by Moxley Bugg
Beware of Mourning with her hair of frost
and Grief with his eyes of coal
or something precious will be lost
and the ghrybs with eat your soul
In their fourteen years, Mourning and Grief Lovelace rarely had visitors and they preferred it that way. The citizens of Mortierella were a superstitious lot and, as such, the twins’ inferiors. The children yelled insults at the twins because they always dressed in black and they never smiled. The adults had christened them the Doom Twins and believed death followed close behind them. One popular belief held that Grief, with his dark hair and eyes so black they swallowed up everything around him, had leached all the color out of Mourning as they shared their mother’s womb, leaving her with pale hair and eyes that could only be called clear.
The rumors started two months before the twins were born, when their mother decided to name them Grief and Mourning in memory of their father’s tragic death. All their lives, Mrs. Lovelace saw any joy the twins found in life as dishonoring to their father. Still, what truly kept the gossip mill rolling was that occasionally people did die or lose a family member after encountering the twins. Like the day, old man Jasper took his fatal fall shortly after barking at Mourning and Grief to get out his way as he wobbled to his house. He had angered the twins but he had angered everyone he passed that day on his slow journey to the hardware store and back home again. Any one of them could have cursed Mr. Jasper. Anyway, what did everyone expect would come from a ninety year old man attempting to fix the leak on his roof?
Despite all the superstitions surrounding the Doom Twins, Mrs. Lovelace’s death brought with it social rituals that could not be ignore and respects had to be paid. Mrs. Lucinda Brown released a shiver as she and Miss Jane Habersham stopped in front of the Lovelace’s home.
“I don’t care who died. This is a terrible idea.” Mrs. Brown attempted to peep into the yard as she spoke but the tall evergreen shrubs block her view. “I have it on good authority that they killed their mother. According to their house maid, they haven’t shown the least bit of distress at their mother’s death. She was present when their governess told them the terrible news and the Doom Twins didn’t react at all. Not one tear or wail or single mope to be seen from either of them. They only stared in that bored way of theirs.”
“That hardly points to murder.”
“Who else could be so unfeeling and heartless than a couple of cold blooded killers?”
Grief chose that moment to call over the hedge. “The cold blooded killers are bored with your conversation.”
Mourning watched from her bench as her brother pace away from the shrubs without any regard for the chaos he created on the other side. “That was a bit rude.”
“They were rude.” Grief leaned against the oak tree that shaded the bench. “Anyway I convinced them go away, didn’t I?”
Mourning felt too relieved they had left to argue with her brother. Normally, she was immune to such talk but today their words gnawed at her confidence. As she looked up at the window to the bedroom where Mrs. Lovelace’s body would rest until the funeral tomorrow with nothing more than a feeling of resignation, she wondered if the superstitious fools had been right all along. “Grief, what if there is something wrong in us?”
Grief studied his sister. “They’ve not convinced you that we are evil? We did not kill our mother. She died from a build up a fluid around her heart. All that weeping, I suspect.”
“I know but Mother died and I don’t feel sad. Neither of us have cried at all.”
Grief pushed out his chest. “Of course I haven’t cried. Anyway why must we feel anything?” He began to pace about the garden. “Mother spent our entire lives in misery and did her best to make us miserable with her. We should feel relieved she’s gone.”
“Grief, she was still our mother.”
He shrugged in response.
Mourning quit the bench and wandered over to the oak. Her ears picked up a rustling in the hedge but her mind was too busy to register it. “Have you ever experienced sorrow? I mean true heartsickness like the stuff of poems or what plagued Mother?”
“I don’t care for poets. I never understand poems. I say they’re just a bunch of nonsense. I prefer my National Geographic and my history books. Things you can depend upon.”
Mourning sighed as she twirled a leaf between her fingers. “I can’t remember ever feeling sorrow either. Do you suppose we were pieced together wrong?”
“I don’t know. Do you remember ever feeling happy?”
