They say death does crazy things to the livin’. Those people woulda been put in their place by Mr. Fetters. Fetters is the neighborhood cook, quiet usually, was keepin’ to himself like most cooks do. But the last few months our tiny little suburb has been bustlin’ about what Mr. Fetters be up to.
Not much to get excited about in our neck of the woods. Small valley that gathers gray clouds and pollen like fountains collect change. Island Dystopia. The movie theater’s about all there is to do on the weekends. Most just hang out on porches talkin’ and moseyin’ through life. That’s why Fetters can’t go unnoticed. When a man tries to bring his wife back from the dead, it gets around.
Fetters is middle-aged, but in his youth, I guess he married some kind of beauty. I wasn’t around then, and I don’t get too excited about words alone. She was lively and polite I hear, always sharin’ cookies and brownies she’d bake durin’ the holidays. Not sure if people talk more about her figure or her banana bread. But she took ill out of the blue, cancer I think. They say she was a martyr who fought for two long years before it became too much, and ever since, Fetters’ been holed up in his house not sayin’ a word. To him, the whole world might as well have disappeared. The way I see him now, all frail and white-haired, like he’d collapsed into old age overnight. Can’t say I blame the guy. When your light vanishes, it ain’t hard for the darkness of this place to strangle you.
But that all changed a few months back. Fetters starts goin’ door to door, collectin’ things I never heard of, strange things you can’t buy in any store. He still looks broken but moves with a purpose like he’s gonna set the whole town on fire. He offers to pay everybody for the stuff he wants—don’t know where he gets his money since he ain’t left the house in years—but money talks, so you can imagine how eager the neighbors be to help him with the scavenger hunt.
One of the first items I hear he grabbed was a song. He goes to Mrs. Becca’s house. She’s the young wife in the neighborhood, twenty I think. She ain’t too pretty, but she’s got a set of pipes like a valley of snakes. She sings every Sunday in church, and the people stomp and howl like she’s an angel deliverin’ God’s word. Seems to me her songs just make them crazy. They get this bloodthirst in their eyes, throwin’ off their clothes, lickin’ their wives’ faces. It gets them goin’ I suppose, ready to take on the miserable week.
I’m not one for church myself, but I hear her voice from six doors down, echoin’ through these rickety walls when she’s warmin’ up on Saturdays. Always find myself lookin’ for the moon when I hear that low grumble in her voice, and I guess Fetters’ been hearin’ it too even being a shut-in. He stopped by her door months back with a mason jar and told her to sing into it. He was askin’ her to sing and sing. Felt like hours. Word is her throat was blowin’ out so hard, blood and bits of her vocal cords were spluttering into the jar. Then he just closed it up tight and was on his way. She made a cool fifty bucks but had to sit out singing for a month after that. She didn’t seem to mind though. Mrs. Becca says Fetters told her a woman’s soul is in her song, and that’s why he needed it. That was when the neighborhood started to take notice of Fetters’ unusual quest.
The next thing he asked for was definitely crossin’ a line. He went to the Linsters’ house at the end of the block. Little Ricky “Small Bones” Linster had broken his arm when he was six, and the doctors cut it off since he was in so much pain. Small Bones had been playin’ as you do, being a kid and jumpin’ off high things. The Linsters are poor like the rest of us, so Small Bones and his brother, ole Billy “Big Bones,” would go and tousle around in abandoned homes. No money for swings or playgrounds around here.
Word is Big Bones dared his brother to walk across some exposed high beam in the ceiling. Of course Little Bones was always wantin’ to prove how strong his bones really were, even though he’s got the femurs of a deer. No surprise, he climbed up there easily, light as he is, and came tumblin’ down and broke his arm. Was lucky he didn’t lose more than that. Doctors were nice enough to mummify it for him, so the Linsters put it on their fireplace mantle so it could watch over them. They say bones, especially ones within the family, keep away bad luck, so it was too precious a thing to go askin’ for. But Fetters don’t seem to have much shame ‘cause he went askin’ for it. I dunno what kind of price I’d charge for my own arm, but it woulda been more than a hundred. Big Bones told me the arm was waving good-bye to the family and everythin’, but Fetters still took it away. It had grown longer the year since Small Bones had it cut off, flesh all crinkled and leathery, but was still reaching to go back home. Fetters said only real flesh brings the dead back, even if it’s dry as dirt.
