The Keys: A Gothic Re-Telling of Bluebeard with Zombies PT One

have a few stories that have been out for a few years, so I think it time to share them on this blog. I found a sweet review of this one here: https://themodestvergebookblog.wordpress.com/tag/creepy/

Thank you Modest Verge!

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As his dark closet shows, Bluebeard was a collector at heart,
and even after dispatching a wife, could not let her depart? ——–Shuli Barzilai

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I was only six when Mamma and Papa first took me to the Paris Opera to see a concert by the famous pianist, Monsieur Armand Guy de Rais. The moment he arrived on the stage, tall and gorgeous, with his wild blue-black hair and dark, sparkling eyes, I was smitten. Sitting at the jaws of a glossy beast of a piano, Monsieur played with such fire that my innocent soul was branded forever with the agony of passion. Mamma recalls me shaking and spattering my dress of cameo colored silk with tears. She chided me, but I’d been so seized by the violent beauty of his music, by his long fingers flying over the keys, yet touching them with exquisite tenderness, that I did not hear her.
I was shocked when he suddenly stood up and bowed for the applause. I tugged my mother’s sleeve: Is it over? It can’t possibly be over!

Suddenly everyone was towering above me clapping and shouting Bravo! leaving me in the dark, my view of Monsieur blocked by black coat tails and voluminous gowns.
Nine years later, we had to flee Paris. The rabble had broken into the Bastille. Fear swept us all out of the city on one giant wave. Mamma and I ended up in Brittany to stay with distant cousins while Papa remained to protect his house and treasure.

Those were days of great idleness for me. Even after so many years, Monsieur Armand remained my ideal of manhood. I had little to do but wander the gardens of the manoir fancying the unbearable sensation of his long pianist’s fingers stroking my hair and unbuttoning my dress. Imagine the thrill that seized me when my cousin, Delphine, told me of a ruined castle close by that bore the name le Chateau de Rais.

“Mamma forbids us ever to go there,” she said. “For it is the abode of highwaymen and cutthroats.”

Nevertheless, I rode the donkey to the fringes of the forest and stopped at the base of a high crag. At the top was a grim guard tower scaling high above the bastion of outward leaning curtain walls of dark blue stone. Foreboding rose out of the ground, silencing the earth.

Even the birds stopped singing.

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August prowled away with terrible news. Papa had not only lost his treasure, but his head to the hateful machinery of that bloodbath, la Revolution. There was also news of Monsieur Armand. He had arrived in Paris to perform a concert, but was seized by the rabble.

Mamma, in her widow’s weeds, wrung her hands more for him than she ever had for poor Papa. Mystified by the intensity of her grief, I buzzed with jealousy.

How dare she?

I stormed about the house, stood before the mirrors for ages arranging and re-arranging my wealth of pale brown hair, reassuring myself that my mother’s worn features were no match for my own pearly skin, large blue-gray eyes, or the perfect oval of my face. I changed my gowns before the mirror that was really the eye of Monsieur Armand, like a kind of doll, posing for his imagined delectation.

Delphine only laughed at me.

I laughed back, watching myself in the mirror.

Autumn arrived. Strong winds blew leaves of fire from the trees, denuding them all too soon. Winter gales shrieked in from Siberia. News from Paris was sporadic. Mamma despaired.

Our cousins had asked us to move out once the roads cleared. Tragically, our house in Paris had not only been looted, but gutted to the edge of ruin. We would be forced to continue to impose ourselves upon others in order to survive.

Shame rose up in me like a giant green lily. I was immobilized. My mother’s eyes told me I was no longer her daughter, but a burden to be disposed of.

“Too spoiled to work,” she said. “Too lazy and self indulgent to marry down.”

In the time we had left, Mamma grew industrious. Letters flew as fast as the weather permitted back and forth to relatives, friends, acquaintances…. Finally, judging by the light in her eyes, a solution had arrived.

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I was to be married.

Never mind that the man in question was twenty-four years my senior, or that his previous wives had all died under mysterious circumstances, or that he lived very far away on his own island in the Americas. He was rich, an aristocrat, and that was all Mamma needed to know to give me away.

