Celia scrubbed at her hands as the sun rose outside the kitchen window. She sighed in the direction of her husband’s urn on the sideboard and shook her head. The morning seemed to intrude earlier every single day, and there was no end to her duties as a single mother.
“April!” She called out for her daughter, but there was silence. “April, we have a busy day today.” More silence, and more scrubbing at the sink. Celia glanced down at her crimson coated fingers and sighed again. Truly, a woman’s work was never done. “April Jane Jefferson!” As the clock struck six, she finally heard some movement from upstairs, and her mind felt a little more at ease.
“Okay, I’m coming.” Her daughter grumbled as she slowly descended the stairs. Celia, still scrubbing and staring at her hands motioned towards the kitchen table with a nod as April entered the room.
“Set the table and I’ll make breakfast.” Celia instructed. April groaned, falling down into one of the chairs and slumping down over the table.
“Mommy, I’m tired.” She whined, with a childish tone that she was far too old for. “Can I stay home from school today?” Celia gave another long sigh, as she shook her hands clear of the water and began drying them on a towel.
“No, I’ve got a lot of work to do today.” She muttered, taking the decision of breakfast out of her daughter’s hands and beginning to make toast. “I can’t have you under my feet.” She opened the cutlery drawer and pulled out a shimmering, sharp knife, eyeing up the thick loaf of bread before her.
“I could always show them my real birth certificate and get kicked out…” April said with a smirk. She immediately regretted it. Before she could say another word, her mother leapt towards her with the knife in hand and a scowl on her face.
“You’ll do as your told.” Celia snarled, holding the knife achingly close to her daughter’s neck. “As far as they know, you’re seventeen.” She took a deep breath, letting the knife linger a second longer before pulling away. “And that’s how it’s going to stay.” April nodded, her face pale and her eyes full of tears.
Internally, Celia had to admit that her daughter had a point, there was only so long that she could pass for a high schooler before someone discovered that she was now pushing twenty five, and there was also only so long that the two of them could escape justice for their crimes.
Every now and again, Celia would have moments of clarity. These moments would normally come as she washed her hands in the morning. The blood would swirl in the sink, and her stomach would be in knots as she realised that it was only a matter of time before it all came crumbling down.
She had tried to stop, back when April was a baby, and then when she was old enough to understand what was happening, and a hundred times since then, but it never worked out.
A woman’s work is never truly done, so surely, she must be allowed some indulgences, right? Of course, it’s only fair. The trouble was, most women’s indulgences were a night out with friends, or a box set and some chocolates. Celia’s indulgence was murder. Choking used to be her vice, but after one man put up a particularly good fight, she got a taste for blood.
“I’m sorry, honey.” She whispered, letting the knife clatter on the table before her. “Mommy’s just tired.”
Her innocent little daughter was no longer so innocent, becoming the perfect little accomplice as the years went by. They’d moved all over the United States when things got too hot and were now settled in a small town in England, because things across the pond had become volcanic.
April would find her the victims, and get them alone, and then Celia would strike. That was how it had been since April was fourteen years old, and Celia couldn’t stop, so that was how it had to stay.
The day went on. April went to school, Celia did a little housework and some gardening, and then decided to take a little nap before April got home from school. That was when it all changed.
Sometimes, you wait around for a miracle, and nothing comes. That’s the case for most of us, but it wasn’t the case for Celia. Her miracle came to her in a dream, and has been by her side ever since.
As she settled down to rest, she thought of nothing but her problems. Her daughter was unhappy. Her husband was dead. She’d have to move soon when the police caught up with them. She was almost certainly going to end up in prison for the rest of her life. There seemed to be no way out, until she fell into a deep, deep sleep.
She could feel grass under her fingers as she opened her eyes, and the air that surrounded her was sweet. Wind whipped through her loose hair as she sat up and looked around.
There were trees sprawling across the landscape, flowers as far as she could see, and a woman was sat beside her with a silent smile.
