King of the Castle
Warren leaned back in his chair and belched. He patted his bulging belly and surveyed his domain. The family ate in silence and, though a dense cloud of unease hovered over the room, Warren noticed it not.
He took a sip of his fine wine.
Paige, his wife, was not a superb cook, unlike his mother. Bless her, Paige tried, but her meals were never up to par.
His daughter Romina took tiny bites from the bird-sized serving on her plate.Good, Warren thought, she should watch her weight before her marriage to Frederick Youngblood. He’d chosen the man for her, a man to his liking, a man in his image, successful and proud.
Warren rolled his eyes at his eldest daughter, who was not marriageable. Spinsterhood was her destiny, with her funny-looking nose and weasel-like eyes. Odelia shoveled food into her mouth as if trying to gobble up her ugliness by the spoonful. Warren sighed; no use crying over spilled milk. She would be useful in his old age.
The life his women shaped for him every day satisfied Warren, though it gave him no pride. He wanted more, a son perhaps, or daughters who were both beautiful and smart and with the sense to marry wealthy men.
He drew the wineglass to his lips and sipped.
A knock at the door.
“No, no,” Warren said as his wife rose, “they can come back. It’s a salesman; our neighbors know better than to call on us at dinnertime.”
Paige gave a meek nod and sat down again. The girls kept their eyes on their plates. Warren had used his Caligula tone.
A few minutes passed with no knock.
“See,” he said, “gone now.”
Warren finished his wine.
The lights flickered; the power died. A moment only. When the lights returned, a cloaked figure stood at the threshold between the dining room and the kitchen.
“Who are you?” Warren exclaimed and almost toppled over his chair as he hurried to stand.
“You know me,” the figure spoke in a tomb-like voice.
Warren stared agape at the stranger.
“I have come for one of you,” the figure said, “it’s reaping time in this house.”
Warren startled, his pulse quickened as the figure’s eyes landed on him and held his gaze. Held his fate.
But the figure had offered an alternative. It had said, “I have come for one of you.”
“Take Odelia!” Warren exclaimed, pointing at his eldest, “She’s homely and uninteresting. She’ll become an old maid, might as well put her out of her misery now.”
The figure glanced at Odelia, then turned back to Warren and shook its head.
“Then take Paige! She’s a bad housekeeper and in her dotage will be more trouble than she is worth.”
“Take Romina! Frederick Youngblood will soon find a better wife.”
The figure shook its head a third time and pointed at Warren, whose chest constricted and his throat closed. He gasped for life, but eternal darkness closed in on him.
The figure pulled him away; he floated above the room and watched his family.
The three women observed Warren’s body struggle for its life. It shuddered with an odd rattle and then went still.
His wife stood and collected his glass of wine. The wine only he drank; his women did not deserve it.
“Well, girls, remember what we rehearsed,” Paige smirked.
Odelia chuckled, “The king is dead!”
Romina sneered, “Long live the king.”