A dark tale for your All Hallows
by Jessica Reisman
Uncle Sy's umbrella always hung from the coat tree in the front hall. The handle, tines, and tip had all been carved and fitted from the same pale, yellow brown material. Its panel sections were some fine, beige fabric, from which the rain rolled in silver drops, so that the umbrella appeared to repel water, and never needed to be shaken or left in the hall to dry. Jonathan had been told never to touch Uncle Sy's umbrella. Sometimes, when he walked past it, he smelled a strange perfume--not at all like the one his Aunt Rachel wore--and thought he heard someone breathing.
One Saturday in November a fine rain needled down from the sky, thick as stitching in a heavy brocade. Jonathan had to go to the drugstore to get his aunt's bromides. He'd left his own umbrella, that was black and too small and coming off its tines in three places, at school. Uncle Sy was at work at his candy store, but his umbrella hung in its usual place.
Jonathan stood looking up at it, listening: he heard no breathing but his own. He sniffed experimentally: nothing but the musty, pipe tobacco and wood oil smell of the hallway. He reached up and wrapped a hand around the umbrella, lifted it down. It felt curiously warm in his hand, and the fabric had an ever so slight fuzziness, like the skin of a peach. For the barest moment he imagined it shivered against his skin, but he knew that he was just imagining things. He took the umbrella.
Outside, the umbrella not only kept him wonderfully dry, it seemed to create a bubble of warm air, too. As he walked, however, the umbrella grew heavier and heavier, and the perfume scent coalesced, and the breathing began to pulse through the air, in and out, faint at first, but growing stronger, until warm breath tickled his ear and blew over his collar.
He walked faster, as if he could somehow escape. Finally, he lowered his arm and tried to fling the umbrella from him. Cold rain immediately stung him, and pain shot up into his arm from his hand. He looked down and saw that the handle of the umbrella had become a skeletal hand gripped hard about his, finger bones woven tight with his fingers. The hand gripped so hard that the bones poked into Jonathan's hand and blood welled, slicked his skin, and ran along the bone fingers, down along the umbrella handle.
Jonathan screamed and shook his arm, clawing at the skeletal hand. But the hand gripped tighter and tighter, grinding the bones in Jonathan's hand. He slipped to his knees in a puddle, drenched in the rain, breath heaving. He looked about wildly for help, but the streets were empty in such weather; there were only a few cars, far away through the heavy rain. As his blood slicked down the umbrella handle, the handle began to change, too, becoming the bones of an arm. When spots and drippings of his now copiously flowing blood hit the pale fabric of the umbrella, it too began to change. The blood burned briefly, absorbing into the fabric, sinking into it, fading, leaving traceries of blue. The fabric seemed to engorge on each new sprinkling.
Jonathan heard his heart, pumping his blood, louder and louder as he grew weaker and weaker. He watched in fascination as the umbrella continued to transform.
* * *
Uncle Sy came home late that evening. He found his wife Rachel in her house dress, sitting on the hall steps, staring up at the coat tree. Sy looked and saw the umbrella was gone.
"Jonathan, he never came home," Rachel said. "I sent him for my bromides."
Rain drummed cozily on the roof, on all the rooves, all through the city.