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The Fortune of Martha Higgins

Sanctuary: A place of refuge or safety.

By Laurel DreyersPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 10 min read
The Fortune of Martha Higgins
Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

“We are gathered today to read the will and testament of Martha Higgins, on the third of June, twenty-thirteen.”

The familiar solemnity of grief pressed on the room, making it feel even more cramped than it already was.

“The descendants present are Leah K. Higgins, Mia G. Higgins, and Liam-”

Someone coughed. The attorney paused as a girl, one of the daughters, shook her head. “He’s not here.”

The attorney looked around the room filled entirely with women. “Then I cannot proceed.”

“Get on with it,” a woman snapped, a smoldering cigarette between her fingers. “It’s not like she left him anything, anyway.”

The attorney swallowed. He could just hear his professor’s voice yammering: “All beneficiaries must be present, or the reading cannot proceed!” He heard him sputter as though saying it was a crime in and of itself. But Dr. Helmsport wasn’t here, and Neil was outnumbered and had no security. He could bend the rules this time.

Neil cleared his throat. “The other beneficiaries include Georgina G. Wallace, Finch H. Reacher, and Patricia B. Evans.” He raised his eyes, waiting for any objections or corrections. At their silence, he continued. “We will now begin the reading of the will.”

A string of tension tightened in the cramped space as they leaned in. The attorney wrinkled his nose as cigarette smoke singed his nostrils.

“Dear kin,” he read, “it is at this time that I have passed on, and as such, my belongings are distributed to you. To my daughters, Leah, and Mia, I leave a total of four thousand five-hundred dollars.

“To Leah,” a woman in her early twenties perked up, her eyes pathetically wide. With the giant black hat perched atop her head, she looked like the star of a southern black and white drama. “I leave my wedding ring, that, should you marry, would constantly remind you of your father and who he was to me.” He extended a shabby, red velvet box toward her. She took it and opened the lid before turning away and putting a hand to her mouth. It was almost melodramatic, and the attorney turned back to the will to keep from rolling his eyes.

“To Mia, I leave my house and property, that you may not forget me.”

He searched the room for a response, landing on a girl sprawled out in a wicker chair. She was the only one dressed in grey, not black, her focus on the dreary landscape outside. She cast a glance in his direction, a sneer touching her face.

“To Liam, I leave my library, as he always held a love for learning.”

Someone snorted–the lady with the cigarette. Everyone cast her a glare and she coughed. “My apologies,” she said without a hint of remorse.

“To my dearest friend, Georgina, I leave all my stocks and a sum of four thousand dollars.” An elderly lady nodded slowly. Whether the movement was in acknowledgement or her merely dozing off, though, was unclear.

“To Finch, I leave ten thousand dollars.” The string twanged. Leah and Mia’s features tightened and the woman with a pixie cut and black suit raised her brows, feeling the daughters jealous stares on her. The attorney cast a glance to the clock. As soon as this was over, he would book it for the door. This place was a ticking time bomb.

“To Patricia,” the lady with the cigarette blew a cloud of smoke, “I leave five thousand. The rest of my funds and belongings I have donated to charity. Know that while I have left you in person, my spirit will remain among you for years to come.”

He put down the paper. That last sentence had struck him as odd when he first read it. It was a fairly short will, and that was the only sign of affection the deceased had shown in the whole document. No one seemed moved by the brief words, though, and he allowed the string of tension to waver and still as the women began to shift in their seats.

“That’s it?” Patricia spat, snuffing out her cigarette.

“It is,” he confirmed. “She did not have much to give.”

She stood up, huffing, and paced to the back of the room, muttering something about a waste of her time.

Finch stood up, straightening the cuffs of her suit with an air of distaste. “Come now, five thousand is a decent sum; don’t you think?”

“Easy for you to say,” she spat back, “you got the biggest sum of all. What did you do for her that made you her favorite?”

Finch stared at her coldly, a look of scorn peeling back her dark lip, revealing perfect teeth. Her canines, though, were sharper than expected, making her sneer appear slightly feral. “I wasn’t her favorite,” she growled. “Why do you think she left the house that night in such a rage?”

Patricia lifted her head proudly. “So it was you who drove her out.”

“Unintentionally,” she responded in a hushed tone. “We fought. I may have said some things that…upset her.”

“No.” Their gazes were drawn to the old woman, Georgina, who had stirred from her nap, placing a hand on Mia’s shoulder to steady herself as she got to her feet. “She was not angry,” she wheezed. “She was afraid.”

The string twanged, threatening to snap. The lawyer got to his feet. “Ladies,” he said, “if there are no complaints or issues you wish for me to address, I’ll be leaving now.”

“Take your seat,” Patricia commanded. “I need an eyewitness to confirm the injustice that has taken place.”

The lawyer inhaled to keep his tone level. “And what injustice would that be?”

“The theft of my rightful inheritance,” she snapped. “This house belongs to me! I was given Martha’s word that I would get this place!”

He glanced back at the will. “I’m sorry, but whatever promise she gave you doesn’t stand before the will.”

“Then that scrap of paper is wrong! She told me I would inherit this place!”

“Pattie,” Leah piped up, “that was several years ago, before she had Mia.”

The woman guffawed. “And what would you know? You were a child when that brat was born!” She gestured to Mia, who had not cast so much as a glance towards the conversation. “She’s not even legally able to hold this house!”

“She’s eighteen,” the lawyer rebutted.

