And, the Bride Wore Ashes

by Cate Gardner

Maud found the snow globe on the floor of the hotel foyer. Ash cascaded over the bride and groom glued within. It appeared someone had just shaken the globe and yet, as far as Maud could see the foyer was empty. A tag attached to the globe by silver string read, ‘To Claudette, from Frank.’ Maud’s sister would have a hissy fit if she found a gift from her ex.

Tucking her vomit-pink skirt between her legs, Maud sat on the stairs and tipped the globe upside down. The bride and groom’s slack jaws opened as if in scream. Claudette’s mouth would form a similar hollow tunnel if she caught Maud crouching on the stairs. This was her day and she wouldn’t allow Maud to destroy it–because, obviously, destruction topped Maud’s list for the day. Maud sighed. Claudette’s weddings were always eventful. This time, it appeared Claudette would be appearing at the main event.  

Floorboards creaked, and Claudette’s whine echoed. Maud stole across the foyer. She’d hide in the gardens until nuptial-time. A man stood in the doorway, his white suit spattered with inkblots. He reminded her of a bouncer.

“I apologise,” he said. Grabbing Maud’s arms, he twirled her around and pushed her over.

Glass crunched beneath her.

Maud drew in a breath and hoped the broken shards hadn’t cut through her dress. When she released it, Maud opened her eyes and found she was in some place other. She lay at the edge of an empty grave and its headstone wore her sister’s name.

“You’re not Claudette,” a familiar voice said.

Maud looked up the length of the man’s pinstripe suit to the angular chin of Frank (aka Buster) Keaton. He carried a moth-eaten wedding dress.

“Claudette is busy preening and, apparently, I’m busy getting screwed,” Maud said.

Above her, the sky reflected their scene–their images curved against a glass dome. Ash covered her satin shoes. A laugh trembled on her lips. She suspected someone had spiked her drink at the pre-wedding bash and the drugs were working through her system.

Shuffling through a layer of ashes, Maud said, “As my feet aren’t glued in place, I’m guessing I best grab something sturdy before someone shakes the globe. Not you, though.”

“You should be Claudette,” Frank said, giving her the old silent-movie sad eye.

Neither he nor Claudette had ever liked Maud’s nickname for him, thus she said it whenever they met. “Hate to break it to you, Buster, but she’s marrying some other dweeb today. I can’t believe you’re still not over her. So how do we get out? Or, do I just wait for the bruise to go? Bright side, I might miss the speeches. Assuming the wedding gets that far.”

Turning around, Maud almost tumbled into another grave. Ash rained on a girl sleeping six feet down. According to her headstone, the grave girl’s name was Eloise.

Rosebud lips flatlined and her eyes opened, Eloise stood in a swift, fluid movement. Maud crossed herself.

Eloise brushed ash off her fur coat. “You followed me with her, Frank? I despair for you if she said no.”

“She’s nothing to do with me. It’s an unfortunate mistake.” Frank turned to Maud. “I scribbled Claudette’s name on the tag.”

“Ha,” Maud said. “You’re reprimanding me. Are you for real? And Gothzilla,” she said to Eloise. “There’s a worm crawling out your ear.”

Maud stomped across the cemetery to the globe’s glass borders and peered at the distorted view. Floorboards bevelled against the weight of the glass. She figured if she hadn’t cracked her head then she’d cracked her sanity. The world wobbled and an eyeball loomed into view.

Maud stumbled back. A hand tipped the snow globe. She slid, coming to rest on ashes. Below her, Frank and Eloise clung onto gravestones. The eye pulled back from the globe.

Rolling along the glass, Maud noted that the man carrying the globe (and as such, them) wore a blotchy-white suit. He dropped the globe on the wedding present table.

Maud tumbled down into her sister’s grave. Ashes filled her mouth. She pressed her hand to her lips and dragged herself to the surface.

“Okay, fun’s over folks. How do I get home?” Her heel caught in her skirt, tearing the fabric. “Ah, crap.”

“When Claudette arrives, you can go,” Frank said.

“I wasn’t asking for permission, I was asking for directions,” Maud said, wiping off a layer of ash.

She threw off her shoes, gathered her skirts in her hands and marched towards the white-board church, set just beyond the graves, hoping to find a minister or someone who would help. She stopped midway–no more than ten steps. What was she thinking? She was in a snow globe for fucksakes.

