Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Darkness Falls


The world grew dimmer, light extinguishing in the periphery, darkness rapidly closing around him. He could barely hear the fighting, muted, hushed, though moments ago it seemed cacophonous. Everything dulled except the pain, the one thing he wished would diminish as his body grew numb and cold. He struggled to keep his eyes open, never wanting to tear his gaze away from his sobbing wife, but his body was no longer obeying him as it systematically shut down. He struggled to get in a breath and held it as if that would somehow buy him precious seconds, furtively grasping for a life he didn’t want to leave behind. Besides the pain, all that registered in his fading consciousness was dampness against his skin where her tears fell. He panicked as his body chided his feeble attempts to override the inevitable. He was a doctor. He’d worked among life and death his whole career. It was simple biology; the body understood what it had the ability to heal and what it did not. The body had no qualms about the outcome, it was the spirit caught in the struggle. All he could think was he was too young, it was too soon. He wanted to be an old man, live happily with his wife, see his children blossom into adults with families of their own. He wanted to die peacefully in his sleep, but knew that was never in the cards. He'd never glance in the mirror and see a winkled, silver haired figure staring back. He'd never walk his daughters down the aisle on their wedding day, never play in the park with his grandchildren, never again awake in bed to feel his wife in his arms. He was dying and there was no turning back. A last, rattling gasp broke from his chest as the breath he was holding onto so valiantly escaped him. He thought it would be more gradual, but the world around him disappeared as if someone flicked off a television set. He couldn’t feel anything, not the pain, not himself, nothing as darkness consumed him.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Midnight Musings

May 4th
I don't know you'll ever find this. Likely, I'll have burnt it long before you're tasked with traipsing through what remains of my belongings after my premature demise. If you do lay eyes on these pages, know that I envy you. I envy the solace you find in words. My feeble attempts prove pitiful in comparison, yet I need such solace now. I fear I've done something terrible. Something for which there is no absolution. You would call it selfish at best, horrific at worst. I put pen to paper to explain my logic in the hopes you'd understand why, but my explanation rings hollow. I am bored. Terribly, endlessly bored. Four times in the year since I rid the world of one of its most evil inhabitants I stared at my revolver weighing death versus mental stagnation. I couldn't carry on as I had. It was a sad sense of relief when my failure became apparent. I hadn't realized how desperately I wanted to fail at this one enterprise. But it came at a high price. Time may prove it to be an exorbitant price. I am hardly given to flights of religiosity, but I feel the weight of my sin upon me nonetheless. I struck a deal with the devil himself. May heaven have pity on us all.

-Except from Unmarked Journal

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Solitude of the Season

A moment of silence passed as soft flakes began leisurely drifting down from the inky blackness, the first of the Christmas snow. The knight knew this grief all too well, the grief of being forced to lose everything before you were old enough to comprehend precisely what you'd given up. To be turned over to the order when you were barely old enough to walk. Raised by strangers, taught to read, write, fight. Never allowed to laugh or cry much less play like a normal child. Leaving ones family behind along with the possibility of ever having a family. Being told comfort would be found in faith and books, but never in the arms of another. Being forced to live and die for a God you had no choice but to follow because to deny him would mean disgrace to yourself and all your kin. Maybe he had seen more than a promise to a dying friend in the platinum haired child he agreed to mentor. Perhaps he had seen more of himself than he cared to admit.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Curses!

I think I've been cursed. And no I don't think I am being melodramatic with this assertion. I have no other way to explain the run of luck I've been having lately. And oddly enough it appears to be spreading to those around me. Don't get me wrong, I come from a Greek family. I was in high school before I realized not every crucifix came with an evil eye pendant hanging next to it. Superstitious? Yes, sir, I am. It's part of why I isolate. If you don't annoy anyone or provoke anyone's jealousy, then maybe you can dodge a bullet. I am, I think, more susceptible than most. Murphy's Law has a little too much fun with me. So I am going to keep my head down for awhile and try not to provoke the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing anymore than I have. That and it's time to dust off the evil eye pendant again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is that mimosa I smell?

Like the dork I am, I wait all year for TCM to play one of my favorite ghost movies of all time: The Uninvited. Not those sad looking modern ones of the same name. I am talking the 1944 black and white classic. Come October, I religiously check the schedule and sure enough last night it graced my TV screen. If only they would put the darn thing on DVD, I wouldn't have to stalk the channel, but such is life. There's something charming about the tale. Maybe it's the creepy looking house on the cliff setting the mood (and yes, I ignore the occasional fake looking backdrops). Maybe it's the way the shadows creep steadily towards you at just the right time. Maybe its the psychotic way the lady who runs the asylum talks to the painting of her dead friend. Whatever the reason, I find myself tuning in year after year to be enchanted by the smell of mimosa, the crash of the waves along the rocks, and the wispy ghost which used to scare the pants off me as a kid. All I know is if I chase my dog into a house like that some day, I am buying it. Thanks to the movie, now I'll know what to do.      

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Darkest Hour

It was only ten-thirty at night, but the narrow cobblestone streets around him were deserted. There were few residences here. Mostly offices and scant museums standing sentry along the road as he made his way to the oldest and most deserted building in the vicinity. The hulking structure took up a a ridiculous amount of space considering Rosetta was a comparatively small town. Empty windows stared like vacant eyes, moon glinting off the sandstone spire of the building's minaret. He kept telling himself he was just going here to clear his head. Deep down he knew that was a creative bit of fiction. He was exhausted living this lie. Exhausted forcing himself to blend in when he knew he was a freak of nature. He was tired of the endless onslaught of images and emotions he couldn't control every time he made direct eye contact with someone. It was nearly impossible to get through sophomore year of high school this way. For the better part of the year he descended into the realization he was utterly trapped in this cursed existence. No way out. No way to make it stop. No means of escape. He couldn't live like this. He didn't want to live like this anymore. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

All the world is a stage...

