Needle Work

Featured photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Rated PG-13: Not for young or sensitive readers. Contains violence and paranormal theme.

This story is a flash fiction tale for a new illustrated anthology I’m working on with my favourite graphic designer. I’m curious to see what they will draw for this story.


He was dead.

Svetlana clucked approvingly. Reading the ticker tape scrolling across the bottom of the newscast. It was quickly the lead story.

So sudden. So young. In a tragic rock climbing accident. The Security Chief had only been in power a few months. And after such a power struggle to reach his position. Assassination attempts. Betrayals. Lies.

The news kept repeating the same story, over and over. Interviews with the same people. Location shots at the canyon. Fronted by journalists with a sad expression and tone; marred only by the twinkles of excitement at finally landing a national story.

It was supposed to be a quick technical climb. Nothing he hadn’t done before. Fly down to Sochi early in the morning. Get out to the river. Rope in and begin the ascent of Starie Pakosti. Yes, this route was steep. But the holds were good. At least they always had been in the past.

This time there was a mishap with the rope. With a hold that crumbled like chalk under his fingertips. Completely unforeseen. Then landing on his head like he did. If his neck hadn’t snapped like a firecracker, the brain injury would have killed him anyway.

Bored of the news, Svetlana moved over to her stitching corner. A neat nook for her laptop and sketch pad. A shelf lined with lidded glass containers of ingredients.

Dried dead maggots. Grave dirt. Stacks of black aida cloth. A heavy mortar and pestle of veined light grey marble. On the desk itself, embroidery scissors in a black enameled jar. Handles up. A small carved cedar box. Only about 4 inches long. Just big enough for her assortment of embroidery needles.

Her skeins of floss were carefully organized. A rainbow of shades. With a particularly good array of skin colours. The spool of devil’s gut was in easy reach. Viny fibers she had carefully teased into long strands. She found two strands of floss combined with one of devil’s gut served well for stitching jobs.

She picked up her last needle work order. The client didn’t want the finished cross-stitch portrait. He just wanted it done. She settled cozily into her stitching chair. Leaned back with her feet resting atop a vintage gypsy red velvet ottoman.

The picture frame was plain black: 8 by 10 inches. Size didn’t actually matter. Not for needle work. But she always used the same size and colour of frame. Too small and the finer details would be lost. Too big, it took too much time. She had used a brownish grey matte that picked up the rock wall hues of Starie Pakosti.

It was really very well done. The falling body against the canyon backdrop. Feet kicking skyward. Arms flailing. His horrified open-mouthed expression. Helpless. His Facebook Page had been overly helpful. When she first saw the photos of him rock climbing, she knew exactly how to design the needle work her client had commissioned. What colours. What to stitch. Like the other portraits in her gallery, the likeness was uncanny.

Her phone rang. Tubular Bells. The ringtone chosen specifically for her number one client. The voice was deep like molasses. Melodious with a curious accent she had never been able to identify. It didn’t matter. As long as the money was transferred to her account, she didn’t care who it was.

“I have another one for you. Justice Minister Zakarov.”

Svetlana hung up and returned to her stitching corner. She flipped open her laptop and googled the Justice Minister. Focusing on hobbies. Interests. Modes of transportation.

As usual, a dangerous amount of information was provided. He had a trip planned to Australia. There was some important conference he was required to attend. At a beachside resort near Surfer’s Paradise. She pulled up images. Tempting aqua waters surged against the white sand shore.

Svetlana typed another query. There were a number of rental shops. He would have no trouble getting a surfboard. His love of surfing was well-known. There was no way he would pass up this opportunity.

She nodded sharply. Picked up her charcoal, and started sketching out a first draft. Should the shark bite kill him? Or the blood loss? She shrugged. Didn’t really matter. But the shark slicing its teeth through the middle of his body. Snapped almost together with bits of flesh and blood floating away from his demise. It would make a very dynamic design.

Reaching up to her shelf, she carefully moved the mortar and pestle onto her desk top. She grabbed the container of maggots, pouring a handful into the mortar. She whistled tunelessly while she crushed them into a fine dust. When she was finished, she took the container of grave dirt down from the shelf.

Svetlana picked up the top piece of black aida cloth. It was already cut to size. She opened it out flat on her desk, and sprinkled the maggot dust evenly on top. It was like decorating a cake with icing sugar. She opened the container of grave dirt and shook an even layer over the maggot dust.

She started rubbing the dust and dirt into the cloth. Coating every fibre. Chanting under her breath, “Die, Zakarov, die. Let nothing of you rest. Hex you to death. Through the dark powers I wield. No protection; no shield. So mote it be.”

It was never too early to start the death curse.

© 2019 Jan L. Mayes

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