Nevertheless I was excited. Though his image lived in my heart as a kind of ideal, I had no hope that a paragon like Monsieur Armand would desire me, let alone become my bridegroom. It was enough to know that I would be cared for amid all the luxurious trappings I required, in a far-away, fairy tale sort of place.

Shortly after the papers were signed, gifts began to arrive: gowns, coats, jewels, lingerie—-all of the latest fashion, most exquisite taste, and, as if my betrothed had already seen me, remarkably flattering. The shipments were always accompanied by bouquets of white flowers called tuberose whose strong, sweet fragrance warmed me into a kind of sensuous trance. The petals were always slightly brown at the edges for having traveled so far. Their beauty was therefore brief, but replaced so quickly by another bouquet that I had no time to mourn.

“Mamma, when will I meet my betrothed?” I asked, chafing. It was almost Spring. The roads would soon be clear, fanned by the warmer, drier winds blowing in from the Channel.

“You will take the ship to the Island of Iati. Monsieur will meet you on the dock,” said Mamma.

“I shall be alone on the ship? With all those sailors?”

“You won’t be entirely alone. Monsieur is sending a chaperone to collect you. She should be arriving in a few days. Don’t be frightened. I envy your adventure.”

“What is his name?”

Mamma’s brow creased with worry. She paced before the fire, then gave me the name as if she were under a curse for revealing it.

“Monsieur de Rais,” she said. “Monsieur Armand Guy de Rais.”

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Time passed in a dreamlike blur. Next thing I knew, my luggage and I were being loaded into a carriage bound for St. Malo.

I waved goodbye to our cousins, kissed Mamma. I recall the constant shaking and jarring of the coach and my soggy handkerchief. I don’t know why I was crying except that I was shattered through and through knowing I was to be married to him.

It seemed forever before we stopped under the shadow of a passenger ship that loomed like a giant whale in the dock. Waiting for me was a small woman in a neat black coat. Black as night she was, and silent. When she saw me she smiled, made the sign of the cross, then, quick as serpent’s tongue, pressed a small gift into my hand.
It was an exquisitely cut crystal bottle with a silver stopper.

She gestured that I drink it.

Thinking it a welcoming custom of the New World, I drank the burning liquid down. Her gladness towards me lightened my heart. It was with great anticipation that I followed her onto the ship.

The ocean was sickeningly tumultuous, but the blustering winds filled the sails and sped the ship along. Quickly, quickly, I thought. You cannot sail quickly enough!

My chaperone was always with me, quiet as my shadow. Only once did she speak. Pointing to a dark mass of hills on the horizon, she smiled and shouted, “Iaiti! Iaiti! Home.”\

ss Great Britain, Halloween. 31 October 2015

Dressed in fine white linen, my hat wreathed with chiffon, I felt quite the young bride-to-be as I disembarked. It was wild place. Hill rose upon dark hill thick with trees and hot jungle flowers. My companion and I walked down the pier to meet an ancient cabriolet with two white horses waiting in the mud. The driver, black as my chaperone, lifted his hat and smiled in greeting. Where was my betrothed? As the cabriolet pulled off and climbed a steep, winding lane into the dusky woods, I could not help fearing what was in store for me in that foreign place.

At the top of the cliff, the ground leveled. We passed through a graveyard of stately tombs brightened with blue lamps. Fires burned along the paths. The sound of cicadas filled the air, surf crisping against the shore, and the faint, hollow heartbeat of drums.
By the time we drove through the high gate and stopped in the forecourt of the villa, all lit up for my arrival, my gloved, sweaty hand was clutching that of my dark companion. The first sight of my beloved was a great shadow looming in the lighted doorway.

His voice boomed as I stepped out of the carriage. “So, you have arrived in one piece, Lissette.”

I froze. He was not at all as I remembered him. He’d grown portly with age and over the fine, chiseled features of his face was a full blue-black beard. But the eyes were his; no one could mistake them, dark and shining with wit and charm. I stumbled toward him with arms outstretched as if I were pleading for my life, smiling as if such a mask could fool him.

He laughed.

“O, my little child so far away from home. Come inside,” he said.

His embrace was firm. The great bulk, smoothed by his silk dressing gown, was cool. Yet as I held him, I recalled the young, handsome version I had carried in my heart for ten years, and felt deeply the pangs of first love.

