The mirror over the dresser is more than seventy years old. It gives reflections a peculiar rosy tint.
When they were girls, Audrey liked the mirror. She smiled into it, admiring her black hair and her warm lips, the way her cheeks glowed ruddy.
But Audrey can’t look at her reflection now. The disease has begun to affect her eyes, and besides, she hasn’t left the bed in weeks.
The doctors say it’s only another symptom of deterioration, but Ella knows better.
The thing from the pinewoods is wearing Audrey’s skin. It got in through the cracks in the walls. It circled the eaves until it found a gap. Now, it slumps in the upstairs room and does not leave.
The creature in the bed is a hungry thing, with white, jittering eyes, and ragged lips. It reeks of rotting flesh. The teeth are huge and square, and they just keep getting longer. It doesn’t like the sound of the radio, or the way that light reflects off glass.
She, Audrey, has always been irascible—the capricious one—but since the Witiku came, with its yellow teeth and its heart of ice, her shrill demands are worse. It howls for food, but refuses the bread and the broth, insisting on meat. It eats slices of calf’s liver, raw and bloody.
Well, say the doctors, it’s not unusual for such patients to experience cravings, and some invalids may even grow to find certain smells objectionable.
Ella has a mark on her arm where the Witiku bit her. It hurt, and more than that, it froze. The creature peeled up a chunk of skin and then went still, holding the torn flesh in its mouth. Holding the torn flesh in its mouth. The blood ran down its chin and it held the flesh in its mouth like a jewel.
The wound didn’t bleed as much as it should have. It ached, and after several hours, Ella drove down through the canyon to the little mountain hospital, where they gave her fourteen stitches and a tetanus shot.
“What is that?” said the doctor on call, probing the wound with a swabstick, dislodging flecks of something colorless. “What is that? It looks like frostbite.”
But it was easier to be glib in the bright, florescent glow of the emergency room.
“I got bit, all right,” she said.
How easy it was to be careless, when you weren’t looking at the Witiku, with its white, jittering eyes.
“My sister’s sick and she gets up to the devil sometimes. I won’t lie to you, it’s been hard. But I take care of her.”
The doctor nodded. He sent her on her way with some pills and a package of bandages. At home, she parked the truck and went inside. Upstairs, Audrey was laughing, a high, shrill scream that tore through the house like a gale.
It’s not long after this that Ella stops feeding her.
At first, the business is difficult. The thing howls in its bed, shrieking for food, but Ella is a hard woman. She keeps her resolve, though it screeches until the windows rattle. Sometimes, she hears the creature breathing, and it sounds like static.
In the middle of February, on a night when the moon is ringed with ice, Ella buries a turkey heart in the yard. She puts the heart in a cigar box and the hole she digs is deep, almost three feet down. After eight inches, she has to break the frozen ground with a pickaxe. The dirt landing on lid of the box makes a rattling sound.
Standing over the little grave, she cannot smell the blood. The heart is deep under twenty pounds of earth and the ground is hard and dense.
Upstairs, the light in the sickroom is always burning, casting a wretched shadow. There it sits, outlined with terrible clarity against the curtains—the silhouette that is not Audrey’s.
Ella steps away from the buried box. She doesn’t have to wait long.
It comes creeping down through the house and out into the yard. Its shadow is long, spilling over the dead switchgrass and the scrub. There is no snow, but the winter’s been hard, and everything has taken on a dry, sunken appearance.
Ella stands in the dark shelter of the garden shed, with a handsaw and a carton of rock salt. There’s a wary pause and then the creature stoops, digging in the loosened dirt, flinging gravel and frozen clay.
Ella starts across the yard, dead grass crunching under her boots, but she doesn’t worry about noise. The Witiku has its back to her, cigar box torn open, savaging the heart. She comes in close and raises the saw. When the blade touches its throat, the creature bucks and thrashes, but Ella is strong.
She cuts through tendon and sinew, hacking until the thing’s head comes loose and a dark pool spreads at her feet, not blood, but rotting ice and black water. She splits the creature’s breastbone, peeling back the ribs even as it jerks and twitches. From the ground, its white eyes regard her.
She stands over the open cavity, pouring in the salt, pouring it over the Witiku’s heart. It is cold, the Witiku’s heart, cold as white frost. The salt is luminous in the moonlight.
In time, it will melt.
Photo by shooting brooklyn