“Revenge of the Roses” by Linda M. Crate

He called them his roses. The girls that he slaughtered. Their remains were never recovered from the swamp. He only kept the bones of their pointer fingers as a souvenir and these he kept so well hidden that even his wife didn’t know about them.

She was a trucker so she wasn’t always around which made it easier for him to abduct these homeless teens and prostitutes. Especially when he lived out in the middle of nowhere.

He grinned nastily, leering outside at the little pocket of yard he had that wasn’t surrounded by swamp. Devin Cox read in the paper that morning that the parents of his first victim he had taken had just passed on. Wasn’t that a shame? At least they wouldn’t be lonely when they got to heaven, he thought.

Devin had ninety nine roses so far. Today he was planning on make it one hundred.

His wife, however, had surprised him insisting that she was home for the weekend. Devin felt sheer annoyance at this fact, but he hid it well.

Their grown children never came to visit as they were too busy building lives of their own so he was rather used to being alone. He couldn’t understand why Melinda had to screw that up for him.

“You seem upset, is everything okay?” Melinda asked.

“Just a shame. That girl that went missing thirty years ago…her parents died today. I can’t help but think what I would do if something happened to our daughter.”

“Oh, how awful! Maybe they’ll find her…for the sake of her siblings. They seemed rather distraught that she disappeared. It was right when we moved out here, remember?”

“I do,” he answered. “But it’s been thirty years, Melinda. I doubt they’ll find her.”

“Maybe not,” Melinda sighed. “I’m not feeling well, so I think I’m going to spend some time reading, okay, honey? You wouldn’t mind that, would you?” she asked.

“Oh, no. I’ll go to the store and buy something for you…?”

“No, no, I’ll be fine,” she laughed. “I’ll be fine.”

Devin grinned. “All right.”

She mistook his evil grin for a mischievous one. “I said I wasn’t feeling well, Devin. Not now,” she chuckled.

“Of course, I’m sorry,” he remarked, but he wasn’t sorry in the least. Devin thought that there was no more fitting a crown than making his wife his 100th rose. Not his last, of course, because there were so many years that he still had left…but she ought to be remembered in some way, right? To be his hundredth flower was more honoring of a title than to be his first, he thought.

Devin considered waiting until his wife was on the verge of sleep before concocting this horrible cocktail that would end her life. He wasn’t sure what he’d do this time. Sometimes he liked to strangle them but other times he liked to stab, and he never used a gun because it would leave too much of a mess.

He learned that the second time he had gone about this nasty business. He had just narrowly escaped being arrested. They pinned her death on the boyfriend although they’d never found the gun.

Devin made sure they never would, either, when he tossed that gun at the bottom of the swamp.

He sat in his chair as he waited, blinking as he snored himself awake. When had that happened, and what had woken Devin up. He glanced over at an ethereal being who didn’t speak. She just glared at him.

He rubbed his eyes, and she was gone.

Ah, that was nothing. Just a trick of the mind. Well, he’d be damned if that would deter his plans for the evening.

“Devin,” a voice whispered.

It reminded him of that girl that had died thirty years ago.

Now is not the time to be cracking up, Devin, he thought aggressively to himself. He shook his head, clearing his mind of that girl and her blonde hair. The way she had screamed when he bit into her leg hard enough to make her bleed. The way her blood tasted when he licked it off his knife after slashing her throat. He had disposed of her body in a different swamp than the one he was so accustomed to now. No one had ever found her.

She had looked a lot like his wife except her eyes were blue instead of brown. They had the same freckles, the same pale skin, and almost the same smile. The girl had said something to him that had set him off.

Devin could still remember her smug smirk. “Men were just put on this earth to serve women,” she had said. She was just teasing, but it reminded him so much of his wife and her insistence that she was always right that he flew off the handle and he had decided she had to go then and there.

Oh, how she had screamed! He relished it even to this day. She didn’t even know what kind of monster she woke in him, that foolish girl.

Devin smirked again.

“We’re going to knock that smirk right off your face.”

Devin looked around. Who or what was that? He shivered, rubbing his arms. This was getting a little ridiculous. Why was he getting so spooked? Obviously, he was still having some weird dream. He needed to get over it. Otherwise he’d miss his opportunity for his hundredth kill. He wasn’t about to allow that to happen.

He walked into the bedroom where his wife was still sleeping. Devin knew that he had to act quickly.

Any wrong move and she could instantly wake. He wasn’t going to allow that to happen. He looked at the bed-sheets and blankets and thought of a horrible idea. He could smother the life right out of her. Shouldn’t be too hard, right, considering he was stronger than she was.

“Ninety nine roses is far too much for you,” hissed a voice.

He half-expected it to be his wife, but it was not. A pale girl with black hair glared up at him. She looked small enough to be a girl, but she had been a grown woman and a mother. Her only crime was agreeing to get in his car.

“SHUT UP OR YOU’LL WAKE HER UP!”

“Devin, what’s going on?”

“Nothing, Melinda, just go back to sleep.”

“Are you all right, Devin?”

“I’M FINE!” he roared.

“There’s no need to shout at me for simply asking a question,” Melinda said, grumpily. “Maybe next time don’t walk into a room shouting at yourself if you don’t want people to ask if you’re all right,” she snapped.

“I never asked for your attitude, woman!”

