Journal Entry From a Lady’s Maid

Lady Cora's Castle

*Warning: This story contains graphic images and Lady Cora has no relation Downton Abbey’s Cora Crawley*

I have worked for Lady Cora for ten years, but today I saw something dark. The lady is into mischief and witchcraft. It was not surprising to me to find parts of animals and vials of blood in her chambers. However, when I went to change the sheets today, I almost slipped on the crimson liquid. The floor looked as if it had been mopped with the stuff. Confused, I called out for Lady Cora to be sure of her well-being. There was no answer.

Proceeding forward, I stripped the empty bed. The sheets were dry and white despite the surrounding mess. Keeping the dirty sheets tucked under my arm, I put on the new ones. Then I grabbed the knife from the bedside drawer (she kept it there for ritual purposes) and went into the bathroom to reassure myself. The blood trails continued into the stone bathroom, where the mirror was cracked and the wooden tub appeared full. The beads around the knife blade rubbed against my hand, increasing my anxiety.

I had to get closer to see inside of the tub. Red water sloshed around in the tub. Something bobbed up and down. Two unfamiliar women lay face down in the water, their bodies split in half.

A voice came from behind me, “I don’t see a bed in here. Why do you have my knife?” Lady Cora grabbed the blade and wrenched it away, slicing her hand in the process.

“I’m so sorry, Ma’am. I wanted to make sure you weren’t hurt.” I don’t know how I spoke through the fear building in my throat.

Lady Cora, deep blue eyes flaming, ran her bloody hand over her green silk dress. Her raven black hair was piled perfectly on her head. If she killed these women, then it must’ve been sometime in the night.

Lady Cora put her hand on my shoulder. “Do not touch my things. Now go fetch the gardener. Tell him we’re planting today and to get his shovel out.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” I started fast for the door.

“And you remember the most important rule here?”

I stopped just beside the bed, taking comfort in being in a different room. “No question. No gossip.”

Lady Cora’s footsteps came up on me. I’d seen Lady Cora handle caged animals, but I’d never empathized with them until now. She stood where she could reach me if she wanted to. “That’s two rules.”

I held my breath, dread filling my heart. Every muscle twitched, waiting for her to grab me and use the knife. Lady Cora was known for cutting servants with or without reason. The only solace (if it could be called that) was her mercy. She never killed servants.

She laughed a little. “You may go.”

It doesn’t take long for lady’s maids to understand that laughter is not a cause for relief. I left her chambers in utter fear, shaking so hard I almost tripped over the sheets. I thought to ask someone for help. The seamstress may take pity on me, but anyone I tell, I endanger. People don’t take too kindly to that. And running means the dogs or the archers or the knights. So I write and I wait.

Did you like this story? Leave a comment or continue reading. The next story is about a woman named Andrea who believes she is a witch held captive because of her dark powers.  http://www.wedbushwrite.com/ancient-dark/

Snow White Ash

The kingdom of Ether hadn’t had snow in over a hundred years. They’d been transitioning between spring and summer, all warm weather all the time. King Handel had been content with this, until his little girl, Princess Syrina, said something. “Daddy, what’s snow?”

They’d been eating breakfast, and she’d had a book on her lap under the table. She was always studying something she wasn’t supposed to be. This time she’d found a book about a kingdom far away, a place perpetually cold and snowy. Her father took the book away. “Shouldn’t you be reading about the history of Ether?”

“But it’s so boring. I want to know about other places. Why doesn’t it snow here?”

“Before you were born, it snowed every year.” King Handel didn’t know why it had stopped. No one did.

Princess Syrina stared out the window at the cheery, blue sky. “Can we make it snow? Is it supposed to snow?”

“I’ll see what we can do.”

***

That night King Handel journeyed out of the castle to visit the most powerful being in Ether. She’d existed long before humans, maybe longer than the elves. She was the Balancer and it was her job to ensure the balance of nature. King Handel had come to her before, so she was not surprised when he came to her again at her cave in the mountains. He bent his knee for her. “Ether has only had summer and spring for the past eight years. We need winter and fall.”