He regaled me with a feast of spiced meats, aubergines, oysters, and sweet cakes glazed with strange fruits. I was quickly drunk, not only on wine, but on the heady fragrance of tuberose. Armand grinned as if he expected me to become silly, but I was not. Rather I felt languid, cat-like, relaxing into my velvet skin, soaking up rich flavors and perfumes through my every pore.

Debussy

I woke in a rumpled bed, wrapped in white sheets spotted with blood. I had no memory of pain, but of exquisite tortures carried to crisis on the last, passionate crescendos of Liszt.

Of course I was alone, my god-like love having fled with the sunrise. Though I saw no timepiece nearby, the entire house was filled with a noise like hundreds of clocks ticking. Dismayed at my bloodstained nakedness, I drew on the beautiful dressing gown that lay in wait for me at the end of the bed.

I was about to go to the door when it burst open. A monkey came racing across the floor, whizzing and spinning around with the most awful racket. When it came at me, I screamed.

Armand entered, laughing.

“Oh, my little love, you’re so amusing. It’s only a toy. Vivienne has drawn a bath for you. I want you to look exquisite for breakfast. Wear the ruby choker. Scarlet suits you so well.”

He indicated the pool of liquid jewels on my dressing table.

“Red jewels around the neck are all the rage in Paris these days,” he said.*

RUBY Vivienne, a lovely half-caste girl, crossed herself when she saw me, drawing my attention to an ornate silver Crucifix hanging over her bosom. After my bath, she got me all tricked out in a creamy silk sheath with brown edges, my hair up in waves with a sprig of tuberose, and the choker like a bloody gash around my neck.

“Vivienne, when are we to be married, Armand and I?” I asked.

“Why, today, Mademoiselle,” she said. “Why do you think you’re all dressed up? Here, let me show you your veil.”

Vivienne went to the wardrobe and pulled out a mile of sheer white chiffon.
“See? We put that over your head with a crown of tuberose. You’ll look lovely, Mademoiselle.”

“Why always tuberose?” I asked.

“It’s Monsieur’s favorite.”

The house reeked of it.

“I should like real roses,” I said. “Red roses to go with my jewels.”

Vivienne wrapped the veil up silently.

“And what is that constant ticking sound?” I asked. “Doesn’t it drive you mad?”

“It’s Monsieur’s collection,” she said. “Perhaps Jean del Jean will show it to you.”

As if he’d been summoned, a wizened little black man appeared at the door. With a short bow, he held out his large, square hand, offering to escort me.

“Your new home, Mademoiselle,” he said, crossing himself as he took my hand. He too wore a heavy silver Crucifix.

AT LAST CORRIDOR

There was a long passage lined with cabinets, and behind the glass, moving in mechanical rhythm to their ticking, were hundreds of automatons. Beautiful wax heads, long necks, blinking glass eyes—-all women. Some danced, others played musical instruments, mechanical parodies of melody.

“They’re like music boxes,” I said. “Ingenious!”

Jean del Jean smiled and bowed with a flourish towards the cabinets. A few china dolls were mixed in, eyes staring wide in their frozen faces like the dead. Jean del Jean held up a long black key and opened one of the doors. Out came a large doll with a powdered wig and beauty spots, wearing a choker of rubies like my own.

“Le Reine Marie,” Jean del Jean said. He laughed as he grasped the key in her back and wound her up. The jaw moved and emitted a mechanical voice.

Permettez-eux de manger le gâteau.

“Let them eat cake!” I laughed at the infamous phrase.

The figure’s head spun round and round, unscrewing up the length of its neck, ticking louder until it popped off. Jean del Jean caught it in his hand as a stream of red ribbons spewed out of the neck cavity. He held the small head out to me laughing uproariously.
I recoiled.

marie doll

He was waiting for me at the gleaming breakfast table dressed in a black tailcoat and impeccable white cravat. He stood up as I, ungracefully hindered by the soft, clinging layers of my skirt, approached. His smile faded. His eyes clouded darkly.

I must have registered fright, for, as we sat down, his smile lit up again. Like a dog, I smiled back, hating my clumsiness.