It’s been like that ever since. No bounds Fetters won’t cross. Few weeks back, I heard he went callin’ on Miss Martin just next door. She’s a homely old woman, sweet as can be, and collects teeth for her dentures. Ain’t nothin’ make that woman happier than swappin’ out the old for the new, tinkerin’ and making them sharp. Fetters knew Miss Marten’s son had passed when he was nineteen and needed some of his ashes from the urn. Couldn’t believe the backbone he had askin’ for something like that, but when she refused, I hear he kept ampin’ up the payment till she said yes. It’s like he’s got all this money when the rest of us are barely gettin’ by and don’t pay any mind about it. How much is a soul worth anyway? Miss Marten went and dumped just a thimble full of her son for Fetters, as she didn’t have much left. Been using it in her blood tea to scare the years away.
Fetters visited dozens of houses, collecting hair and tears and toenails. He bought diaries by the pound, and the walls of his home shook at night as he spouted their words in bellowin’ prayers. People’s trash started turnin’ up missing too, and we all knew Fetters had to be behind it, gathering God-knows-what from our leftover casings of livin’. He was assembling origami cranes from used napkins and sewing old cassette tapes together. No one confronted him though. We just let him go on for a while, I suppose ‘cause people felt sorry for ole Fetters. Death comes and steals his wife away, and everybody whips out their coin purse of pity. Guess it’s enough that he’s spreadin’ the wealth around, but damn near everybody in the neighborhood’s been visited and asked to give up something irreplaceable. I could forgive all that except Lisa Common. I and half the neighborhood stopped feelin’ sorry for Fetters after the ruckus with her.
Young thing, was possessed about a year by some dark spirit. I hear it happened ‘cause she was wanderin’ around the graveyard and ate some cemetery soil. Huge taboo and a dumbass thing to do, but probably woulda helped if she knew why not to do it. Nobody likes to talk about the dark on account of invitin’ it in.
Yet that’s exactly what happened. She stumbles home, droolin’ something fierce, with eyes that stab right through you. She was wailin’ and hollerin’ so loud she drowned out Mrs. Becca there for a while. Her family tied her upside-down to the wall and tried to drain some blood from her neck, since they say the dark rests in the heart, but the trick is gettin’ enough out without killin’ the host. Didn’t work, and now they have a huge black stain in their living room.
Anyway, Fetters comes by and says he can exorcise the demon. Says he needs a soul to reanimate what he’s got back home, and a soul from the dark world keeps a connection to the After, which I guess is where his dearly beloved is. I think he was intendin’ to use it as some kind of gateway, but Fetters don’t give details enough for us to figure out his process. Lisa gets suspended face down from the rafters and hangin’ over Fetters and the Common family like a soaring bird. I wasn’t there, but Lisa’s younger brother, Weasel, told me everything. Her skin was charred like she was on fire from the inside and slow embers flickerin’ from behind her eyes. Seems the demon’s presence was burnin’ her soul away. Her hair was withered and crumblin’ into ashes. Weasel was rigid as a nail when he told me about her, said her gaze was haunting like the weight of the night sky could come tumblin’ down with her. He said she was tearin’ through her restraints something fierce, thrashin’ and maulin’ at them, and Fetters was chantin’ like a reverend, sweatin’ bullets and praisin’ and condemnin’ all in one breath. The beast was fightin’ to get out and snare Fetters to shut him up. I doubt Lisa looked much like a little girl then.
I hardly believed Weasel’s story after that though. After hours of hailin’ from the Good Book, the demon quieted. What came out of it next wasn’t Lisa but Fetters’ wife. Still charred and grizzly, her sweet voice callin’ out of Lisa’s body and talkin’ normal. She was speakin’ to him as if she were right there. Meanwhile, Lisa’s body still burnin’ away. Weasel said the room was so silent, nobody was even breathin’, but there she was, the Fetters wife reachin’ out to her widower. I asked Weasel if she wanted to come back to life or stay in the After, and he told me neither. Said she didn’t even know she was dead, but I guess Fetter’s whole “gate to the other side” theory was holdin’ true. His wife there like nothin’ had happened ‘cause she’d gone in her sleep, I guess.
