Hold On

Hold on to what is good, 
Even if it’s a handful of earth

Hold on to what you believe, 
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself. 

Hold on to what you must do, 
Even if it’s a long way from here. 

Hold on to your life, 
Even if it’s easier to let go. 

Hold on to my hand, 
Even if someday, I’ll be gone away from you. 

Pueblo Prayer

Chapter 1

1998: One year After Kachina’s murder…

Tore stretched out on a woolen blanket. The heat from the sun made his eyes grow heavy. The long meadow grass emitted a comforting fresh green scent that pervaded the warm air around him. As he drifted in a half-awake state, bird song carried him into a deep sleep. The grassy fragrance surrounding him became infused with lavender and he sighed with contentment as his loving wife, Kachina, appeared before him. 

“How are you, my love?” His wife’s fingers ran through his hair and slid across his jaw. 

He caught her hand, bringing her knuckles to his lips. 

“Good, now you’re here,” he murmured. Sleep made his voice thick and slurred. His body tingled as she traced her fingers over his skin. Their touch awakened him and he turned his head towards her, his eyes struggling to open. 

“No peeking,” she whispered, as she held his lids shut.

The seductive tone in her voice brought a smile to his lips. “Why? What will you do to me?”

She moved closer, her skirts rustling. Silky hair tickled his skin as she bent to his ear. In a voice low and sultry, she breathed out her secret, “I’m going to make you happy, Tore.”

He moaned his frustration but kept his eyes closed. “You made me happy the day you agreed to be my wife.”

“Shush, lie still.” She trailed soft kisses across his back. Her hands investigated his muscles and sent shivers along his spine. “Do you remember our first time?” Her voice was exotic, smooth and low. 

“How could I forget?” His eyes flickered, threatening to open.

“No, don’t look.” An edge crept into her voice.

Kachina rolled him over, and Tore humored her. Keeping his eyes tightly shut, he basked in the warm sun. His excitement grew as he anticipated her touch. She slid across him, her weight centered over his hips. Bending forwards, she trailed her hair over his face. 

Tore groaned as it tickled his skin. He loved her black hair, so soft, always fragrant with lavender. Wrapping his arms around her, he buried his face into it and ran his hands up and down her spine. He caressed her smooth, warm, caramel skin… 

Except it wasn’t warm. 

He stopped. 

What was this? His fingertips met cold flesh. The texture of it felt wrong. Rough. Pealing. A nauseating sticky clamminess made him pull his hand away. His fingertips were not describing the image in his head. 

Kachina’s weight shifted as she hiked up her skirt. A cold shiver fluttered across his skin as he felt her thighs rub against him. A raw wetness made him gasp. 

“Hush now.” Her voice was no longer soft and lilting, it came out grating and hollow. 

Tore’s eyes flew open. A scream left his throat, and he flung the foul smelling body away from him. 

This wasn’t Kachina! 

He shuffled backwards across the grass, struggling to get to his feet. Looking over his shoulder, he tried to get away from the rotting corpse in front of him. As it writhed and gurgled on the floor, Tore gagged at the gray-white skin that flaked from open wounds. Maggots poured out from the lacerations that crisscrossed the body. Worms crawled from empty eye-sockets and beetles ran from black matted hair. The stench of death and decay surrounded him, seeping into his mouth, nose and skin. 

“Get away from me.” Tore, stumbled backwards. He hit something solid. Hard gray stone scraped at his shoulders. He put out his hands, unable to believe his eyes. How did it get here?

A distorted hiss slipped from a cavernous, toothless mouth and slithered into his ears, “Let me make you happy, Tore.” The corpse got to its feet, taking slow staggering steps towards him. 

“K… keep away from me.” He thrust out his hands, feeling along the wall, searching for a way out. 

This was no longer the field where he’d fallen asleep. Now he was in a desolate place, surrounded by parched earth and a gray stonewall that stretched fifteen feet into the air. His eyes widened as the wall rapidly expanded. It’s length growing in both directions, spreading across the ground as far as the eye could see.

“Don’t you love me anymore? Have you forgotten me, Tore?”

