“Pronounced” by Caitlyn Minelli

Winner of the Joanne Harrison Hopkins Literary Achievement Award 2015

   Mavis slammed her head against the steering wheel of her black VW bug. “I so don’t want to go in there,” she groaned. When she pulled into the long gravel drive of her family’s mansion she immediately wanted to turn around. Ashby Hall was a white, three-story dwelling with ionic pillars that only reached the second story. There were two porches, one on the first and another on the second story, which wrapped around the entirety of the building. The black shutters had been freshly painted and shone in the sunlight. The antebellum monstrosity had sat there for hundreds of years with her family as permanent residents. Literally. They had had a private mausoleum built in the back left corner of the sweeping grounds and gardens behind the house. It might have looked magnificent, but Mavis would have given anything to be anywhere else. She knew what her aunt had left for her in the parlor.

   She sighed. Mavis was already in a bad mood. Knowing what awaited her made it all the worse. It was after all a Friday. Earlier she had received a D- on her classics exam which pretty much translated as an F. Her professor must have been in good spirits—like the kind out of a bottle—and decided not to completely crush her sense of self-worth. She had to remind her twenty-one year old self that she only had one semester left, a measly little four months, and then her ass was out of here. She would soon be starting a permanent position at an editing firm in New York. No more classes. No more text books. No more of Aunt Dolores’s dirty looks. The old bitch was always trying to set her up with the grandsons and nephews of her socialite sidekicks. Dolores wanted grandchildren. Lots of grandchildren. Since she had no offspring to speak of, she relied solely upon Mavis and Mavis’s older sisters to provide them. Mavis hadn’t wanted any of it. As much as she loved her nieces and nephews, she didn’t want children of her own at this point in her life. Her biological clock had yet to tick or tock and she didn’t feel like resetting it.

   She had to get out of the car soon. Effie, her aunt’s maid slash lap dog, had probably already alerted the entire household of her arrival. She grabbed her bag from the front seat and stepped out of the car. The front door opened before she had even made it to the front porch steps. “Miss Mavis, the Madame has ordered me to convey that you have a visitor in the parlor,” said an elderly butler as he held the door open for her. His name was Hénry. Not Henry. Not Hank. Hénry. It sounded a lot like ornery, which he could be whenever he was in an especially persnickety mood. He was the poster boy for butlers everywhere with his black tail coat and pressed trousers. A thin bronze chain attached to his lapels led to a watch that lived in the left breast pocket.

   “I’ll bet I do,” Mavis sighed, “And you can call me Mavis, Hénry. No need to waste propriety on me.”

   “Quite,” Hénry said as he shut the door with a click. His monocle gleamed from the overhead chandelier which cast little rainbows on the marble floor. Mavis gave him a glare over her shoulder.

   With a toss of her long ebony locks she headed down the hall towards the parlor. Paintings of all her family members lined the walls. Whenever she reached her aunt’s portrait she had to fight the urge to draw inappropriate pictures on it. Mavis paused as she reached the ornate entrance of the parlor. Carvings of little woodland animals and flowers adorned the double doors. I hate Fridays, she thought before flinging them open. A man, complete with Italian leather shoes, tailored suit with silk undershirt and a silk tie, sat on one of the chaises when she entered the room. Well, aren’t you pretty, she thought snidely when she saw his face. His hair was perfectly coiffed and a platinum blonde that would make even Marilyn Monroe jealous. Baby blues that were accentuated by his blue tie sat above a nose that was slightly upturned and full lips that made him look pouty. He fulfilled all of her aunt’s minimum requirements. The man stood up to greet her with a smile that revealed teeth that were bleached beyond reason. Mavis had the urge to grab her sunglasses to protect her eyes from the glare.

   “You must be Mavis. It’s nice to finally make your acquaintance,” he said walking over to her and placing a kiss on her hand. “You are more beautiful than I was led to believe. For a moment I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Now I see that I’m very much alive, and heaven has been brought to me for your beauty makes the morning sun look like the dull glimmer of the moon,” he recited as he smoothed back his hair, looking pleased with himself.

   Damn, what a putz.

   “Wow, you’re just so full of nice things to say,” Mavis smiled as she wiped the back of her hand on her black dress, “Which is going to make this question all the more awkward. Who are you?”

   “Excuse my rudeness. My name is Roland Beaumont. I’m your fiancé.”

   “Are you? I didn’t know I was dating anybody. Was I drunk the entire relationship?”