Switching gears and writing in a new genre is difficult. I really had the supernatural fiction thing down. Mystery is trickier for me. This is compounded by the fact that I am getting to know a whole new cast of characters. I feel like I write in reverse. I have an idea in my head about how I want these characters or plots to be and I sit down to write. Then a funny thing happens. The characters take on a life of their own growing more complex, springing to life off the page like they're tangible. Plots develop as these characters practically write themselves, demanding I keep up with them. The problem is while I am writing I tend to take on the persona of the strongest personality. When I wrote the Lost Devil's Throne series, my husband could always tell when I was writing an Aakarshan heavy section. I'd be irritable and aggressive in a way I am normally not. I think in some ways that's half the fun (although I am sure loved ones could do without it from time to time). Much like an actor, I get to be something or someone different. Something totally disparate from who I really am. I get to travel without leaving home. Endlessly entertained by the voices in my head.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Night Falls Fast

I've never been a big one for labels. Unlike so many of my colleagues, I don't use my professional title in personal life. On some level, I am absolutely mortified when people find out what I do since I am convinced (paranoia be damned) they start to treat me differently. Nevertheless, amongst my friends and loved ones I've been labeled as Goth since high school. I am alright with that. Recently I stumbled across a great article on CNN (who apparently gave up reporting news in favor of opinion pieces):Where my Goths at?
As I near thirty, I am reminded the "phase" my mother so fervently hoped I'd grow out of is here to stay. No, I don't wear black at all times. I've given up dying my hair unnatural shades. My tattoos remain well hidden at work. Yet, look closely and I am wearing a subtle spiderweb necklace. The only nail polish colors I own range from dark green to burgundy to onyx. And much to my husband's occasional chagrin, I decorate the house in what can only be described as Addams Family chic. More than anything, Goth is a state of mind. It's an appreciation of the morbid and macabre, finding happiness and joy in the bizarre. It's seeing the world through grey-tinted glasses. Plus, those tinted glasses are a life saver on a sunny day.     

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It is my business to know what other people don't.

I've never been able to put my finger on precisely why I am captivated by the character of Sherlock Holmes, but captivated I am. I still have the version of 'The Speckled Band' I first read as a kid (a significantly simplified child's version, but we all have to start somewhere). In those pages the great detective sprang to life, intelligent beyond compare, charismatic, and of single-minded fortitude. Even when I discovered he had serious substance abuse problem and was, in reality, a high functioning sociopath capable of only the most basic human emotions and little empathy, I was undeterred. This was my guy. Not entirely losing touch with reality, I knew a fictional character was not an appropriate prospect for a long term relationship. Nevertheless, the obsession was banked, never abated. Recently, I've again been watching my favorite video incarnations of the amateur detective (who was anything but amateur), immortalized by the incomparable Jeremy Brett. Reading the stories, watching the episodes, are like saying hello to old friends, gone for a time, but never truly forgotten. And so I return to foggy Baker Street, pounding the cobblestones, keeping up with his hurried, determined stride. The game is afoot.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What it means to miss New Orleans...

Gaston sat at one of the back tables in the dingy bar, watching the world pass by as he had day in and day out for centuries. The beer bottle before him dripped condensation onto the scratched wood, the breeze wafting through the massive open French doors and the overhead fans doing little to counteract the crushing humidity. He flicked ash from his cigarette, pretending to take a puff. He was never mad at Remy for turning him into a vampire. How could he hold a grudge against his own flesh and blood? What he missed were the little things. The soothing burn of alcohol sliding down his throat. The harsh warmth of tobacco smoke filling his lungs. His body hadn't been able to digest anything but blood in almost too long to remember and the lack of working lungs made smoking difficult. But he could pretend, just enough, to sit undisturbed for hours enjoying the sights, the sounds, the smells. Thinking. Calculating. Waiting.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Oubiliette

As a distraction from the prowling beast's mounting agitation, he studied the raw reminder where his hand had been. Given the extent of his injuries, his body couldn't start the healing process. So he watched the crimson trickle down his skin, fading into the darkness. All he could see was stark white bones and ruddy muscle, but somehow he felt his palm, his fingers. A phantom sensation for an appendage forever lost to the stagnant liquid beneath. How many times over the years had he been the one to uncover flesh and bone? To violently expose that which should never have seen the light of day? Despite his waning strength, a cynical chuckle escaped his chest. Underneath it all, monsters and humans were all the same: vile, evil, corrupt. A mess of blood and organs. Nothing more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stranglehold

Summer does nothing for me. Most people I know can't wait for summer. The long days, warm nights. Beach weather, shorts and flip-flops. Driving around with the convertible top down. I prefer not to leave the house from July 1 through Labor Day. Maybe it's the heat, the days where the atmosphere is so poisonous you can barely breathe. Maybe it's the fact I hate wearing shorts and would rather live year-round in my favorite pair of jeans. Maybe it's because I grew up in a house with no AC and vividly remember being so hot I thought my face was going to melt off like the guy at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Whatever it is, I stagnate in summer. It's like all my creative energy is inversely proportionate to the temperature. This has left me sitting on several story lines which is irritating at best. I have ideas, I go to write, and nothing comes out. While this allowed me to catch up on more TV than I should be watching in any given day, it's not what a want to be doing. So I wait and ponder the practicality of a move to Antarctica. October can't come soon enough. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 16

The night of the thunderous blizzard would forever be remembered not just for the odd weather pattern, but for the night Miss Matilda's house in the woods mysteriously burnt to the ground. Sparked by an errant lightning strike, the mansion was a smoldering pile of rubble by the time the townsfolk were able to plow a path down the forest road. Huddled in the remains of the Westerfell cemetery the rescuers found their frost bitten librarian, covered in soot and snow. While Miss Genevieve was taken to the doctor's and nursed back to heath, a search party looked for the enigmatic stranger who'd taken up residence among them. Despite their valiant efforts, the young man was never seen again. Miss Genevieve, the only witness to his whereabouts, remained silent regarding what happened, knowing the town's wild speculation would pale in comparison to the truth. Their librarian made a full physical recovery but her spirit seemed altered, a malignant shadow ever present where she walked. The rumors quieted to a dull hum until an astute older woman noticed Miss Genevieve's weekly pilgrimage down the dirt lane to the remnants of the Westerfell estate as well as their librarian's blossoming shape. 
The snows melted, summer came and went, and as the first leaves turned burnt orange, Miss Genevieve gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Speculation was rampant as to the father. Most assumed it was the Westerfell heir who'd since run off back to Europe, abandoning the young woman. Eventually, even the nosiest of the town's inhabitant ceased their questions, accepting her refusal to answer just as they accepted her withdrawal from much of town life. Their once stoic and gregarious young librarian now as strange as the peculiar young man she'd befriended. It was the old timers who recalled faint memories of Miss Matilda and her kin who noticed one abnormal habit although they could never put their finger on what had them so unnerved about it. Those who frequented the library and the scant visitors to Miss Genevieve's home to congratulate mother and baby saw the same oddity. Not a reflective surface was there to be seen. Purposefully, carefully, she had covered every last mirror. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 15