“Bon appétit, my love.” He raised his glass of wine to me. I mirrored his gesture. I’d never drunk wine with breakfast before, but it did calm me. “Eat your croissant and peaches for now, then we shall repair to the garden to be married.” There was a little present beside my plate, tied with a red ribbon.

“Open it my love. It is from my private collection.”

It was an ivory box, about the length of my hand. With a turn of a little key, the lid opened. Inside was an ivory lady lying on an ivory couch, propped on one elbow, and completely nude. I gasped.

“A gift from the Orient,” Armand said. “From a bordello in Shanghai.”
I closed the box, blushing.

“Thank you,” I said. “Who is coming? Are there guests?” I felt sharply alone. Would Mamma completely forget about me?

“It is a shame your mother did not come with you, but you have me now.”

I nodded. The wine sprang to my head. A veil fell over my eyes. Someone helped me up. I was soon on Armand’s arm standing in a garden of bright flowers before a black priest. A ring was on my hand, but I had no ring for Armand. I was about to ask for it, when my husband grabbed me and fastened his lips on mine. Waves of fire rippled through me so hot, I fainted.

My sinuses stung by smelling salts, I awoke sitting at the end of a banqueting table. Through the fiery glow of a silver candelabrum I saw a frilly wedding cake, vases of tuberose and, so far away I could hardly see him, was my great love, now my husband, Armand.

There were guests, all artistes, glittering and posing like actors on a stage. Holding me tightly, Armand introduced me. I tried to make it a happy occasion. Shouldn’t all weddings be happy?

Soon the sun was going down, cicadas sang, the house ticked.
He went to the piano and opened the keys. The artistes draped their loose-limbed bodies around it in worship.

As he played I was six years old again, spilling fiery tears over my gown.

blue wedding

“Well, my little love, that was lovely.” Armand threw his cufflinks on the dressing table. “I have been called away. I’m leaving in the morning…”

“But, we have just been married!” I protested.

“It can’t be helped. While I am away, you must confine yourself to this suite of rooms. This house is very old. It isn’t safe to wander the upper rooms. They’ve been walled off for decades.”

“How long will you be away?” I asked.

He raised one eyebrow. “As long as it takes.”

In one movement he’d thrown off his coat and trousers and pinned me down on the bed. I was delirious! I gave myself up to him completely, hoping, in my heart, that that would be enough to make him stay.

It wasn’t. Despite my pleading, he left me.

.“He doesn’t love me,” I sobbed.

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Carmilla: Part Three

 Carmilla

J. Sheridan LeFanu

Copyright 1872

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III

We Compare Notes

We followed the cortege with our eyes until it was swiftly lost to sight in the misty wood; and the very sound of the hoofs and the wheels died away in the silent night air.

Nothing remained to assure us that the adventure had not been an illusion of a moment but the young lady, who just at that moment opened her eyes. I could not see, for her face was turned from me, but she raised her head, evidently looking about her, and I heard a very sweet voice ask complainingly, “Where is mamma?”

Our good Madame Perrodon answered tenderly, and added some comfortable assurances.

I then heard her ask:

“Where am I? What is this place?” and after that she said, “I don’t see the carriage; and Matska, where is she?”

Madame answered all her questions in so far as she understood them; and gradually the young lady remembered how the misadventure came about, and was glad to hear that no one in, or in attendance on, the carriage was hurt; and on learning that her mamma had left her here, till her return in about three months, she wept.

I was going to add my consolations to those of Madame Perrodon when Mademoiselle De Lafontaine placed her hand upon my arm, saying:

“Don’t approach, one at a time is as much as she can at present converse with; a very little excitement would possibly overpower her now.”

As soon as she is comfortably in bed, I thought, I will run up to her room and see her.

My father in the meantime had sent a servant on horseback for the physician, who lived about two leagues away; and a bedroom was being prepared for the young lady’s reception.

The stranger now rose, and leaning on Madame’s arm, walked slowly over the drawbridge and into the castle gate.

In the hall, servants waited to receive her, and she was conducted forthwith to her room. The room we usually sat in as our drawing room is long, having four windows, that looked over the moat and drawbridge, upon the forest scene I have just described.