   “Oh, no, no. We’ve never met before this.”

   “Oh. That’s good. I would have felt like a schmuck if I had forgotten our first date, and you know, the rest of our relationship. Anyway, how about we call off this engagement and just be friends.”

   “I couldn’t do that!” Roland exclaimed aghast as if the idea was pure insanity.

   “You’re right. That would be moving too fast. Let’s start out as acquaintances,” Mavis suggested patting his shoulder.

   “It’s expected of both of us to get married. And I will honor the commitment I’ve made to you and your family,” Mr. Bleached Teeth said trying to look sincere, although he didn’t look particularly pleased with the idea. “We will have beautiful children together.”

   “Obviously sarcasm is a not a deterrent. So, what’s it gonna take to get you out of here in a way that doesn’t involve a body bag?” Mavis said all joking aside, poking at his chest. “Or you can take my suggestion to be friends and have a very long distant relationship that only involves us keeping in touch once a year when we send out Christmas cards.”

   “I suppose starting out as friends would be acceptable if that’s what it would take to make you comfortable,” Roland sighed not happy with the way things were turning out, “I will come by every day until you’ve changed your mind,” he grinned, eyes lighting up.

   Ah, shit. Wrong turn, wrong turn, Mavis panicked.

   “You know what? I’m starting to think friendship is a bad idea. I value our acquaintanceship too much to ruin it by taking things to the next level. You know what they say: familiarity breeds contempt. And the more I get to know you the more my contempt grows,” Mavis grinned back. She grabbed the man’s hand and started dragging him towards the front doors.

   “If we aren’t getting married then what am I supposed to do?” Roland whined as Mavis had shoved him out the door.

   “I heard Disney’s always looking for a new Prince Charming,” she grinned as she slammed the door in his face. Mavis rubbed her temples thinking of the hell she’d have to pay later for rejecting yet another man. She needed a nap. No, she needed a beer.

   The desire for alcohol won out so she headed towards the kitchen. Once there she made a beeline for the fridge. She opened the door and found two six-packs of Mikes Lemonade. Black Cherry flavor. There is a god! She thought as she grabbed two bottles. Priscilla, her second oldest sister, must be visiting and stocked the fridge. Their aunt would never get such a lowly excuse for booze. Mavis popped the top off of one of the bottles and as she was about to take a sip someone behind her coughed. Don’t look, don’t look. She turned around and saw her aunt standing behind the counter in all her Old Southern glory. The woman was dressed in peach. Peach skirt, peach blouse, peach shoes. Even her heavily applied makeup was peach. Not a good color for an elderly woman. However, every piece of jewelry was old, gold, and gaudy. It’s only purpose to show off the wealth of the owner. There wasn’t a gray strand out of place in her hair that was piled high and bound on her head.

   The wrinkles in her forehead deepened as she frowned at the bottle in Mavis’s hand. “Well? Where is he?”

   “He who?” Mavis asked innocently, fluttering her eyelashes.

   “Roland Beaumont. The man who will be your fiancé,” Aunt Dolores huffed, crossing her bony arms.

   “Oh, him. He said something about doing more with his life. You know like ending world hunger, entering the Peace Corps, saving kittens from trees…”

   “This is quite enough, Mavis Louise Ashby. You will go back to that young man on your hands and knees and beg him to forgive your rudeness and to continue with the engagement,” her aunt demanded with flashing blue eyes.

   Mavis sighed. There wasn’t enough booze in the world let alone the fridge to deal with this right now. “Auntie, I don’t really want to talk about this right now,” she said turning to leave through the back kitchen door, “And, despite what we talk about, I’m not getting married.”

   “You are twenty-one years old and single. It is high time you found someone to settle down with and have children,” Dolores huffed.

   “Come on, Auntie. I understand potentially having this conversation when I’m thirty. But at twenty-one? That’s like telling a two year old they’d better start applying to college,” Mavis complained, taking a swig from her bottle.

   “I have been lenient with you. More lenient than with any of your sisters. I expect cooperation in return,” Dolores demanded, snatching the bottle from Mavis’s hand.

   “Hey–” Mavis protested, trying to grab the bottle back.

   “Enough. I let you have your circle of ruffian friends. I let you have your part-time jobs. I let you attend college. But not anymore.”


   “You heard me,” Dolores smirked. “I will not pay next semester’s tuition if you do not continue with the engagement I have set up.”

   “You can’t do that!” Mavis yelled.

   “Yes I can. It’s my money.”