Crackling tendrils of flame licked along the walls, yet the room grew so cold Genevieve's fingers numbed. There was little doubt what demon Stephen conjured with his challenge. Her pulse roared in her ears, body quivering in fear. Stephen remained outwardly calm, waiting for the inevitable, realizing his life would eventually come to this. The mirror fogged as unseen breath blew against the glass, the shrouded form of a woman materializing. A thunderous boom echoed through the house as the roof collapsed onto the second floor above their heads. Genevieve couldn't prevent the reflex of glancing heavenward, the goose flesh on her arms alerting her to the outcome she was dreading. No more were they alone in the room. Her lungs stopped working, breath catching, as she watched the ghastly woman in grey standing before the fireplace mantle scant feet fro the man who evoked her presence. Bloodshot eyes simmered with pent up rage festering for countless generations like a necrotic wound. All Genevieve wanted to do was run, but Stephen didn't flinch, locked in a battle of wills with his vengeful ancestor. 
"You had all of my family since your sister living in fear. You got what you wanted for so long. Watched so many suffer as you suffered. Your reign of terror is an an end. I am not afraid of you anymore." 
The shadow princess cocked her head to the side, a terrible grin pulling skin on her skull taut as a bow. A maniacal cackle bounced off the walls growing so loud Genevieve had no choice but to clamp her hands over her ears. The shadow princess raised her skeletal hand and waved goodbye to the last of the Westerfell line just as she had to his mother when she was a girl. Waved goodbye as the mirror over the mantle shattered. Razor projectiles flew into the room. The librarian dropped to the floor, covering her head, glass biting into her skin. It wasn't until the musical tinkling ceased she dared glance up. The shadow princess hadn't moved, the same psychotic smile plastered on her face. At her feet surrounded by bloody glass lay Stephen Westerfell, a growing puddle of crimson pooling from the jagged gash across his throat. Genevieve wanted to scream, wanted to cry, but her body refused to follow her commands. Flame licked across the ceiling, as the fire invaded the last bastion of safety. An icy chill swept across the room, the window behind her unexpectedly blown open by invisible hands. The ghost turned her hateful gaze to the sole survivor and pointed at the window. Genevieve needed no further instruction as she blindly raced for freedom, leaving the horrors of the shadow princess's funeral pyre behind.   

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 14

The world paused, sounds hushed. Stephen was bruised, knuckles bloody from the sheer number of times he struck the door and windows in vain. Choking plumes of ebony smoke spilled under the door as the fire drew closer turning the structure to tinder. Genevieve was paralyzed, her mind rapidly acclimating to the fact she was sealed in a fiery tomb. Faintly she could hear her name being called, but it was garbled like it was spoken through water, the world drifting further away. 
"Genevieve, stay with me. I need you now."
Stephen's voice rang in her head like a perfectly struck bell as he shook her shoulders once more, jolting her back to reality. The door was a lost cause, the heat warning them both what terrors lay beyond. Their only chance of escape was the windows, but no matter what they threw against the glass it refused to break.
"Stephen, it's no use. She'll never let us go."
Perhaps it was survival instinct as the smoke began to make the air unbreathable. Perhaps it was a burst of courage prompting him to face his fear. Or perhaps it was the heart wrenching dread and despair he witnessed in Genevieve's eyes. Regardless of the reason, Stephen decided to act. He strode with purpose to the massive mirror overhanging the mantle, tearing the covering from it and exposing the glass.
"For too long have you haunted my steps. For too long have I run. I am not running anymore, Violetta. I am not letting you destroy another innocent life. Let her go and take me. Kill the Westerfell line if that's what you want. No more will you be allowed to lurk in the shadows. This ends tonight."

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 13

Genevieve's footfalls boomed through the house as she raced down the staircase, expertly navigating the darkness. The scream reverberated in her head, her very bones quivering with the aftershock. Whatever embarrassment or confusion she entertained moments ago was set aside. The resident ghost wielded horrendous power, a specter more diabolical than any phantom her wildest imagination could devise. The shadow princess clung to her vendetta against the Westerfell line and there was no predicting what the ghost would do. She had to get to Stephen before it was too late. 
"Stephen, what happened? What's the matter?"
A head popped up from behind the couch, a blur of shadows as Stephen responded to her concern. 
"Nothing. I am fine."
"I heard a scream." 
"It didn't come from me and I heard nothing."
Genevieve could not shake the chill creeping down her spine, getting the sneaking suspicion the shadow princess was up to no good. Without warning a massive bolt of lightning ripped through the house as the door to the hallways slammed shut with such force it sent Stephen scrambling off the sofa in surprise. Genevieve reflexively grasped the doorknob and pushed with all her strength, but the knob did not turn and the door would not budge. Stephen, realizing their dilemma, tried his luck, but to no avail. 
"Stephen, wait," she ordered, laying her hand on his arm. They stood in silence listening to the eerie humming as if a woman was rocking a baby to sleep. 
"We have more pressing matters than the ghost," Stephen announced, voice tight with mounting panic. 
Genevieve followed his gaze to the floor. At first she thought it was her imagination that her hand against the wood felt warmer, but grey wisps of smoke crawled along the floor like children's exploring fingers. The house was on fire. They were trapped.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 12