It is furnished in old carved oak, with large carved cabinets, and the chairs are cushioned with crimson Utrecht velvet. The walls are covered with tapestry, and surrounded with great gold frames, the figures being as large as life, in ancient and very curious costume, and the subjects represented are hunting, hawking, and generally festive. It is not too stately to be extremely comfortable; and here we had our tea, for with his usual patriotic leanings he insisted that the national beverage should make its appearance regularly with our coffee and chocolate.

We sat here this night, and with candles lighted, were talking over the adventure of the evening.

Madame Perrodon and Mademoiselle De Lafontaine were both of our party. The young stranger had hardly lain down in her bed when she sank into a deep sleep; and those ladies had left her in the care of a servant.

“How do you like our guest?” I asked, as soon as Madame entered. “Tell me all about her?”

“I like her extremely,” answered Madame, “she is, I almost think, the prettiest creature I ever saw; about your age, and so gentle and nice.”

“She is absolutely beautiful,” threw in Mademoiselle, who had peeped for a moment into the stranger’s room.

“And such a sweet voice!” added Madame Perrodon.

“Did you remark a woman in the carriage, after it was set up again, who did not get out,” inquired Mademoiselle, “but only looked from the window?”

“No, we had not seen her.”

Then she described a hideous black woman, with a sort of colored turban on her head, and who was gazing all the time from the carriage window, nodding and grinning derisively towards the ladies, with gleaming eyes and large white eyeballs, and her teeth set as if in fury.

“Did you remark what an ill-looking pack of men the servants were?” asked Madame.

“Yes,” said my father, who had just come in, “ugly, hang-dog looking fellows as ever I beheld in my life. I hope they mayn’t rob the poor lady in the forest. They are clever rogues, however; they got everything to rights in a minute.”

“I dare say they are worn out with too long traveling,” said Madame.

“Besides looking wicked, their faces were so strangely lean, and dark, and sullen. I am very curious, I own; but I dare say the young lady will tell you all about it tomorrow, if she is sufficiently recovered.”

“I don’t think she will,” said my father, with a mysterious smile, and a little nod of his head, as if he knew more about it than he cared to tell us.

This made us all the more inquisitive as to what had passed between him and the lady in the black velvet, in the brief but earnest interview that had immediately preceded her departure.

We were scarcely alone, when I entreated him to tell me. He did not need much pressing.

“There is no particular reason why I should not tell you. She expressed a reluctance to trouble us with the care of her daughter, saying she was in delicate health, and nervous, but not subject to any kind of seizure–she volunteered that–nor to any illusion; being, in fact, perfectly sane.”

“How very odd to say all that!” I interpolated. “It was so unnecessary.”

“At all events it was said,” he laughed, “and as you wish to know all that passed, which was indeed very little, I tell you. She then said, ‘I am making a long journey of vital importance–she emphasized the word–rapid and secret; I shall return for my child in three months; in the meantime, she will be silent as to who we are, whence we come, and whither we are traveling.’ That is all she said. She spoke very pure French. When she said the word ‘secret,’ she paused for a few seconds, looking sternly, her eyes fixed on mine. I fancy she makes a great point of that. You saw how quickly she was gone. I hope I have not done a very foolish thing, in taking charge of the young lady.”

For my part, I was delighted. I was longing to see and talk to her; and only waiting till the doctor should give me leave. You, who live in towns, can have no idea how great an event the introduction of a new friend is, in such a solitude as surrounded us.

The doctor did not arrive till nearly one o’clock; but I could no more have gone to my bed and slept, than I could have overtaken, on foot, the carriage in which the princess in black velvet had driven away.

When the physician came down to the drawing room, it was to report very favorably upon his patient. She was now sitting up, her pulse quite regular, apparently perfectly well. She had sustained no injury, and the little shock to her nerves had passed away quite harmlessly. There could be no harm certainly in my seeing her, if we both wished it; and, with this permission I sent, forthwith, to know whether she would allow me to visit her for a few minutes in her room.

The servant returned immediately to say that she desired nothing more.

You may be sure I was not long in availing myself of this permission.

Our visitor lay in one of the handsomest rooms in the schloss. It was, perhaps, a little stately. There was a somber piece of tapestry opposite the foot of the bed, representing Cleopatra with the asps to her bosom; and other solemn classic scenes were displayed, a little faded, upon the other walls. But there was gold carving, and rich and varied color enough in the other decorations of the room, to more than redeem the gloom of the old tapestry.

