Excerpt: “Chronic Chills” by Hudson Wilding from Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology

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Rumor had it that Oskar Abernathy rehearsed every week after choir practice, so Orchid lingered in the pews one evening after all her friends left. As Edinburgh’s meager light fell through the stained glass windows, Orchid tried to imitate the expression an older woman might take on while meditating on something holy and somber. Soon, the opening notes of “Lacrimosa” jolted her. She squeaked. The music stopped and Oskar rose to look at her from the organ bench at the front of the hall. He was wearing the same surprised expression one might have after seeing a mouse scamper up a curtain.

“Why, hello,” he said, smoothing his hands over the cufflinks on his tweed jacket. His conscientious way of dressing always gave her the impression he was waiting for a surprise visit from The Queen. Orchid could not escape the notion that he had arrived in the 1970s quite by mistake, belonging instead to an earlier time when his delicate complexion and precise mannerisms would have seemed less eccentric.

“You have the most beautiful handkerchiefs,” she told him, her high voice echoing across the large auditorium.

“They’re for my chronic chills,” Oskar replied as if her non sequitur was a completely ordinary attempt at conversation.

She walked closer to him, approximating the hip-sway of one of the older girls in the choir. “Your chronic chills?”

“Here,” he said, reaching out. “Feel my hand.”

She hesitated a moment before approaching the organ. Then she pressed two fingers gently into the skin of his outstretched palm. His fingers enveloped hers like a Venus flytrap closing around an insect at the Royal Botanic Gardens. The biting cold of his flesh shocked her. She’d heard rumors of his strange illness but had always assumed it was just town gossip.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

Only then did his grip relent. “I believe I was the one who interrupted you.”

***

Read this and other chilling tales in Tainted Love: Women in Horror Anthology! Check out the pre-order giveaway here!

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