“Nor did I ask you for yours,” Melinda retorted.

“Just ignore him and walk through this door,” came another voice.

“Who, who are you?”

“No one that will harm you. Our business is with your husband.”

“My husband?”

“He murdered us.”

“Murdered?! Devin?!”

“I did, and I’ll kill you, too, Melinda,” Devin shrugged.

“We won’t let you do that.”

“Ninety nine roses is too good for you.”

“Go through the door.”

Melinda disappeared through a door that Devin couldn’t open. He wanted to thunder after her, and get his hundredth rose.

“WHERE DID YOU TAKE HER?!”

“Somewhere where you cannot harm her.”

“Yes, somewhere where she will never have to fear for her life again,” another woman answered.

He saw that he was surrounded by many ghosts. All of them must of been the women that he had killed through the years.

Devin felt the hair on the back of his arms and neck stand on end. What was going to happen to him?

“We won’t let you die without suffering first.”

“Wait, what? Ghosts can’t kill people.”

“Maybe not with our hands but we can still kill you,” sneered one of the women.

“Yes, we can still kill you,” they crooned in unison.

“No, I won’t be killed by a bunch of women!”

“Why is it so offensive that we’re women? You don’t seem bothered by the idea of us killing you, but the idea that we’re women. You perceive us to be weaker, don’t you?”

“Of course you are! Everyone knows that.”

“We’re the ones that birth the children, deal with periods and menopause, and have to deal with hormonal imbalances whilst expected to be strong as a horse, have the face of a young girl, and be expected to perform in bed whenever our husbands should have want of it. Women shouldn’t still be fighting for their rights!”

“But because of misogynist pigs like you, they are!” chimed in another voice. “Women are people. Not property or objects, and we certainly weren’t put on the earth for your entertainment. We have hopes, dreams, and ambitions of our own.”

“We won’t allow you to collect another rose.”

Devin scowled, glaring at all the ghosts around him. This was some great delusion. It had to be! Yet every time he pinched himself, nothing happened. It was as if he was rooted to this reality even if he didn’t want to accept it was truth. What was going on?

He ran, but one tripped him with his a nail which tore up his sock and caused his foot to bleed. He fell, smacking his face off the hardwood floor.

Another hit him upside the head repeatedly with his wife’s knitting needles.

Yet another ghost whistled so shrilly that he felt as if his ears were about to explode.

“Stop it! Have mercy!”

“We’ll have as much mercy as you showed us: none!”

The horrible cackles that followed afterwards made his ears ring so loudly that it thundered after him as he attempted to crawl out of the room. One of the ghosts knocked over a pitcher of water from his wife’s bedside counter, drenching his hair and face.

Then suddenly there was nothing. Devin blinked. Had they given up on him? Was his haunting finished? He didn’t know.

All he knew was that he must be losing his mind. He used the edge of the bed to pull himself up on, and saw that his wife wasn’t there. The door she disappeared into was gone, as well. Crawling towards his face was a black spider.

He yelped, killing the beast with one of his wife’s shoes that was handy beside the bed stand. It, too, was covered in water, and it was hard to grab onto, but he had managed the feat of smashing the beast. He had always hated spiders. They were gross and creepy no matter what anyone said about their benefits to the environment, he couldn’t abide by them. Bats could eat the insects as far as he were concerned. Blast those confounded creatures!

There was a humming he heard, and he blinked, slowly pulling himself to his feet. He followed after the humming sound hoping it was something that he could make stop because it was making him feel uneasy.

It was coming from the kitchen.

All of a sudden a frying pan came and hit him in the face. As he was falling from the impact of the blow he grappled with the table cloth managing to successfully pull all the contents of the table off as he fell. A chair hit him square in the chest after he had fallen hard on his back.

“Hello, Devin.”

“I think the small potatoes are baked, it’s time to hit you were it hurts.”

Devin blinked catching a knife in mid-air before it could hit him in the groin. These ghosts were no joke.

“I don’t deserve this.”

“Yes, you do.”

“It’s the revenge of the roses for everything and everyone you took from us!”

“You deserve to die.”

He was suddenly reminded of his father who had grabbed him by the scruff of his neck once and uttered those same words.

“BE QUIET, YOU STUPID HUSSIES! YOU DESERVED TO DIE! LEAVE ME ALONE! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE AND GET OUT OF MY HEAD.”

“No,” was the simple response given by all those voices in unison.

He felt as if his head might explode.

Managing to get back on his feet again Devin ran as fast as he could back to his room, and locked the door. He put his back to the door, panting hard.

He felt the knife slam into his heart from behind, he looked down at his chest where blood blossomed like a flower on his chest. He noticed that it was forming in the shape of a rose.

“The hundredth rose,” one of the ghosts mocked scornfully. “May you rest in pieces but never in peace.”

Their was mocking laughter in his ears. As he laugh dying he felt tears falling from his eyes, but his arms were too heavy to wipe them away. Everything was fading into cold blackness. A void without a name.

Linda M. Crate’s works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies both online and in print. She is the author of six poetry chapbooks, the latest of which is: More Than Bone Music (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, March 2019). She’s also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018) and two micro-poetry collections. Recently she has published two full-length poetry collections Vampire Daughter (Dark Gatekeeper Gaming, February 2020) and The Sweetest Blood (Cyberwit, February 2020).

Linda M. Crate, author.