ASHES TO ASHES by Cindy Rosmus

“You fucked Butcher,” the message said. “Now . . . you die.”

Just like that. From a blocked number, but it was her, all right. Only Stephanie had that voice. That throat full of broken glass. And it was her old man you were fucking.

Were, is right. When things got hot, he split. Even his smell was gone from your rooms, your sheets. You were left with an empty twat, and a pipe bomb in your guts.

Bleeding ulcers. That’s why you’re here, on St. Jude’s charity floor. Your roommate’s gone. The old bat who was hacking all night. Dead, probably.

You’d be, too, if your super hadn’t gone out for smokes. Face down in the foyer, you were. If Stephanie found you, bikers’ boots would’ve squashed you like a bug. For fucking a Satan’s Angel.

She knows where you live.

The day nurse was here, earlier, with your lunch. But who can eat? Even jello gives you grief. She looked familiar, kind of: Spanish, oily skin. Eyes that saw too much. “You’ll be hungry for dinner,” she said, smirking.

Trembling, you pull the blanket over you. Outside it’s February, chilly. Flurrying. How you loved snow, once. Last month, Butcher and you pitched snowballs at cars, like grown kids. Shivering in your hoodie, his leather ice-cold against you. “Never know, man,” he said, packing a fresh one. “Could be the last snowball you ever throw.”

Does she know you’re in here?

All these tests they ran on you. And, for what? So you’ll be well enough to die?

You had to pick a Satan’s Angel.

Boo-hoo, you think. I fucked your old man. He wasn’t the first. Sure won’t be the last. Unless . . .

Distant, tinny music: in your purse, your cell’s ringing.

You don’t want to know. But you’ve got to know.

As you turn over in bed, pain slices through you. You manage to grab your purse off the tray.

“You’ll die tonight,” this message says. “And won’t see it coming.”

Your instinct is to bolt out the door. You try to get up, but the pain is worse. The IVs pull you back. “Fuck!” you say.

Out in the hall, something’s going on. Female laughter, like the nurses threw a party. A male voice murmurs something, and the cackling starts again.

You’ve got to get out of here. And go . . . where?

“Hey!” You jump, as a new nurse pokes her head in. Your cell goes flying. “You want ashes?”

Ashes?

On her forehead is a crooked gray cross. “You Catholic?” she asks. “It’s Ash Wednesday. The priest’s here. Father. . . ?” She yells up the hall.

“Lynch!” He’s outside your door.

“Lynch?” the nurse says. “You’re not from St. Joe’s, are you?”

“Ashes,” you whisper, as the priest comes in. “I need more than ashes. I need . . . the Last Rites!”

They both stare. Father Lynch nods, slowly. He’s sixtyish, in priest garb, with stiff, white collar. Rough-looking skin. He holds what looks like a regular ashtray. “Let me finish up here,” he says, “and I’ll be back.”

As he turns, you see a long, gray ponytail. Strange, you think.

How long, you wonder, since your last confession?

Thirty years? At least! You can’t lie to him.

No more, you realize, miserably. This will be your last confession.

If not for the pain, you could sneak out. Go to the cops. Or hide somewhere.

Tonight, Stephanie warned. And won’t see it coming.

She called in a favor. Satan’s Angels are outside the hospital, waiting. They’ll wait forever, for a favor.

God knows how they’ll do it, too.

Rape you, first. Cringing, you recall their leader, Ringo. A stinking, grizzled fuck with a beard rats could live in.

Footsteps tell you Father Lynch is hurrying back.

Something about him bothers you. Priest, or not.

That ponytail, maybe. Greasy-looking, like if he got close, you’d smell it. Or his skin, all bitten-looking. Like he cut it with a razor. Over and over.

As he comes in, grinning, it all makes sense.

Like he’ll cut you, Stephanie could’ve told you.

After he rapes you.

*

Cindy is a Jersey girl who works in New York City & who talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story. She works out 5-6 days a week, so needs no excuse to drink or do whatever the hell she wants. She loves peanut butter, blood-rare meat, Jack Daniels, and Starbucks coffee (though not usually in the same meal). She’s been published in the usual places, such as Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, Mysterical-E, Media Virus, and The New Flesh. She is the editor of the ezine, Yellow Mama. And she’s still a Gemini and a Christian.

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