Devil's Grin

February 27, 2017
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She held her teacup very still. Even though the train rumbled through the country, she clutched her tea as though it were the only thing keeping her grounded to this Earth.
If she glanced down—which she avoided at all cost—she could see Albert’s blood on the lap of her dress. Upon thinking about it, she clutched her tea tighter.
“Mrs. Ilsman.”
Eliza turned towards the coach attendant. She immediately didn’t like him. He knew why she was there, and that was unacceptable.
“Mr. Lewis will meet with you shortly,” he said, nodding towards the door across from her.
She thanked him and watched as he trotted off. She imagined him falling off the train and being scrambled to bits by the fiery metal of the wheels against the track. She clutched the tea a little less tightly.
With the attendant gone, Eliza tapped her foot as her mind pulled her back to the day before.
She had just put the baby to bed.
Sitting comfortably in her rocking chair, she mended clothes and listened to Albert chop wood outside. She congratulated herself on her and Al’s success settling in the West. She never expected to move from the coast, especially after she broke William’s heart when—but that didn’t matter, not anymore. William was in Nebraska. He was miles away, and she and Albert were happy. Their homestead was a good one, a hundred and forty acres. She’d made a life here. Smiling to herself, she nestled herself deeper in her chair.
The crack of the splitting wood stopped. A moment later, Albert appeared in the doorway.
Looking up from her work, Eliza smiled at him. “Aren’t you going to come in, Al?”
Al didn’t move.
Eliza frowned at him. “Is something wrong?”
It happened in a moment.
Al rushed forward at an inhuman speed and seized her neck. Eliza let out a gasp of shock and pain, tugging on Al’s arms with all her might. Al never let go, instead gripping her tighter.
It was no use trying to escape, he was too strong. With black spots clouding her vision, Eliza desperately tried to find a tool, a weapon, anything to get her husband away from her. She flung her arms around her in a wild desperation. Her hand landing on a pair of sewing scissors, Eliza grasped them, and without thinking, hurled them into Al’s ribs. Warm blood gushed everywhere, covering Eliza in his red, sticky mess.
Immediately his hold on her loosened. Eliza took full advantage of this and scrambled towards the door, where the family rifle was left propped against the wall.
Eliza spun around and pointed the gun at Al.
“What’s wrong with you, Al?”
Al didn’t seem to hear. He let his hand fall from his bleeding ribs and stumbled toward her.
“Don’t you dare take another step, Al,” Eliza’s teeth chattered with adrenaline. “what’s come over you, you’re never like this!”
Eliza could hardly recognize this man. Her Albert Ilsman was the kindest, gentlest, most soft-spoken man she’d ever met. But this? Looking at the hard face, clenched fists, and dead eyes, Eliza could see this was not her husband. This was a beast.
Albert took another step forward.
“Stop! Stop it! Stop moving, I’ll kill you,” she threatened. Truth be told, she didn’t know if she could or not. Maybe Al would calm down and it would all be over. She’d never have to choose to kill.
The man stopped. And then he smiled: cold and empty, without teeth. Eliza recognized what it was. William had told her about it before everything happened. Al was smiling was the Devil’s grin.
Eliza’s teeth stopped chattering. She knew what had become of her husband, and her decision was made.
She squared her shoulders. Beelzebub bent his knees. She c***ed the rifle. He sprang at her, arms outstretched, fingers like claws.
The next moment, he was on the ground. The crack of the gun rang in Eliza’s ears. She dropped the rifle.
Eliza was afraid to touch him. What if she was possessed her next?
She had to leave. But where? Home was in the East. She didn’t have the money or the means to get there. The only person she knew on this side of the country was William. Would he help her?
Eliza tiptoed over to her rocking chair and collapsed into it. Next to her lay a copy of the Bible. Picking it up, she held it close to her heart, the beginning of a prayer entering her mind. She shook her head, she had to think rationally. Now was not the time for faith.
She had to get to town. She would send a message to William. He always told her of all the evil that existed in the world. Perhaps he could find it in his heart to forgive her.
Eliza was jolted back to the present when the attendant cleared his throat in front of her.
“Mr. Lewis will see you now, Mrs. Ilsman.” He opened the door and bowed slightly, making way for her to enter the room. Eliza set down her tea, still steaming, and walked in.
The coach was ornate, with dark red wallpaper and a golden chandelier, but Eliza barely noticed it. All she saw was William, sitting at his desk He spoke first.
“Hello there, Eliza. It’s been a long time. Do sit down.”
Eliza sat. “Thank you for seeing me, William.”
“It’s the least I could do,” William smiled at her warmly. “Now, tell me everything.”

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