Spiritus Viri

by Erin Zarro

After our wedding, Jerry carried me over the threshold of our home: a small ranch that was cozy and practically ancient. We’d repainted most of the walls and removed the carpets, as we liked hardwood floors.

It was our first night in it after the renovations.

I laughed as Jerry fumbled with skirts just to put me down again. “Maybe I’ll just stay in this dress,” I said. I was a bit tipsy from the champagne and dancing. I twirled, watching my skirts flare, then stopped. Except the room didn’t stop spinning.

“You’ll freeze, my lovely wife,” Jerry said, coming up behind me and pulling me against him. “The sheerness of the top…”

“But my bottom half will be warm,” I said with a giggle. I wiggled free and headed toward the bedroom, which sat at the end of the hall. A very long hallway, unlit, in high heels.

“Be careful, Lizzy. I should probably help – ” Whatever he was about to say was lost as he fell, his head hitting the floor with a crack.

I picked up my skirts and went to him. Kneeling, I put my hand gently on a red, large bump that had formed on his head. “Jerry, are you okay? How bad is the pain? Are you dizzy, nauseous – “

“I’m fine. I just tripped on something, that’s all.” He tried to stand, and didn’t seem to have a problem doing that, although he was the type to pretend he was okay to save face.

“But your head!” I said. “It must be hurting you. You may have a concussion.”

Jerry made a dismissive gesture. “Nah, I’m fine.” He looked at the floor, his eyes scanning its surface. “Huh. That’s strange. There’s nothing here to trip on. But I swear there was something…”

“Maybe it’s one of my hair clips and it’s blending in with the floor color?” I suggested as I searched my hair for a missing hair clip with my fingers. It was a curly, stiff mess from being done by the beautician early in the morning. She’d put them in pretty tightly, but one could have fallen out.
Or…no, I refused to think about that thing I never thought about.

Jerry was kneeling now, running his hand over the floor. “Nothing here, Lizzy. How strange.”

“Well, maybe you just lost your footing. It happens.” I stepped up to him and took both his hands in mine. “Maybe a good night’s sleep would help your head.”

His hands tightened on mine. “Sleep on my wedding night? My dear, we are only just beginning.”

#

The next day, we were making dinner. Well, I was making dinner and Jerry was assisting. The chicken was in the oven and the corn was boiling. The potatoes were in the microwave. Thank God for modern appliances.

Jerry began setting the table, humming as he did so. I loved it when he hummed. He had a nice voice, and it always made me think of happiness.
I smiled, amused as he put each piece of silverware in its proper place.

“What?” he asked, arching a brow. “Having silverware put in its proper place was one of my mother’s quirks. She’d have me do it over and over again until I got it right.”

I checked the chicken. “How long did it take you to learn it?”

“Not long. She was a tough teacher.” Something clattered to the floor, startling me.

I spun around. A knife was on the floor near him. Blood dripped down his hand. He held it in front of himself, staring in apparent shock. “Oh, no! Let me see it.”

I felt like the worst wife in the entire world. Who, on her second day of marriage, lets her husband get cut by a knife?

Chicken forgotten, I went to him, taking his hand in mine, ignoring the blood. “The cut looks pretty deep. May need stitches.”

“I’m not surprised. I’m such a klutz.”

I had a funny feeling I knew what had happened, but didn’t want to believe it. “Let’s get you to the hospital.”

“What about dinner? It’s our first as husband and wife…”

“Your hand is bleeding. I think this can wait.” I grabbed a paper towel and wiped his hand.

“I’m so sorry, Lizzy,” Jerry said, shaking his head.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m more concerned about that hand.”

We spent four hours in the ER. Poor Jerry did need stitches. I held his other hand while he squeezed his eyes shut and cursed the poor doctor who had to stitch him up.

We had to throw away the entire meal and order pizza.

That night, as we carefully made love, the vase with my wedding bouquet in it fell to the floor and shattered.