There were candles at the bedside. She was sitting up; her slender pretty figure enveloped in the soft silk dressing gown, embroidered with flowers, and lined with thick quilted silk, which her mother had thrown over her feet as she lay upon the ground.

What was it that, as I reached the bedside and had just begun my little greeting, struck me dumb in a moment, and made me recoil a step or two from before her? I will tell you.

I saw the very face which had visited me in my childhood at night, which remained so fixed in my memory, and on which I had for so many years so often ruminated with horror, when no one suspected of what I was thinking.

It was pretty, even beautiful; and when I first beheld it, wore the same melancholy expression.

But this almost instantly lighted into a strange fixed smile of recognition.

There was a silence of fully a minute, and then at length she spoke; I could not.

“How wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Twelve years ago, I saw your face in a dream, and it has haunted me ever since.”

“Wonderful indeed!” I repeated, overcoming with an effort the horror that had for a time suspended my utterances. “Twelve years ago, in vision or reality, I certainly saw you. I could not forget your face. It has remained before my eyes ever since.”

Her smile had softened. Whatever I had fancied strange in it, was gone, and it and her dimpling cheeks were now delightfully pretty and intelligent.

I felt reassured, and continued more in the vein which hospitality indicated, to bid her welcome, and to tell her how much pleasure her accidental arrival had given us all, and especially what a happiness it was to me.

I took her hand as I spoke. I was a little shy, as lonely people are, but the situation made me eloquent, and even bold. She pressed my hand, she laid hers upon it, and her eyes glowed, as, looking hastily into mine, she smiled again, and blushed.

She answered my welcome very prettily. I sat down beside her, still wondering; and she said:

“I must tell you my vision about you; it is so very strange that you and I should have had, each of the other so vivid a dream, that each should have seen, I you and you me, looking as we do now, when of course we both were mere children. I was a child, about six years old, and I awoke from a confused and troubled dream, and found myself in a room, unlike my nursery, wainscoted clumsily in some dark wood, and with cupboards and bedsteads, and chairs, and benches placed about it. The beds were, I thought, all empty, and the room itself without anyone but myself in it; and I, after looking about me for some time, and admiring especially an iron candlestick with two branches, which I should certainly know again, crept under one of the beds to reach the window; but as I got from under the bed, I heard someone crying; and looking up, while I was still upon my knees, I saw you–most assuredly you–as I see you now; a beautiful young lady, with golden hair and large blue eyes, and lips–your lips–you as you are here.

“Your looks won me; I climbed on the bed and put my arms about you, and I think we both fell asleep. I was aroused by a scream; you were sitting up screaming. I was frightened, and slipped down upon the ground, and, it seemed to me, lost consciousness for a moment; and when I came to myself, I was again in my nursery at home. Your face I have never forgotten since. I could not be misled by mere resemblance. You are the lady whom I saw then.”

 

 

Last 2 photos: Carmilla, Gustavo Lopez

It was now my turn to relate my corresponding vision, which I did, to the undisguised wonder of my new acquaintance.

“I don’t know which should be most afraid of the other,” she said, again smiling–“If you were less pretty I think I should be very much afraid of you, but being as you are, and you and I both so young, I feel only that I have made your acquaintance twelve years ago, and have already a right to your intimacy; at all events it does seem as if we were destined, from our earliest childhood, to be friends. I wonder whether you feel as strangely drawn towards me as I do to you; I have never had a friend–shall I find one now?” She sighed, and her fine dark eyes gazed passionately on me.

Now the truth is, I felt rather unaccountably towards the beautiful stranger. I did feel, as she said, “drawn towards her,” but there was also something of repulsion. In this ambiguous feeling, however, the sense of attraction immensely prevailed. She interested and won me; she was so beautiful and so indescribably engaging.

I perceived now something of languor and exhaustion stealing over her, and hastened to bid her good night.

“The doctor thinks,” I added, “that you ought to have a maid to sit up with you tonight; one of ours is waiting, and you will find her a very useful and quiet creature.”

