!”

“No! Never!” Lizbeth yelled and slapped at the diving ghost, then turned on her stomach each time her mother swooped.

“Let me in!” the apparition screamed again as it slid stealthily under the bed. Lizbeth realized the ploy and quickly rolled onto her back, foiling her mother’s clever move.

“Now, go!” Lizbeth yelled.

The ghost seeped out from under the bed, rising slowly to the ceiling, perhaps resigned to its loss.

“Ask him,” it said again and disappeared through the ceiling.

The bedroom door opened, her father looming in candlelight.

“What is that confounded din? Do you know the time, Miss? Do you? Your mother and I cannot sleep with your blasted clatter. Please Miss, we beg of you, silence.”

Lizbeth sat up in bed. “She is not my mother. My mother died thirty years ago.”

“I ask you for your silence, not your insolence. Now nothing more, Miss. Nothing more.”

“Did you tell David I was not a maiden?”

“What’s that?”

“You heard me perfectly, sir. Did you tell David I was not a maiden?”

“He was not the right man for you. His money was his father’s. Not a day’s work form him would you get as a husband. We made a correct decision.”

“We? Your wife was at this?”

“Your mother…”

“She is not my mother!”

Lizbeth’s father blew out the candle and as he shut the door said, “We’ll speak of this later, at a godly time. Now please, silence.”

Lizbeth waited until she heard her father’s bedroom door shut, then cried into her hands. How could they do this to her? Her mother had been correct. They had conspired to destroy her, to keep her locked in prison, a spinster, never to laugh, to love, to live. She would have none of it. Tomorrow she would break convention and visit David to tell him the truth. That would end her father’s and that wretched stepmother’s tyranny.

She lay back to close her eyes, to think of the morrow when suddenly she remembered her pigeons.

It was difficult to leave the house quietly enough without waking Abby and her father. They slept in an adjacent bedroom in their small, poorly made house in Fall River. It may have been possibly the worst built structure in all of Massachusetts, Lizbeth thought. Perhaps the world, but her miserly father could not care a fig what others thought. He amassed a fortune with his funeral parlor yet spent not a dime.

Lizbeth crept quietly from the house and then climbed carefully up the ladder to the barn loft. Would the pigeons cry out and wake her father? “Quiet, my friends. Not a sound from you. It is but I,” she whispered.

Lizbeth held the lantern to the coops. They were empty. Outside the cages were her twelve, their heads neatly chopped free of their bodies, the blood still fresh and soaking into the trampled straw. She screamed into her hand and nearly fell from the ladder. No. How could he do such a thing? Kill the only things she had ever loved? She took the bloody hatchet that lay next to the coops and slowly worked her way down the ladder. She would confront him with the weapon tomorrow at breakfast. Perhaps it was Abby who slaughtered her friends, her Pip. Tomorrow, she would know.

* * *

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The breakfast was horrid, five-day-old mutton, quenched with spoiled mutton soup. Her father’s skinflint ways may kill her with food poisoning before her stepmother does the deed unnaturally. Lizbeth threw the bloody hatchet on the table, spilling the soup.

“What in God’s name…” Abby said, a large piece of meat muffling her protests.

“That,” Lizbeth said, “was the weapon used to destroy my pigeons!” She threw a decapitated pigeon next to the hatchet. Abby screamed. Andrew stood and brushed the bird to the floor.

“What is the meaning of this?”

“You murdered my pigeons,” Lizbeth said.

“I did nothing of the kind, Miss.”

“You butchered them with that hatchet and left their heads next to my poor dead birds so I would find it. You killed them to spite me.”

“I did not. It is true I do not approve of them, since they bring curious neighbor boys who seek mischief, but I did not kill your blasted birds.”

Lizbeth grabbed the hatchet. “You did and you told David I was not a maiden and you killed my mother and married a harlot!”

“Well,” Abby retorted. “How dare you let her insult me, Andrew.”

“I am leaving tomorrow,” Lizbeth continued. “I will stay with Emma and her friends and then I will tell David you and your harlot are liars! Good day.”

Lizbeth ran up the stairs and slammed the door to her bedroom behind her. She lay on her stomach and had hardly wiped the tears on her pillow when she smelled citrus again. Tangerines perhaps, but it could only mean her mother was near and haunting. Lizbeth did not dare turn over knowing the specter hovered just above her, waiting stealthily to enter her, to become one with her. Lizbeth stayed still, her face buried in the pillow. A mistake, for instantly she felt her mother’s icy presence inside her. She shivered and cursed knowing her mother had taken advantage of her distraught state and slipped into her from beneath the bed.