Icy particles danced along numb skin, its frigid warning unheeded. The ranging tempest which trapped her in this horrid place continued to howl like a lone wolf, mocking her fervent wish to escape. Genevieve felt ill, wrapping her arms tighter around herself in the darkness of Miss Matilda's second floor study, letting the snowflakes invade through the open balcony door. Unconsciously, she touched the fading ruddy imprints of fingers on her neck. She remembered the lights going out, remembered her investigation of the exposed mirror. She remembered the shadow princess' death grip, but after that everything went dark. She had no memory of what happened next, no memory for that hour forever lost to her. No memory until she awoke next to Stephen in a position she never dreamed she would find herself in. What was clear in her memory was her screams and Stephen's disturbed response which became downright petrified when she related the reason to her alarm to what should have been a pleasurable if not compromising situation. Genevieve had no desire to be alone in this house, but she could not face her friend either and he clearly needed space as well since he rapidly vacated her presence with the oddest mix of embarrassment and fear clouding his countenance. The librarian, for all her love of fiction, preferred facts and reasoned explanations. This situation was incomprehensible to her. What happened during that hour? What had Violetta accomplished by doing such a thing? Genevieve shivered, but it wasn't the ambient frost which provoked such a reaction as she shut the door and drew the drapes. A horrified scream reverberated through the manse, wafting up through the floorboards and echoing off the walls. It was a cry like the fabled banshees she'd read about so often during lonely hours alone in the library...a scream of a tormented soul in horrendous pain.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 11

Stephen retrieved candles and another matchbox, a wounded shin to show for his troubles as he misjudged navigation around a coffee table in the dark. He searched quickly to speed his return to his lovely companion. The majority of his life thus far was a solitary existence. For his safety his true family kept him at arm's length and he internalized their paranoia, daring to trust few in his adulthood. Miss Genevieve was the closest thing he had to a friend in nearly a decade. Merely thinking of her made him smile. As the months passed he increasingly looked forward to her visits and found himself morose after her departure. He never intended to burden her with his family's terrible legacy, nevertheless, he felt a weight lifted from his shoulders by relating the tale. She was kind, intelligent and strong-willed. If anyone in the world could understand it would be her.
He reentered the sitting room, the candle nearly falling from his hand, Genevieve staring at her reflection. He set his supplies on the nearest table before he raced to her side, frantically covering the mirror. Even after the dark cloth was in place, Genevieve continued to stare as if in the trace. He called to her as he took the candle from her grasp and placed it on the mantle, but she did not blink much less respond. He shook her shoulders forcefully until finally her eyes fluttered, gaze focusing onto him.
"Genevieve, what is the matter?" 
"Nothing. I was waiting for you."
Perhaps it was a trick of the light or his imagination, but her voice sounded deeper, eyes darker somehow. 
"It's freezing in here. Did you open a window?"
Instead of answering she drew closer, frigid fingers brushing against his hand.
"Do you think I am pretty?" she queried coquettishly, her unusual question seemingly unprovoked. 
"Yes, I think you are a beautiful woman."
"Do you want to kiss me?"
Stephen could barely breathe as she subtly moved nearer still, the space between them intimate. While he found her fascinating and attractive she showed no signs of desiring a romantic attachment until now. Her sudden boldness was enticing and unnerving. 
"Genevieve..."
She laid an icy finger gently against his lips silencing him and his train of thought. The moment she kissed him all doubts disappeared. So enamored was he of the woman in his arms he did not observe the grey cotton slip from the mirror, pulled away by unseen hands.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 10

Absolute blackness closed around her like a snake around its prey. Try as she might, Genevieve could not force her eyes to acclimate to the gloom as if the darkness was tangible, inescapable. Her ragged breathing choked her, harsh and staccato against the pervasive silence. Although she strained for any minuscule noise, she could not hear anyone else as Stephen vanished along with the light. 
"Stephen?" she tentatively whispered, voice muted and tremulous. Miss Genevieve waited with bated breath, waited for an answer which was not forthcoming. She murmured his name once again, but there was no reply. Stephen either would not or could not answer. Icy, clammy fingers twined around her wrist, raising goose bumps along her skin. Genevieve prided herself on her stoicism and levelheadedness more than most, but the supernatural onslaught she experienced in this terrible place proved to be too much. She screamed, her terrified shriek reverberating down empty corridors and echoing through abandoned rooms. 
"Hush now, Genevieve. I did not mean to frighten you." 
Her heart thundered against her ribs so fiercely and her limbs so weak with fear and fatigue she could barely stand. While part of her was desperately relieved to feel Stephen's presence beside her again, she couldn't help but wonder why he left her in the first place. 
"Stephen, thank God. I was so scared." 
"As was I. I did not mean to leave you, but I went searching for this." In a momentary burst of acrid sulfur, he lit the candle he'd retrieved from the desk drawer. It barely illuminated a tiny halo around them, but Genevieve felt oddly better as if it was a luminous shield defending against the dark. "There are more in the next room. It will be safer for you to wait here while I fetch them." 
Genevieve nodded, secure with her miniature torch. Stephen was swallowed up by the shadows, footsteps growing muffled. A strange shimmer caught her eye as the wan light's reflection skipped around the room like a fairy. An odd occurrence to be sure since Miss Genevieve was now conscious of the necessity to have all reflective surfaces covered. She crossed the room to where a delicate gilded mirror hung upon the wall. The covering lay discarded on the floor, but whether it was removed by accident or for some dreadful purpose was not clear. She stooped to pick it up intending to replace it, but when she peered again in the mirror it was no longer her reflection staring back at her. A pale, gaunt woman with tangled hair glared at Genevieve. Blood-shot eyes bleary from crying burned with a hideous loathing like twin chunks of smoldering coal. Genevieve felt her blood grow colder in her veins, trapped in the shadow princess's gaze, cornered like a hunted animal. None of the Westerfells will escape. Their blood is mine forever. My vengeance is eternal. A woman's hoarse rasp, like one who screamed too long and too hard, echoed in her ears, but Genevieve could not tell from whence the sound emanated. Her breath turned to white puffs as a chill crept through the room, the young woman increasingly transfixed by the haunted figure in the mirror. The shadow princess's thin lips curled, a ruthless, diabolical twisted grin, as a ghostly skeletal hand emerged from the glass and snatched the librarian by the throat.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 9

