After the bricked up revenant of a child bites Elisabeth on the hand, her world starts changing. Something in The Marsh is stirring.
This is the fifth part in a short story series that began as just that, a few unrelated short stories. Last week began to tie in a vague plot in Witchcraft and Conspiracy, this week returns to the Victorian era following Elisabeth after An Absent Child. Pieces are beginning to fall into place for the paranormal brothers, but that is one hundred years in the future.
The links are below and may contribute to a better plot understanding.
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Elisabeth spent the following week avoiding both cellar and room at the top of the stairs. It was now noticeable that each time someone passed the latter on the landing. They all subconsciously swerved giving it a wide berth. As far as she was aware none, other than herself, had actually opened the door at all. It was like it didn’t exist. Inside, her mind said otherwise. Something else was bleeding out, and it was that darkness saying “keep out” deep inside the conscious of passers by.
Not her though. It had called her in to show the way to some unhallowed folly – tomb – lying in the middle of The Marshes. A path only visible from the window in a long disused child’s room. At night she still saw the way in her dreams. During the days since the cellar, Elisabeth had systematically walked the grounds. Always failing to see anything other than an overgrown copse, way out beyond the gardens and surrounded by bogs and wetlands. Even the trees seemed, at ground level, to have no discernible order, and try as she might even the window of the avoided room was nowhere in sight.
Today she was sitting in the day room overlooking the gardens whilst reworking the bandage covering the hand, that was what? Bitten, scratched, snagged on a nail? Elisabeth knew bitten was the correct answer, but was reluctant to consider it a reality. The further she got from that night the more it all seemed unlikely.
How could the cellar hold the ghost of a bricked up child who was able to sink teeth into the palm of her hand? Something irrational said it could. Moreover it made the hairs on her neck stand out and a chill shudder ripple through her body. The unwrapped bandage again showed signs of blood. On her palm the two tiny punctures were clearly visible and still not healing properly. Her physician was somewhat perplexed by this, and convinced carbolic soaked bandages were essential to prevent infection until the wounds knitted together. Elisabeth sighed and reapplied fresh dressings. A most strange bite she thought, two tiny pin pricks where there should be more marks if it were truly teeth.
Her husband, Albert, was away in London and unlikely to return for several weeks. Part of her thought the draw might be a mistress, but that was merely justification for Jonathan. The move here was partly to axe that connection and ensure complications concerning her unborn child’s father would remain silent. With Albert away again, old regrets returned and she found her thoughts becoming untoward and focussed on memoirs of her ex lover and his penchant for experimentation. In particular, the rush she had found whilst blindfolded.
She felt herself becoming unnecessary and shook her head in an effort to displace the feelings of wantonness. Being alone in a big house made isolation all the more potent. She had needs and they were no longer being met. Being discovered with a paramour would not befit her status and leave her in ruins. She enjoyed the indulgence, but was not in love with Jonathan. It was better he was no longer in the picture. Rising Elisabeth decided fresh air might cleanse the senses and wash away the licentious thoughts.
Outside early morning sunlight was dappling through the trees and the garden was half alive with birdsong. She stood on the threshold of the patio doors, that were now swung outwards. Half alive she thought, how can that be? For a reason she knew not, Her mind was picking up nuances that, previously, had been unnoticed. Drawing out emotions, sounds and feelings that were now more exact. It was like a slumbering part of her mind had woken up and brought new depth to existing sensations. Perhaps that was why the brief thoughts of Jonathan had seared the images of lust into her mind a short while ago.
Returning to the garden, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Half alive it was so obvious now. In front and to the right there was the sounds of life. Insects chattering, leaves rustling and birds. How could she have not noticed the birds before? They were so loud and distinct. The left was dead. Or possibly just incredibly silent, or afraid to speak out. It felt wrong. Opening her eyes she glanced toward the island way out over The Marshes.
Her eyes burned with a new clarity. Things seemed sharper, more defined, and yet to the left colour was greyed out and the wetlands exposed leaving the path to folly clearly visible. Solid ground wending a course through the marshes, edged by the wisps of mist washing against the land. Surrounded by sedges and reeds that were now withered leaving desiccated revenants of what lay there only minutes before.
Elisabeth held her breath, tracing the walkway back from island to the edge of her garden where it joined what should have been a random stand of trees. Except they were no longer random. Skeletal oaks marched to the bog shore, forming a corridor leading to the base of the house. Exactly where the two collided was hidden from view, but she guessed at directly below the room that chose not to reveal itself. She was aware of the quickening of her heartbeat echoing in her chest and resounding in her ears. Feeling her pulse forcing the blood round arteries and veins as her eyes watched the line where daylight met grey, where silence and decay existed on one side and life on the other.
“My lady, will you be taking breakfast shortly?”
Elisabeth turned slowly to see her maid standing just inside the day room. For a moment she considered the girl before her as rather pretty with a delicate white neck in which the life pulse was acutely visible. Briefly, her eyes flashed crimson imagining the red liquid coursing round her veins. Then it was gone, but not before the maid searched for the floor avoiding eye contact. It was like her mistress had dipped into her very soul, leaving her feeling violated and, for the first time ever, scared by what she had just witnessed. It was the eyes, they had turned the colour of blood. Albeit briefly, but they had. Filled with horror and surrounded by obsidian where the whites should be.