   “Then I’ll use the money mom and dad left for me,” Mavis said.

   “You are only allotted that money when you turn twenty-five or if I deem you responsible enough to receive it. Which do you think will come first?” Dolores asked, crossing her arms.

   “You’re a crazy old bitch!” Mavis shrieked as she ran out the back door. She dashed into the back yard, following the paths to the back of the garden. The sun had set and the little lanterns on the ground lit her way around the winding stones. After what felt like running for an eternity Mavis stopped to catch her breath. She reached out, her fingers touching something cold, and realized it was one of the stone pillars that marked the entrance to her family’s mausoleum. They were covered in vines of ivy and cracks that spoke volumes of the cemetery’s age. She heard footsteps behind her. Probably from one of the staff ordered to haul my ass back, she contemplated as she bolted into the plot. Her high-heeled sandals sunk deep into the soft earth and caused her to fall flat on her face. A crow cackled at her from a low hanging branch from above her head. I should have known this day was going to get worse, she thought as she kicked off her shoes and dashed barefoot past headstones and statues, her dress fanning out behind her.

   Mavis skidded to a halt in front of one of the larger crypts, her long hair swirling around her. She paused as she eyed the likeness of the Grim Reaper that rested above the grated doors of the crypt. She heard more footsteps behind her, decided to get cozy with the dead people, and slipped inside. I should have just said yes, Mavis thought angrily, shutting the doors. So what if he was a creep? I’d rather be stuck with a creep than stuck in a crypt. Had she’d known that little exchange was going to land her here of all places she would have just said “I do.” Now she was surrounded by dead people on a Friday night. Proof that bad things came in three’s. Whoever it was got closer until they stopped in front of the crypt. A shadow passed through the grates in the door. Mavis held her breath.

   “Do you think she could be in there?” asked someone.

   “No way. No one’s allowed in there. It’s always locked,” another answered.

   “Let’s look over there.”

   The voices receded and she let out a relieved sigh. Moonlight passed through the windows and rested on the rows of caskets that were placed in the wall. She noticed a single red rose resting on a stone table at the end of the room. Mavis walked toward it, picked it up, and twirled it. While roses were cliché, they were her favorite.

   “Don’t touch that!” yelled a voice from behind her.

   She twirled around but didn’t see anyone. “Holy shit. I’m losing it. It must be because I’m in a graveyard,” Mavis said to herself.

   “Oh, sure. Blame the graveyard. It couldn’t be because you’re already crazy,” grumbled the voice.

   Mavis looked about the room. There was no one but her. Anyone alive that is. It wasn’t until she noticed one of the coffin lids had been shifted to the side and a pair of yellow eyes looking at her.

   “Oh my God!” Mavis screamed and fell backwards.

   “Oh, shut up,” said the eyes rolling.

   “What…is…you…are,” Mavis sputtered, unable to get a grip.

   “If you keep making noise they’ll come back, you know. Whoever they are.” There was a moment of awkward silence. “Unless you want them to come back. I can’t imagine why since you went to all that trouble to hide,” the eyes chastised, peering at her curiously. Mavis shook her head slowly.

   “Didn’t think so,” the eyes stated. Mavis heard grating sounds and the top lid of the coffin toppled to the ground creating an earth shattering racket. A skeletal hand emerged and grabbed the edge of the box accompanied by grunting sounds as the corpse hauled itself out.

   It wasn’t much taller than Mavis. The clothing that covered its deteriorating frame included a pair of buckled shoes, leggings, black pants that bunched at the knee, a brown vest, and a white shirt with puffy sleeves that billowed when it moved. However, the face is what kept her attention. Time had not been good to this creature. The skull was akin to a dried apple, the skin pulled taut. The thing had no lips, eyebrows, or nostrils and the eyeballs rolled around in their sockets with no ligaments to hold them.

   “What are you staring at?” the corpse asked adjusting its vest.

   “You,” Mavis answered. “Who else would I be staring at?”

   “Well it’s rude,” the thing said indignant.

   “I’m sorry?”

   “Apology not accepted.”

   Mavis bristled. “And you think I’m rude? Fuck you.”

   The corpse chuckled. “It’s no wonder your aunt doesn’t like you. Too much of a spit fire.”

   “How do you know my aunt doesn’t like me?”

   “I have friends in high places,” the corpse said gesturing to the window. A crow cawed at them from its perch.

   “Is that the crow from…?” Mavis asked pointing to the window.

