In Her Image

email: emreed1@yahoo.com

The days were cold and windy, winter's chill hung in the air
The sky was grey and overcast, the trees stood starkly bare
The ground was hard and frozen, dead grass scattered here and there
And fallen leaves blew in the wind, away to who knows where.

The town lay still beneath a heavy covering of snow
Its silent, empty streets seemed to reflect an eerie glow
The houses were all tightly shut to fend against the storm
The curtains drawn, the fires lit, to keep the townsfolk warm.

A woman walked the cobbled streets, intent upon her path
Consumed by overwhelming grief and full of righteous wrath
The image of her lover's lifeless body filled her mind
Before her death she'd suffered horrors of the vilest kind.

Her crime was love, a kind the townsfolk couldn't understand
Two women living on their own, alone, without a man
Although, disturbing not a soul, they went about their way
Intolerance and ignorance would not be held at bay.

One evening, after too much ale, three young men formed a plan
To show the women what it meant to spurn a handsome man
They stalked the one until at last they cornered her alone
And when she saw their faces she let out a frightened moan.

She cried and begged for mercy, but the men did not relent
Made bold by ale, they didn't stop until their lust was spent
Her cries grew slowly weaker as at last her movements stilled
They left her there for dead, their wicked urges now fulfilled.

The woman waiting in their house grew more and more concerned
The hour was getting late and still her mate had not returned
A sinking feeling in her stomach twisted like a knife
As finally she set out looking for her missing wife.

She came upon a figure lying naked in the street
Its limbs were torn and twisted and the blood pooled by its feet
Her broken cry of disbelief and anguish split the air
She knelt beside her wife, and touched the battered face with care.

She whispered words of hope and comfort to her injured wife
But knew that within minutes there would be no sign of life
A final effort then, as bloodied lips spoke one more time
And told the woman who it was that took part in the crime.

The grieving, broken-hearted woman went to the police
The guilty men were brought before the justice of the peace
Then in a shaky voice she told her story to the court
Believing, in her innocence, that she would find support.

The young men who had done the deed were sons of wealthy folk
So justice passed them by when money eloquently spoke
The woman watched in disbelief as guilty men walked free
While headed out the courtroom doors they sneered at her with glee.

She walked back to her house with aching heart and heavy feet
No more her lover at the door with kisses would she greet
The darkened windows seemed an air of mourning to convey
No fire crackled in the hearth to drive the chill away.

That night she lay alone in bed enshrouded in her grief
She couldn't shed a single tear, she couldn't find relief
She hugged her lover's pillow to her, closing weary eyes
But still she saw the grisly image of her wife's demise.

For many days she mourned the death of her beloved mate
She couldn't sleep, she couldn't eat, her grief would not abate
Half-crazed with pain she wandered to and fro about the house
And everywhere she looked she saw reminders of her spouse.

Her face was gaunt, her body thin, her eyes had lost their spark
With every passing day her thoughts grew bleaker and more dark
Without her lover by her side she found no joy in life
And contemplated whether it was time to join her wife.

Then in her troubled mind resurfaced fragments of a tale
She'd heard it as a girl, and now remembered one detail
She thought upon it constantly and dreamed of it at night
And wondered if the storyteller possibly was right.

The storyteller used to come quite frequently to town
A gypsy with a weathered face that never seemed to frown
The children, eager for a tale, would gather all around
And ask to hear of magic deeds and treasures lost and found.

The townsfolk didn't know how old she was, or whence she came
She spoke not of herself and no one even knew her name
She lived beyond the outskirts of the town, a distance fair
And not a single person from the town had ventured there.

She'd wander through the cobbled streets in worn and tattered rags
With homemade goods to sell and trade in ancient, battered bags
"The Gypsy," so they called her, in a condescending tone
They let her tell her tales and left her pretty much alone.

But sometimes as she walked through town she'd stop a passerby
She'd lay a wrinkled hand on his, an odd gleam in her eye
Then in a hollow voice she'd speak of strange and sundry things
And stranger still, at times she'd speak of future happenings.

At first the townsfolk thought she wasn't quite right in the head
But over time they noticed things would happen as she'd said
Their scorn and condescension turned to superstitious fear
It wasn't long before they didn't want her coming near.

Whenever she appeared in town in anger they would curse
And make crude gestures meant demonic spirits to disperse
The merchants in the shops refused to sell her any wares
And where she went she felt the weight of hateful, fearful stares.