A tremendous thunderclap trembled the foundations of the old house, punctuating Stephen's resolute proclamation. Genevieve raced to the parlor window drawing aside the dusty curtains. Everywhere she looked, the world was shrouded in a white veil like some unholy fog, snow so thick she could not see past the porch to the road beyond. Another flash of lightning illuminated the pale world a ghostly alabaster, irritable thunder chasing at its heels. 
"The weather conspires to keep you here this evening." 
An anxious jolt ran down Miss Genevieve's spine as her host's proximity registered, his voice a hoarse murmur in her ear. 
"Never before have I seen thunder, lightning and snow appear simultaneously." 
"You may be hard pressed to find many who have. The storm does not appear to be clearing. I think it best you stay until morning."
Such was her overwhelming dread, for a brief moment Miss Genevieve considered taking her chances with the elements rather than spend another hour in the house with the vengeful ghost. It was foolish, she would be unable to navigate in the storm and would most assuredly wander off the road likely dying of exposure in a matter of hours. This was the safest and most practical plan, but she couldn't help but wonder if the blizzard which trapped her wasn't so much happenstance as it was the devices of the merciless woman in black. 
They swiftly came to the conclusion Miss Genevieve should sleep in the drawing room with Stephen rather than occupying one of the many vacant upstairs bedrooms. Propriety was the least of her worries after the unnerving experience of being touched by a presence who should have been nothing more than a pile of bones and dust. They fetched clean bedding and Genevieve had just transformed the couch into a suitable bed when a monstrous bolt of lightning cracked through the atmosphere, so close the room's air sizzled with electricity. Thunder's violent roar raced swiftly through the abode and its inhabitants, the storm projecting its power as the house's electricity finally succumbed to the tempest's will. Genevieve stood frozen on the threadbare oriental rug, consumed by the ruthless darkness. As the thunder grumbled off into the distance, she swore she heard a woman's sinister cackle fading with the thunder into the bowels of the gloomy home.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 8

Miss Genevieve gaped in speechless shock as her host finished his horrific tale. 
"But Stephen, you're..."
"One of the few males to survive as long as I have and, ironically, now the last to carry on my family's name." 
"There are no other children? No other heirs?"
"None. My family are all dead and buried including..."A rattling cough shook his chest, halting him mid sentence. He sipped water from the crystal tumbler on the table, struggling against his subconscious' attempt to avoid the unspeakable. 
"Stephen, is your mother's final resting place there as well?"
"After many decades of loneliness and isolation, she was finally permitted to rejoin her loved ones." 
"Then the rumors are true. Miss Matilda was your mother." 
"She was ever the watchful presence in my life, but the townsfolk likely knew her better than I. After I was born, I was sent away to be raised by another family. When she could tolerate the separation no longer, I returned for brief visits, but these were few. As I grew older, she became more paranoid about my safety although for the longest time I was not told why. Every year I fulfilled my promise to her and sent a letter on her birthday letting her know I was well."
"Why did you return, Stephen? Why place yourself in such peril?"
Stephen grew surprisingly calm, a response Genevieve was not expecting and was a little unnerved by. 
"I could never escape Violetta. She has a stranglehold on this house, but many times over the years I have caught a glimpse of the woman in black haunting my steps. Since I can't escape fate, I chose to face it. It is here I will live out the rest of my days just as my mother did. I am the last of the Westerfells. The shadow princess's curse dies with me."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 7

The librarian raced down the staircase, fear blinding her to her surroundings. She could see the door, her means of escape, down the darkened foyer. A chill grip clamped her arm, preventing her from reaching the safety of the outside world. She screamed, afraid to turn around, frightened of what she may see. 
"I warned you not to go wandering. The house is not safe," Stephen whispered against the shell of her ear. 
Miss Genevieve struggled to control her thundering pulse, too glad to finally have mortal companionship after her ordeal with the ghost in the study. 
"I did not believe your warnings. I did not believe in ghosts." 
"Nor did I at first. This house has a way of changing ones opinion on the subject." 
Genevieve expected her friend to be upset with her, but Stephen seemed oddly relieved as if her experience lifted some of the burden from his fragile shoulders. 
"Who is the woman in black, Stephen? Who is this shadow princess?"
His pupils dilated, sparkling like gemstones in the gloom. He moved his mouth once as if he wished to speak, but stopped himself abruptly dismissing his most immediate train of thought for a more measured response. 
"Relating the story could be perilous, Genevieve. I never wanted to place you in danger."
"I've seen her, Stephen. I must know." 
He nodded in resignation and led the way to the drawing room where he propped himself up on the couch while Genevieve perched upon the overstuffed wing chair, eagerly awaiting the tale. 
"My family hides a dreadful secret, one which has haunted us for generations. It all began ages ago with two daughters of a powerful baron. Beatrice was the elder, power hungry and manipulative like her father. Violetta was the younger, strong as her father and sister, but with a kinder heart. Beatrice was her father's favorite and stood to inherit his money and title while Violetta was content to live a quiet, simple life. Violetta married a man she was desperately in love with and they had a son. Lady Beatrice was not content to leave her sister in peace. Her greed was insatiable, gobbling up everything her gaze landed upon, and it wasn't too long before her gaze turned towards her sister's husband. Beatrice seduced him, forced him to abandon his young wife which he did, taking their son with him. Violetta was heartbroken, spending days and nights outside the great palace where her sister dwelled, pleading for the return of her husband and child. It wasn't long before Beatrice's fickle heart set itself upon something else. Within in a year both Violetta's husband and son were found dead. They called it a hunting accident, but everyone knew Beatrice was somehow responsible. On the day of the funerals Violetta, dressed in heavy mourning apparel, appeared in the graveyard to confront her sister. Beatrice's cold heart could not express an ounce of remorse over what she'd done. That was when Violetta snapped. She cursed her sister and all her descendants, vowing the women from hence forth would be forced to watch the men around them wither and die, enduring Violetta's agony of losing husbands and sons. Beatrice laughed, scornful of her sister's words, but Violetta merely stared back with hate-filled eyes. Beatrice's downfall was her pride, so Violetta promised she would forever be present in the objects of her sister's vanity. No male heir would the family see and no happy couple would survive long past the wedding night. Violetta left the shocked mourners, never to be seen alive again. A month later, a shepherd found her body near the treacherous rocks at the base of the cliff overlooking the sea. The priest secretly defied Beatrice's order her sister should be buried in a pauper's grave and laid her bones next to those of her husband and son, hoping to appease Violetta's anger, but her vengeance was far from satiated. Shortly after Violetta's death, everyone residing in the old palace began seeing the reflection of a shrouded woman in black in mirrors, in the pond, in every imaginable reflective surface. Beatrice scoffed, too busy planning her own marriage to a wealthy duke to notice the servants unease. She sat for the portrait as a gift for her husband, but even there could not escape the 'shadow princess' as the servants had taken to calling Violetta's ghost. The lavish marriage took place and the new couple settled in, Beatrice seemingly content for the first time in her life. It was short lived. Less than a month after the nuptials, her husband fell from his horse, dead of a broken neck. Beatrice mourned the accident, but the servants knew the truth. Before going out for his ride that day, he mentioned to the stable boy he saw a vision of a veiled woman in black beckoning to him before she abruptly disappeared. Beckoning him to his death."