Whatever she said, it sent Fetters over the edge, and this was where us neighbors drew the line. Fetters pulls a knife and slits Lisa’s throat. The whole head, like burnt charcoal, broke off right there, fell to the floor and crashed into a pile of ash. Tiny fires still fussin’ in it, not wanting to die. Weasel said his mamma screamed so loud she blew the ashes away. I dunno if Lisa coulda been saved in that state or not, but what I’m damn sure of is Fetters didn’t know the answer to that neither. He walked outta that house with some smolderin’ remains and never looked back. Us neighbors stopped helpin’ out then.
Things were calm for a while after that. Fetters had stopped botherin’ us. No more shoutin’ from the rooftops at night. It was dark and peaceful. Naturally, I got curious. He didn’t go to all that trouble to do nothin’ now, so I decided to check on Fetters myself and see what was going on in that moldy house of his, see if the dead might be walkin’ anytime soon. I crept over to his place one evening and peered through an opening between the curtains in his front living room window.
What I saw I’ll never forget. Propped up in a brace like a mannequin was the body of a beautiful young woman. Young, blonde, a real beauty just like they said Mrs. Fetters was. Some of the things collected from the neighbors were on the table nearby, and it seemed she wasn’t complete ‘cause there was no life in her, like a doll. You’d never think all that offal he collected could amount to something so beautiful. Her eyes were closed though, torso wrapped up in sheets. Then Fetters entered the room, carrying a syringe and stuck some nasty green liquid into her. No response. Then he grabbed the mason jar which I assumed contained Mrs. Becca’s song. It was still splattered with blood and bits of tissue. He opened the jar. No sound, but he wipes the inside with his finger and wipes the red liquid on her lips.
After that, he opened her mouth and placed what looked like a fetal mouse in there. He had these long tweezers which reached all the way into the back of her throat. Then I saw, couldn’t believe it, her throat movin’ like she was swallowing it.
For a long time, he stood there and watched her. A pale pink color was returnin’ to her arms and face. His breathin’ became more forced, anxious as she roused back to the livin’. Her eyes began to flutter and shone a brilliant blue. I was entranced. I could see now why people still talked about Mrs. Fetters and the light she left behind.
Mr. Fetters came alive like I’d never seen him. He was bein’ restored, becomin’ ageless almost, just like the woman in front of him. I leaned closer to the window but kept my head down so he wouldn’t notice. My mind was racin’ with all kinds of questions, all the people we could bring back now. Small Bones’ arm. Miss Marten’s son. Sure, we was stuck in our Island Dystopia, but now we’d have eternity to make something of it and ourselves. The possibilities were drownin’ out what was happenin’ before me.
Fetters asked his wife if she remembered. She nodded yes, but something seemed off. He got specific and asked if she remembered what happened before she died. She shook her head no, and then the words came out of his mouth, words so awful I wanted to leap through the window and kick his teeth in. He said the people had believed she had taken ill, but she was really bein’ poisoned. It didn’t faze her. She smiled like everythin’ was okay. He told her he’d always love her, and damn if I didn’t want to look away after that. His large, masculine hands squeezed around her neck. She didn’t fight. Didn’t struggle. Her head slumped back, starin’ up at that rottin’ ceiling and dusty chandelier. Her eyes were soft, quietly accepting. Nothin’ else left.
Then he let go. Backed away. Her body hit the floor with an abrasive thud. All the life he’d poured into her evaporated in an instant.
Sin Ribbon is a storyteller on page, canvas and screen—her work culminated from prose, screenplays, films, and paintings. An eclectic blend, she draws from the philosophical and spiritual to spin existential tales of encouragement and consequence. Her works originate from the caverns of introspection, exploring identity, origin, loss and depression, and the quest for meaning. You can find her artwork at https://sinribbon.com and her narrative podcast, fantasy novel, and other stories at https://universe.vision.