   “When you fell?” the creature filled in. “Yes.”

   Mavis shook her head. “I’m so confused. First off, how can you walk and talk? And second, who are you?”

   The corpse looked at her, trying to figure out the best way to answer. “My name is Thomas Filch. I was a stable hand at the mansion.”

   “Stable hand? Then why were you buried in my family’s plot?” Mavis asked skeptically.

   “Servants were buried on the premises, you idiot. Especially those who didn’t have any relatives, like me,” Thomas said glaring at her.


   “As for why I can walk and talk, that’s a long story,” he muttered taking a seat on the ground. The crow fluttered to his shoulder and he stroked its feathers. “Well, sit down. This is a long story,” he said throwing his arms up.

   “Okay, okay. Jeez,” Mavis said settling against the wall on the opposite side of the crypt.

   Thomas shrugged unconcerned. “I was employed here when I was about ten years old,” he began. “My family’s farm had been devastated by the war between the North and South. Both my mother and father took ill and died, leaving me alone. Amos Ashby, the owner of Ashby Hall at that time, found me collapsed on the side of the road. He took me back to the manor, cleaned me up, and gave me a job.”

   “Well, that’s really sad. But what does that have to do with you being undead?”

   “I’m getting there. Haven’t you ever heard of narrative progression?” Thomas growled.

   “Alright. Sorry,” Mavis said.

   “Amos Ashby had a daughter,” he continued.

   “They always do,” Mavis rolled her eyes.

   “Shut up. As I was saying, Ashby had a daughter. Her name was Celia and she was the prettiest thing on this side of the Mississippi. Golden hair, cornflower blue eyes, beautiful singing voice…”

   Mavis watched him. “Do you need a moment?” she smirked.

   Thomas glared at her. “It’s no wonder your aunt has to go find you men to marry. No one in their right mind would want to marry a shrew like you.”

   “Hey! I don’t know why you’re so hung up on her anyway. She sounds just like any other run of the mill Southern Belle,” she said indignantly.

   “Now I was just a stable boy and she was the daughter of the head of the mansion,” he continued ignoring her. “While it makes for good trashy romance novels, it wasn’t in the cards. When we were teens a boy named Billy Thornton called on her quite regularly. Needless to say I was distraught. So I did the only thing I could think of.”

   “What was that?”

   “I asked her to marry me.”

   Mavis giggled. “Oh? And what did she say to that?”

   “She laughed and slammed the front door in my face,” Thomas chuckled. “But I didn’t care. All I knew was that she was my world,” he sighed. “So I hatched another plan. I went down to the local witchdoctor. He lived deep in the swamp and I about died on the way there. Anyway he gave me magic words to say over a rhododendron –”

   “If he said ooh-ee-ooh-ah-ah-ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang I’m out of here,” Mavis said crossing her arms.

   “You are just so caustic. The chant went:

            ‘Of low birth he may be,

            Stable boy whose love may never see

            A girl so pretty.

            By the power vested in me

            Let neither rest until he marries the daughter of Ashby.”

   “That sounds corny,” Mavis complained. “I could think of something better than that.”

   “Well, it was pretty effective for being corny,” Thomas said eyeing her. “I gave her the flower and she fell head over heels in love with me. It took me forever to convince her father to agree. But after two years he gave his consent. I was ecstatic…”

   “But?” Mavis prodded.

   “She came down with the pox and died rather quickly,” he sighed. “I was so distraught that I hung myself from the rafters of the stable. I guess they put me in here afterwards. It was quite a shock to wake up in a box.”

   “Wait, you woke up in a box?” Mavis asked confused.

   “Yes. My own grave. Of course I was somewhat disoriented so I wasn’t aware. And when I walked back to the mansion it caused quite a commotion.”

   “I’ll bet,” Mavis snorted.

   “They shot me three times. Scared the hell out of them when I didn’t go down. Then they brought out the torches and pitchforks. So I ran into the woods to hide and eventually made my way back to the tomb. The next night the shaman came by and told me of his mistake. Apparently ‘Let neither rest until he marries the daughter of Ashby’ was taken quite literally by his buddies on the other side. That’s what I get for hiring an amateur. So now I’m stuck here and I’m allowed to walk and talk. Until the day I marry an Ashby,” Thomas finished looking at his crow.

   “Wow. That’s a bad day. Doesn’t it get lonely?” Mavis asked quietly.

