There are those whose breath aches for the crack of treaded leaves, the race of whipped wind 'round a broken tomb stone, the shallow gasp of black night as it settles on your chest.
She was one of them.
She sat waiting at her window. Watching for the first dead leaf to fall at the foot of the aching maple tree that covered the front face of her house. She could match the tangles of bark and branches of the tree with the iced lines of the ancient glass in the windows of her dying home. She loved to watch. Families would walk by unaware of her stare through yellowed lace curtains. They would give sweatered smiles and hold mitted hands and call for their young to keep clear of the street. She would smile too; though her skin bagged and pulled hard toward the floor making it impossible for her lips to turn up at the ends, she would smile. She would smile while she waited.
Once. Once, her face had been smooth and beautiful, the color of promise. Once, her eyes had been compared to unseen tropical seas, now they lie in wait, hollow and grey, the pupil set far in from the color, creating a space.
Once. She hated the word. The sharp hiss, following the slack jawed ‘Un’, clawed the roof of her mouth as it slid out. She no longer thought, ‘Once.’ She only ever thought, ‘Next’.
Perhaps, if those boys had not come that first year. Perhaps if they would have just passed on to make their mischief at other, less foreboding, manors. But they hadn’t. They came here, and she knew why. She was old. The house terrifying. The season called for it and she had her role to play. So, she invited them in and locked the door. She spent time sifting through the boys, finding the worst among them, the biggest liar, the bravest fool. She separated him from the pack. She sent the other boys off without him knowing. And he was left. And she was right.
He fought hard at first and she was sure he would overtake her; after all, he was a growing boy and she a crooked old woman, but he did not believe it would happen, he couldn’t believe. She had that on her side, she believed. She could see the whole thing as it was happening, as if from above. The swirling, and pulling, and crying out. The candlestick.
It had been her mother’s. Deep black marble with swipes of grey. It was brought back from Venice when she was a girl. It stood, always, center of the mantle to receive its accolades. It was cold to the touch, but not that first night. That night it burned her hands as she held it. She had worried that the heavy of it would put her off her balance, but she was buoyed by the weightlessness of it as it lifted over her head.
She knew where to put the body. She had always known. The cellar had been bolted off long ago, after they had running water brought to the house. The only access now was an old dumb-waiter that would spill the mess into the dark beneath. The smell. What of the smell? The smell would be covered by the cats. She had known that when the first stray coiled its tail around her drooping stocking. The smell, like the blood rush would fade.
Some get away.
She knew that, too. There must be a broken board down there, and she may not have hit them hard enough, or in the right spot. She could hear them shuffling around down there, banging into things in the dark or breaking glass, then quiet. That’s why she chooses the liars. What could they say? In the end, it’s just a boy who missed his curfew and is now babbling some fantastic story about the old lady at the end of the street. Even if they were filthy and bloody, no one had ever questioned her. No one had ever walked past the maple tree and knocked at the door and asked where the town sons had gone. And as long as no one asked, she would continue… to wait.
For they would be back, a new batch, braver than the last, hopped up on wild tales told year after year about the house on the hill and the children who never come back.
And so she waited for the first dead leaf to fall.