Aphelion Issue 261, Volume 25
May 2021
 
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The Cliff

by Lori R. Lopez


’Twas an eve without peace,
With no trace of comfort and security;
The kind of night best to not be out on,
Certainly not alone…
For haunted things prowled the earth
When the Moon was less vigilant
And darkness thickened,
Enticing them forth.

Sweet Darla paused to catch
A breath. Covert steps trailed,
Scarce audible, and then a tread
Revealed the presence.
She gripped her wrap tighter.
How many eventides passed while
Ghosts drifted the surface
Without hope of sunlight’s embrace,
Locked in this brooding wayfare,
Along muted desolate avenues?
How often must a lady falter
And clutch at the throat of the cape
Around quivering shoulders —
Huffs of respiration frosting
Unlit air,
Painting the twilight
A cemetery pall?

It seemed to her rather
Frequent, a regular occurrence.
She had slipped out for a visit with
Friends, a group of poets,
Being a defiant age.
Claudine. The word entered her mind
Unbidden, lacking explanation.
A stray caterwaul in the deep of
Nocturne.
That which howls isn’t always
Defined by fur and claw;
There may be ulterior plots afoot,
Uglier impulses, frightful traits
Harbored by a heart so void
Of compassion and warmth
That the flames of Hell might freeze
Against the chill
Of a disturbed spirit.
The terrors between Midnight and morn
Cannot compare to such bane…

An iniquitous wildfire pouring
From wretched tormented depths.
The rake of ruby-red nails, each
Perfect as a drop of unrequited blood
From a rended cheek:
Pulsing with intensity,
Exiting the flesh and vein
Of a damsel whose love was tarnished
By deceit —
A consummate, infinite betrayal.
Who cast herself to stone
The way miseries were once resolved,
Dashed upon the jagged crowns of rocks.
For it is an immeasurable risk to reside
Close to the perilous maw, the gaping edge
Of a cliff,
Which will beckon and lure,
Coax at times of
Woe, the utmost tribulation.
And there is no greater frenzy or anguish
Than the ice-hot temper,
The wintry gale and searing gall
To lash from a scorned woman’s soul
In an unhallowed clash
Of bitter extremes.

She had lurked, this vengeful spirit,
Quietly gathering like a storm,
The tempest out of teapot that cruelty
Made her become.
If only it could have been otherwise;
How she would have delighted
At a merry life with its typical
Dips and peaks, the moody lulls of
Sorrow and exultant heights of glory!
But no, she must resign herself
To an unfruitful harvest,
A meager bouquet of wilted flowers
In nebulous shades of despair…
The drabbest hues of gray for her
Dawns and Dusks,
When she faded or reappeared.

“What do you want?”
The phantom whirled to confront
A foaming persecuting pack
Of devil-dogs on leads,
Tracking her footfalls, the scent of blood;
Straining against tethers;
Pulling to sniff the ground
And circle her, a wrathful ring
Of bellicose snouts and snorting.
“What do you want?” Her question
Repeated, almost an echo.
“Why do you pursue me?”
The voice was bold, slightly timid,
Gentle as the tinkle of a tiny bell.
Much smaller than the ones on her grave.
She frowned at the thought,
Frozen between offering a response
And heeding the beasts that clamored,
Lunging with restrained devotion
To carp and tear at the stiff black crinoline
Of her garb,
A faded Gothic-style dress.

Claudine swiveled, confronted by
The figure she had followed night after night
In fascination…jealous too
Of her liberty.
Women had few enough rights
And were constantly burdened by demands,
Expectations, roles they must perform.
She had rebelled against a Male Society,
Craving their chances, coveting
The freedoms
Men took for granted.
Why could she not do as they did,
Carelessly independent?
Yet she had loved one man with all of herself,
Only to be forsaken.
Abandoned
While he wooed and wed another!
“You are my life,” he had pledged.
And he was hers. Forever.

“Why do you seem familiar?”
Instead of answering, she asked.
“We have never met — I’m certain.”
A stammered protest, as if the girl
Wouldn’t be caught in her company,
Given half a choice.
Offended, Claudine stared nose to nose,
Peering through Moss Green eyes,
Probing the young lady’s internal works.
Dainty gloved hands spread apart.
“It’s a fact!”
“I don’t believe you.”
She fluttered side to side,
Examining features.
“There is something about your face.”
“Well, a number of acquaintances
Have remarked on my beauty.”
“It isn’t that!” Claudine pinched
Wavy strands, ebony tresses.
“You bear a striking resemblance…
To someone I hate!
She roared the last words, emotions
Rising in her cheeks. Vessels bulged,
Threatening to explode.
A damsel retreated
From a tumult of swirling
Passion.
The blood-hounds whined
And merged into shadows —
Tugged back.
Growling, baying. Unfed.