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 6

An eerie shiver jolted down Miss Genevieve's spine as she reread the last sentence. My family is hiding a dreadful secret. Her heart raced, ears straining for every creak and moan of the old structure, her normally steady nerves abandoning her amidst the house's crushing presence. Unexpectedly, there was a soft pattering along the carpeted hallway. Miss Genevieve poked her head out the door, peering into the gloom, hoping against hope Stephen was awake and searching for her. The noises ceased when she turned her gaze towards the corridor, but there was no living soul there. Nothing to account for the footsteps she was certain she'd heard. The air grew cold and stale, her breathing shallow as she turned back to the study. An etched silver compact lay on the desk. Until her dying day Miss Genevieve could never explain why she felt the overwhelming drive to pick it up and open it. Her pale reflection stared back at her from the small mirror, but that wasn't all that stared back. Behind her stood a woman dressed in funeral black, face heavily veiled. Miss Genevieve quickly turned, but there was no one there. Yet, when she glanced again at the mirror, the sinister figure remained. And icy hand gripped her shoulder, skeletal fingers of one long dead digging into her clavicle. Genevieve shrieked, fleeing the room in mortal terror, the shattered mirror on the floor catching the last rays of the twinkling light before the lamp was snuffed out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 5

Winter was exceptionally harsh, even for the rugged townsfolk, and proved to be entirely too much for Stephen's fragile constitution. Miss Genevieve's visitations remained a source of comfort for the young man, but also became a necessity as his health deteriorated. The first floor drawing room was converted into a sick bed and daily the librarian sat by his side taking the role of nurse as well as friend. Twice she offered to stay the night, but even at his most acute he was adamant she not remain in the house too long after sunset. He offered no explanation and would accept no refusal. Although she did not speak of it, the shadow princess remained in the forefront of her mind. When the fever was upon him, Stephen screamed in terror, desperately attempting to escape a malevolent shrouded figure hovering in the periphery of his consciousness. When he rested between feverish fits, Genevieve took to wandering, exploring the crumbling structure despite Stephen's repeated warnings not to stray past the front rooms. Dark, dusty hallways led to countless locked doors keeping prying eyes out and the ghosts in. One of the few unlocked entries was Miss Matilda's private study. The drawers of the carved writing desk were brimming with papers and correspondence, a lifetime of letters, ledgers and lists. Buried under a stack of neatly folded newspapers sat a bound leather journal, M.W. stamped into the cover in gilded script. By lamplight, Miss Genevieve began to translate the hurried scrawl of the sprightly adolescent incarnation of Miss Matilda Westerfell captured on the yellowing pages in fading ink.

June 7, I saw the woman again today as I played by the pond. As I stared into the water, she suddenly appeared next to me, her face concealed by a heavy veil. When I turned to look, there was no one beside me. Mother refuses to talk about it, telling me to put it out of my mind. She is worried, I can tell. I did a terrible thing and fibbed when she asked if I had only seen her twice. I do not think I shall tell her about the other times I have seen the shadow princess. I would not want her worry her further. Roderick is ill again and she has enough on her mind. 

June 22, After a hushed discussion with father, mother covered every glass in the house. I tried to take the covering off to brush my hair this morning, but she slapped my hand away. Father warned me not to disobey mother in this regard, but he will not tell me why. In the meantime, I made a boat for Roderick to play with since he's too weak to come to the pond anymore. I floated it in a bowl of water in his room until mother found out. Roderick could keep the boat, but mother made me dump out the water. I do not understand what terrifies her so. 

July 13, My heart is breaking. Early this morning my sweet, innocent little brother went to God. I miss Roderick terribly. Mother locked herself in her room, but I can hear her sobbing. The house feels oppressively sad. I took his little boat to the pond today, letting it sail the glassy water as we always intended to do together. That was when I saw her, but this was time different. Her reflection appeared as it always has before, but she lifted her hand and waved before disappeared into the gloom of the pond. I never felt so alone and afraid as in that moment. I have the odd sensation my ghostly playmate is not as benign as I imagined her to be. I am convinced she is somehow connected to the death of my brother. My family is hiding a dreadful secret, one which I am determined to discover.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 4