The Balancer stayed in the shadows, but her white and black dragons slid forward. “If you needed it, then I would’ve already stepped in.”

“My daughter wants snow.”

“I’m not changing the weather based on the whims of a child.”

“What if I can make you an offer? I can give you anything you want.”

“I don’t want anything.” The Balancer and her dragons began to retreat back into their cave.

“I can give you fifty souls within the next twenty years.” King Handel could send troops to fight in a foreign war. He could promise them riches. Everyone would jump at the chance. Fifty men wouldn’t be a detrimental loss.

The Balancer hesitated. “I don’t want the souls of fifty soldiers. I want ten soldiers, ten women, ten elves, ten dragons, and ten children within the year.”

King Handel had paid a steeper price before. They shook on it.

***

Long story short, King Handel sent ten soldiers to capture and kill ten elves. They succeeded, but the celebration was short. King Handel poisoned the celebratory wine. Then he sent a trusted servant to steal ten dragons eggs from an old palace at the far reaches of Ether. The hardest was the women and children, which he rounded up and burned alive for “treason.” They didn’t scream. Snow mixed in with their ashes, all falling from the sky, bringing Princess Syrina her first snow.

Anecdote: Church Hymns

Church hymns, the organ specifically, drew me to St. Paul’s. I’m not a religious person, but most people say that, don’t they?

The soft voices sung something that blended into the music, words lost in pitch. My fingers wrapped around the cold brass handle. I opened the heavy, wood doors. Warm light filled the foyer. The ushers smiled and allowed me to pass. Most of the pews were empty. I dipped two fingers into the huge, gold basin of holy water at the back and made the sign of the cross. I was raised Catholic, but that was the first time I’d entered a church in ten years.

I chose one of the back pews. The priests didn’t seem to notice. The choir stopped. The lead priest went on with his sermon. “Jesus is the way to God. Jesus is God.”

The sparse parish recited something, mumbling. I mouthed random words. The parish stood. I stood late. The parish knelt. I knelt, waiting for the chorus to sing again. I didn’t have to wait long.

Soprano voices soared and tittered like birds. Altos and tenors carried the accessible notes, the ones the parish sung back. The bass held everything together, held me together. Music touches what sermons can’t reach, a deeper spirituality.

Nothing brought me into that church that day. Everyone I loved was alive. No one was sick. My life had no troubles. But I needed it. My soul lacked something. Those hymns pulled me up higher, made me stand taller, gave me a reserve of strength that I would need. They helped me a year later when I lost my grandma, the real Catholic in my family. She had almost become a nun. We were supposed to go to the theater together that summer. Plans change.

When the Stars Fall: Part One

Was it the dark undertones to the lullabies that made them so horrifying? Or was it the children’s refusal to listen? Whatever it was that year, the stars started falling from the sky. People thought there was an abundance of shooting stars. They thought nothing. Then they noticed the dark spots, bald patches void of stars. How were they to fix it?

People did what people do, panic. They left the mess for us to clean up. Fair folk always clean up. One night we tucked the world into bed. Not a single human woke. Then we set to work. We stole four human children: a baby, a toddler, a child, and one on the edge of womanhood. It’s women that always pay.

Do not accuse us of murder. We do not stand on trial. We do not listen to you. Without us, the world would be doomed. We offered the children to heaven, and heaven accepted. Their bodies rose to become stars. When the world woke, they did not remember. We’ve saved them hundreds of times and they never remember. It’s for the best.

***

I stand on trial accused of handing the above history to a mortal woman. I plead guilty. She deserved to know. Humans deserve to remember. We’ve never given them a chance.

The elders say I am wrong. They say that we gave humans many opportunities.

I say that we trust one. That she can make a difference.

They disagree. What makes her special?

She’s part fair folk.

