by Wes Koch
The Dutchess's Daughter is sick in bed and nobody can find out why.
"This should enough to put her to sleep." Everything about the physician betrayed his words. Clearly he was tired as everyone else in the room, but his physical appearance was overwhelmed with a sort of piercing terror that only comes after hours of life threatening failure and without rest. The girl's mother, even in clad beauty and destiny altering makeup, was leaking of swollen dread. Despite the Duchess's similarities with the house physician, she always had trouble with sympathizing with anyone.
"What did you put in her milk this time that will make her go to sleep? More opioids to kill her slowly I presume, for christ sakes what do I pay you for?"
"If this was a normal conundrum I would be inclined to agree with you." He was so sleep exhausted it seemed like every world was rehearsed forty times before being said out loud. "What you are asking me to do is to fix her head."
"I'm asking you to put her to sleep!" When she raised her voice she rapidly looked at her daughter, who seemed to be in more pain than either of her caretakers. Her eyes were sunken in into a dark abyss, but if you looked closely you could see the frantic movement of her eyes darting around the room. She hasn't spoken in ten days, and if she has slept it clearly was for nothing. "Oh my poor baby, what has he done to you..." words which were sharp and terrifying when first spoken in front of the physician and now was a church bell, singing, another hour has passed. She exasperatedly looked up from her troubled gaze into the physician's eyes.
"Well, give it to her, now..." her words were soft while she was near her daughter almost to a whisper. In her pupils, the one part of her face not covered in persona defining paint, the physician saw for the first time since this ordeal an apologetic look, but the rest of her face complimented the great haste and impatience she had for him.
In truth he had not put anything in the cup of milk he was supposed to give her, any more opioids and the mixture would kill her; it was more of an anomaly of how she wasn't dead yet. He had stalled on this glass longer than the others, and the Duchess knew, at least deep down, why he had not given her the milk. When she did drink it, it would be another hour tops and her daughter would be dead from exhaustion.. The daughter's death meant the physician's; no matter what. Of course she should've died much before. this. Her body had rejected any water or food that was given to her for seven days Her daughter was once beautiful and almost tempting by the time she turned 15, now she laid in front of the physician as a pile of sticks covered in grey leathery skin. If you looked at her anyway other than a bird's eye view she belonged in the cemetery and was quite overdue. The physician looked into the girls eyes for any sign of improvement. Her small eyes and dried pupils darted back and forth, up left and down right, then forward. Over and over her very alive eyes would perform the same nervous glances around the room, in the same order, over and over. Keeping time like a clock; the physician had been watching her eyes do this for ten days.
It was time to give up. The physician laid his head down and knocked over the milk in the process. His head was on the poor girl's bedpost but it felt like the chopping block, and any second would be his last. With a long, and almost exaggerated, wail, the Duchess fell across her poor daughter. The physician winced at the sound of bones being rearranged. His job was done, and it was the preachers turn to bless her before some soul ends her suffering. "Call for him..." the physician said at last, speaking of two men to call for: the preacher and the guard outside their door to take him away. The Duchess obeyed, and after some time the preacher, who clearly wasn't far away at any point, walked through the door; each footprint singing death death death!
He had already prepared a bouquet of roses. "For a beautiful as she once was" the preacher said as he half hastily threw the flowers on the suffering child. The daughter's eyes screamed before she did. Life did not return to her face but it gained a horrifying electric energy that contorted her dead face to echo a restless shriek. With impossible strength she flung the bouquet across the room and tried to stand up. Her torso barely lifted out of the bed before falling down. She screamed and screamed and screamed, in between each scream was a sickening inhale and the next screech would come back higher and louder. The preacher jumped back after the first cry, then slowly step towards the door as she began to howl violently shaking her head around. Finally he started to run as her shrieks became inhuman. Her mother, in the greatest exhaustion, didn't move from her seated position. She winced at every scream but simply watched, she had given up hope as well.
In an action that should've broken her neck the daughter began to snap her head to the top left and bottom right of the room room, then to her left and then to her right. The same way she moved her eyes, the physician thought to himself, and for the first time looked where she was screaming. To her top right was a shelf over her velvet curtains, on the shelf was old childhood toys and a rectangular pot of flowers, pink roses. To her bottom right was a fantastic painting not yet put up in her room and leaning against her wall, titled La Fleur Pense by Ruford L. Thomas. It was a painting of a single rose, scaled larger than life so each detail of its natural beauty could be seen. The physician saw what it was in a blinding instant. To her left was a window; sunflowers facing into the house.
"It's the flowers!" He screamed to carry his voice over the wailing. The Duchess looked up from the painting seemingly coming to the same realization only a few seconds later. Without words they frantically scrambled around the room. The Duchess picked the flower pots of the shelf and sent it through the air and out the open door. By the time clang of the pot could be heard, the wack of the painting hitting the floor face down also covered the screams of her child for just a moment. The physician closed the curtains of the window; the room is now desperately dark. He then, with the Duchess, deliriously picked up the scattered roses.
As quickly as it began, the screaming stopped, and three deep breaths came from her mouth, then nothing. The room was silent and the air was thick. "...she's dead..." the Duchess said almost below a whisper. "...Thank god" she let slip out. The physician was thinking the same thing, she should've died five days ago; now her doomed suffering was over.
An hour later the preacher came in and blessed her, but no executor came. The Duchess had not asked for the physician's head, she only asked he go to the royal funeral. She ordered for there to be no flowers at her funeral, and none came. For three days the Duchess didn't leave the room her daughter had died in. She sat in her chair, and slept on her bed. After a few hours she order the painting to be removed from the room and the flowers outside the door to be cut down and burned.
The story of how the Duchess's daughter had died spread through the nation with very little variations. The storyteller would always make a point to tell about how the sunflowers outside her window would always grow back and they would never face the sun. The always looked into the room. Some people took interest and the painting, but no one could find any record of it existing. The only record of the artist, Ruford L. Thomas, was a watchman's report on his suicide two years before the incident. People from across the world came to visit the poor girl's grave, but they never brought flowers, but were shocked to find the grave was infested with them.