Time marched by, and the fascination of the locals with their mysterious guest morphed into unease. More often than not when the library closed at five-o-clock, Miss Genevieve could be seen making her way down the long dirt road into the woods, but what went on behind the foreboding wooden doors remained an enigma. Despite frequent attempts by the locals to engage their librarian in conversation, she maintained Stephen's confidence. He was a private man, and over days and weeks spent in each other's presence she had earned his trust, something she did not take lightly. However, as she got to know her new friend, the eccentricities remained. While they strolled from time to time in the woods surrounding the house, never had Stephen ventured into town. The mirrors and glass in the home remained covered, his answer regarding the odd practice vague and unsatisfactory. And while in the home, she was always in Stephen's company, never allowed to be on her own for more than mere moments. The house filled her with immense dread and if it wasn't for Stephen's charming presence, she would never step foot in the horrid structure. It was why she was hoping he'd hurry back as she stood in the formal parlor waiting for him to fetch a book. The glimmer of gold caught her eye as the edge of a painting on the wall winked in the low lighting. She drew closer, pulling aside the cloth to see what was hidden. The hem of a woman's satin dress and a treasure chest of gems so real she would swear they were more tangible than paint and canvas popped into view. A strange force urged her on. After all, the painting was within reach. She could examine the portrait and replace the drape before Stephen returned. If she was careful, he'd never know it had been disturbed. A flurry of dust billowed into the stagnant atmosphere as she tore down the cloth and gaped at the painting. A stern woman sat in a high backed throne, dressed in the finest satins and jewels. Piercing emerald eyes stared down with disdain, her regal presence so consuming, Miss Genevieve nearly missed the mirror on the wall behind the woman. Small, discrete, but clear as day there was a feminine figure in a dark dress, her face obscured by shadow. The sound of a book thumping against the floorboards made the librarian's heart skip a beat. Stephen stared wide eyed at the painting, bizarrely enthralled just as Genevieve had been. He suddenly raced past his guest, snatching the cloth and covering the portrait, hands shaking from fury or fear she could not tell. Miss Genevieve was bewildered as to why her host reacted so violently to the painting, but whatever the reason, she felt the consuming urge to apologize for prying. 
"I am sorry, Stephen. I should never have taken the covering off." 
"No, you shouldn't have," he snapped back. 
"Who is she?" 
"The long dead Lady Beatrice." 
Miss Genevieve had the distinct impression she should let the matter rest, but her nagging inquisitiveness won the day. 
"And what of the other woman, the one who's reflection's in the mirror?" 
Stephen blanched in terror, pupils dilating widely. He firmly grasped her wrist, pulling her closer, his harsh whisper ringing in her ears. 
"If you value your life and mine, never ask me again. There can be no discussion of the shadow princess."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 3

Miss Genevieve was the sensible sort who did not believe in phantoms, spooks or things which went bump in the night, so the overwhelming sense of unease while entering the house caught her unawares. The young man answering the door was no more than thirty, pale and wiry as if he'd spent much of his life in a sick bed. He appeared genuinely happy to have a guest intrude upon his solitude, the smile on his thin lips enhancing his prominent hawkish features, skin pulled taut. He introduced himself as Stephen, Miss Matilda's great nephew, recently having competed his studies at Cambridge. Although Miss Genevieve was exceptionally well read, she never traveled. At the age of twenty-five she had barely been beyond the borders of the state in which she was born. It was for this reason she assumed she found Stephen oddly enthralling, hanging on his every word as he chatted about life abroad. The hour grew late, the sun sinking below the horizon, and Miss Genevieve reluctantly excused herself, promising her host she'd return to continue their delightful conversation. It was once she was on the forest road she noticed a weight lifting from her shoulders as if something in the house had been wrapped around her, quietly smothering her. Another bizarre detail struck her as strange. Every mirror was covered by a heavy, dark cloth; every picture frame turned face down. Not one reflective surface had she seen. Very odd, she thought to herself, making a mental note to ask Stephen about it when next they met.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Shadow Princess- Part 2

A month elapsed, then a second, since Miss Matilda was laid to rest amongst her kin with only the priest and gravedigger to mourn her. The house in the forest remained shuttered, forgotten along with its last inhabitant, destined to be the domain of animals and specters until it was reclaimed by the earth. So the townspeople thought until the night of the storm. Wind howled through the sleepy village, icy rain pelting the windows like pebbles. No one saw the shadowy figure huddled against the onslaught of elements, although years later Mr. Chambers in the house nearest the forest would insist he managed a glimpse through a veil of water outside his window as he investigated what had his trusty hunting hound barking. The next morning, as the obligated locals cleared away the debris from the forest road, a pale light shimmering the door of the old house set tongues a wagging.
"Must be the nephew, come to collect his inheritance," the town lawyer announced, eager to relate the contents of Miss Matilda's will which he struggled for two months to keep secret out of professional decorum.
Everywhere from the diner to the bank to the Laundromat, the topic of the nephew was under constant discussion. Some of the old-timers swore they remembered seeing a young boy many years ago playing behind the house. Others insisted that it was not a nephew at all, but Miss Matilda's own son conceived in wedlock and given up in a hushed adoption. And there were those who wondered if the house's current resident wasn't more supernatural than human. After all, not a living soul emerged from the decrepit abode since the night of the storm. Not hide or hair of a human being had they seen. It was Miss Genevieve, the practical librarian who broke the uncomfortable stalemate between the townspeople and the mysterious stranger. The town watched in wonder and awe as she loaded up a basket of food and made her way down the long dirt road. The front door opened almost immediately in answer to her knock, although the few brave children who followed her on her pilgrimage couldn't see who was on the other side. The creaky door closed behind the stoic librarian as if the house swallowed her whole, leaving the children to speculate on whether they would ever see Miss Genevieve again.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Shadow Princess

The inherent difficulty with a solitary life is there are few to miss you. Few who take notice of your presence and even fewer who realize when that presence vanishes. Such was the fate of the old woman in the house in the forest. Those in town who remembered her knew her simply as Miss Matilda. When her family had been alive, the house had been a beacon of life, but the years were unforgiving and the hearses carried the family one by one from the church to the small cemetery behind the house, leaving Miss Matilda to withdraw further into the shadows of the once glorious mansion. As the decades wore on, her needs were few, a local lad who dropped off the same grocery order every other Tuesday and the postman who delivered one letter postmarked from London on the same date every year. Except for the rare glance of a silvery haired figure captured by an intrepid hiker who ventured too far into the forest, no one had seen or heard from the old woman in years. On that fateful sunny Tuesday, it was the grocer's boy who sounded the alarm, preparing to drop off his brown bag, noticing his last delivery remained precisely where he'd left it next to the door. The police were summoned, forcing entry into the dust covered abode after repeated knocks garnered no reply. More than the spectacle on the drawing room carpet, it was the stench which sent the stoic officers of the law scurrying to the safety of the front porch at frequent intervals before they dared face the demons within the mammoth structure. Miss Matilda was barely recognizable as human, the bloated green-black figure oozing putrefied remains onto the faded Oriental rug. From rookies to grizzled veterans, all would be haunted by what they witnessed in the house that day. Although the cause of death was never ascertained, what was obvious to all was Miss Matilda died clutching a silver mirror in her hand, the glass reflecting back the most macabre, grotesque smile imaginable. The corpse's rotting face laughing at a grim private joke, the punch line of which no one ever wished to know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cracks in the Looking Glass

So an unfair one-two punch of work and stomach flu is putting a serious cramp in my style this past week. Nevertheless, I've been perusing the topic of female serial killers in my downtime which is bleeding over (pun intended) into my writing. And yes, I am fully aware my hobbies are bizarre.