***

Andromeda has been trusted. It is up to her not to screw this up. If she fails, the elders will sentence me to death. So be it. I am ready.

Play the Victim

The burning, itch in my throat intensified when I woke up. Cool air shocked my system. Light reflected off of everything, making colors ten times clearer. Vampire sight plus a hangover had landed me in bed for the weekend. But that meant no blood in over 48 hours. That meant starving.

I had thousands of options: drunk sorority girls, hot stay-at-home-moms, my snobby flatmate. Atlanta had no shortage of people.

I rolled out of bed and pulled on jeans. My purple flannel didn’t look too rumpled. Because the apartment was dark, I put my shoes on. Eating in wasn’t an option.

Dazed and walking into the setting sun, I ducked into a dim, eclectic bookstore. A combination of soft rock and indie hummed through the speakers. The smell of weed soaked into my shirt. It was easy to tell the potheads from the lone wolf types.

Picking out a familiar book, I settled in an arm chair across from a girl with long, dark hair piled on one side of her head. Gold earrings encircled her ears. Her white neck bent elegantly over her grimoire. She didn’t notice me. I glanced at her until she caught me. She shifted away.

I flipped through my book a few times. “Eastern mysticism or Western magic?”

She flashed the dark green cover at me. “Eastern. True magic.”

“How many of those spells have worked for you?”

“Enough.” The vein in her neck pulsed.

Time to get her home. “I won’t believe unless I see it.”

“If I showed you, then I’d have to kill you.” Her eyebrows twitched. Her eyes glanced around to check that no one was watching. Then the music stopped. People froze. We were outside of time.

“So magic is real.” My fangs poked out of my gums. Her face paled, but anger twisted her features. When I bit into her neck, the blood burned in my mouth.

“Why the hell would you mess with a witch?”

Anonymous Drowning

I was on my lunch break Wednesday afternoon when I received a call from a random number. It wasn’t the publishing company I had interviewed with. “Who is this?”

Slow violin music sang through the phone. I set my fork down in my salad. “Hello?”

A faucet turned on, and a voice breathed into the phone. “Please call for help.”

This is a prank. I should hang up.

The water stopped. The person climbed into the bathtub. “The water’s warm. It’s going to fill my lungs soon.”

“This isn’t funny.”

“No? You wouldn’t think dying is funny.”

“Do I know you?”

The voice wasn’t familiar. It sounded feminine but deep. “I’m already bleeding.”

Despite the cheerful, coffee shop music in the cafe, my body grew cold. “I’m going to hang up and call 911. Where do you live?”

“If you don’t call them soon, it’ll be too late.”

“Where do you live?”

“Thank you.” The line disconnected.

My hands shook as I set my phone down on the table. My appetite had disappeared. Am I obligated to do something? What would I tell the police? I had ten minutes left for lunch. Not enough time. I deleted the call from my history and told a friend about it later that night. She figured it was a prank. I agreed and switched my phone number the next day.

When the Lifeless Wake

The waxy faces of the lifeless stare up at me as I pass the rows of coffins. No one closes their eyes. No one cleans them. It’s someone’s job, but that person only moves the bodies now. Loved ones don’t visit. Not anymore.

It happened slowly, like everything of great importance. We celebrated the person’s life. Happy music played at funerals. Then people wore bright colors. People smiled. We filled the hole that person left with other things. We threw out their pictures. We threw parties. Then we avoided their bodies to make it easier to move on. Now the bodies rot below the funeral homes. It’s too time consuming to bury them. No one wants to smell them burn.

I’m their only visitor. I pray over them, newly deceased and the decayed. My nose hates me for it. I stare only at the name plates on the sides of the coffins. The eyes of the dead are cursed. If you look into them, death is all you’ll see.

I spend three hours weaving through the crypt. In the dim light, the names blur together. As I approach a short coffin, a rattling breath breaks the quiet. There’s movement. I force myself to look. The child is a whiter shade of pale, but she blinks. Her head lolls to the side. Her blue lips form words.