But when the children too began to jeer and curse and shout
She knew her storytelling days were done beyond a doubt
The gypsy's visits to the town grew few and far between
At length they stopped and years went by without her being seen.

The woman had been just a child when all this had occurred
She'd listened to the gypsy, hanging onto every word
And now she wondered if at last she'd gone quite mad with grief
For putting faith in tales she knew were wild beyond belief.

And yet, she couldn't help but feel a spark of hope ignite
Recalling how the gypsy seemed possessed of second sight
Perhaps there was some truth in all those tales the gypsy told
Perhaps there was a way to free her wife from death's dark hold.

She quickly brushed her tangled hair and dressed haphazardly
Then headed forth to where she thought the gypsy's house would be
Her stomach churned, her heart beat fast, her palms were slick with sweat
The wild hope she was feeling drove her onward, faster yet.

She left the town behind and walked past fields of corn and hay
And walked on, even when she thought she must have lost her way Then suddenly she saw the house atop a little rise
A welcome sight to weary legs and gritty, burning eyes.

But as she neared the house she saw neglect had spread throughout
And felt the tiny spark of hope she'd nursed replaced by doubt
The windows all were boarded shut, the paint was chipped away
And in the yard were weeds and thorns that grew in disarray.

The woman thought the gypsy must have died some years before
But still she climbed the creaking steps and faced the wooden door
She raised her hand to knock, but froze mid-motion, terrified
For on its own, it seemed, the heavy door swung open wide.

Her heartbeat, which had seemed to stop, resumed a frantic pace
She turned white as a sheet, the shock etched clearly on her face
The storyteller stood before her disbelieving eyes
And when the gypsy's hand caught hers she started in surprise.

The gypsy spoke then, and her voice belied her frail physique
"Come in," she said. "I know why you are here, and what you seek."
The woman, somewhat hesitant, walked in and looked around
Expecting more neglect, she was surprised at what she found.

The house was neat and clean and showed no hint of disrepair
The brightly painted walls conveyed an almost festive air
The appetizing smell of baking bread spread through the house
Evoking painful memories of times spent with her spouse.

The gypsy saw the welling tears the woman couldn't hide
Then took her hand once more and gently guided her inside
And when the gypsy looked at her with quiet sympathy
The woman let the grief and pain and rage she felt run free.

She spoke of how she'd loved her wife, how happy they had been
She spoke of devastating loss, of emptiness within
She spoke of shattered dreams, now dead and buried with her wife
And of the way she'd lost the joy she used to have in life.

She spoke of helpless anger at the court's corrupted ways
She spoke of bitter loneliness that filled her nights and days
She told the gypsy every single thing that had occurred
But of the reason she was there, she didn't say a word.

She spoke 'til day had turned to dusk and cast the house in gloom
But finally her voice trailed off and silence filled the room
The gypsy's face was grim as she considered what to say
"I know what you desire," she said, "and yes, there is a way."

"But heed me well, my child, before on this path you embark
The magic you would call upon is dangerous and dark
Think well on what you mean to do, look past your grief and pain
For that which you so wish for may not be what you obtain."

The gypsy, with dismay, saw that her warning was ignored
The woman's only thought was that her wife could be restored
Imagining her lover by her side alive and well
In avid haste she begged the gypsy for the magic spell.

The gypsy handed her a book, its cover black and red
"The knowledge you so keenly seek is written here," she said
The gypsy tried once more the eager woman's mind to sway
The woman mumbled vague assent and hastened on her way.

She hid the book inside her skirts and headed home once more
Ensuring all the shades were drawn, she bolted shut the door
Then started reading avidly, though not without some dread
For what the book described was how to resurrect the dead.

With simple illustrations and in words that seemed mundane
The book imparted comprehensive lore on rites arcane
The magic lured her with a promise she could not resist
Despite the voice inside her head that warned her to desist.

The woman studied carefully and planned how to proceed
She steeled herself to gather all the items she would need
A picture of her wife, some clothes, a lock of silken hair
She scoured the house to find them and collected them with care.

She read until she memorized the chants that she would sing
Repeating to herself so she would not forget a thing
Then purified herself in preparation for the deed
And waited for the dawn to come, for so the book decreed.

She set out in the early dawn, the town lay sleeping still
With head bent low, her collar up to ward against the chill
Toward the woods, between the trees she reached the river's bank
And finding a secluded spot, onto her knees she sank.