   “I have this guy,” Thomas said pointing at his crow. “He gives me updates on all the things that go on in the world.” He paused. “Do women really wear pants?”

   The innocent question made Mavis laugh. “Yes, they wear pants.” She paused. “Men wear skirts too.”

   “Really?” he asked perplexed. “How do you differentiate between the sexes?”

   Mavis giggled. “Sometimes it’s hard. My friend Delany was dating her boyfriend for three months before she realized he was a she. She didn’t care though and now they’re getting married this May.”

   “Hmm…” There was a moment of silence as Thomas looked out the window and Mavis was content to watch him. Then she perked up.

   “I have an idea,” she said smiling.


   Mavis barged though the doors of Ashby Hall. “Miss Mavis, where have you been?” Hénry demanded.

   “Stuff it, you old goat,” she said as she swept passed him and headed toward the dining room. Her aunt was finishing dinner when Mavis entered.

   “Mavis, where on earth did you go?” Dolores demanded.

   “Around,” Mavis said as she took a seat across from her aunt.

   “Well, I hope you took the time to think about what I said,” Dolores said wiping her face on a napkin.

   “I have actually. And I’d like to discuss it more in depth. Let’s take a walk,” Mavis smiled and grabbed her aunt’s hand.

   “Walk where?” Dolores asked perplexed.

   “You’ll see.”


   “I hardly think this is the place to talk Mavis Louise,” Dolores said hugging herself as she looked about the grave yard.

   “It’s not as bad as you think, Auntie,” Mavis said as she opened the door to the crypt. “The dead are a real scream.”

   “That’s not funny and I’m not going in there,” Dolores said panicking now.

   “It’s fine Auntie. Just a quiet place to chat,” Mavis said grabbing her aunt’s hand and pulling her through the door.

   Mavis looked around the room. Thomas wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Good. “Auntie, I was thinking about what you said about the whole marriage thing,” Mavis continued. “And while I was thinking it over I was wondering why you never married.”

   Dolores sputtered. “I hardly think this is the time to be discussing my affairs, Mavis Louise.”

   “I just found it curious. I mean, if you wanted kids so badly you could have gone out and found someone to help you out regardless if you were married or not,” Mavis said as she walked toward the table with the rose.

   “What a thing to say,” Dolores huffed affronted.

   Mavis pushed the mechanism that Thomas showed her earlier and stepped back. The table moved back into the wall to reveal a staircase leading into the ground. Her aunt gasped. “What on earth is that?” her aunt panicked backing away.

   Mavis lunged and grabbed her again. “We’re going to have that chat, Auntie,” she said as she shoved her aunt down the stairs. The top closed and everything went dark until their eyes adjusted to the light of a single candle sitting on an altar in the middle of the room.

   “You had better tell me what’s going on now, Mavis Louise Ashby,” Dolores demanded. Thomas picked that time to come out from the shadows of the altar. Dolores shrieked. “What is that thing?” she screamed.

   “This is Thomas. He’s going to be your fiancé,” Mavis grinned.

   “I beg your pardon?”

   “Well, it’s like this, Auntie. Thomas has a little problem. When he was alive he liked one of our ancestors so he asked a shaman to whip up some mojo for him to get her to be his. Good news is it worked. Bad news is she died before they got married, and now he’s prevented from truly dying. Until he marries an Ashby girl, that is.”

   Dolores looked like she was about to faint. When Thomas came closer she shrieked. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked, eyeing Dolores.

   “Sure it is,” Mavis whispered. “You get eternal rest and my aunt lays off the marriage thing for the rest of my life.”

   “I can’t believe it,” Dolores muttered. “I can’t believe you were down here this whole time. I would have given anything to get my hands on you and strangle you myself for what you did to me!” she yelled as she lunged for Thomas.

   “Auntie! What are you doing?” Mavis asked.

   “After you gave me that flower I started feeling strange. I felt hazy. Words came out of my mouth that I never meant. Every time you touched me I wanted to pull away but couldn’t. I woke up attending my own funeral!”

   “Celia?” Thomas asked in shock.

   “What?” Mavis asked in astonishment. “She couldn’t be. She looks nothing like a decaying body.”

   “CoverGirl is a wonderful thing,” Dolores sniffed. “Regular baths in salt help, too. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough. I had to use formaldehyde.”

   “How were you able to live without anyone noticing?”

   “After I woke up in my coffin my father quickly took me to my room. He thought that I had just gone into a coma,” Dolores paused. “But when the doctor came to check on me he couldn’t find a pulse.” She glared at the corpse.

