Hannah runs her hand over the row of long-handled chisels, darkened and smoothed by years of use. Just the smell in here — the smell of sawdust and a bit of engine grease — brings tears to her eyes. It smells like her father, like he’s still here to choose the right tool and guide her small hands. But that was years ago — her dad’s idea of babysitting when Momma wasn’t around to watch the kids. Her hands aren’t so small now, and he left the workshop to her brother, who’d never get his hands dirty anymore.
Hannah clenches her jaw and grasps a thick handle. Pulling down a pair of goggles, she reaches out, her finger unsteady right until she jabs the green button nestled in its protective well. The lights dim momentarily as the lathe starts up, humming, a shaft of wood spinning before her. She settles the chisel onto the tool rest and brings the blade to bear, imagining for a moment that it’s a parting blade against his throat. It curls off a series of strips like a woman’s blood-dark hair, revealing layers of close-pressed grain. They peel away and tumble gently over her hands.
Hannah controls the chisel with precision, pressing a bit harder on the leftward movement, transforming the shaft first into a gradual taper, smooth, strong, and narrow. Sometimes, her braided hair slithers down over her shoulder and she flicks it back again. The rhythm of the work takes hold, easing the tension between her shoulder blades, and she considers carving some balls into the thicker end, spindling it like a Victorian stair rail. Her father would hate knowing she was in here, using the tools he left to another. He would hate it more than what she is making. Almost as much as she hates him.
Hannah chose a parting tool, setting the groove where the piece would separate from its base. Something creaks behind her and she jumps, reflexively slapping the red button, the tool still in her grip. The lathe whirs to a halt, ticking gently. Flourescent lights buzz, one of them flickering, so she almost thinks the movement in the corner is just an effect of the changing light. Slowly, the trap door pushes up, then slams to the wall, revealing a pale hand reaching up from a dark square. Hannah gropes across the shaft at her back until she finds the narrow end, wrenching it to see if it’s narrow enough. It cracks and clatters free of the lathe. Hannah and the hand both flinch.
With a burst of speed, her father lunges up from the crawl space and whirls, finding her, his grey comb-over flying up and falling back in his face as he stops, his yellow eyes startling in his pasty face. “What are you doing here?”
Hannah swallows, keeping her hand behind her. “Working. Jeremy let—”
“What, don’t you have a house to clean? Some diapers to change?” He draws back his double chin and starts dusting himself off.
“What are you doing here?”
“I don’t like that coffin you picked. Bad ‘nuff the cops saying yeah, I’m dead, without I got to sleep in some coffin.”
“The crawl space is better?”
“No business of yours, is it? You just show up to see what you can git. See if you can git my workshop, my tools.” He thumps his chest, a tight, solid sound, and Hannah wonders if he still needs to breathe.
“Get off it, Dad. I’ve always been the one down here. You taught me yourself.”
“Jeremy’ll get into it, he says so hisself. He wants to when he retires.”
“And you’d rather that your tools rust away than be used by a girl.”
“I never said that.” He pats his hair back into place. “You just had ought to respect my wishes. Where’s Monica?”
Hannah clings to the parting tool, the tip of it quivering. “Back in her goddamn grave I hope.”
He jabs a finger at her, letting it lead him across the room to face her. “You leave your malice out of this young lady. Ain’t nothing to do with you, nor with your Momma, G— Guh— rest her soul.”
He doesn’t seem to notice his stutter on the Lord’s name; the phrase has been so long on his tongue that even now, he can’t stop saying it. With his glossy, fleshy face, his cheap funeral suit, and his jabbing finger, he could almost be her father still. Unchanged, as he would be forever.
“She turned you, Dad,” Hannah murmurs. “She made you a thing that lives in the basement.”
“Monica’s the best damn thing happened to me since your brother was born!” He puffs up, his yellowed eyes burning, and the edge of the bolted table presses a groove across Hannah’s back.
What about me, she wants to say, but what would be the point?
He’s grimacing at her now, his face creased, then smooth, then creased again, mouth opening a bit wider each time. He’s hungry. “You better,” he chokes, “you better get this place cleaned up, and polish,” another grimace, “polish those tools.” His glance flicks to her throat, then to the ground, and his brow furrows. “Mahogany?” He nudges the shavings with his toe.
He snarls. “That some kinda joke, missy? You think now you’ve got me out of my house, you can just taunt me like that?” His fangs show sharp and yellow like his mouldering teeth. “Gimme a drink. Little drink before you get on home.”
Hannah’s arm comes up between them, the parting tool gleaming, but he siezes her wrist.
“Shoulda known you won’t help me. Always hated your old man, didn’t you?” He’s so close that spittle would fly in her face, if his mouth weren’t dry as wood.
“No,” she tells him as she brings up the shaft she’s been carving. “No, Dad, I used to love you.” With her strong hand, she thrusts the shaft through his heart.
About the Author
E. C. Ambrose is the author of “The Dark Apostle” historical fantasy series about a medieval barber surgeon launched July 2013 with Elisha Barber from DAW books, and continuing with Elisha Magus July 2014 . Library Journal’s starred review described Elisha Barbe as “painfully elegant, beautifully told.” The author blogs about the intersections between history and fantasy at ecambrose.wordpress.com and can also be found at www.theDarkApostle.com or on facebook/ECAmbroseauthor. E. C. spends too much time in a tiny office in New England with a mournful black lab lurking under the desk.