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.

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