“How kind of you, but I could not sleep, I never could with an attendant in the room. I shan’t require any assistance–and, shall I confess my weakness, I am haunted with a terror of robbers. Our house was robbed once, and two servants murdered, so I always lock my door. It has become a habit–and you look so kind I know you will forgive me. I see there is a key in the lock.”

She held me close in her pretty arms for a moment and whispered in my ear, “Good night, darling, it is very hard to part with you, but good night; tomorrow, but not early, I shall see you again.”

She sank back on the pillow with a sigh, and her fine eyes followed me with a fond and melancholy gaze, and she murmured again “Good night, dear friend.”

Young people like, and even love, on impulse. I was flattered by the evident, though as yet undeserved, fondness she showed me. I liked the confidence with which she at once received me. She was determined that we should be very near friends.

Next day came and we met again. I was delighted with my companion; that is to say, in many respects.

Her looks lost nothing in daylight–she was certainly the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, and the unpleasant remembrance of the face presented in my early dream, had lost the effect of the first unexpected recognition.

She confessed that she had experienced a similar shock on seeing me, and precisely the same faint antipathy that had mingled with my admiration of her. We now laughed together over our momentary horrors.

 

The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day


The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day

by Aline deWinter

In my Gothic fantasy, The Roses of the Moon, the thin veneer of Christianity cracks under the pressure of ancient rites of demonic magic practiced by the Countess of Castle Szeppasszony, Orzsebet. In this very early scene, nine year old Marcsa Virag goes with her nurse, Katalin, to the procession of Saint Lucy to pray that the evil secrets of her mother, Countess Orzsebet, be left hidden in the darkness for all of their sakes.

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We came out of the gloomy castle into sunshine and snow so bright that I had to pull my large, soft hood low to shade my eyes and keep them from weeping. Katalin pulled her hood up as well, though I knew it was to hide her face. Over the stately tolling of the bells the most beautiful singing swelled, reverberating around the mountains to the heavens above.

We hurried north along the icy lane to the Chapel of the Angels. It was all the way over on the other side of the River Kigyo at the base of the Mountain of the Moon. In ancient times the chapel had been carved out of the living rock. It was faced with a deep portico of stone spires that rose through the air before the cliff like ladders, encrusted over with mystic carvings. Souls of the blessed and damned, devils, angels, and saints floated, bending around the majestic figure of Christ at the Last Judgment. Gothic niches housing statues of angels climbed the sheer face of the cliff above the chapel to a ruin at the top. Lights sparkled at the feet of these angels lit by the monks who climbed a thousand stairs to reach them. A paved courtyard went around this majestic façade and out over a ledge to the edge of the river chasm. A wide bridge spanned the gap to  the gate in the northern curtain wall. It was quite splendid to see the horses flying over that broad viaduct during my father’s rituals of war, or the processions of monks coming across in the twilight carrying lighted candles as they wound through the castle on their way to the cathedral in the village.

On Saint Lucy’s Day, the gates on both sides of the river were open to the throng. When we arrived at the bridge, the procession was already making its way around the courtyard. Many of our courtiers stood along the inner walls wearing their best fur hats, long cloaks and jewels that sparkled in the mystic light of the lamps they carried in honor of Saint Lucy. We found a place in the back of the crowd, but I could not resist squeezing through the farthingales and cloaks to get a closer look.

Smoke of frankincense and myrrh poured out of golden censers that were swung by three priests in rich, glittering robes at the head of the stately pageant. Our sublime choir followed the priests. The deep voices of the older men thundered forth mixing with the soaring high tones of the boys’ voices in such celestial harmony that I shivered with emotion. The singers carried a white, flaring candles that cast damp halos around their faces. Frost streamed from their mouths, and their cheeks burned bright red. The dragging hems of their cassocks grew dark with wet snow. Painted icons of the saints and martyrs in golden frames bristling above them on long, golden stems came towards us like an advancing army. The censers swayed, the voices boomed and rose as if moved by the breath of God.

In their midst, altar boys rang musical hand bells to herald the arrival of Saint Lucy. Her holy relics were carried high above the crowd on the shoulders of six stout clerics. As they passed, I saw Saint Lucy sitting on a tall chair inside a litter of golden filigree. Struck by a ray of sunlight, her ivory face gleamed, her hair streamed like a river of gold, but the sockets of her eyes were the empty holes of a mask. The eyes that lay in her golden dish were pale blue sapphires.