She dropped the leaf and considered the question. She found a hazy memory of Mother reprimanding her for giggling. She tried to focus on what had made her laugh or how she felt in that moment but she came up empty. “No.”
“I can’t remember it either.” Mourning’s distress must have shown of her face because Grief embraced her. “It’s nothing to worry over. The poets are foolish. Come, let’s go inside and read about ancient cannibals.”
She allowed her brother to lead her towards the house. As the passed, she looked at her mother’s window and resolved to feel something before the woman went into the ground.
Once the house settled into its evening sleep, Mourning slipped inside her mother’s room. She tiptoed over to the bed and placed her candle on the table there. She took her time in studying her mother. The maid had brushed out her colorless hair so it fanned around her head like the tail of an albino peacock. Her hands had been placed over her chest in restful pose but her face looked as tormented as ever. Mourning started to take her mother’s hand but the coldness made her recoil.
Desperate to prove to herself that she was not evil, Mourning gave up on thoughts of her mother and focused on the only person who mattered in her life. In her mind’s eye, she saw Grief stretched out before her. His normal pallor turned chalky in death. His hands folded on top of a chest that no longer rose and fell. His dark eyes forever hidden. Mourning fought for breath as a terrible weight settled between her lungs. A sharp pain pierced her heart, making her cry out and her eyes water. She thought she might be drowning.
At the moment, Mrs. Lovelace’s mouth popped open. Mourning’s anguish turned to horror and she stumbled backwards, as a brown furred covered paw complete with four inch long curved claws slipped out of her mother’s mouth to push against the bottom half of her jaw. An identical paw appeared to shove at the top half. They stretched her mouth open until she reminded Morning of a snake regurgitating its meal. A creature resembling an overgrown hedge hog rose out of her mother. The roly-poly monster was roughly a foot and a half tall with soil and leaves matting its spikes. Its swollen belly and face was bald and matched the inflamed pink color of a skin infection. It planted its feet on Mrs. Lovelace’s face and shook saliva off itself. Then it fixed its greedy black eyes upon Mourning and they gleamed with hunger. She screamed with all the breath in her, which seemed to puzzle the creature.
Then the door slammed open and Grief spilled into the room. “What is it? What’s wrong?” Mourning pointed a trembling hand at the bed. Grief mumbled an ungentlemanly phrase as the twins ran towards each other. They stood together in the middle of the room watching the creature as it appraised them from its spot on Mrs. Lovelace’s face.
Finally, the creature spoke. Its words came out in a garbled growl but they were words the twins knew. “How can you see me?”
Since the twins did not know what they saw nor whether or not they should have the ability to see it, they didn’t bother to respond. Instead, Grief grabbed the iron poker from the fireplace, pointed it at the thing and ordered, “Get out of here, demon!”
The creature chuckled but hopped over to the window. It moved with a shocking spryness for something so round. Perched on the window sill, it grinned a mouthful of pointed yellow teeth their way. “I’ll be back soon,” it promised and then disappeared.
Mourning fought the urge to rest her eyes as she stood next to Grief in the cemetery. They spent all night awaiting the creature’s return. It never showed and the preacher’s voice lulled her mind into a restive state. She glanced across her mother’s casket at the handful of mourners on the other side. Those brave souls whose sense of duty outweighed their fear of the twins. She knew that they watched her. If she fell asleep, the whole town would have heard of it by dusk.
Mourning let her eyes travel the cemetery in search of something stimulating. They alighted on a young woman wandering amongst the headstones. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. Mourning took a moment to appreciate such a gentle display of sorrow, when she noticed a much smaller version of last night’s nightmare skipping from headstone to headstone in pursuit of the woman. Mourning squeezed Grief’s hand and tilted her head in the widow’s direction. They watched as the creature launched itself at the woman’s back. Its sloth-like claws allowed it to cling to the woman. It pressed itself against her so that it looked as if the widow had a huge spiky mole growing from her back. Then the creature vanished and the woman’s tears changed into wails.
