I would catch glimpses of myself. As the parade made their way through the halls of Hentan House I would notice the red amongst them; From reflections in the framed photos, to the polished glass cabinets holding antiques, you could see me. The stained characterless body almost floating between them. Wandering, corralled, and pushed by the others. They didn’t notice but I was the one leaving my mark in this place. A dripping stain they’d see in the carpets and never quite remove completely from the wooden floors. My split toe-nail no longer hurt but neither could I feel the rest of my body. I was completely numb.
We were back at the indoor garden where I had first woke up. The women began to part ahead of me and I saw it. A wicker coffin. It was held up in place with black straps keeping it tied to one of those sack trucks they use to move boxes and furniture. The wicker was so finely woven it was maddening they had constructed it to be the place where I die.
‘Mum what are they doing?’ It was Cora’s voice. I was so relieved she was still alive. I thought they had been shot in the woods. That it was me who had pulled the trigger and ended one of them. Just hearing Cora’s grunts of pain and panicked questioning boiled my blood to spring forward but I could see Yarrow up ahead staring at me. That glint of the blade silencing me completely. Finally I saw her, lead in by Rosemary and another, they held her up as she heaved back and forth. Flushed and sweating, she tried to grab hold of her belly.
‘Tell me what you did with Aspen. Where is she?’ Cora spat out at them as they lead her to the front.
‘Don’t you recognise her?’ The lady who welcomed us here, Hyacinth, said pointing over to me. I kept my head down scared to look Cora in the eye. Then the wailing began.
‘Cora-’ I said raising out my hand unsure whether it was blood or berry that stained the skin.
‘Your sister has made it through all her trials. She has shown grit. She has taken life. Taken all that was offered to her, and finished her hunt. You should be proud to have a sister as strong as her. Dando will welcome her as one of his own.’
‘No-Aspen no. Mum where are you?’ Cora screamed.
‘I’m here.’ Her voice came from behind me. My head was still muffled by the ski mask and swelling. Just her touch sent shivers through my shoulder. ‘Cora please, don’t you want to protect the baby?’ Cora’s struggling softened as she looked past me to mum.
‘Is this what you did to your sister too? Just to save me and Aspen to go through the same thing?’ Cora screamed again and her legs started to buckle.
‘She did everything she needed to raise you two well. Your mother would have been proud.’ Hyacinth said. She must have worded it wrong.
‘Now listen to me. You are going to be put into that box there and everything will be over quick.’ Mum continued. I would do it for Cora. I stepped towards the wicker coffin. Let me do this for you Cora. Yarrow placed her hand on my chest and shook her head. I looked up to Cora and saw Rosemary place a rag across Cora’s face. Cora went limp and the two women began to remove her dress. I could see the child inside press against the skin.
‘Don’t you move, or we’ll wake her for the next part.’ Hyacinth said as she began to wrap white cloth across Cora’s body and face. Taking some rope she tied it across her forehead and chest. I remained still. Hyacinth stepped across to the white tree stump as Cora was placed into the upright coffin. I could see the noose wrapped around Cora’s neck lead out through a hole to a pulley.
‘Just as the great Hentan sister had been touched by Dando and gave birth on her death we continue the lineage to appease him. Sisters gather closer.’ Hyacinth spoke and the group gathered closer. ‘Yarrow, please take hold of the rope and make sure the coffin is held in place for the time being.’ Hyacinth said.
‘I’ll hold her back.’ My mum said but Yarrow squinted for a second unsure. It wasn’t until I saw the rifle placed up to my head did Yarrow finally relax.
‘So you were never our real mum?’ I said trying to find some sliver of truth to this insanity. ‘She died giving birth just like all the other mothers?’ I couldn’t look at her.
‘Your mother gave everything to keep the tradition alive. It was supposed to be me but she went ahead and stepped into that lake. We were only a few weeks apart you see.’ That meant only one of us was truly hers. Even now she remained completely still. Slowly the rifle wavered and dropped down to my shoulder. A tear rolled.
The rifle went off. I crumpled to the ground in panic as the women screamed. The rifle went off again as I twisted around on the ground to see her firing a second shot into Hyacinths chest. For a second I saw my mum, swaying the rifle to Rosemary before they descended on her. Like crows they picked her apart with their knives. I ran to the coffin placed upright still over the hole. Yarrow was straining to hold it up with the straps. I gripped ahold of the lid and yanked it open. Cora was still unconscious. I reached for the strap holding her neck upright but another’s hand gripped mine. Lily pressed the knife to my throat but the ski mask dulled it. I only saw fear in her eyes. I spun and closed the gap between us. Grabbing her hand we fell back against the grass. Locked in place I rummaged through her hair, biting and biting until my mouth filled with blood and her screaming stop. The knife was mine now. Another touched me but I pushed forward. Grabbing hold of the casket again I felt the wicker fold under my grip. I just needed to cut her free.
‘Get her now.’ Yarrow shouted from the side. I cut the first strap from her arm loose. A shot whipped through the glass from outside and struck another woman holding the casket. The casket tilted back. I reached to grab the frame but it slipped free. The top cracked against the hard lip of the hole and a snap rattled out as the casket fell awkwardly in.
The top of the casket had split and covered Cora’s face partially. I stepped backwards. Her head dangled loose. Between the cut cloth and rope her skin darkened to a deep red. A pair of arms tucked under my armpits and pulled me back. I fell limp, watching the grave for some sort of movement, as they carried me away. Mum was gone. Cora dead. But the baby was still alive. And for a split second I preyed for it to never wake up.
They laid me down between the great white stump where Hyacinth lay bleeding out. Yarrow quickly began to tie my legs together as I watched on.
‘That bitch…’ Hyacinth babbled to herself as Rosemary tended to her. The others were too preoccupied with the shooter who was still taking shots from outside to feel the ground vibrating. ‘You’ll obey, we’ll dose you up…beat it out of you. Starve and strip you until you are nothing more than our slave to the cycle and if that little one doesn’t breath then we use you to start this again. Mark my words. We are Henta-’ The white stump split and a great hand gripped Hyacinth’s head. With abandon it’s fingers blistered her forehead and peeled her scalp clean off like a wet tissue. Lost for words Hyacinth’s jaw continued to rattle like a bald dummy. The hand came down again slotting four fingers into her mouth and dragging her hard into the stump. Wedging her in place it used her body to pull itself out from the black pit.
It would not be silenced for anything. It would drown out all sound until all the women and myself could hear were the crackled splintering of wood and the crinkled mess of what was once Hyacinth.