“Alice, is everything alright? You look as if you have seen a ghost?”
The maid reluctantly looked up again expecting the worst but finding Elisabeth smiling down upon her.
“You eyes Ma’am, they were wrong for a moment, but it may have been me. They is perfectly clear now.”
She was trembling. Something Elisabeth picked up on immediately.
“What do you mean…wrong
Alice took a small step backwards.
“They looked like you was possessed by the Devil.”
Thoughts of the grey line outside flooded into Elisabeth’s mind.
“Alice, would you be so kind as to look outside and tell me what you can see?”
“It’s alright, I won’t bite.” Unlike the child in the cellar. “Just tell me what you see over The Marshes. Anything odd about them, that sort of thing.”
Alice tentatively moved to the threshold between day room and garden, half expecting something to be entirely wrong with the world.
“It all seems the same to me, just grasses and bogs and an overgrown bit of land in the distance.”
“And the sky?”
“Blue as blue Ma’am, suns out and no clouds at all.”
Elisabeth moved behind her casting her own eyes across the vista. Nothing out of the ordinary, no half alive or dead swamp. There was one change though. Now she had seen the causeway to the island to her it was clear as day. Winding through the tufts of sedge leading toward the aisle of trees that now, also stood clear amidst the stands that had, previously, appeared randomised. Her gaze dropped again to the nape of the maid’s neck exposed under the bun her hair was tied up in. She placed a hand on the girls shoulder watching in slow time as a finger nail deftly traced a path over the pale skin before her hand settled more firmly turning Alice round in an arc so they were both moving back inside.
“I think perhaps I shall take breakfast now after all.”
“As you wish Ma’am.”
“And Alice,” it was an afterthought, “have you ever heard anyone comment on anything strange about this house?”
The maid paused by the door leading to the kitchens.
“I have heard rumours Ma’am. The cook won’t go into the cellar on her lonesome on account of strange noises. And there ain’t no-one that will go near that room atop the main stairs an account of the girl that was murdered by her parents long ago. They say going inside sells your soul to the Devil himself.”
Elisabeth went cold. They looked like you was possessed by the Devil.
“Do you know why they murdered her?”
“They say she was possessed by a demon and, being God fearing folk, her parents did her away. They never found no body though. Probably lost in The Marshes. They never found the father neither. The girls Mom said the house devoured him. More likely the bogs claimed him too. She ended up in Bedlam and that was the end of her.”
Elisabeth remained quiet and allowed the maid to leave and organise breakfast. She knew part of the truth. The child was not bog bound, but bricked up in the cellar as, in her words, a monster. The room clearly needed exorcising and bringing back to life, but could it truly devour people? More likely the father may have seen the route into the folly and wandered over the marshes to investigate. Possibly losing his footing and falling in, never to be seen again. But what of the Feriante? The girl seemed perilously afraid of him, if it was a him. What if the father had made it across and found something inside the folly and come to some disagreeable end there? Little wonder the mother lost her sanity and ended up in the asylum.
She turned back toward the patio doors and stepped outside. Everything seemed normal now. The folly was hidden beneath foliage, the path had blended back into the marsh, and the trees no longer looked purposeful, but randomly strewn across the gardens. Birds drifted left to right and the grey line was lost to a blue sky filled with early morning sun. Elisabeth drew a deep breath deciding to place the earlier unsettlement to one side for now. It was obvious she would need to visit both cellar and room again. Perhaps even look deeper at where the trees had led beneath the window. It was doubtful she would have courage enough to follow the marsh path. Although if things continued she might follow the child’s mother into the lunatic asylum. Reminding herself “I do not believe in ghosts,” she stepped outside.
As she moved from shadow into full sun, a most curious thing happened. The early morning warmth settled onto her exposed right arm. Except this time it grew unbearably causing her skin to boil forcing her to recoil backwards, screaming in pain. She watched steam fizz off her arm, before small flames charred her flesh, filling her nostrils with the acrid stench of burnt meat. Tripping over the threshold in blind panic she fell, catching the side of her head on the low table between the sofas in the day room. Her world went black.
She awoke on the very same floor with Alice knelt over her and dabbing a cold compress onto her brow.
“Ma’am are you alright?”
Elisabeth tried to sit up, but the room was spinning so she chose to remain prone. Her mind still felt numbed pain; mostly from the bruise and pounding in her head.
“My arm Alice, what has happened to my arm?”
The maid continued to soothe her forehead.
“Nothin ma’am, it seems you took a fall coming back inside. The physician will be here presently. Just you stay restful.”
Elisabeth’s eyes dropped onto her arm and were greeted by pallid white skin. Not even a mark. Bedlam for you I fear.
Looking up, she watched the pulse of blood throbbing in the maids neck.
If you made it here, then thank you for taking the time to read. Like I said before, these add back story to other books. And yes, I know they need tweaking, but if they become a manuscript then that is where the transformation from short story anthology will turn into the real deal.
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