She dug without a pause, ignoring hands scraped red and raw
Until at last, to her relief, wet reddish clay she saw
Her slender body trembling with the cold, her visage pale
She gathered up the clay, unceasing in her grim travail.

Engrossed in her endeavor, with her clothes in disarray
Oblivious to everything she sculpted with the clay
Within her tortured soul a fierce determination surged
At length beneath her fevered hands a woman's form emerged.

She worked throughout the morning, driven on as though possessed
Her hands grew sore and blistered but she didn't stop to rest
With reverence she sculpted, every touch like a caress
Excitement coursing through her as she saw the work progress.

At last the task was finished, and her lover's shape was clear
She knew no hesitation though she felt a twinge of fear
She looked with love and yearning at the figure she had wrought
Then reached beside her for the bag of items she had brought.

Atop the figure's head she placed the silken strands of hair
And on the body scraps from clothes her dead wife used to wear
The picture of her wife she placed upon the figure's face
And prayed that soon a living form would be there in its place.

One final time she thought on the instructions in the book
Afraid that in her eagerness some step she'd overlook
At length she stood, her body stiff and aching, muscles sore
She knew her task was not yet done, the hardest yet in store.

On shaking legs she waded into water clear and cold
Her wooden pail she dipped and filled as much as it would hold
With heavy burden borne in arms grown weary from the strain
She struggled back toward the bank, her lips compressed in pain.

Forbidden words she uttered then, from secret, sacred chants
She circled seven times the clay, her mind set in a trance
While walking round she sprinkled water from the pail she held
Then all at once her heart with mingled hope and terror swelled.

The sculpture glowed a fiery red where water touched the clay
Thick clouds of steam rose up in waves from where the figure lay
Despite the fear she felt she never faltered in her task
Her features grim and pallid in a concentrated mask.
Another seven times she circled, sprinkling water still
Reciting different chants, her voice with fear gone somewhat shrill
But now where water fell upon the sculpture it transformed
Its features growing more pronounced as each spell was performed.

The reddish color faded to resemble that of skin
And fingernails and hair grew where before but clay had been
White teeth could only just be seen 'tween lips turned ruby red
And thick black lashes over rosy cheeks their shadows spread.

The woman watched the magic taking place before her eyes
So numb her battered senses barely registered surprise
Her one and only thought was that the end was almost near
Her lover would return to her if but she persevered.

The spell was almost done, the incantations all were said
The woman marshalled flagging strength, and then she forged ahead
She looked upon the form that bore the likeness of her wife
And spoke the word of power that would grant the figure life.

Long moments passed but all was still and silent, not a sound
In overwhelming grief the woman crumpled to the ground
With broken, anguished sobs she wept, her heart full of despair
When suddenly upon her skin she felt a breath of air.

Not daring to believe, convinced she must have lost her mind
She looked down at the sculpted form, afraid of what she'd find
When open eyes looked back at her, confusion in their gaze
She laughed out loud with joy, a sound she hadn't made in days.

She flung herself upon the form and held it to her tight
"You're back!" she cried, and felt the black despair she'd known take flight
With every passing second she could feel her sadness lift
She thanked the gypsy in her heart for giving her this gift.

Her hands were roaming everywhere, caressing every part
Relearning every cherished curve she held so dear to heart
She pulled the figure up with her and led it to the house
Content that she was once again with her beloved spouse.

That night, her arms around her wife, she slept a dreamless sleep
No sweat-drenched nightmares rousing her from slumber, sweet and deep
And when she woke with morning's light, her lover by her side
She felt complete, the way she hadn't since her wife had died.

And yet, not all was right, the woman couldn't help but note
Her wife was acting oddly, eyes opaque and face remote
Not speaking on her own, replying only when addressed
And even then with halting tones and simple words, at best.

The slender arms displayed uncanny strength not there before
Their movements were too slow and stiff to easily ignore
She tried to carry on, denying anything was wrong
But knew within her heart that she could not pretend for long.

She understood at last that which the gypsy'd warned her of
The magic had created but a semblance of her love
The soul could never be returned, for that there was no spell
The lover she'd brought back was no more than an empty shell.

And with that understanding white-hot rage engulfed her whole
The grief she'd briefly left behind welled up and filled her soul
Emotions swirled within her, too intense to be contained
Revenge and burning hate and anger, underlined with pain.

She cursed the men who'd brutalized and killed her wife in sport
She cursed the judge who, for his greed, kept justice from his court
She cursed the gypsy for the cryptic warnings and the book
She cursed her wife for not responding to her touch or look.

