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. 
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."