   “How did you keep people from finding out?” Mavis asked. “It’s not like you hid in a cemetery like Thomas.”

   “My father had to pay a huge stipend in order to keep that doctor quiet and had to fire all the staff. Only certain family members were allowed to know and I wasn’t allowed to go outside. Only decades later when everyone forgot about Amos Ashby’s daughter was I able to leave. I was wrinkled enough that no one would have recognized me. I introduced myself as a distant relative from Mississippi and changed my name. By then my brother had had several children and a good number of grandchildren. A right that was taken from me,” Dolores explained as she continued to glare at Thomas.

   “We could have had a beautiful family, Celia,” Thomas said reaching for her.

   “Like I would have ever married someone like you,” Dolores shrieked, slapping his hand away. “You had no family and worked in a stable. I was going to marry into the prosperous Thornton family. You should have seen the look on Billy’s face when I sent him away.”

   “Hang on a sec,” Mavis moved in between them. “You’re saying that you’ve been dead for pretty much forever? And you’ve been pushing the whole get married and have lots of kids thing on me because you couldn’t have any?”

   “I promised my brother on his deathbed to never let what happened to me happen to any of his children. I arranged each and every marriage to be sure nothing was left to chance.”

   Someone coughed behind them. They turned to see the crow shuffling its feet. “I can’t help but feel this is my fault,” it said looking sheepish.

   Dolores shrieked again. “Will someone get her to stop screaming?” it asked covering its ears.

   “You can talk?” Mavis asked covering her aunt’s mouth with her hand.

   “Yes. Luckily that skill wasn’t taken from me when that transformation spell backfired.”

   “I’m guessing that you’re the shaman,” Mavis surmised.

   “Yes,” it said as it hopped closer. “I was very confused when I couldn’t find your body after I found the spell had backfired. I looked everywhere for a private grave,” it said looking at Dolores who looked like she was going to really lose it.

   “Thomas said all he had to do was marry someone from the Ashby line. It didn’t have to be Celia,” Mavis said confused.

   The crow coughed again. “Well, I might have fibbed a little.”

   “Excuse me?” Thomas asked indignantly.

   “I didn’t want you to get even more upset. If you found out that we needed her specifically,” he said gesturing to Dolores, “I knew you’d go on a rampage to find her and I couldn’t have you scaring the locals.”

   “So, all we need to do is pronounce these two newly-deads and the spell will be broken?” Mavis asked.

   “Yep,” said the crow. Then he paused. “At least that’s what should happen. This whole situation has been full of shoulds that haven’t happened.”

   “What are we waiting for then?” Mavis demanded. “Auntie, you should totally… Auntie?” Mavis looked about the room. There was no sign of her aunt. “Ah, shit.”

   She booked it up the stairs after her aunt. Mavis caught sight of Dolores running out the door into the cemetery. “For a dead person, she runs fast,” Mavis gasped as she took off again after her aunt. She was able to tackle and pin her aunt just inside the entrance of the graveyard. “Just…put…this…on,” Mavis gasped, pulling a ring out of her pocket and trying to place it on Dolores’s finger.

   “Not on your life, Mavis Louise Ashby,” Dolores screamed, clawing at her niece’s face. Thomas and his crow came running up to the pair. The crow pecked at Dolores’s face. Thomas hauled her up from the ground and pinned Dolores’s arms behind her. “Celia, is the thought of marrying me that horrendous?” he asked.

   Dolores blew a piece of hair out of her face. “I’ll never marry you,” she hissed.

   “Get to it, already,” Mavis snapped at the crow.

   “Oh, yeah,” it said. He cleared his throat before reciting, “Do you, Thomas Filch, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

   “I do,” Thomas grunted as Dolores elbowed him in the stomach.

   “Very good. Do you, Celia Ashby, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

   “I would nev–” Dolores started before her niece slapped a hand across her mouth.

   “–ver be more honored,” Mavis finished for her.

   “Will you please present the rings?” the crow asked Mavis.

   Mavis shoved the band onto Dolores’s finger and handed Thomas his.

   “I now pronounce you man and wife,” he finished.

   There was a rumbling sound as the earth shook. Roots of an enormous oak tree slithered out from the ground and wound their way around Thomas and Dolores. Mavis covered her face from the barrage of splinters as the roots rushed back into the ground, pulling the two corpses back in to the earth.

   “Until death do you part,” Mavis said as she collapsed to the ground.

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