“Where am I?” Celia asked, overwhelmed by the scenery. The stranger did not speak, handing Celia a single white rose as more bloomed all around them. Celia could hardly believe her eyes as roses sprang from every space around them, intertwining as they grew tall and towered above them.
“You are in the garden Celia.” The voice seemed to be all around her, but the woman beside her still held her silent smile. “You will be her prophet.” The stranger took Celia’s hand in her own and held it to the petals of a rose before them. Celia felt a calm that she hadn’t found in years as their hands met, and despite the strangeness of the situation, she hoped that the stranger would never let go. “You must make them red.” The bliss flowed through her body as thunder rang out above them.
“I don’t understand.” Celia confessed, in barely a whisper as the soft white petals clasped in her fingertips became crimson.
“Find your garden and make the roses red.” The voice commanded. The roses before her parted and the stranger helped her to her feet, guiding her to the newly made clearing, where surrounded by beautiful red roses, she saw her husband, for the first time in years.
His once handsome face was drained and pale, his lifeless body lay on the grass with her last gift to him, a deep laceration across his throat.
“I don’t…” Celia began, but the stranger pressed a finger softly to her lips.
“Make the roses red for your Goddess.” The voice around her demanded as she knelt by his side, overcome with emotion as she saw a trail containing the other victims of her compulsion in the grass behind him.
“Why did I do this to you?” Tears began to fall from her eyes as she held his frozen hand in her own.
“Because you must.” The voice overwhelmed even the thunder and all Celia could do was cry. She had been on autopilot for so long, never considering her actions and her the effects of her impulses for more than a few moments at a time, but now, surrounded by them, she was heartbroken.
“I’m a monster.” She sobbed, wiping her hands up and down her dress, but never quite able to feel clean.
“You are the prophet, Celia.” She shook her head, desperate to defy the voice, and so confused, but the faceless voice was insistent. “You must turn the roses red for our Goddess.” Collapsing into her husband’s chest, she wept, so hopeful for the sound of his beating heart, but knowing it could never be hers again.
“Celia.” There was another voice, soft and somewhat comforting, from the smiling stranger, who knelt by Celia’s side and held her hand gently. “You fed me and I was able to build a new world for us.” She lifted Celia’s head and as their eyes met, Celia felt that new sense of calm, as if, despite everything, things were just fine.
“Why do I hurt people?” She asked, watching the stranger lean towards the corpse between them and place her hands over the heart of Celia’s dead husband.
“I needed a strong woman to help me prepare.” The stranger clicked her fingers and vines sprang from them, pushing Celia back and tearing into the dead man’s skin. “One day, all of this will be yours.” Celia stared in horror as the vines began ripping her husband apart.
She wanted to stop them, but fear froze her in place. “But first, we must rid the world of weeds.” The vines fell into stillness, as the woman before her reached into the corpse’s chest, pulling his heart free of his body and holding it out to Celia.
“Turn the roses red for me Celia” Celia wasn’t sure why she knew, but she instinctively knew that she was expected to eat it. “Turn the roses red and you will rule at my side.” It was something she’d never considered, something so wrong that even she, for all her sins could never imagine it, but in that moment, in the gaze of this curious stranger who seemed to have an answer to every question, she couldn’t stop herself.
It was sweet, like the air, soft on her tongue like the roses on her hands and from the second it touched her lips, she felt divine.
“I am Invierno.” The woman said softly, the roses around them bowed low against the grass, and Celia fell to her knees with them, staring up in awe at Invierno. “And you are my prophet.”
Celia began to feel a familiar itching in her hands, a primal desire for prey in her bones. She felt power coursing through every inch of her body, hungry for more, and as she took another bite, she understood exactly what her Goddess needed her to do.
“Yes, my treasured Goddess.”
When night fell, and Celia closed her eyes, she would visit the higher garden to learn from Invierno, and as her own garden grew back on Earth, so did the pile of bodies in her wake.
A woman’s work was never done.