#

The next day, while Jerry was at work, I visited my grandmother.

She was waiting for me at the door.

Some claim she was psychic. Others said she was a witch.

She was always just my grandmother with her long, gray hair tucked into a bun and large glasses. She always wore a blouse and a skirt, never jeans or pants. She always smelled of fresh flowers.

“Something’s wrong,” Grandma said, looking me up and down. “You just got married, and you look terrible, if you don’t mind me saying.”

That was the other thing. Grandma didn’t miss a single thing, and was blunt to the point of rudeness. But she had a big heart and a beautiful soul, so I always gave her a pass.

I sighed, stepping into her modest apartment. “Yeah, I’d say so.”

“Let me put some tea on,” Grandma said, heading for her kitchen. Her slippered feet barely made a sound.

I followed her through the bright, colorful living room where so many vases of flowers lived, and into the impeccably clean kitchen. As Grandma got the water boiling, she said, “It’s about him, isn’t it, Elizabeth? It’s happened already.”

My blood went cold, and I felt a bit lightheaded. “Yes. But that’s just stories, right? Not actual fact.”

Grandma turned to face me, and I could see the truth in her eyes. “No, child. It is very much true.” She gestured for me to sit down. I did, my legs feeling like they were made of jelly. “It’s been years since I had any dealing with mine. The night before I was to be married to your grandfather, my mother told me the story. I didn’t believe it at first, either, but like you, something caused me to rethink my position.”

I nodded. “Go on.”

“The legend is real, Elizabeth. Each of us women in this family have a spiritus viri – a spirit husband.” She gave me a level look. “And you know what that means, right?”

I didn’t want to believe it. There were stories passed down from woman to woman, generation to generation. My own mother said it was because we were special, and were gifted these spiritus viri at birth.

We weren’t supposed to get married, either.

I clutched the table, feeling sick. “Why didn’t you stop me?”

“You never would have believed it if you hadn’t seen it for yourself. Is Jerry okay?”

I nodded, swallowing hard. How was I going to fix this? I loved Jerry, but if I had a spiritus viri, we were doomed. My spirit husband would kill Jerry in time, just like every other mortal husband any woman of my line has ever had. Granted, it was always explained away – a weak heart, cancer, stress…but there was always a voice in the back of my head that said, I don’t know, after seeing so many die.

“Jerry’s okay. For now,” I said pointedly. “He cut his hand, took a fall in the living room, and my bridal vase shattered. It’s not going to get any better, is it?”

“I suspect you know the answer to that question.”

I let out a breath. “And there’s no way to…make him happy and stay with my husband?” I wondered if I could beat this. Be the first woman who did. Maybe we just needed to think outside the box.

Grandma shook her head. “No. Over time, your spiritus viri will continue to make things dangerous for your husband until…”

“Until he kills him,” I finished for her. “Damn it. I should never have gotten married.”

“You didn’t know. They are just stories,” Grandma said, patting my hand. “But they are real, and you must do something before Jerry is killed.”

I bit my lip. My mind spun. “How will I fix this? No one’s ever been able to do it!” Tears filled my eyes, and I blinked them away.

Grandma squeezed my hand. “No, dear. No one’s ever tried.”

#

The next night, at dinner – which was uneventful so far – I decided to tell Jerry.

It was either that or divorce him. And I couldn’t bear to do that. I loved him too much, and he loved me. We were supposed to be living our happily ever after.

I moved my green beans around my plate, struggling to find the words. I couldn’t.

“So then my boss said – Lizzy, are you okay? I don’t think you’ve heard a word I’ve said!” He set his fork down with a clatter, his expression fearful.

“I’m not,” I said, and my voice felt all wrong. Everything felt all wrong.

“What is it?”

I took a drink of wine, hoping for some liquid courage. I watched as the glass broke in my hand, but did not come apart. Okay, I get it. Jerry needs to know. “There’s something I need to tell you. And it’s going to seem rather crazy.”

