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The Door the Devil Won’t Open

Andrew Borden died twice.

It‘s a lie, but it’ll have to do.

He first died in 1890, in the Spring: fell down a ravine while walking home through warm, wild rain. Slipped in a patch of mud; scrambled while the earth broke up beneath his feet; screamed the whole way down. Died of exsanguination, less than an hour later. It should have ended there, with his shattered body emptied of life: splayed out in the mud like a puppet with the strings cut.

An hour may as well be an eternity to a dying man. It’s one thing to consider death in abstract, but to have hell’s hot breath raise the hairs on your neck? To be grabbed by the throat and made to stare into the coal shafts goin’ down and down in an eternity of roiling smoke: that’s another beast entirely.

With the last of his dying breaths, Andrew Borden cut a deal. He wasn’t ready to burn, so he said the old words, then walked out of that crevasse with barely a scratch on him. The old words ain’t the devil’s words, mind – devil weren’t even born when the old words got wrote. To keep your wicked old soul outta Lucifer’s hands, you sell it upriver to something darker, and infinitely more strange.

When Andrew got home, Abby fussed over his ripped clothes. He took her hand and looked into her eyes, then said something Lizzy could not hear. After that, Abby did not speak again for quite some time. She lost something that day; didn’t go pale nor any less talkative, but there was no light in her eyes from thereon after. Lizzy saw her mother walk the exact same path every morning through the house: the same almost-trip in the kitchen; the same neurotic tug of her hair as she passed the grandfather clock below the stairs – too precise to be mere routine. Tick tick tug tick.

It were all fine for a while, far as Lizzy could tell. Not pleasant, but it had never been pleasant; Andrew Borden was a mean drunk, and worse sober. She loved him as her father, but hated him as a man.

Since he came back from his ‘little fall’ in the ravine, he spent a lot of time in silence, staring into the middle-distance with his lips and tongue forming vulgar and alien shapes. Sometimes he’d stop in front of the hearth and speak the same words in German – a language he spoke only rarely, and never in company. Same words every time:

“Hasse tür ja ja,” – the door, yes, the hateful door. The grammar was wrong, like a child’s.

On an autumn day in ‘91, less than a year before – Lizzy approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. He was getting pale, and thin: less present, somehow.

“Eine tür, Vati?” she said. “Im Kamin? Im Feuer?”

“No,” he said. “The door is not here any more. It is inside.”

He would say no more.

Came the day everybody knows, and it didn’t dawn no different from any before; same Abby scooting around the place in her curious worn-down rut, same Andy looking sick, shaky and rageful. By that point, Lizzy had developed a habit of trailing her fingers across the wallpaper as she walked – searching for the telltale bumps and cracks of a hidden door. She was on the way to butcher a chicken for dinner, and had a small hatchet in her hand.

Lizzy was worried about her father, despite herself; he was a violent and frightening man, but he was still her father. She’d found no door, but some small part of her refused to take it as just another sign of Andrew’s madness.

Andrew was sitting in his favourite chair, staring into the fireplace. It was unlit. His skin was waxy. He was saying more silent words again. Lizzy tried to read his lips, but couldn’t: it wasn’t English, nor German. She cleared her throat, and his head whipped around – there was something bestial to the way he moved – all instinct and fear.

“Kill me,” he said. He wasn’t pleading, or scared – it was as if he were asking her to do the laundry. She laughed, then bit down on her lip. She didn’t want her father sent to a lunatic asylum upstate, but he frightened her then in a very different way than he’d frightened her before. Andrew laughed in return – a hacking, inhuman kikikikiki.

“Hasse tür,” he muttered, “ja ja.”

“I can’t find the door, pa,” she said. “I looked everywhere.”

Andy Borden stood. Abby swept into the living room; passed the grandfather clock, tugged her hair. Lizzy tightened her grip on the hatchet.

“Hasse tür,” said Andrew. “Hasse tür hasse tür hassetür hassetür hassetür hassetür.”

His tone was calm, but with a certain mad urgency. His left eye twitched. The words were running together now, and Lizzy heard a second voice squatting on top of her father’s. The same words but not quite: Hastur ia ia, Hastur. Hastur Hastur ia ia.

Andrew Borden died a second time, standing there in front of his hearth. It was a quiet death: he lost whatever tenuous hold he’d had over his body. His carcass slumped, but remained upright and smiling; in that moment, his vile passenger took the wheel.

Andrew Borden’s corpse opened its mouth. Human vocal cords were not made for the language it tried to speak – a string of choking glottals came out. A second voice came out of the air: I am come again through the open door.

Abby Borden was stuck now, pacing in a circle. Her eyes were glassy.

“Master,” she said.  

Lizzy Borden loved her father, but he wasn’t there anymore, and she knew it. The light in his eyes were dead: such a small change, but total. She leapt. There was no plan – she didn’t even remember the hatchet in her hand.

Abby screeched, and threw herself in the path of the blade. The wet impact sent a shudder up Lizzy’s arm. Her mother’s body smashed against the wall, then slid to the floor, her neck  twisted just a little too far around.

Hastur fell on her, both hands around her throat. She swung blindly with the axe, and it smashed into the corpse’s stomach. Hastur reeled. He was screaming, and she was screaming. Her second blow split his eye clean in half – viscous fluid erupted outwards: splashed onto her face and ran down her neck. The ruined eye dangled out of the socket on a single string of muscle. She swung at his face – bones and teeth shattered as his jaw tore away from his face. His tongue flapped wildly.

He growled, and clawed at her – she swung again and again. She swung until there was no more movement, then swung a little more. When she was done, Andrew Borden’s body was a pile of meat on the ground.

Lizzy dropped the hatchet, then went upstairs to the bathroom to clean her hands. It was over.

She didn’t cry.

She sat in the bathroom, and waited for the world to arrive.

Published inProse Fiction

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