A man in a white-black suit stood in the church doorway. Although he appeared glued in place, Maud knew different. Here was the beast who’d trapped her. What she had thought inkblots on his suit were in fact birds. They fluttered. Like Frank, he carried a moth-eaten wedding dress.

Before Maud could ask how many girls had jilted him, the man said, “Ah, so we have a bride. You must be Claudette.”

“Nope,” she said, pushing by him.

Within the church, ashes covered ice-lolly stick pews and clung to polystyrene columns. A door to her right proved to be a drawing; its charcoal frame scribbled onto the wall. Behind Maud, Eloise dragged Frank into the church. Maud sighed. Two weddings in one day. Too many.

“You have two choices,” the man in white said. “Either you marry Mr Keaton and live unhappily ever after or we…I mean, you run out of air. The ashes are building.”

“She’s not Claudette,” Frank whined.

The devil winked at her.

“The shattered glass cut a vein and I’m loosing juice, right?” Maud pressed her hands to her body and checked for leaks. “Either way Claudette is going to tie me to the wedding car so the road can flay me.” Sometimes you had to flow with the illusion. “Though you know what would freak her out–my stumbling over the vows before she did. Hey, I’m in. Now point to the stairs, I want to go home.”

“Typical Frank Keaton wedding,” Eloise said, snorting ashes. “The bride heads for the exit.”

“You have to wear the dress,” Frank said.

The lace gown fluttered, the moths still feasting. Frank pressed it into Maud’s hands. Sunlight (or maybe someone had bought a lamp for the happy couple) streamed through the stained glass window, falling across the polystyrene altar. Painted ravens trembled in the shifting light, their wings blue-black. Maud shivered the dress on over her bridesmaid dress trying not to squash any moths. The ground shifted again. Someone had picked up the globe.

Claudette’s laughter filled the church. “Oh, how cute. Someone got me a…What? Frank Keaton. Maud. Where’s Maud? She’s in charge of presents.”

“Label me dogsbody,” Maud said.

Frank pressed his hands together in prayer, his black hair flopping over his too-white face. “Let her shake it. Please, let her shake it.”

“Smashing it is more Claudette’s style, but hey, I’ll take any exit,” Maud said.

Moths fluttered on her shoulders, twin grey bows. Maud sat on a makeshift pew and rested her bare feet on the one in front. “Though Claudette never did like me to have anything she had so you may be in luck.”

“Claudette said you always wanted what she had,” Frank said, brushing his hair out of his eyes.

Maud scrunched up her face and rocked back and forth on her heels as if encouraging her sister to shake the globe. “Perhaps.” Then she added, “Not you though.”

The world settled with a clunk-clatter and the light dimmed to the colour of ashes. Maud coughed and pulled her knees to her chest. The world tilted left.

“She threw you away,” Maud said.

Frank shook his head. Maud pulled the train-wreck of a man out the church. Outside the dome, the surrounding walls were gunmetal grey and the sky a pinhole of light fast diminishing beneath crumpled wrapping paper.

“She’s not supposed to open the presents until after the wedding, but my sister never could wait. She got so excited about marrying you and planning the wedding, she ran out of energy the night before the big day. You shouldn’t take her rejection to heart, and the other one”–Maud nodded at Eloise–“she’s a shrew.”

Behind Eloise and the supposed minister, birds fluttered within stained glass. They pecked their prison.

“Did it never occur to you to break the glass?” Maud asked.

“I wanted this.” Frank looked at his shoes. “I gave up…me.”

Maud bit her lip and stood with her hands on her hips. The dress shivered beneath her palms. “Faustian,” she said. “You know, I never wanted to get married and well…I still don’t, but if I have to…I do save your soul by saying yes, right?”

“Erm…” Frank fussed with his cravat.

“You’re shitting me. You don’t take revenge lightly.”

He blushed.

Maud looked down the aisle and wondered how to trap the Devil in his own glass bottle. It had her stumped. Wading through ashes, Maud pulled her bridegroom into the heart of the church.

“So, El Horny,” Maud asked. “Frank and I get married and poof it’s back to the real world, right? I mean, I know you have a price tag on his soul an’ all, but he gets to live the rest of his natural.”

The Devil nodded. The ravens on his jacket cawed.

“Never a lie to pass your forked tongue.”

“Well that’s going a bit far, m’dear.”

“Can we get this done,” Eloise said, fanning her hand in front of her lips. “Before I’m tempted to marry him.”

Frank resumed prayer position. Maud kicked his shin. Ash rained like confetti.

