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Words by Dennis Mombauer
Image by Gretchen Gales
*Editor's Note: Previously published at Wicked Words and Digital Fiction respectively.
The mortician’s apprentice was bearing bad news, and he entered a strange place to do so. There stood a house at the end of the street, with empty windows, deceased trees and an overgrown garden.
It was said to have been ravaged by a storm that had yet to reach the rest of the town, and that its occupants had abandoned it after that future night. It was the very last house of town, and beyond it stretched only vast fields, where the Gespernbauern didn’t sow or reap, but instead buried pieces of their long-shattered queen.
As the apprentice climbed the rusted garden fence, he could feel the wind freshen up, as if the tempest-to-be were echoing back in time. He called out fruitlessly for the owners, then made his way toward the house.
The door knocker was heavy brass, hammered into the shape of a crown. After six knocks, the lady of the house opened, took one look at the apprentice and asked: “Whose funeral?”
“Someone who will have died in the storm.”
“No.” There was something like horrified anger in her voice, as if the apprentice had personally attacked her. “No.” She slammed the door shut, and at the same moment, thunder rolled across the sky.
The storm broke loose, and it raged over the house and the garden, the wind carrying shingles back on the roof, the rain washing away old moss and lichen. Leaves flickered out of existence in midair, and raindrops dried up the muddy earth wherever they splashed shut. Lightning hit the broken pieces of the bird bath and reassembled it, another strike made a tree regrow its burned branches. The apprentice tried to find shelter, but found himself stopping on the open lawn, where a flash of electric light engulfed him.
“Looks like we will be burying you, won’t we?” As the storm began to die down, the woman stepped out of the house, an ermine coat thrown over her shoulders.
The apprentice looked at his feet, where the lightning had harmlessly vanished, then at the position of the woman, who was standing inside a circle of blackened grass. He knew that it was time for his duty, just as the mortician told him over the prepared remains, which had been nothing more than a bottled shadow.
“I’m sorry to inform you about your death. The funeral will be held three days ago with a closed urn.”
The last lightning cracked down, right on the woman’s head, trembling through the loosening skin of her face, shooting down in sparkling ultramarine and escaping through her feet, where it restored the lawn to full and vivid life.
“The body has been lost, but parts of its royal essence remain.”