By on Oct 28, 2012 in Fiction

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Collage of photos from Halstatt

An arched entrance to the Charnel House stood maybe five hundred feet away. Ready to stop the procrastination, she headed in that direction, eyes locked on its ornately-carved double doors. Then, as if a force pushed her back, she whirled and returned to the church’s safety. Leaning against its stone wall, hands limp at her sides, she peeked at an official-looking old lady who wandered the grounds — the only other person Megan had seen. She wanted to approach her, but what could she say? “Will you please go in there with me?” What if the lady slammed the doors and locked her inside? Megan smiled at this ridiculous notion, but her uneasiness persisted, like being caught in a canoe going against a rushing current. She pulled out a tattered guidebook from her backpack. A yellow Post-it marked this site. Leafing through the entry, her eyes stayed unfocused as her head tilted toward a blurred page.

* * *

She pictured her father, whose presence generally lurked right below the surface of her mind. When he was in the midst of a drunken binge, Megan went to church and prayed, What am I going to do for him? and hoped for a solution. Before leaving on this trip, he’d failed to answer his telephone for several days. She’d let herself into his house unannounced, and found him passed out on the living room sofa with the television blaring. Smelling like he hadn’t taken a shower in a week, when finally roused, his words had been jumbled. She and Alex had planned to go soon. Feeling imprisoned without any key, she’d gone to Mass. Afterward, she’d hired a home-care worker recommended in parish literature to check on him each day — care for him if emergency help was required; or, with his alarmingly high blood pressure (her heart felt like it would explode at this concern), care for matters, should he die.

Whenever he recovered from one of these terrible episodes, with his face drooping down to his collar, he would always say, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I promise not to do it again.” Then, he’d pour bottles of whiskey down his kitchen sink.

Having heard this so often, Megan had started to fight an impulse to say, “Shut up. I don’t believe you. Prove it to me.”

* * *

She closed the unread guidebook and rubbed her itchy hands. If someone else came to visit the Charnel House, which would close shortly, she could go up to the guardian lady and buy a ticket, then tag along. This seemed strange — to pay — but what other draw did the small church have?

There was a gently sloped back path that she had discovered after climbing the formidable stairway. Now, trying to decide if she should forget about her mission and take the easier way down, Megan chided herself for absurdity. She would stay a little while longer. Afternoon’s golden yellow made the tombstones glow. She put on sunglasses in order to secretly study the guardian lady, who appeared to be fifty or so, with a face scrunched into judgmental lines, like the matron at a women’s detention center. She wore a gray jacket with a gray mid-calf length skirt, heavy hose, and serviceable shoes. Patrolling the area, she stooped to retrieve a piece of litter here, pluck a faded red bloom there. Did it bother her to be in the midst of so much death? Had she followed every rule? Did she have children?

* * *

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Kathleen Glassburn earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband, three male dogs, several wandering cats, and a 45-year-old female turtle. When not writing or reading or editing, she plays the piano — jamming with friends — or rides horses. Her work has been published in Cicatrix, Cairn, Crucible, ep;phany, Lullwater Review, Marco Polo Quarterly, RiverSedge, SLAB, The Talon Mag, The Writer's Workshop Review, and several other journals. Her story, "Picnics," was a finalist in Glimmer Train'sBest Start contest. She is managing editor of The Writer's Workshop Review. Check out her website,, for more information.

One Comment

  1. Kathy, I wor