I prayed to Saint Lucy to forgive me for seeing wrong things, and asked that all the bad luck I had caused be buried deep in the earth with my doll. I prayed that the magical link to my doll be broken, and that my moon baths have the power to wash all evil away.

Katalin was weeping. I went back to hold her hand, but just before I did, I saw my mother following the procession in a long blue cloak that dragged behind her in the mud and snow. Her ladies came after, watching their steps, carrying their Saint Lucy’s lanterns in one hand and daintily pinching their skirts up above their ankles with the other. My mother’s hooded head was bowed as if she was in deep prayer, fingering her beads like a nun.  But I was not sure she really was praying, for she walked in the shadow of the bier and the darkness clung to her like soot. When she passed I did not think she saw me, or if she did, she paid me no mind.

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The Roses of the Moon: A Tale of Gothic Fantasy by Alyne deWinter

I thought it would be fun to share some bits and pieces of my forthcoming novel, The Roses of the Moon and find out what people think. It has many faery tale elements woven int the narrative.

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The Roses of the Moon

Book One
Royal Hungary
1599
Winter

I
Dragon’s Blood
Blood

Increases potency and power

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“Marcsa Virag, get away from the door!”

The voice struck like a blast of cold wind, blowing me into the shadows below the torchlight. The toes of my pointed shoes caught in the swirling hem of my shirts, tripping me to the floor. I broke my fall with my hands and lay winded for a moment. As I struggled to catch my breath I glanced around for my doll. She was gone. I turned to look back the way I had come and, through a blur of tears, saw my doll’s small, dark shape lying in a wand of firelight between the wall and the door that was cracked open upon the private chambers of the Countess Orzsebet.

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There was a flicker of silence. I crept forward thinking that I might have time slip back and rescue my doll before anybody noticed, when suddenly the door opened wide, and in that shaft of light, the profile of a long-nosed mask appeared, surrounded by an elaborate circular neck ruff. A glimmer of bright fabric rained down from the mask to the floor and a single hand curled there around the handle of a long whip. The mask slowly turned to face me, its eyeholes stared in my direction, and the frill fanned out around it like the neck feathers of a great bird of prey. When the Countess saw me, she drew swiftly back into the room and out of sight, only to reappear and gaze at me again.

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Captured in the beams of the Countess’s eyes, I was unable to move, frozen like a mouse crouching in the witch grass waiting for the descending claws. Suddenly she was walking towards me with a smooth, gliding step that reminded me of the small serpents that slithered into my chamber in the night and hid beneath my bed to escape the winter cold. The eyes behind the holes of the mask bore down upon me, baleful and fiery blue.

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The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into
her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my
eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had
burned out her eyes!

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“Marcsa Virag, you have not seen what you think you have seen. Mark me! You do not remember a thing.”

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Wheeling around, she threw my doll at my feet, floated back to her chamber and shut me out.

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The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had burned out her eyes!

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I held my poor doll to my heart and ran as fast as I could down the rest of the corridor, almost tripping down a flight of wide sloping steps. I sped across the wintry cobbled courtyard where the ice-cold waters in the unicorn fountain were frozen in the air like silver ribbons. I plunged into a shadowy, smoky maze of arches and out again into the dim winter light of the Castle Courtyard that stretched behind the Main Gate to the steps of the Reception Hall. My steps echoed as I raced across the flagstones, scattering a flock of pigeons that flew around me like a storm. Finally I arrived at the tall, heavy doors to my wing of the castle and the guard let me inside. I slowed my pace down the wide corridor to the grand staircase that swept up to the galleries. My legs were heavy as I climbed into the gloom. I had to sit down to catch my breath. One look at my doll told me, more than words, that my mother hated me. I pressed the tip of my tongue against my teeth to calm myself. Above the top step, the landing stretched spaciously to the foot of an enormous tapestry of a beautiful walled garden where ladies danced with hares around a tree in the moonlight.

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I fixed my gaze on the rich colors of the tapestry and finished my climb up the stairs. One either side of that weaving were two stained glass windows that shone hot for a moment and then dimmed, telling me that the sun had just fallen below the rim of the Carpathian Mountains.