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Author: Kerri Turner


I pull the veil over the face of Sarah Lockwood Pardee. The next time I raise it, it will reveal Sarah Winchester.

Around me, a hive of energy. Mother fusses over something, I don’t know what. I’m staring at my reflection, swathed in meringues of white.

Was ever a girl so lucky as I?

Beyond the age of attracting a suitable husband, or so many thought. Yet here I am, about to marry William Wirt Winchester, heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. A good man who comes with a fortune which will provide for me, my children, my children’s children, until the end of time.

I plan on thirteen, to fill the house we’ll buy together. When I told William, his cheeks flushed pink petals. I explained thirteen is my lucky number, he didn’t laugh the way most do. He simply tucked my hand in his elbow, and whispered that we’d best get on with it then.

Mother twitches with impatience, holds my bouquet out.

“Time to get married.”

I pluck one peony out so there are the perfect thirteen.

Thirty-eight years of bustle has somehow never managed to fill the lonely void. Winchester House crawls with people, but none believe in the curse of my inheritance. They smile, they indulge my whims, but they don’t hear the whispers of the ghosts which won’t settle.

The curse took my husband.

My little Annie, only a few weeks old.

The other twelve before they even came.

A builder asks if I’m sure of the number of panes in the newest window. Yes. Always thirteen. Bathrooms, staircases, chandelier candles. The constant fortification of thirteen is all that prevents me from sinking under the weight of grief—not for my family, which is a grief I can shoulder with other widows and bereft mothers. But the other grief, over lives which weren’t taken by God, but something more sinister.

I do not know what it would be like to sleep without a lullaby of hammers. I don’t want to. I’m afraid of hearing the voices my family’s livelihood silenced.

The true inheritance of the Winchester rifle.

Flash Fiction by Kerri Turner
Picture: veil by meesh under CC BY 2.0
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The Return

Finally, I am going back. In the time I’ve been gone, my granddaughter—the first English child to be born in the Americas—will have turned from a squalling baby into a toddler with words and a personality. Three years is far too long a distance.

I wonder if the colonists believe I have forgotten them.

Despairing of Sir Walter Raleigh ever mounting a successful relief fleet, I have bought myself passage on a privateering expedition. This time, there’s no capture by Spanish ships, no war, no unseemly weather to get in my way. We anchor at Roanoke on Virginia’s third birthday, a happenstance which makes me smile even as it saddens me.

I bring only the basics ashore. Food—a sample of the long-ago-promised cargo now awaiting unloading—is packed in a sack I carry on my back. In one hand I grasp a small cloth doll. I want my arms empty, so they can be filled with my granddaughter. She will only know me as a stranger, but I hope to win her over with the gift.

Doll held proudly aloft, I emerge into the colony I left three years ago.

It is not there.

It is impossible to think I am in the wrong place. Before my halted feet is the fence which ran the perimeter of the settlement. A fence I helped erect. Beyond, though . . . nothing. Not a single building remains. There is no man-made ditch, no paths of dirt worn by the travel of feet, no livestock turning heads at my arrival.

It is an empty expanse of grass. I walk forward, almost expecting my footsteps to echo, the land is so empty. My throat is thick with some emotion I can’t describe. Virginia’s doll drops from fingers gone numb. She lands on the mossy earth, cotton dress spreading around her. The only member inhabiting the colony. A population of one.

I left one hundred and seven men and women here. Ten children. And my baby Virginia. I feared they would be angered by my failure to return. I never thought that when I did, there would be nothing to return to.

Flash Fiction by Kerri Turner
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