Jerry took a sip of wine, then a gulp. Very deliberately, he set the glass down and met my gaze. “Lay it on me, babe.”

Just like that, he was willing to listen without question or judgment. God, how I loved him. “My family is a bit different – “

Jerry chuckled. “Every family has its quirks. I still love you.”

“Yes, but this goes beyond a quirk.” I swallowed hard, trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach. “The women in my family, all of them, were…God, this is crazy…we were all married before. To a…” I could hardly get the words out.

“To a what?” Jerry asked, his voice quivering. “How could you be married before? You’re only nineteen!”

“Right,” I said. “When I was born, I was married. To a spiritus viri. A spirit husband.”

Jerry had paled. “Like an arranged marriage?” His voice was a whisper now, his fingers gripping the wine glass so hard his knuckles were white.

I nodded. “Yeah, kind of. We’re not supposed to marry at all. Because we already are. And those spirit husbands get mad if we do…”

Jerry’s eyes widened. “You’re not saying my…accidents…have anything to do with this, are you? Because that is unbelievable. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for all of it.”

I fought not to roll my eyes at him. “Let’s go through this point by point, shall we?” I took a sip of wine. “You tripped over something that didn’t exist.”

“I’m clumsy. Always have been,” Jerry said.

“The bouquet.”

“We put it too close to the edge. A vibration from a train or something caused it to fall.” He folded his arms over his chest.

“The knife.”

“Again, I’m clumsy,” Jerry said, but this time he didn’t sound so sure.

“Look at my wine glass,” I said, pushing it toward him. “This just happened a few minutes ago.”

“You’re obviously upset, and maybe the temperature’s jacked up in here. That’s all.”

I pulled my glass back and took another sip. “Or, there could be more to this. An angry spirit trying to hurt you because you married me.”

“Okay, let’s pretend that this is true,” Jerry said, leaning forward. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Other than the fact that this is insane?” I said, barking out a laugh that sounded almost hysterical. “I didn’t believe it. But I visited my grandmother and she confirmed it.”

“Your grandmother is a witch,” Jerry said. “Everyone in town says so. And when I met her, I felt she wasn’t quite right in the head. I’m sorry.”

He didn’t believe me. I couldn’t even comprehend that. Here I had proof that this was happening, and all he could say was that my grandmother was a witch and not right in the head.

I stood, shaking. “You know, family lore also says that the spiritus viri will eventually kill the husband if nothing is done.”

“So my life is in danger now? Okay.” Jerry pushed his plate of food away. “So what is supposed to be done?”

Grandma and I had discussed this at great length. But I didn’t want to tell Jerry the sordid details. My heart was breaking.

“Lizzy?” Jerry stood and came to me, taking me in his arms. “Obviously, there’s something to this if you’re so upset.”

A tear rolled down my cheek. “Grandma believes severing the bond may fix it.”

He tipped my head up so I could meet his gaze. “Okay. Whatever this severing bond thing is, I guess it can’t hurt to try.”

#

Grandma, Jerry, and I decided to do the ceremony on the night of the full moon, three days later.

I watched Jerry closely when we were home – the spiritus viri’s attacks seemed to occur only there. But we couldn’t just abandon our home. Wherever we decided to stay, it would follow us.

“It is invested in breaking up the marriage,” Grandma said.

We were in her kitchen, getting ready for the ceremony. We had to wait until sundown, so we were killing time.

“But why?” Jerry asked. “If it’s a spirit, it can’t even be with Lizzy!”

“That’s the problem. He is frustrated and jealous.”

“What is the point of this arranged marriage anyway if it only causes heartache?” Jerry hadn’t slept the night before, and there were bags under his eyes. Our lights had kept flickering all night. When Jerry got up to use the bathroom, he slipped and fell, hitting his head again on the floor. No concussion, and no sleep, either.