"Your spirit will always be wanting. You were put on this earth to devour." My grandmother's words haunt me to this day. Was it ramblings of her dementia induced haze? Or perhaps, in that state, with all her mind's defenses laid to waste, was she the only one to see me for what I truly am? See the bitter darkness, the endless hunger. When I was younger this hunger confused me. Everyone around me wanted to be a fireman, a rock star, president. I wanted to watch things die. It started small as most hobbies do; insects and animals. Everything the textbooks later told me would happen. The perfect progression. I studied those textbooks, grasping for answers, hoping for a way to control the urges. I memorized every word despite the fact I found the clinical term sociopath distasteful. It implies my existence somehow exemplifies all of society's ills. My day job forces me to study human nature, observe emotions, feign empathy. I can tell you I am hardly the sole embodiment reflecting humanity's chaos strolling around. I prefer to think of myself as evolutionary necessity, much like a forest fire. Without my ability to cull the overgrowth, the rest of the forest would wither. But unlike fire, I play fair, destroying just one tree at a time.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Grimmer Fairy Tales-- The End

And so the kingdom watched as their angry prince accepted his throne, taking as his bride the unlikeliest of queens. There were those in the kingdom who mocked the notion of kneeling before the daughter of a common blacksmith although those whose displeased tongues wagged too loudly found themselves face to face with the dungeon's resident predator, never to be seen again. Yet, most who heard the fearsome rumors thanked their lucky stars their daughters remained safe at home, wondering if perhaps a peasant girl though lacking in grace and decorum wasn't somehow better equipped to handle the ire of her new husband. The palace smithy reopened after so many dormant years as the young queen's father settled in, wanting to be close to his beloved daughter. The palace was again the realm of the living, the tragic ghosts retreating to the shadows where they belonged. No longer did the light in the tower room burn at all hours of the day and night. No longer was the prince content to play alone. A steady glow could be seen flickering from the library as every evening the young monarchs sat at the chessboard, locked in a tireless battle of wits. And slowly, very slowly, the angry prince's animosity towards the world began to melt like ice crystals turning to dew on the morning rose. Then, one happy day, the first of many children was born to the king and queen. On that day, the sun returned once more to the darkened kingdom. On that day, the angry prince, at long last, smiled.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Grimmer Fairy Tales-- Part the Fifthteenth

In place of the desolation Catalena previously experienced within the castle's confines, now it bustled with activity, servants eager to finish tasks which had become foreign to them as empty years unfolded. No one stopped her as she made her way through the corridors. Not a single guard gave her a second glance. An unknown force compelled her return to the palace whose stones were haunted by more than vengeful spirits. It was the library to which she was drawn, knowing where the angry prince was wont to hide. No fire lit the cold room, rays of the dying sun illuminating the books and tapestries turning the atmosphere a rosy hue. The prince's back was to her as she silently entered, making no more noise than the smallest mouse tip-toeing up behind him. He was rehearsing their game, learning where he had gone wrong, his sharp mind having memorized every move. Catalena reached forward to select the ebony knight. Prince Dragos caught her wrist in mid-air, the piece in her hand, glancing up at her from his seated position.
"My guards are careless letting common peasants wander into the castle."
"They were never meant to stop me, were they?"
"You are far too bold for a blacksmith's daughter. One day it will land you in trouble."
"I have tasted the hospitality of your dungeon, Prince Dragos. What more could you possibly have to offer?" For a fraction of a second, his face lightened, a smile he could no longer repress melting those onyx orbs.
"Why have you returned, Catalena?"
"To answer the question plaguing you." The prince released her wrist and she placed the knight back on the board. "This maneuver left your king vulnerable. This is how I won."
"The king remains vulnerable long after the game's end. Do you know what the servants are preparing for?"
"A celebration of your twenty-fifth birthday, I imagine."
"Tonight I accept my father's vacant throne. Tonight I accept the kingdom."
"The kingdom also awaits your announcement of their queen."
Prince Dragos quickly rose and Catalena was forced to take a step back, feeling unexpectedly small and insignificant so near his imposing frame. "I ask you once more, Catalena, and this time I demand truth. Why have you returned?"
Catalena understood this was her final moment, the final chance to accept trial and tribulation for the good of the kingdom, or escape to the safety of her father's shop where she could live out the rest of her days in peace.
"I reconsidered my decision. I accept your offer of marriage."
"Was it fortune, politics, or fealty of country which changed your mind since it clearly could never be love?"
"I have never been one to listen to the idle tongues of politicians and there is not enough gold in all the land to force me to remain by your side. It is fidelity to the kingdom which brought me back. You ensure it is impossible for anyone to love you, but one day that may change. One day there may be love. Regardless of whether that day comes, you will have your queen."
For the first time in years, the angry prince discovered he no longer desired to be angry, but he could not recall how to be anything else. So he did the one thing he knew to do, raising her hand to his lips and placing a gentle kiss on her knuckles.
"Then come with me and take your place in the great hall."
Catalena blushed and cast her eyes down, acutely aware of her plain dress and appearance in a way she had never been before.
"I cannot attend a royal gathering. I am not dressed in a manner worthy of such an event."
Prince Dragos lifted her face so her eyes met his again, familiar with her determination and strength yet unaccustomed to witnessing shyness and distress.
"My parents taught me one recognizes royalty not by appearance, but by the quality of their character. A queen remains a queen whether she is dressed in pauper's rags or jeweled silk. It is actions, not title, which determine our fitness to rule. Perhaps your future subjects will be able to see more clearly what I witnessed if they are not distracted by sparkling gems. In so many ways, you beat me at my own game. Come with me, Catalena, and take your deserved place at my side. Come and accept your throne."