Mourning and Grief turned to each other with mirroring looks of panic. Over Grief’s shoulder, she noticed three more of the creatures tripping towards them. Before she could warn Grief, he turned Mourning around to show her the five approaching from that side. She looked to the preacher and the mourners and spotted at least twelve creatures creeping up behind them. The creatures surrounded them but no one seemed to notice except her and Grief.
Not sure what else to do, Mourning began screaming, “Run! Run! They are coming! Run!” The adults scanned the area but they looked past the terrors hiding in their shadows. The mourners began to whisper, as the preacher attempted to soothe Mourning with phrases like “over-wrought” and “too much for a fragile young girl.” Meanwhile, the creatures grew ever closer. She reached for Grief’s hand but he didn’t notice and shifted away from her.
“This will be your last day breathing if you do not leave this instant.” Grief spoke with a calmness that demanded attention and everyone fell silent. “The Doom Twins don’t want you here. You know we have the power to curse you all to an early grave so leave now or suffer our wrath.” His words had the desired effect and the adults tripped over themselves in their rush out of the cemetery.
The twins found themselves alone in the cemetery, except for the few hundred creatures pressing in on them from all sides. None of monsters exceeded a foot and they shared the same greedy gleam in their eyes. The larger creature from last night appeared on their mother’s casket. “Hello again, dearies.”
“What are you?” Grief demanded.
“We are the ghrybs.” The giant ghryb spoke and the others repeated grunts of ghrybs.
“If you are thinking of eating us, we won’t make a filling meal.” The ghrybs met Mourning’s attempt at bravery with a hearty round of laughter.
“We don’t feed of human flesh. Anyway, we come as friends.” The other ghrybs grumbled friends.
“What do you want from us?” Grief kept a firm grip on Mourning’s hand as he spoke.
“We only want to help you to reach your potential. You are special children with special powers.” This time special echoed around them. “Come with us.”
Mourning shared a bewildered glance with Grief and asked, “What if we refuse?”
The giant ghryb’s eyes glowed red. “You must come.”
“You can have me. I will go with you but my sister has to stay.”
“No, we must have both of you.” It snarled and lunged for them. The twins tried to run but scores of claws had already wrapped around their calves and ankles. It caught their wrists on its descent from the casket and began tugging them. “You will come with us or we will take you.”
“Take you,” garbled the chorus. The claws on their legs pushed and pulled until Grief and Mourning started walking against their own wills.
The oversized ghryb led the way to the oldest crypt in the cemetery. He opened the doors and they all entered. As the last ghryb slipped in, the doors shut and darkness swallowed up the twins along with any goodness in them.
A few years later, Mrs. Brown pushed a baby carriage down the street to her home. Her visit with Mrs. Jane Hall had lasted longer than she had intended and most of the townsfolk were tucked inside their homes. Halfway home, her darling boy began crying so she stopped to settle him. When she turned to start walking again, two figures stood before her. The young woman had hair so fair it glowed and the young man had eyes like bottomless pits.
“How pleasant to see you again, Mrs. Brown.” The man said with a cordial nod. “It’s been far too long.”
The woman leaned over carriage. “What a handsome babe,” she cooed and stroke the boy’s cheek. He started crying again.
“We need to be going,” Mrs. Brown explained and hurried down the road but she could not outrun the illness already spreading throughout the baby.
Grief and Mourning shared a grin that was echoed in the faces of the ghrybs hanging off them as one jumped off Grief’s shoulder to follow after Mrs. Brown.
The descendant of a long line of story tellers, Moxley Bugg earned a Bachelors of Art in Creative Writing at Georgia State University. She writes short stories in whatever genre inspires her at that moment and plans to turn Mourning in to her first novel. Moxley lives in Sandy Springs, Georgia with three roommates plus two cats and a maltese named Voodoo Mama Juju.
For sneak peeks at her stories or just the strange workings of her mind, you can find Moxley Bugg at http://moxleybugg.blogspot.com/ or follow her on twitter http://twitter.com/MoxleyBugg
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