“The Chair” by Terese Svoboda
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, a harsh Minnesota winter in is the least of Terese Svoboda’s problems.
Gustav split her skull instead of the log. Squatting beside the woodpile, Peter, nearly as frozen as his brother, did not cry out. Nor did she. She fell off the chair, which had not split, and it toppled beside her. Blood ran off the ax blade while she shook.
Gustav said, “There you are. Half.”
The slick ax, light from having been hefted out of the skull, still upraised, slipped from Gustav’s hand and struck the wall behind him.
Peter shot up to standing and turned his head as far away from the bleeding woman as he could, toward the window where snow had reached the second set of panes.
After the blood soaked through the floor, Gustav tried its dirt with the shovel.
Peter did not help. He held himself with his arms and shook. When the hole was barely deep enough, Gustav lifted the body with its twin halves and laid it inside. He was sweating despite the cold; a hot mist came off his arms and shoulders. He fetched the cover from the bed and spread it on top of her, but Peter snatched it away and wrapped it—blood-spoiled—around his shoulders.
Gustav laughed and set the chair upright.
Weeks later, when the snow had at last stopped and a faint new light seared the windowpane, Gustav pointed out the leaf-shaped flecks of blood sprayed across one corner. As if a tree stood against the wall.
Peter wept at last, then took up the shovel and dug at the mound in the floor. When his prodding released a stench, he stopped.
The chair creaked, kept creaking.
Trickly melt against the window signaled the winter’s end, but the brothers stayed inside. Smoke had long ceased to curl from their chimney. A neighbor checked their well for ice. He peered into a window but saw no one. The next day he pried off the door hinges with the help of his horse. He found the starving, freezing brothers back to back on the cold roughened dirt, and the chair, unburnt, beside a long-cold fire.
There was no sign of the woman. The neighbor had seen her at her labors before the snow had reached so high. Peter started shaking when Gustav said she’d found other work.
They were judged and hung, the both of them. Who could say who did the deed? One wouldn’t talk, and the other wouldn’t stop. After the ax was used as evidence, the magistrate disposed of it, the clerk tossing it behind the courthouse.
The chair didn’t stop creaking. Late in the fall, the neighbor retrieved the ax to chop it up, then hung the ax on his wall.
TERESE SVOBODA is the author of sixteen books of fiction, poetry, biography, memoir, and translation. Her most recent publications are When The Next Big War Blows Down The Valley: Selected and New Poems (Anhinga Press 2015), and Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (Schaffner Press 2016).
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Mar 7, 2016
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