Weird Tales Contest Winner
The physician was within, though no doors could hold in the thick, coppery scent of blood against the Southern heat. So much blood, and all on her account: the memory threatened to drown her.
The streetside cafe had been a splash of color, a distraction from summer ennui. Just shy of the rougher side of town, near the docks and the gambling boats, it had seemed safe enough. Like dipping one's toe in a spring fountain to feel the lily pads against one's feet, as she'd once dared to do. There had been burly workmen and even a painted lady among the rest. Scandalous. Daring. Beautiful. Deadly. One of the dockmen passing by spoke to his friend about her in lewd terms as he passed, safely beyond her cage, the thin railing that separated the decorated round tables from the stone path. She had been dutifully shocked - and secretly thrilled to feel the power her youth and beauty held over the handsome brutes. Always possessive, William had been incensed. After a glance at her shocked mouth and raised hand, her handsome and fiery beau had scolded the workers for their impudence. William vaulted the railing faster than thought - words became fists, and a fist became a flashing knife. Then, there was a scream, and running feet, and blood. Finally, thousands of heartbeats later, a physician, one who had come too slow. One who was shaking his head sadly.
"No," Patience mouthed, casting her eyes down.
"I'm sorry," the grim but kindly old man said. "I'm so sorry. He's gone, Miss. Is there - is there someone I can call to take you home?"
Summer passed slowly, followed by winter, then spring. The jagged pain of losing William became a deep, dull ache. Patience would have no one, see no one, though her mother had commanded, then begged. The consolations from her friends became silence, then avoidance. The bridesmaid gowns were left unfinished, and the would-be groom's family, friends of her parents since childhood, became distant and cold. Summer had come again when Patience finally began to feel again. A day came when Agnes, with grim determination, invited Patience to her sitting room to hear her cousin play the piano, and Patience did not decline. She began to walk again, began to breathe. That was when her mother began to insist she attend the ball.
Patience might be patient, but her mother was nothing less than stubborn. Between her demands and Agnes's cajoling, Patience found herself, one year after the great tragedy, surrounded by subtle music and soaring beauty.
Agnes grinned, her apple cheeks dimpling prettily. "Oh, I am so glad you came, Patience. Here, and I despaired at ever getting you out of that room. Now, you know you must dance. Every eye in town is on you!"
So it was. Past the dark eyes, dress, and coiffed hair were the ranks of tall tuxedo-clad men, hungry and dressed to the nines. Even as she watched, two gorgeous specimens raised their eyes her way in the hope of the chase. For the first time in too, too, long, Patience indulged a wicked grin. She was in the height of youth and beauty, wreathed in class and grace. Let them come for her. She was ready.
Roger was the first. His teeth were poor, but he was a skilled dancer, with a passable charm. Patience, smiling demurely, let him hope, only to launch herself into a waltz with Thaddeus. Then, after asking for a breath to walk, let George intervene, and send her into a twirl. Laughing, she passed from dancer to dancer, each taller and more handsome than the last. She let the warm night carry her away into a river of music and the press of masculine bodies wanting to approach her, as hours fled like minutes of laughter and wine. Dorian was the last: dark-haired and charming, as rich as his eyes were warm. The most eligible bachelor in town, Patience had loved him afar for years before finally giving up on him - and now, he was here, his face alight and his sweet breath on her cheek. After a year's desert, she was alive again, and in the sway of the night: she longed for nothing more than to sink into his arms.
Then, suddenly, there was a milky shadow dancing between them, a ghostly figure with an impossible face: one she knew like her own hand. William.
"Did you miss me?" he asked, with words unheard, and yet which echoed through her entire being.
"William?" she mouthed, though Dorian only smiled against the dim light and the lilt of the harp. He hadn't heard.
"I came back for you," he said. She could feel his chill arms around her - he danced with her like an echo of Dorian, who saw nothing.
William! But how? He'd died for her, just as he'd always lived for her. Looking around at a pair of boys who waited jealously for their turn to dance, Patience suddenly felt ashamed. Had she forgotten?
"We can be together. Do you love me?" the ghost asked, intense eyes sending a shiver through her.
But how could there be any other answer? He'd given her everything, and he was here. "Oh, yes."
"Then I will take you with me."
Patience's eyes widened, then her mouth, as the summer breeze grew cold, cold, and the music distant, and the floor began to spin. "Oh, no...", she mouthed.
Slowly the world began to fall. She tried, gasping, to reach out, but chill, pale arms held her fast. William was always so possessive.