“No, Mother.” But Sarah had already taken over the body, Lizbeth now standing, helplessly controlled by the ghost. She walked to the mirror and felt her face.

“It has been so long, my love,” the ghost said. “So long since we have been together. However, we have much to do. It is time for the sinners to serve penance. It is time for Andrew and Abby to pay for the untenable cruelty they bestowed upon you and your sister, Emma. It is time, is it not?”

“I will not,” Lizbeth said.

“You cannot refuse, my darling. You must do my bidding now but if done willingly it will be much easier. Did he not send David away?”

“Yes.”

“Did he not kill Pip?”

“He says not.”

“Does he not keep his wealth from you and Emma?”

“Yes, but I will wait, Mother. I must see David. He will understand and take me back once he knows of my father’s lies. He will.”

Lizbeth reached for the bloody hatchet and admired it, fingering the sharp edge.

“You want them dead,” her mother said.

“Yes. However, I do not wish to kill them. I wish to wait, please.” Her mother smiled at the mirror forcing Lizbeth’s mouth to ape her.

“You have the most beautiful eyes, darling. The harlot, you called her. You must have meant it.”

“Yes. I meant it.”

Lizbeth put the hatchet on the dresser and began removing her morning clothes. She struggled to stop her hands but the ghost’s will was too strong. Soon, she was naked.

“Why?” she asked.

“Blood can be washed from skin, dear, however, it is difficult to remove from clothes. Now let us sit until your father finishes his daily chores at the parlor and the bank. We shall greet him later, when he returns.”

Lizbeth sat on the edge of the bed, flipping the hatchet over and over, waiting for Father.

* * *

At 10:45, punctual Father came home and immediately retired to the sitting room downstairs. Lizbeth quickly left her bedroom and before descending the staircase, spied her stepmother sewing on the machine in the guestroom next to Lizbeth’s.

“Let us greet Father, darling,” her mother’s ghost said. “Let us show him our deep affection for his compassion and philanthropy that he has bestowed on his late wife and his children.”

Lizbeth opened the sitting room door. Her father lay on the sofa, his hand on his forehead as if in the throes of a headache. He opened his eyes.

“Lizbeth?” He stared incredulously at her. “Good God child, put some clothes on.”

Lizbeth moved quickly, raising the hatchet above her head. The blunt side of the weapon came crashing down on his temple, knocking him violently against the armrest. He was conscious—barely, but conscious all the same.

She raised again for another blow. Lizbeth struggled to prevent the attack but her mother’s will overcame her.

“It is I, Andrew. Sarah.”

“What?” he asked, mumbling, covering his face in anticipation of the next strike.

“Sarah. Your wife, dear. Your victim, but I will not let you take Lizbeth or Emma. No, dear. You must make peace with your God as should your jezebel once I have finished you.”

“Lizbeth?” were his last words. The hatchet stuck in the skull, severing the socket with such force it dislodged the eyeball. Ten more times Lizbeth brought the hatchet to its mark until the bloodied face was unrecognizable as that of the miserly Andrew.

Lizbeth’s mother wiped the hatchet head across her daughter’s stomach, then licked a bit of blood from an index finger as she strode assuredly up the rickety staircase.

“Andrew?” was all Abby managed as the sharp steel split her skull.

“Jezebel! Jezebel! Jezebel!” Lizbeth’s screamed with each blow. Nineteen, twenty times the blade struck, Lizbeth trying desperately to close her eyes to the carnage without success as the ghost instead wanted to spy her own handiwork.

Lizbeth turned, exhausted from murder and walked slowly to the doorway where maid Bridgett Sullivan waited, open-mouthed.

“My mother,” Lizbeth spit out.

Bridgett looked at Lizbeth, then Abby’s corpse and then took the hatchet from Lizbeth.

“Go and wash yourself up, girl,” Bridgett said. “I’ll clean the floor and take care of the hatchet. Now go!”

Lizbeth walked quickly to the chamber room to wash.

* * *

The detective sat in a chair across from Lizbeth. She stared at him, dispassionately.

“Now, Miss. Your name please.”

“Lizbeth,” she replied.

He wrote quickly in his notebook.

“Full name, Miss, if you please.

“Lizzie Andrew Borden.”

“You said Lizbeth, before.”

“That is what I’m called.”

“Lizzie your Christian name or is it Elizabeth?”

“I was born, Lizzie.”

“Thank you, Miss.”


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