“Regardless!” the woman lit another cigarette, seemingly pulling it out of thin air. “I don’t trust her with this piece of land, this…sanctuary.”

The lawyer cast another look around the cramped living room, at the peeling paint and musty furniture. When he had come in, he swore he had seen a mouse ducking out of sight in a corner. Patricia spoke of the house with such reverence, though, that she could be speaking about an ancient cathedral and her tone would have been more fitting.

“Fine,” Mia said. Her voice was gravelly, like she had been crying. Her expression though, was void of emotion. “You can take the damn house. And everything in it. I don’t want it.”

Patricia drew back, whipping to the lawyer for confirmation. He paused, ransacking his brain for something that could confirm this. He just wanted to leave this house. If it meant stooping to twisting the original will, then so be it.

“You could buy it from her,” he offered. “It would take time, though.”

Patricia snapped her fingers, biting the cigarette. “Then it’s settled.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Georgina spoke. “To tamper with Martha’s will would be unwise.”

The lawyer bit his tongue, silently setting to packing up his things and wishing hell upon the old, meddling woman.

“You can’t make me change my mind,” Patricia snapped. “I want this place.” She stalked up to the woman, making her squint up at her. “You have no idea what I’ve been through, what it’s been like being a refuge, to go to sleep every night expecting to wake up to a knife in your back.”

Georgina shook her head. “There was a reason you were denied access. Martha foresaw it, even if she couldn’t prevent it.”

“And what would that be, hag?”

She raised herself to her full height, her bony limbs shaking as she pulled her shawl about her shoulders like a shield. “Because you’re the one who killed her.”

At this, the lawyer paused in his packing, the will half-way stuffed into his briefcase.

Patricia drew back, shock written on her face. “You think I killed her? She was hit by a truck!”

“Well someone was driving the truck,” Finch said, coming behind her, trapping her between them. “And as I recall, your late husband had the same model as the one that flipped her car.”

She whipped between them. “You can’t prove that! I haven’t touched that vehicle for years!”

“Pattie,” Leah gasped, standing up. She gave her a pathetically wide-eyed stare, her lip trembling. “You…you did it?” Her already watering eyes spilled over.

At this, Patricia stooped to her. “No, child,” she hushed. “I-I never would have done such a thing. She was my sister…I wouldn’t-couldn’t do that.”

“Then explain who did,” Mia growled from the corner. She turned over in her seat, recrossing her legs. The lawyer drew back at the full view of her face. The half that had been turned away from him was scarred, mauled to the point that her lip was slightly turned down at a point, making her look permanently melancholy. “Who killed Martha Higgins, Pat?”

Smoke wafted in front of the woman’s face, clouding her expression. She waved a hand in front of it, her eyes widening as the fog dispelled between them and she dropped her cigarette. “You were at my house,” she said, in a low breath, “before it happened.”

Mia got to her feet. She was much taller than Patricia, and despite her spindly appearance, the woman seemed to shrink in her shadow as it fell across them.

The phone rang. Mia’s eyes landed on the lawyer, who was closest, and mindlessly, he picked up the receiver.

“To her,” Mia commanded, loosely gesturing to Patricia. She flinched at the movement and took the receiver.

“Hello?” A muffled response came from the other end and the phone slipped between her fingers, swinging back against the desk, and hitting the side with a thud that made the lawyer jump and start packing again, his hands now shaking violently. I should have brought security. I should have brought security.

“I’ll expect that to be Liam,” Mia said in a hushed tone.

“That was the police,” Patricia said. Behind her, Finch slipped her hand into her coat pocket. “Liam’s dead.”

At the cry of Leah, three safeties clicked, muffling the thud of her body against the back of the couch. Finch held a Glock in her hands, her feet spread, and her shoulders hunched toward the weapon. The two antique revolvers were loosely held in Mia’s spindly fingers, her neck rolled slightly to the side and the barrels aimed in Finch and Patricia’s general direction. “You won’t get rid of me that easily.”

Finch’s grip wavered and her breath caught in her throat. She cast a glance toward the lawyer. Only at her stare did he realize he had been frozen, hunched over his briefcase without so much as breathing. Her irises were a pale blue, almost impossible to see, but as she bared her canines, they seemed to turn entirely white. One word rang in his head, so loudly that she could have shouted it and he wouldn’t have known the difference. Run!

His hand snatched up his case and his legs propelled him to the door. In his final view of the scene, Finch raised her arm to the ceiling and growled: “Perhaps not.”

Gunfire rang through the cramped room as something exploded. The lawyer found himself flying as a gust of wind and a woman’s scream picked him off his feet, sending him soaring out the back door that had flown off its hinges. His body smacked against grey, prickly grass, rolling into the wheat field just adjacent to the house. He landed on his back, case still clutched to his chest. An icy wind burned his face, numbing his ears.

A piece of paper fluttered from his grasp, catching on the echoing scream. The will. He bolted upright and snatched it from the air, crumpling the ancient piece of paper in a ravenous grip that threatened to tear right through it.

He spun around in the field, his breath catching in the wind. He was the only thing taller than three feet as far as he could see. The paper was mostly blank. The only words that he could make out were ‘Martha Higgins’ in blood red letters. Those too faded, and the paper was ripped from his grasp, carried on a current that whined through the field like the song of an out of tune violin.

Short Story

About the Creator

Laurel Dreyers

I write Sci-fi, fiction, poetry, and horror. Some of my favorite books are the Lunar Chronicles, Agatha Christie mysteries, and the Sherlock Holmes memoirs.

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