She stepped up to her wife and shook the passive form with force
"Come back to me! Come back!" she screamed, until her voice went hoarse
But empty eyes looked back at her, no answer in their stare
Until, at last, she turned away defeated, in despair.

Next morning found her walking on a path she'd walked before
Her fists were clenched with anger as she reached the wooden door
She knocked, then knocked again, but no one answered from within
And something eerie in the air raised goosebumps on her skin.

She pushed against the heavy door, which opened soundlessly
Then slowly stepped inside, and looked around her fearfully
The shock she felt was more than her beleaguered mind could take
Her last thought as she fainted was to hope she wouldn't wake.

The day outside had turned to dusk before the woman stirred
She moaned in pain, attempting to recall what had occurred
Then all at once the memories resurfaced in her mind
She stood and looked around again, but knew what she would find.

The once-clean house was full of dust, the floor obscured by grime
The painted walls were stained and yellowed with neglect and time
The gypsy's books and furniture were gone without a trace
And not a thing remained to show she'd once lived in that place.

And then, beneath the dirt, the woman saw a glint of red
She recognized the magic book and picked it up with dread
She turned the pages carefully and felt her eyes grow wide
For not a single word was written anywhere inside.

She let the book fall from her hand, and took one final look
Then walked outside and closed the door with hands that slightly shook
She headed back toward her house with heavy, dragging feet
Her head bowed low, her shoulders slumped, acknowledging defeat.

The woman understood at last that nothing could be done
She'd tried and failed; the monsters who had killed her wife had won.
But if she couldn't have her wife, at least she'd make them pay
And thinking of her lover's strength, she knew she had a way.

She set her lover to the bloody task that very night
The crescent moon was hidden in the clouds and shed no light
The woman followed after, treading softly and with care
But stopped cold in her tracks as screams of terror rent the air.

She crept up close until she saw her lover's silhouette
And came upon a gruesome sight she wouldn't soon forget
Upon the ground three men lay in a crumpled, bloody mess
The gory sight called forth a whimper she could not suppress.

For looking at the men the woman clearly saw their eyes
The shock and fear within too overwhelming to disguise
They cried and begged for mercy, but her wife did not relent
And beat them with inhuman strength until their lives were spent.

Her lover held a rod she must have picked up on the way
The men no longer screamed, their faces now a sickly grey
The sound of steel on human flesh came clearly from the fray
And rooted to the spot, the woman couldn't look away.

She glanced up at her lover's face and froze in disbelief
The once-blank eyes now clearly showed contempt mixed with relief
The pretty face was twisted in a savage, ugly grin
The woman reeled in horror as her blood ran cold within.

She knew beyond a doubt then that her lover was no more
And this was but a creature that her dead wife's likeness bore
Her sweet and gentle wife was dead, and never would return
She felt fresh grief like acid in her throat rise up and burn.

She ventured forward carefully, and touched the rigid form
Surprised, almost, when underneath her hand the skin was warm
The slender arms still held the rod, although the men were dead
And all around the ground was soaked in dreadful, garish red.

She took her lover's hand and pried the metal rod away
Then led them both from where the lifeless, battered bodies lay
She paused but once to look again upon her lover's face
But what expression she had seen was gone without a trace.

Through darkened streets, her wife in tow, she set a steady pace
With aching, heavy heart and bitter tears upon her face
And as she walked she hugged her lover to her, holding tight
The warmth against her side a source of comfort in her plight.

The journey seemed to last forever in her troubled state
But finally they reached the safety of their own front gate
She led her wife inside, and made quite sure she locked the door
And then prepared to let her lover go forevermore.

She washed her lover's hands and face and brushed the silky hair
Then stripped all clothing off, and laid her on the bed with care
She knew the time had come to bid her wife a last good-bye
She whispered tender words of love, but there was no reply.

One final kiss she pressed upon the lips she loved so well,
Once more caressed the rosy cheeks, and then performed the spell
A single word she uttered, hardly louder than a breath
Her wife's eyes fluttered closed, the muscles going slack in death.

The body slowly lost the likeness it had borne before
Becoming but a sculpted lump of clay, and nothing more
Returning to the river's bank she dug a shallow grave
And on a makeshift headstone set her wife's name to engrave.

The day was cool and sunny, hints of spring were in the air
The trees with tiny buds, and flowers blooming here and there
The woman never noticed, wrapped in misery and grief
Her only purpose now, in blessÚd death to find relief.

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