One of my two pieces that is not speculative, “Blood and Ashes” was published in Prick of the Spindle, issue 3.1, under the pen name Madison Leigh. Thanks for reading!
She asked that her ashes be buried in the rose bed, and he had done so. Nevertheless, every time he glanced out of his studio window, he entertained the notion of digging up the bushes. He wearied of seeing her phantom when he walked past the window; pruning, weeding, fertilizing. Just as an amputee might feel a shadow of his former limb, so he experienced her. When he read by the fire at night, from his periphery he would catch a flicker of a page as she turned it in her own book. A whiff of smoke from those damned cigarettes she used to smoke would tickle his nostrils. A moment of warmth when he woke in the morning would be followed by the stark cruel chill of the truth. And worse, ever worse, was the glance of her while he worked, from the corner of his eye, clipping blossoms, burying her nose in them. Her face would beam as she brushed the velvety petals on her cheeks; the things she did when she thought no one was looking. But always, always, she disappeared when he turned to look at her fully.
He grew tired of losing her in this way every day. Yet now it pained him to see the roses that might have been her children running so wild, the leaves from last fall clumped at their roots and snagged in their thorns, their long tendrils reaching from one bush to another, searching for the warm touch of a parent. Perhaps it was the petals on the breeze that made them seem kindred to him on this day; they resembled so much the tears he had long since run out of, mourning for her. And while it would have been so much easier to just rip the roses out, it would mean ripping the last of her out, as well; this he could not bear to do.
So, because she would have wanted it, and because with her gone, he had nothing else, he raked the dead leaves away. He pruned the new growth, he even gave an experimental sniff to one of the fading blossoms. He plucked out the ugly weeds, baring the black soil underneath. He did this all mechanically, without feeling, knowing that if he gave his task much thought, he would realize that her remains were scattered beneath him, and that he was closer to her in that moment than he had been in the year since her passing. Even with the conscious avoidance of thought, the agony of his emptiness threatened him.
Then, a thorn pierced his skin, tearing through his guard as well as his flesh. He watched a drop of his blood glisten on the ground, lingering for a moment, and then trickle down into the earth, coupling with dirt and ash. His cells blended with hers in a marriage of mud; their second chance at creating life.