The Devil-Minister looked at his watch. “Let us begin,” he said. “Do you Frank Joseph Keaton, lately of this parish, take Claudette’s sister to be your eternal loving wife?”

“Wouldn’t my name be more appropriate?” Maud asked. Ashes lay thick on her skin. “Whatever, carry on.”

Frank unravelled his cravat. “Erm, I do.”

“Do you Claudette’s sister, lately of this parish, take Frank Joseph…”

“Wait,” Maud said, holding up her finger. “This is too easy.”

“Depends on your perspective.” The Devil drummed his fingers against the altar. “Now do you, Claudette’s sister…Oh, do you have a ring? Because if you don’t have a ring”–he yawned–“I can’t marry you and if you don’t marry…” He ran his finger across his throat.

Maud marched around him, stopping just short of shoving the Devil aside. As she pushed the altar over, an ash cloud enveloped her. She beat against ashes. There had to be an exit somewhere within the church. They’d seen this devil outside the globe, and then he was inside and… A gold key poked out the floor. She pulled at the key, wondering why he didn’t try to stop her. When the lock clicked free, she fell back and found no keyhole and no door. The key weighed heavy in her hands.

Laughter split open the Devil’s throat. “Suffocate then,” he said. Flipping his jacket over his head, he vanished.

A pyroclastic cloud spilled its load over them. Maud launched the key at the stained glass window. Both key and glass shattered. Painted birds fluttered within the ash. Their wings flapped, carrying them up to the glass dome.

“We’re going to die here and it’s your fault,” Eloise screamed.

Maud wasn’t certain if the girl directed her assault at her, Frank or perhaps the vanished Devil. The dome cracked beneath the persistent peck of the stained glass birds.

“What now?” Frank asked, as if they and not he had instigated this.

The stained glass proved thin lollipop shards. Knocking sharp pieces aside, Maud climbed into the graveyard. Glass fell in place of ashes. The birds had broken through the ceiling. Maud wished someone would tip the globe. Several moths fluttered from her dress and followed the birds. They headed towards Claudette’s scream.

The ground trembled. Maud fell back, her shoulder smashing into the church. The bin containing the globe rolled onto its side offering a terrific clatter.

“Come on,” Maud said. “Before someone sets it upright.”

Dropping from the church to the glass, they crawled towards the eggshell-like hole. Maud tumbled out first, one moment falling into the bin, the next she lay beside, far too large to have ever fit.

“Maud,” Claudette screamed.

Maud grinned at her sister. Wearing a torn bridesmaid dress and a wedding dress held together by dead moths, Maud offered Claudette a thumbs-up. Claudette looked as chaotic. Black feathers hung from her hair and bird poop stained her dress and skin.

“Why do you always destroy everything important to me?” Claudette said.

“Pardon me. Have you considered since the world revolves around you, you may be to blame for any mishaps?” Maud reached into the bin and removed the cracked globe.

“Not when said mishaps only occur when you’re present.”

“Where are you?” Maud said, ignoring her sister. Examining the globe, she could only make out the broken remnants of the church. She pushed her finger into the globe. Something tugged at her hand, pulling her back in.

Maud dropped the globe and backed away. It rolled along the floor, gaining no further cracks. “They can’t leave because he didn’t marry.”

“What are you rambling on about?”

“Unless Eloise marries Frank, he’ll be stuck forever or until he suffocates.”

“What? Who? This is my wedding day. Hey, did you say, Frank?”

“Frank Buster Keaton. He’s trapped in that church, and the only way to save him is if you or I marry him.”

Claudette snorted.

“Oh, you don’t know how much I ache to push you in the globe, but”–she grabbed Claudette’s finger and pulled off her engagement ring–“as loathsome as his act is, even Frank shouldn’t have to marry you.”

Wearing Claudette’s ring, Maud pushed her finger into the globe and journeyed back.

12 thoughts on “And, the Bride Wore Ashes

  1. I loved this story! It has a zaney feeling that fits well with the 1920’s era. I love thae character of Maude too, she’s far more likeable than her sister Claudette, [though she was definitly humours.] This remined me of a movie I like [though I much perfer And, The Bride Wore Ashes,] called Snowglobe.

  2. Oh, the images! Cate, it was wicked and lovely and–er, wicked lovely. I smiled the whole way through.

    “I do love a romantic ending.”
    Seconded 😀

  3. Pingback: Free Fiction Online From My Favorite Writers | Writing about Writing

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