“Our ancestors wanted to make sure the women in our family always had a spouse.” Grandma stood and stirred the chicken noodle soup she was making us. In another pot were herbs and other things she wouldn’t specify also boiling. For the ceremony. “And that may have worked for a bit, but as you said, Jerry, it’s kind of impossible to have a normal marriage with a spirit.”

“So they cause problems,” I said with a sigh.

“Yes.”

We played cards while we waited for the sun to set and the moon to rise. Jerry’s hands shook, and he kept yawning.

The chicken noodle soup tasted like ash.

My stomach twisted with anxiety. What if this didn’t work? What if my spiritus viri killed Jerry during the ceremony?

Grandma caught my eye. “It’s going to be okay. I will make sure of that.”

I hoped she was right.

At last, Grandma stood, setting her cards down. “It is time. Let’s go.” She got her pot of herbs, plus a bag of salt.

“I was winning,” Jerry grumbled, then stood. He held out his hand to me, and I took it.

The three of us went outside. The air was cool and crisp, and the moon was bright in the night sky. Stars were everywhere. No clouds at all.

“It’s a perfect night for a ritual.” Grandma stopped in front of a tree. She then poured salt on the ground in a thin circle.
Inside the circle, she poured the herbs and things from the pot.

“All right, come inside the circle,” Grandma said. Her voice seemed more commanding now, and the hairs on my neck stood straight up. “Great God and Goddess, we ask for your blessing and protection during this ritual. Please keep this married couple safe from all harm.”

“So mote it be,” I murmured, remembering the words from rituals past.

“So mote it…be?” Jerry said.

“Yes,” Grandma said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out an athame, a special magical knife. She looked at us, her face more serious than I’d ever seen. “This is going to hurt a bit, and I’m sorry. You each need to cut each other with this blade, then press your wounds together. It is said that you will be bonded by blood, and the spiritus viri can no longer do any harm to you.”

“It’s that simple? Just cut each other and the spiritus viri will leave us alone?” Jerry asked, his eyes narrowing.

“That is what I have been told,” Grandma said. “Now, Elizabeth, you shall begin.” She handed me the athame, and I took it with shaking hands. “Make a shallow cut on Jerry’s palm.”

I looked at Jerry, who was even paler than he was last night. “I’m sorry if I hurt you. Your palm?”

Jerry swallowed hard. He held out his palm.

I held the athame over his hand, my hand shaking. “How do I…”

“Cut up and down. Start just below his middle finger and go to the base of his palm. Now,” she added.

What was the hurry?

Taking a deep breath, I pressed the blade to Jerry’s palm. He sucked in a breath. I drew a line down his flesh to the base of his palm as Grandma had instructed. “Is that it?” I asked, lifting the blade.

“Yes,” Grandma said. “Now you, Jerry.”

Jerry took the athame from me, his palm dripping blood, and before I had a chance to think about it, ran the blade down my palm, too.
The pain was immediate, and it throbbed in time with my heartbeat.

“And now what?” Jerry asked softly.

Grandma seemed to be in some sort of trance. “Place your palms together and do not let go.”

Shrugging, I held up my palm and Jerry pressed his against mine. Our blood was slick, and I started to feel woozy.

At first, nothing happened. Grandma seemed to be holding her breath, and everything was oddly still.

Then Grandma whispered a string of words in a different language, the sound rising in pitch.

A strange keening filled the air.

“Yes, yes,” Grandma said. “Perfect.”

The sound rose to a crescendo. Wind whipped past us, and I could have sworn I heard voices, many voices, overlapping each other.

And then something slammed into Jerry.

I screamed as he fell to the ground. His whole body convulsed, then stopped.

“He’s here,” Grandma murmured, and my blood went cold. What did that mean?

“Jerry?” I said, taking his hand in mine. My hand was covered in blood. “Jerry?”

Jerry slowly sat up.

His eyes glowed white; his mouth twisted in a parody of a smile. “Hello, my beloved bride.”

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