Two very short stories. Which one is your favorite?
POOL OF DESPAIR
Something wasn’t right.
He stopped and crept out on the rocky ledge and peered over. Reflected on the surface, his shaved head with its a parchment face stared back. The breeze rippled the water, pulling his tight lips into a slash above his chin, his deep-set eyes dark holes.
He compared staring into the spring to looking through the air on a winter day. The water, so clean and cold, burbled out of the surrounding rocky crags as if they’d been struck by a miraculous staff. Nothing was allowed to sully it. Nothing. In all the years he’d watched over it, only the purity of nature had decorated its sacred depths.
But instead of crystal blue, murkiness fouled his gaze. Instead of the sweet perfume of loam and pine, the stench of death crept like a smoke into his nostrils.
Bile rose. He bent double, stared harder, unblinking, eyes stinging, weeping. He knuckled them clear, but it didn’t help. He could see nothing.
He tore his gaze from the opaque water, head swiveling left then right. He lurched and picked up a stone, heavy and rough on his uncalloused palms. Staggering to the stacked-rock dam built long ago, he raised the stone above his head and swung it down. Again and again, ten times, fifty, a hundred shattering blows, the sharp edges of rock tearing at his skin. Water breeched, mingling with the blood on his hands. Stinking liquid spewed over his feet and legs. His foot skidded, down he went. Pain shot sparks from his knee and the cascading water baptized him in a sour icy wave that swept down the mountain behind him.
He stood, arms shaking, raised the stone. And stilled.
The water level had dropped, drained until he could see them. One, two, three… He threw the rock down and scrambled over the collapsed dam into the pool. Four, five, six, seven, eight. His heart steadied. He released a gusty sigh. Smiled.
They were all here, luminous white in the bright overhead sun. Eight skulls, denuded of hair and flesh. Of skin and eyes and brains. No lips to hide their teeth. No tongues to plead for mercy as he carved their owners into pieces, their screams anthems to their mortality.
Eagerly, he stepped, he slipped. Oh, god.
Gorge barreled up from his stomach, inexorable and splattered down over the rotting body. A dead flesh-ridden desecration in his pure crystalline heaven. The cause of his anguish. Fists tightened. Who had put it here? Who had defiled his—
The blow from the shovel caved in the back of his skull, dead before he hit the bottom of the pond.
She wiped the spray of blood from her cheek and stomped to the busted-up rock dam. Hands on her hips, her mouth twisted into a scowl as she surveyed the damage.
Dammit. It was gonna take the rest of the day to rebuild this stupid thing.
The quiet click of the front door raises my head. I couldn’t really see her, only a silhouette. But I know every inch of her. My love could paint every stroke. Golden hair piled in a sleek updo, her beautiful, luminous blue eyes wide in a face of such glowing loveliness that she could launch a thousand ships, the tiny dark beauty mark above bowed pink lips. And the birthmark only I am privileged to view and touch on the soft pale skin of her hip.
Her head swivels toward the sofa where I sit, her neck a delicate wand, her body slim in her long wool coat and dress, her legs tapering down to elegant high heels. It’s her ‘red’ day, her monthly presentation to the board. But the red is black in the lack of light between us.
She knows I’m here, but her voice holds a question. I touch the screen of my phone and the photo projects upward immersing my face in crimson, an indirect echo of the image drowning me in its light.
I don’t know where it came from, don’t know who sent it. I know why. To wreck my marriage. To overturn my life and everything I’ve ever believed.
She takes a couple of tentative steps into the room, heels tapping gently on the hardwood. I hold the phone up to her.
“Is this you? Wait. Let me rephrase that.” The pain of betrayal sharpens every word. “This is you, isn’t it?”
She takes the phone, careful not to touch my shaking fingers. Now her face is washed in the picture’s reflection. I look away but my retinas and brain are burnt with the picture she’s studying. An oil painting of a lady, body half-turned toward the artist, an elaborate red dress held modestly over her breasts, as if she has just taken it off and someone burst into her room, shattering her privacy. The rest of her is nude—her shoulders and back a sensuous curve of creamy skin tapering to shapely bare legs, her face startled yet dreamy and melting as if interrupted by a lover. Blue eyes wide, bowed pink lips parted, the tiny dark mark above them punctuating her loveliness.
And the damning birthmark on her naked hip.
I clear my throat choked with despair and fear. Fear of her.
“Contessa. That’s the name of the painting. I looked it up. It hangs in a private home in London. Completed in 1889.”
“By you.” She hands me back my phone. “Look at the signature. Lower right corner.”
I hunch forward, index and thumb brushing the screen, parting the light until I find it.
“I-I don’t understand.”
She smiles, at least, I think she does. Then I hear it in her voice, just as I hear her timeless love for me. “You never do.”
“Please, Samantha. Tell me what’s going on. Who are you? What are you?”
“Darrin. I’m a witch.”