Marishka lay in the dark, very cold and very still. Splinters from the unfinished box she lay in made tiny rosettes on her skin that would have bled if her heart was beating. Her breast did not rise and fall with breath, her eyes did not track beneath her closed lids. She dreamed.
A door slammed above. Curtis was back. He, the maker of the pine box. He, the one who found Marishka.
“…here. I put it in that.”
“That?” A heavy shuffle on the steps. Male, heavier than Curtis. Taller. More careful steps.
“Yeah. Pretty sweet, right? I knocked it together myself.”
“Is that a coffin?” Incredulity, readiness to run.
“Yeah, man. It’s where I keep my undead bride.”
A moment of silence, of pulse slowing to a calm.
“Curt, you funny. You open the damn thing, funny man.”
“Alright.” A hint of chuckle edged Curtis’s voice. The lid creaked back, throwing a sliver of light onto the cold translucency of Marishka’s skin. She lay impossibly still in the coffin.
Curtis’s audience, a black man who wore scrubs that matched Curtis’s own, leaned over the coffin and gaped.
“The fuck—” was all he got out. Curtis was poised at his jugular, bearing a scalpel like an auger ready to drive into a maple tree. The man choked as Curtis tapped his neck, red spattering the white front of Marishka’s dress.
She opened her eyes.
“Come and get it.” Curtis made kissing noises. Marishka rose and clamped her lips to the man’s neck, her mouth filling with arterial spurt. In the yellow light of the single basement bulb, her eyes were ice blue and her hair was as blonde as the saints on smashed church windows. Curtis watched her drink with a self-satisfied smile. Once her belly was fully Marishka was no warmer, no more alive, but she moved more freely.
“I dreamed of my homeland,” she said as Curtis manhandled the body to the nearby bathtub. “I was a girl. The nobleman who ruled over my village was a beast.”
“Mmm.” Curtis held the dead man’s head to the drain and began sawing.
“He would have spells where he rode his horse up and down the valley. When he saw me on the road one day, he fell on me like a dog. When I woke the next night, I was like this.” Marishka rubbed the splinters in her skin, which now flowered with blood the color of old wine.
Curtis sectioned the body, wrapping the parts in plastic bags. He lifted Marishka, bridal-style, onto the embalming table that he usually disguised with a tablecloth.
“Sometimes I wonder if what I dream was never true,” Marishka said as he folded her arms, funeral-style, over her chest, “and I have always been like this. There is no one left to tell me if I’m wrong or right.”
“Sure baby,” Curtis said, undoing his belt, “if you could just raise…that’s it, that’s good. Nice and still, just like that. Ohhhhh…”
Three days of the week Curtis worked at the hospital. The rest of the time he stayed at the abandoned house he sheltered Marishka in, doing odd repairs and the like. Sometimes he brought bodies home from the same morgue where he’d found Marishka and did things to them. Marishka watched him, curled up in a corner with her chin resting on her knee.
“Do you think you will ever find a way to end me?” she would ask.
Curtis would furrowed his brow, not looking up from today’s cadaver. “Why would you want that?”
“This life, I do not care for it.”
“Then kill yourself.” Curtis’s flippant tone could be heard even over the bone saw.
“I have tried. Do you think I have not tried?” Marishka rearranged herself painfully. Her joints ached with a cold that never seemed to go away. “You must find a way, on these bodies. You must free me, if you love me at all.”
“Sure, baby.” Curtis placed the cap of a skull on the wall of the bathtub. Marishka’s eyes followed his actions, the only moving thing in her body.
It was a conversation they had often.
Curtis readied himself in front of the cracked basement mirror. The lights were confined to a plug-in nightlight and a single candle by his suit jacket. Curtis straightened his tie in the mirror. His shirt was the color of an eggplant and buttoned up to the second button. Marishka watched him in a mirror that held no reflection for her.
“You go out tonight?”
“Yeah, baby.” Curtis frowned at himself, wiping at a smudge of shaving cream behind his ear. “Been thinking. I’m sure you’re getting tired of this, so I got an idea. There’s this girl at work, Laura.”
He waited for Marishka to respond. Nothing, not even the sound of breath. She could be anywhere in the room and he wouldn’t even know.
Curtis turned from the mirror. Marishka still sat in the corner, a thin white shadow.
“There’s this girl,” he repeated, “and she’s…I was going to bring her here. You bite her. Then I let you go.”
Marishka blinked, lids sliding over her eyes with the stiffness of many years. “You would bring another girl here.”
“Yeah, you bite her and I let you go. I’ve got a couple different ways lined up, I’m pretty sure one will work.” Curtis turned back to the mirror. He was twitchy.
Marishka did not talk, but long periods of silence were the norm for her.
“You would make another like me?” she asked finally.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s only fair.” Curtis spoke with increasing speed. “I’ve been keeping you, feeding you, making sure—you owe me, okay?”
“Would you keep her here, in this same box?” Marishka’s bird-thin hand brushed against the coffin. “Would you do to her what you do to me after feeding?”
“Look, it’s not your concern.” Curtis finally turned completely from the mirror and grabbed his jacket. “You want out? This is how you get out. I’ll be back at nine.”
He watched Marishka crawl into the box and nodded, satisfied.
The door creaked above.
“Ugh, what is this?” The girl’s voice had a mellow timber. Her heels clacked on the basement steps.
“It’s where I put all those bodies I steal from the morgue. After I fuck them, of course.”
“Ha-ha-ha.” The girl was uneasy and trying not to show it. Her steps were reluctant. A rustle. Curtis had her by the arm, tugging her down the steps.
“It’s just here. I built the box around it, too big to move.” Curtis’s tone jabbed at her. “Come on, you scared? I only bite on the first date.”
“Good, ‘cause you’re not getting anything else.” The girl’s heels hit the cement of the basement floor. The box lid creaked on its hinges, but Curtis did not open it just yet.
“Sure.” The girl heaved an irritated sigh.
Curtis threw the coffin lid back completely. Marishka lay within, impossibly still.
The girl, Laura, stumbled back. “The fuck?”
Curtis smiled and crossed his arms. And waited.
“What the fuck?” Laura had a small clutch purse and wore a cocktail dress. Her made-up face was frozen in horror. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Curtis glanced over at the coffin. Marishka lay still.
Laura was struggling with her fight-or-flight instinct, hand dipping into her clutch purse. “Jesus, they said you were a sick fuck, Curt, but this—”
Curtis looked over at the coffin and frowned. “No, wait, this isn’t right. Come over here.” He approached Laura, flicking the switch at the base of the steps at the same time and plunging the room into darkness. Laura met his grasping hand with a box cutter she pulled from her purse. Curtis gasped, gripping his hand at the wrist. He looked back at the coffin, stupefied. Marishka did not move.
“Keep the fuck away.” Laura took another swipe, he danced away from the blade.
“Come on, you bitch,” he snarled, although whether he spoke to Laura or Marishka was ambiguous.
Laura made a passing feint and then stuck the blade in his neck. Curtis gasped all the air from his lungs and sank to the floor.
Laura looked down at him, shaking. “I’m calling the cops,” she said numbly.
As she stumbled up the steps, Marishka’s eyes opened. She put the dainty white form of her foot out of the coffin and onto the concrete that was as cold as her skin. She rose. Curtis could only draw irregular breaths, eyes glazing over. He pulled the knife from his neck. As his life dribbled from the puncture wound, he looked to Marishka with pleading eyes.
The girl stepped over him without a single glance and walked silently up the basement steps, out into the night.