By Gina Bowen
Evenings were the only time that weren’t the gallows. The air would lift from its heaviness, and light would appear, offering a sign of relief. Elaine’s fingers would curl around the edges of the windowsill of her burrow, and she would peer up at the sky. The light would shine, and it would bathe her. Every night, when it was the worst, there she would be.
Somewhere, in the silver that streamed down upon the earth, would-be mother. Her skin was pure, milk shine, and smooth. Celestial in her wake, her white hair melted down to across her body, cradling every single curve. She was silvery-white and radiating with love. Elaine could see it set from the smile that beamed across her full lips. She would hold out her arms and bid Elaine come.
In her light, Elaine would bathe. She would shut her eyes and dream the dreams that only her heart could possibly wish upon. She would ache for an alternate life. She would be loved, and she would be happy. Mother would embrace her in the way only a mother could and lay down the crown of her head upon Elaine’s. The whispers would come in the form of lullabies, and they would transport her elsewhere. To the Better Skies.
The deepest of Elaine’s dreams encouraged her to believe that there was a chance she was adopted. That Mother was needed to hold in the palm of her hands all of the other broken children and was forced to flee through the forest and up into the night sky to watch them all. To rock them to sleep every night. To be able to love, provide, and support as a mother should.
She concocted a fairy tale that she might have been left on the doorstep. Perhaps Mother was distressed. Perhaps she felt bad for the couple who desperately wanted a little girl at the time and felt she was performing an act of charity. She couldn’t imagine Mother to be so careless with a daughter she loved so much, especially when she sent her the moon every night to dress the wounds that would lash her skin during the day.
The day. The Gallows Times. The Long Twelve Hours. The Times of the Lashings. Elaine winced as reality crept into her thoughts, and goose flesh began to raise beneath her skin.
“Mother,” she would moan. “You must not have known what would become of me. You must have thought this was best. You must have trusted too much.”
She would rest her small head upon the sill, where Mother would keep her light, a watch to calm her nerves. To encompass her in a sense of security and safety. That was, of course, until the morning came.
And mornings were when she remembered the darkness when shivers settled into her bones and stayed there. When her lungs burned inside of her chest to embody the screams that should have been pouring from her throat. The mornings were the Gallows. And that is when She haunted. She plagued. And she terrorized Elaine.
The shrieking came up with the sun.
She would hear the shrieks cracked and pitch, piercing away at her eardrums. The onset of harsh reality burst the dreams she had of Mother descending to whisk her away in trails of white chiffon. The mouth of Hell would open wide. As the door to the tiny closet where she was kept creaked open, Elaine’s eyes would squeeze shut. Her breathing shallowed. Every small puff would cling to every last inch of her nerves. Elaine would brace herself, knowing what it was she would see once she readied herself to open them.
Yellow eyes with glints of red would flash from in the doorway. They were startling enough to make Elaine’s blood turn icier than the drafts that were allowed into her small burrow at night. These eyes were eyes that moved. That followed. That remained within the cloudiness of the day and burned into Elaine’s back. They stained her brain with every word, every curse, and every sputter from Hell that was uttered beneath the sharp growl that struck at her back during the day’s work.
There was no longer Mother when daybreak came. The was only The Rehtom.
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And The Rehtom had claws. They were long, curled, and splintered. They terrified Elaine in a way she had never known. They sent tremors throughout her skin. And although they made the small girl incredibly uneasy, no terror matched the kind Elaine would feel whenever she saw The Rehtom’s mouth.
The lips were twisted and blackened from the bone-ash retrieved from the children she had terrorized before Elaine. Moving like wraiths, they emanated a rank smell from the wide hole filled with pitch that contained entrance to her mouth. The open, cracked, salivating jowl was the most disturbing and unsettling of all. That mouth would wait, it would suck, and it was all-consuming.
This face did not look as such to the outside world. The Rehtom appeared to have the gentle, kind demeanour of a regular mother. It carried grace and poise. Only Elaine was able to see the Hell-Daemon that hid from behind the stretched, plastic elastane of its outer layer of skin. Whenever the Rehtom stalked her during their errands about town, Elaine would have a moment where she seemed to be free from such horrors. Her body, however, would ache from tiredness, and her mind would dwell in anxious anticipation over the nightmares that awaited her once they returned home.
After daily duties, Elaine’s heart would thump when she heard the latch of the wooden shack shut. It would shoot straight up into her mouth, and The Rehtom would remove the mask, slowly, with relish. The skin would peel off her jutted, rotting bones and create tiny piles of fresh flesh upon the wooden floors. And there would be her mouth. Those lips would curl into a wretched smile. And that smile was almost worse than the teeth. It was maniacal.
Come, child, she would wail in her cracked, dusty voice. Come. I need you to fill me. Obedient girl, I need you to feed me once more, as you have done all these days, and as you will always.
With any last ounce of energy she had left in her small body, Elaine would feel compelled to push her way toward The Rehtom. The Rehtom would release a chuckle and bend her head low. Vampiric in nature, she would suck. She would suck until Elaine saw darkness, selfishly slurping Elaine’s life force for herself until Elaine had nothing left. Obedience would come mechanically for Elaine. Her fingers and toes would move numbingly as though yanked by puppeteer’s strings.
Every day, Elaine would be further weakened. Every day, Elaine would lose more and more of what was left of her already dwindling life.
There was only one small grain of hope that kept Elaine clinging onto if she even had anything left in her to cling at all.
She clung to the evenings. The evenings that were not the gallows. And whenever The Rehtom’s assault was the worst, that was where she would be.
Mother who loved and wanted her, if only even just in her dreams. Elaine would know Mother would be coming, ready to take her away. Finally.
In the evenings, Elaine waited.
This hope would fill her heart until there was none of it left.
Until The Rehtom would come again to stalk once more in the morning.
Gina Bowen lives, breathes, and photographs the mountains of Eastern Tennessee. She spends her time writing poetry and short stories on her porch and getting lost in the woods with her pups to photograph the beautiful landscapes. Her work has been published in Pussy Magic Magazine and Blood Moon Journal. Additionally, she volunteers as a poetry editor for Outlander Magazine. More of Gina’s poetry and photography can be found on Instagram and follow her on Twitter.