“You can’t fault me for something
Utterly random. I cannot help
Who I remind you of. It is out of my
Control.” The lady trembled.
Claudine pressed closer,
Assertive, glaring,
Her venom and fury bridled.
“What is your name?”
A whisper: “Darla.”
“Your complete name! All of it.
Every syllable.”
“Darla May Anuncio Redding.”
“Then it’s true!”
A column of crimson rage
Churned aloft. Ice crystals congealed
Underfoot, crackling, glazing. Transforming
The street to white threads and spikes.
A bereft sob emerged.
The chimney of hostility diminished,
Smothered by conflicting degrees of
Empathy and contempt.
“I am Claudine.”
The girl’s expression changed to
Recognition.
A ghost heart quickened.
“Have you heard of me?”
“No. Until tonight.”
The revelation meant nothing;
Hope crumbled.
Her demise was in vain.
“Ramon. Reynaldo. Anuncio.”
Spitting the statements.
“Tell me who he is!”
A prolonged gasp, as if rousing
From a terrible dream…
Or the sleep of the dead.
In spite of fear, the maiden
Replied, “My grandfather.”

It sank in.
Claudine had impulsively, desperately
Flung herself over the cliff
Decades before. He had gone on,
Raised a family, embraced
The happiness that she was
Denied. He never mourned,
Never mentioned her loss.
“Where is he?” The wail
Resounded, expelled from cold lips.
Fingers of bone clasped
A delicate arm. “Take me to him!”
The tone was frigid. Arctic.
Her visage seethed, flesh swollen.
Ripe with heat blisters.
Peeling as they walked a series of
Hollow lanes and alleys.

The drumming of a cadence
Deafened ears ⸺
A rhythmic throb,
Channeled through his descendant.
Ragged skirt hem trailing,
The remnant of an ambitious girl,
A lithe form stalked to meet
The fate intertwined with her own.
It would be an unhappy reunion
As she crept inside a townhouse,
Climbed marble stairs
And burst into a bedchamber.
Sitting up, awash in elegance,
The wrinkled gent fumbled to illuminate
Intruders. “Darla!
What is the meaning of this?
My heart could have stopped!”
He had married into wealth
And was still a deadbeat, a rogue,
A narcissist.
Familiar though sagging, his jaw drooped,
Hanging open. “Claudine.”
So he remembered, as dreadful as
She looked. The revenant fussed
With her tangled mane.
A nod of belated satisfaction.
“Murderer.”

The silver cad swallowed,
Then sputtered “No!
You must not listen,
My darling granddaughter.
She threw herself off a cliff.
I didn’t touch her!
I was exchanging vows with
Your grandmother when it happened.
An enormous wedding.
There were many witnesses.
I have a flawless alibi.”
The frail voice attempted a laugh
But choked.
“Who was she, Grandpa?”
“Nobody. A tramp who fancied me.
Can you imagine?” His coughs
Turned to hacking.

The specter’s emotions billowed,
Congesting his room with
Heavy clouds of rancor,
A warring thunderstorm of
Hate and love.
At the center Claudine
Brushed talon-digits across
The girl’s soft cheek.
“You could have been mine.”
A note of regret; a trace of
Grief.
She had seldom played like
The other girls with dolls or wished
For armfuls of babies.
Yet she might have been
A good mother.
She might have adored a child…
Sentiments steeled.
Her gut lurched.
She cast the young lady out
In a toss of her head. Pure anger
Slammed the doors. He and she
Were sealed together.

Shouts. Fists pounded
From a distant land. Face to face,
Wind providing a shrill chorus,
The couple beheld each other
With distaste. “You’re old,”
Sneered she, as if it were a dire
Punishment.
Her flesh repaired itself and
Shimmered.
“You’re deceased,” he spurned.
The artifice shattered.
A decrepit hag, battered from rocks,
Withered and grotesque,
She scowled at him and shrieked.

Then grew despondent. Pensive.
“I discarded my life over you,
An unworthy excuse of a man!
At least I did not waste it
Bound to you for Eternity,
Serving as your spouse.
I committed a reckless act…
An irredeemable sin.
The cliff was there, a convenient
Method in a distraught moment;
Swifter than blade or gun,
Than poison.
It summoned a foolish heart,
Broken and jaded, unable to glimpse
The future without you.
But I am now glad to be
Rid of you once and for all!
I can release the feelings
That corrupted my soul,
Festered in my core.
The treachery of your rejection
Hurts no more.
I am free!”
A dramatic speech,
Wrenched from her marrow.

“Depart then! Away with you!”
Cried Ramon, optimistic he might be
Spared. Vile men do triumph,
Escaping justice.
Not this one.
Claudine smiled, a little wicked.
“You are going with me…
To Hell!” she screamed,
And grabbed his scrawny wrist
To yank him out of bed —
Drag him down through a hole,
A vortex of rime and blaze.
The wraith’s troubled wandering,
Her unsettled nightly travels
Ended,
For she was at peace.

Yet how she would savor
Watching him burn.


2021 Lori R. Lopez

Lori R. Lopez is an author, poet, illustrator, and wearer of hats. Verse and stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies including Weirdbook, The Horror Zine, The Sirens Call, Spectral Realms, Space & Time, Illumen, Altered Reality, California Screamin’ (Foreword Poem), and several HWA Poetry Showcases. Books include The Dark Mister Snark, Leery Lane, An Ill Wind Blows, The Fairy Fly, and Darkverse: The Shadow Hours (nominated for an Elgin Award). Four of Lori’s poems have been nominated for Rhysling Awards. You can learn more about her at the website shared with two talented sons: https://www.fairyflyentertainment.com

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