“Help! Help!” I look behind me for the funeral home director. He can’t hear me.

The girl’s hand grabs my wrist. “Jane,”

“She’s not dead. Call the doctor!”

“No. Please.” The girl tries to sit, but blood trickles from her mouth.

I wipe it away and scoop her up. Her skin is icy. Holding her close, I run for the funeral director. Prayers pour out of me. The funeral director backs away as I near. “Stay away.”

“She’s dying. She needs help.”

“Stay back!”

“How did she get down here? She’s still alive.”

The funeral director holds his battery-powered lantern closer. In the light, the girl is limp. Her chest is still. I feel no pulse. “I don’t understand.”

“Did you look?”

“But she was breathing.”

The funeral director starts to close the door.

“Wait!”

“The dead can’t pass.”

“I’m alive!”

“You’re lost.”

The door shuts and locks. They will never reopen it. They will store the dead elsewhere.

I sit beside the girl’s body and cradle her. She’s already stiff. My hands stroke her hair. Her eyes are empty. I close them. Eventually I’ll also sleep.

And it’s comforting to face mortality and to know the ending of your story. Everyone dies.

Death is a Place

My pulse stopped ten minutes after the car hit mine, head on. No, I didn’t feel it. I was driving. Then I was everywhere. My insides crumpled and my soul spilled out.

No one greeted me. No family. No spirit. I waited until the coroner took me. I followed her. I watched my funeral.

No light shone down, showing me the way. No magical, haunted street markers popped up. Death is a different kind of lonely.

You can’t, not see. You have no eyes to close, no sleep to escape to. It was everything, always until I found it.

Death’s doorstep isn’t hidden; it’s always on the edge of your vision. Mine was the bookstore right beside my coffee shop. Being dead, I went in when they weren’t open and found myself somewhere else.

No, Death isn’t a person. It’s a place. You die. You find it. You stay, move in, get comfy. You control everything, except you can’t leave or sleep or forget.

Staring at the same painting of Edgar Allan Poe is the closest I get to sleep. Not that I need sleep, but it’s something to do. We spend so much time in bed that it’s hard to function without it. Sleep and food.

Is this purgatory?

God, is this about being gay? I kissed a girl once before I died. This punishment hardly seems fair.

God? I acknowledge you. Now will you invite me to your place?

I’m afraid that this is all there is.

God, please don’t let this be all there is.

Words Heard By the Bedside Table

The woman wraps her arms around her fiance’s broad shoulders. “‘Once upon a time there was a girl and a guy. Always one of each. They fall in love, but there’s someone or something between them,'” says most stories.”

He stares at her, lips pressed thin.

She traces a heart across his chest. “We retell the same things over and over again. We like habits and routines and normal. But we fool ourselves. We try to hold our lives stable. Then everything shatters. Death and destruction invade our normal, repetitive lives.”

His finger twists her engagement ring, still on her hand. “So, what do we do?”

“Stop striving for normalcy. Stop pretending that things will stay the same forever.” She puts her ring on the beside table reluctantly.

“Can you do that?”

“No.”

“I’d leave this part out of the wedding vows.”

I’m Sorry

Callie had been missing for 18 hours before it occurred to me that they wouldn’t find her alive. I’d been sitting in the library, staring out the window at the high school football field across the street. No one had seen her since 3 in the afternoon the day before. It was 9 am.

I checked social media again. No news. I texted my brother. He sent me the article. They’d found her body somewhere in the park. It didn’t say where or what happened.

It’s always the boyfriend, right? He took off shortly after the police report was filed. I never liked him.

I couldn’t call Callie a friend. I hadn’t seen her in two years, but we had been in classes together and had studied together a few times.

A text flashed across my phone, the day and time of the memorial service. Of course it was on a Tuesday. Callie and I weren’t that close, and funerals are for the family and friends. I didn’t know them. Was I supposed to go to the memorial?

I didn’t go. Going wouldn’t bring her back.