Bethany and the Drowned Woman (short fiction)

Too Many Curses


In a castle filled with curses, the Drowned Woman lurked in the deep end of a spa pool, waiting for something, anything, to stray too close to her grasp. She’d been waiting a long time.

Once, a rat had fallen into the water and had been unable to escape. It had drowned before she gotten hold of it. She had to settle for its floating corpse, which she pretended to drag into the depths. It just wasn’t the same.

A supernatural chill filled the spa as Bethany the banshee materialized. The Drowned Woman surfaced, getting as close as the chains around her wrists would allow. She couldn’t drown a ghost, but Bethany’s appearance had other implications.

Hello,” said the Drowned Woman.

Bethany, in her tattered dress, sat beside the pool and dipped her hands in the water. Though her hands were clean, they turned the water red with blood. “Any luck of late?” asked Bethany.

“No. Everyone knows enough to stay away. This was much easier when I was haunting that river. Dragged so many down, I lost count. More if I’m counting animals.” She smiled. “Once caught two horses at once. Seized them by the manes and pulled them right under.”

Bethany said, “It’s talk like that that keeps visitors away.”

“It’s what I do. I don’t see why I should be ashamed of it. Dragons hoard. Warriors battle. I drown.”

“Why is that again?”

“Why do you go around portending tragedies? It’s what you do.”

“I was hoping for a tale of woe where a young bride is swept into a river on her wedding day and in her sorrow, she strikes out blindly at the living.”

The Drowned Woman laughed. “That would be a great story. But, no, nothing like that. I fell into the water. I drowned. I didn’t quite die. Don’t know why. Then I started drowning others.”

“But why?”

“Boredom. Having a hobby helps pass the time, and there’s not many choices when you’re trapped underwater. But why are you here? Something sad is about to happen, isn’t it? Something tragic?”

“You could say that.”

A mouse emerged from a crack in the wall. It scampered up to the edge of the pool. The Drowned Woman’s wrinkled, claw-like hands clenched in anticipation. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

The mouse fell into the water with a squeal. It struggled against the edge. The Drowned Woman pulled at her chains, but the rodent remained just out of reach. Its tail slipped through her grasp as it swam to the other end of the pool.

Bethany reached down and pulled the struggling mouse from the water. She set it down on the stone, where it scampered away.

“You bitch,” said the Drowned Woman. “It was just a mouse.”

“Just a mouse to you,” said Bethany. “But a chance to avert one tragedy for me. I don’t get a lot of those.”

“I thought that was against the rules.”

“A minor tragedy averted for a mouse,” said Bethany with a smile. “Another created for you. It all evens out in the end.”

The banshee wailed, “Better luck next tiiiimmme!” as she faded away, leaving the Drowned Woman to sulk in the soggy depths.

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