Friday, 4 November 2011

WHAT FATE IMPOSES by Patricia Abbott

Glimpses - I have had - of Patti Abbott's writing over the last few years. Her fiction is dark, strange and beguiling. I urge you to check the long list of Stories on the Web on her blog, Pattinase. She is also a mine of information about what is going on in Pulp Fictionland where crime, noir and horror overlap.

Patti's Hellicious Halloween story What Fate Imposes stitches American folklore together with a disturbing and chilling tradition. This is a tale of Craft, told with craft...

WHAT FATE IMPOSES by Patricia Abbott

“I’d just as soon get started early. Never like being out late on Halloween.” Clara Muir finished wiping the last dish. The air was redolent of supper’s goat stew. “I never will forget that time….” Catching the look on Anna’s face, she stopped.

Letitia made her final microscopic stitches, nodding without hearing her sister.

It was a log cabin quilt and one of her finest in a number that didn’t bear counting.

Although her blue eyes were still strong, her fingers had grown crippled. Each week another bag of her fragile fabric, some centuries’ old, found its way to the church resale shop.

“Can’t help but think that’s too fine a piece of needlework to cover a squalling infant,” Anna said. She always said exactly this when Letitia pulled the needle through the three layers for the final time.

“They’re meant as a keepsake, you ninny. Who’d think of allowing a child to destroy a work of art?”

So far - and far was a long time ago now - none of the parents in Shelterville had allowed this to happen. Not wanting to tempt Fate, the proffered birth quilts were quickly put away in the cloth bag they came in. Few were opened a second time.

Rituals were to be observed even when they made no sense.

Every child was treated to both a quilt and a visit from the Muir sisters three nights after the child’s birth. Few families greeted the sisters with less than complete dread. Books, family heirlooms, fabric, baked items usually festooned the hall table on their arrival. Sometimes one was taken; other times the sisters’ aquiline noses turned up.

“It’s not like we have any choice,” Letitia said. “We are obliged to pay a visit.

Required even.”

Yet this responsibility did not greatly trouble them. It was the sole reason for their existence, truth be told.

“I took special care with this quilt, knowing baby Matthew would be the Fenwick’s only child,” Clara said.

“And their child for no more than a few minutes.” Letitia mumbled as she looked in the closet for a tape measurer. “There it is!”

Her sisters looked at each other with unblinking eyes. It was difficult to get worked up after all these many years.

“Just a little time, you say. Ah, then,” Anna said, looking for her scissors. “Save us another visit. These legs grow stiffer every day.” She hung the large scissors on a lanyard from her neck.

The three women crept outside to Bumberry Road, which was strewn with red and golden leaves. Anna, prone to ankle sprains, looked fearfully for the hidden acorn or fallen branch. With linked arms, save for the bag with the quilt inside tucked under Clara’s arm, they made their down. Boys on bikes, mothers with strollers, the first children coming outside in their Halloween costumes and cars coming home from work, skirted the trio. It had always been like this and the sisters rarely noticed. Having each other, there was little need for the company of mortals.

The Fenwicks lived in a gatehouse near the bottom of the hill. There was no choice but to open the door to the Muir Sisters, which they did. The quilt was handed over, the baby admired if the Muir Sisters’ indifferent way could be called such.

It didn’t do for them to get too attached to the children - especially one so fated.

“Time for the prognostication,” Clara said after some tea had been sipped, after the quilt had been admired and put away. “No sense postponing it.”

“Wait a minute,” Brent Fenwick said. “You came to our house on Halloween and didn’t say “Trick or Treat? Doesn’t seem right.”

The three sisters knew he was stalling, but being polite if nothing else, they shrugged and in unison uttered the words. “Trick or Treat.”

From behind his back, Mr. Fenwick pulled out a burlap bag. “Treat!”

Letitia peeked inside. “Hair,” she pronounced with a snort. Her sisters laughed politely. “Hair from an goat, I believe.” Pieces of it escaped the burlap and floated near her nose. She sneezed obligingly.

“We stopped taking hair in return for a different fate when Letitia turned to quilts.” Clara looked at them with something approaching kindness. “It only worked once or twice, you know. No one cares for hair blankets now.”

The three sisters stepped forward together and looked into the cracking fireplace. “The boy—“

“Say his name,” Mrs. Fenwick cried. “How am I to know you have the right child if you don’t even say his name?”

“Matthew Fenwick.” Clara said, “It is my sad duty to inform you that Matthew will die before the log in that fire burns out. Its final embers will signify the end of his days.” Anna rattled the scissors at her neck.

“You mean right now,” Mr. Fenwick exclaimed. “Within the next hour? I never imagined it could be this soon. No one warned us….”

“It doesn’t happen often,” Clara said . “It’s a large log so perhaps…”

“It’s the dying embers and ash that signifies his life is extinguished,” Mrs Fenwick interrupted with a strange light in her eyes. But perhaps it was the light from the fire.

Clara nodded.

Mrs Fenwick pursed her lips and before anyone could react, she picked up the pail of water that sat by the fire and doused the log. “No embers,” she said as the smoke washed over them. “No ash either. Just a smoky, charred piece of wood.”

Coughing from the smoke, the sisters looked at each other. Finally, they shrugged and headed for the door. The Fenwicks watched until they turned the bend in the road and started up the hill.

To be on the safe side of prophecies and fate, Mr Fenwick placed the sodden log in a bird bath filled with water, thus ensuring it could never be relit.

Bio: Patti Abbott blogs at


  1. Folklore and more from a meandering place called Shelterville. (loved that) Patti, I loved this gentle tale, winding down the street, multi-colour descriptives enchanting my reading on.

    "Rituals were to be observed even when they made no sense." You're no ninny when fate can be doused.

    ~ Absolutely*Kate

  2. Great stuff! I'm a big, BIG fan of Ms. Abbott's work and this delivers as does everything she writes.

  3. I love it when someone can skillfully spin a new tale from familiar myth. This story does that - and more! Excellent ending, too!

  4. class writing and a superb tale. Thanks for that! A good read.

  5. I had never heard of the myth, so it was new to me. What a great story. You really brought the three sisters to life. It read like an old- fashioned suspence story, like I used to hear on the radio, and loved!

  6. Yes, exactly Sean. This had the richness and flavour of shows such as Escape or The Creaking Door. Dark and mysterious meeting the everyday.

  7. New to me, too. That story needs a home. I really love it - and throwing water on the fire was a solution that didn't occur to me - thank goodness for those who see the obvious.
    Great job.

  8. Lovely, lovely piece, Patti!

  9. Welcome to TKnC, Patti.

    The Muir sisters give me the heebie-jeebies! Top class writing this. Proper Halloween story!