He slid to the floor, drawing his knees into his chest, burying his head in his arms as the corpse of his dead wife crept closer. “Please, please go away.”

“Look at me, Tore.”

Shaking and retching, he forced his eyes to look. Her face was a mass of bloodied muscle with no recognizable features. Only the wolf’s tooth necklace that dangled hypnotically from the body, told him it was Kachina. 

He buried his face back into his arms and sobbed, “Please… Please… Make it stop.”

Her laugh echoed around him, bouncing off the wall. “Stop? You did this, Tore. Your love poisoned me, it killed me.”

He sobbed into his arms, too terrified to look at the macabre creature before him, not wanting to believe it was his wife. 

“Look at me Tore, it’s what I am. What you turned me into.”

“Dad, Dad!”

Tore lashed out at the hands that touched his face. His heart pounded as he backed away further from the thing he thought was his wife.

“Get away from me.”

“Dad, please, it’s Eveline.”

The sound of his daughter’s name cut through the panic and he forced his eyes open. Tore blinked and looked around him, searching for the monster that had haunted him moments ago. 

“Dad, it’s okay, you were having a nightmare.”

Eveline stood in a white cotton nightdress. Tiny pink flowers were embroidered around the yoke. Her long, shiny black hair was caught in two neat braids. She held out a glass to him, a clear liquid swirled inside it. He licked his lips, aware of how dry his mouth was. He snatched it from his daughter and the young girl recoiled at the way he pulled it from her fingers. Her face grew ashen, as she watched his eyes flick back and forth.

Tore put the glass to his lips and paused. “Quit staring. Go back to bed.”

Tears pricked at Eveline’s eyes. Her lip trembled at her father’s harsh tone. “Let me help you to your room.”

It was then that Tore realized he was sat out on the porch. Damn it. Yet again, he hadn’t made it into his own bed. He followed his daughter’s stare to the empty whiskey bottle that lay at his feet. Kicking it aside, he growled at her once more. “Go to bed.” 

His words came out in a rush of anger, covering the shame he felt at his daughter seeing him writhing on the floor, uttering incoherent nonsense. The empty bottle added guilt and fear to the mix. 

Frightened by her father, she turned and fled. 

Tore put the glass back to his lips and sipped. “God damn it!” He spat out the water as if it were poison. “I need a proper drink.” 

Stumbling to his feet, he pitched into the wall. Struggling to regain his balance, he lurched forwards and hit a solid body.

“I think you’ve had enough.”

Tore looked at his son and drew his brows together. He tried to focus on the boy’s face, which one was this? The features swam. This one was too large and fair for Johan. He took another step. “If I want a drink, then I’ll damn-well have one.” The wall of flesh got in his way again as he tried to push past. 

Stronger arms than his, gripped him tightly. “I said you’ve had enough, Tore.”

Tore? It was, Rune then. Had to be. The damn kid never called him Dad, not since… 

Suddenly, Tore was back at Hania’s house on the night he had found Kachina slain. Once again he was kneeling on the ground with her partially decomposed body in his arms. The hole the buzzards had pecked in her abdomen, reduced to blackened rotted meat. He gagged as the stench of death invaded his nostrils once more. Salty tears mingled with the bitter taste of bile in his throat and he shuddered as he remembered the feel of her icy skin. Before he could stop himself, her name tumbled from his cracked lips and he sank into Rune’s arms.

***

“What are we gonna do about tomorrow? Uncle Liam has had enough of Tore’s unreliability. If he cancels another group Liam will dismiss him.” Kjell struggled to hold up his father’s dead weight. 

Rune straightened the bed. “Liam won’t know if you don’t tell him. I’ll take his clients. Mine don’t go out until the afternoon. I’ll work a double shift.”

They hauled Tore onto the bed. He curled into a ball and closed his eyes. 

“Where’s Eveline?” Rune asked.

“She’s okay, Johan has her. She’s going to sleep with him.” Kjell replied.

Rune reached out and pulled the covers over his father. Tore’s self- destruction was destroying this family, and Rune didn’t know how much longer he could hold them together.