Skip to content

Author: Sandy

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.

firebreak

I got a goddam story for you: some real witching hour claw-your-door-down shit; something to put blood beneath your fingernails and battery acid in your veins. I can’t tell it though, because as soon as I do, it disappears in transmission; poof, gone: nobody on the line except a storm of white noise. All the monsters of my imagination are nothing but pencil scratches, and a smacking of lips and teeth. Paper tiger, meet scissors.

Lemme try, for propriety’s sake.

Boy goes out into a field. All the corn is burnt, and still smoking. Heat makes the air shimmy and shake cha cha cha. He’s sweating. There once was a scarecrow in the field, but now there’s a man. He’s burnt, still smoking. He’s making noises, because there weren’t much else he could do – not voluntary shouts or anything, just a dying vocal ooze drooling out from between his lips going like-a hnnnnnnnssss, hhhhhhhffffff like one of them kids whose throat muscles don’t work right.

The man is important to the boy. I forget the details: dad, big brother, uncle? Don’t matter. There’s a kid who can’t handle it, and nobody left in his life to share the load. The last man who gave a shit is now a strip of crispy barbecue chicken. There’s ligature marks on his arms, his ankles, his throat; they’ve left queer little tan-lines where the rope kept the fire off him for just a little longer.

Boy’s crying, because that’s what weak little boys do. Boys ain’t been taught to hide from their feelings.

Dad’s body on the scarecrow’s old perch: smells like pork. Makes the boy’s mouth water, which only makes him cry harder; that little detail is gonna keep him up at night for the rest of his life.

Dad’s got his arms spread like Christ on the cross, except he ain’t ever coming back. His hair is burnt away. There’s something carved into his chest, but the boy can’t bring himself to read the words. He knows what they are: knows his family were never welcome around these parts.

“Dad dad dad daddy please dad dad dad,” he’s saying while the tears choke him up and make the sound come out harsh and low – almost a man’s voice. He’ll be tasting salt for days. He knows what it smells like when they burn a man alive, and he’ll be tasting that in the deep asshole of night for the rest of his life. He turns, and runs, and don’t stop running. Not for a day, nor a week – he don’t ever stop running, but he never outruns the smell of smoke.

“Dad,” he’s saying blah blah etc etc. You know, I think he mighta been an uncle? Doesn’t matter, mate. Doesn’t matter. It’s all –

It’s just a story, haha. It’s not real. I’m messing with you. Yeah.

Just a story; something to keep you up at night, so for once I won’t be alone.

why wise men die under open sky

She went under the earth without a sound. Funny that; how everybody is listening on the one day you’re least equipped to speak. Listening hard, as if you’re to open your eyes at any second, tell them they were wrong, and let the ache release its grip from their ribs and throats. On the day they buried her, not a sound was heard – not even birdsong.

Only, she didn’t die, as such. As a germ of her soul fell through the pine, it took into itself a mouthful of dirt, and another. Greedy, feasting on worms, bones and char as the world turned in the far-and-away. The part of her that left her body behind called itself Ophiadne; the snake woman, for she coiled and uncoiled around the roots of the world, choking or giving breath as she saw fit, drinking deeply of the souls that fell down through the cracks. With their joys and sorrows, she strove to fill the hole the silence had left behind.

From her came others, shat out and taken on forms of their own, to suckle at that monstrous teat, and fail to grow strong. There was Jula; the Empty, Sawat; the Cavernous, Egritta; the Blasphemy of Stars. All grand names, struggling in the shadow of the snake woman, feeding on the scraps she left behind until they were little bone twists topped with gasping mouths, ribboned with their many grasping hands, staring eyeless and screaming tongueless against the tyranny of the mud and stone.

All starved, but were denied death. The tendrils of their dreams twitched through the veil and into the dreams of mortals, who woke screaming about a wasteland of souls, and a baroness who ruled the roots of the tree of life. A painter woke one morning unable to paint, and took his hand in a fit of rage. A poet, truly lost for words, cut out his own tongue. There were more, but they matter no more than raindrops on dirt, run together in a shallow trickle of lost souls, a million deep. The draught of gods, or something like them. A draught of which there is no cup deep enough, nor will there ever be.

When they feed, the sky weeps openly, as if a great flood could wash them away. If you would die in the rain, hold on. There are things worse than death, as Ophiadne herself learnt so long ago.

The Vigilant

Orpheus lacked backbone. He turned back and in doing so, committed the great sin: doubt. He was the original sucker, from whom every lost love is descended. The ur-loser, whose statue in the hall of heroes is made of cardboard and gaffer tape. Eurydice was behind him the whole time, but he doubted her and he paid for it. You told me his story while we lay naked in a field where yellow flowers grew in ragged rows. They pierced the evening mist with their colour alone: little lamps to light the way home.

We were very drunk and very happy. The farmer was neither when he found us, and we learnt new ways to run. I almost twisted my ankle in a rabbit hole when I turned to check on you. Judging from the farmer’s shouts, he got about five seconds away from giving me both barrels. I doubted you, and the hammer of god tried to knock a shotgun shell full of rocksalt right up my asshole. You grabbed my arm on the way past and dragged me with you, always surging forward.

We laughed about it later. I took one thing away from that day:

Never turn back, never give up: doubt is for suckers

It came and went so fast: the cancer, among other things. You wanted to be fired out of a cannon but we couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t abandon the principle of the thing, so I had you cremated, stuck the ashes into a firework, then snuck back out to the field-where-we-lay and lit the fuse. Yellow sparks, of course. They stole the sky for you, and lit the way home. Your ash rained down over the field, nourishing the flowers.

I came back a year later and they had grown huge, so I took one home. Planted it in a little plastic pot and left it outside the bedroom window to catch the sun. Not that it needed it: it was a little light of its own.

When that flower died I went back to the field and took two more, and planted them together in the yard. I figured something in the plastic killed the first, and a more natural solution might help. I watered the new flowers every day, but they died too. I took five more, and planted them at different spots around the house to see where the problem lay. They wilted; their lights went out.

That hasn’t stopped me. I doubted you once and nearly got my ass shot off for my sins. If there is anybody with the will who can give Death Itself the middle finger, it’s you. You’ve always been right behind me. You are my Eurydice, and I will not turn back.

I open the door every morning to get the paper, and you are not standing there waiting for me. It won’t stop me trying. I will not turn back. I have love, backbone, trowels and fertilizer. With filthy hands and sore eyes, I will leave you a trail of flowers to light the way home.