A Barbed Smile (Flash Fiction)

My first flash fiction posted here! Based on an Instagram prompt (had to include; barbed wire, a scrap of blue fabric, and howling winds), I wrote this semi-creepy ghost story. Everything is fictional (thank goodness).

A clatter to Sarah’s right made her peek from under her veil. A woman was stooped over in the aisle of St. Martha’s, frantically scrabbling at the ground. A pearl skittered across the red carpet, bouncing into Sarah’s shoe.

More pearls were scattered across the aisle and under pews. The woman attempted to scoop them up. Her dark hair covered her face, and all Sarah could see were pale fingers moving across the carpet like spiders.

The woman stood; half of her pearls still hiding around the sanctuary. She turned her head, glancing around to see who had noticed. Sarah gasped, letting her rosary slip from her fingers when she saw the woman’s face.

Stretched across her mouth and up her cheeks was a length of barbed wire. No, it wasn’t actual barbed wire. It was a tattoo that covered the woman’s mouth and cheeks. The woman let her hair sweep in front of her face again and moved to sit two aisles up from Sarah.

Sarah waited, watching the woman pray, her head bent over the half-beaded rosary. More pearls fell as the woman stood abruptly. As she moved past Sarah’s pew, Sarah stood and followed the woman, driven by curiosity. The woman moved swiftly, her feet not making a sound as she crossed St. Martha’s, heading to the back of the sanctuary.

She had already slipped through the large front doors when Sarah gasped, “wait!”

The woman turned on the top step of the cathedral. Wind buffeted her, pulling the few remaining pearls free from her rosary. Sarah ignored the gale and instead gazed at the face, the tattoo taking all her focus. The woman waited for Sarah, not moving, not making a sound, just watching her.

“Are you ok?” Sarah wasn’t sure what else to say. She couldn’t very well ask about the huge tattoo.

The woman only looked at her.

Sarah tried again. “Ma’am, are you ok?” The woman was deathly pale, her spider-like fingers twitching at her sides.

Sarah’s face flushed. Why had she come after the woman?

The woman reached into her pocket, still staring at Sarah. She stuck her hand out, offering Sarah something. Reaching out, Sarah took the object from the cold hands.

Suppressing a shudder, she uncurled her fingers to see a scrap of pale blue fabric. It had something cross-stitched on it, and Sarah turned it to see what the image in pale green thread was.

A crude face stared back at her, the size of a penny. Its lips were in a zigzag, reminding Sarah of the barbed wire smile the woman had. Under the gruesome little cross-stitch were three words in black thread.

Don’t trust them.

Sarah’s head snapped up, looking for an answer, but the woman was gone. The wind picked up, whipping across Sarah’s face and howling into the cathedral behind her. The scrap of fabric fluttered wildly; a reminder of the warning Sarah now clutched in her own cold hands.

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