I’ve been working on and off on this novel project for some years now, and it’s time to finish it. Based on a screenplay, the story has excited, infuriated and intrigued me in equal measures, not least because the script has been so close to production in the past – but alas, the Lady waits. So, I owe it to all the people who have loved it, praised it, critiqued it, questioned it and wished me well with it. The novel will be done. And blessed be.
And here is the original piece of writing that inspired it all, with some slight modifications:
The night that Jesse died, we’d had a terrible row. Actually, the final confrontation wasn’t so much of a row; that had come earlier, when I picked him up from the police station. My son, my only boy, charged with possession of drugs.
I tore into him, a rage I never knew I had in me. A rage he never knew I had in me. I wanted to know where he got the pills from. He wouldn’t tell me.
But, for the first time ever, he mentioned her.
Later, when he tried in his awkward, adolescent way to apologize, to swear that it was the first and only time, and that it would never happen again, I saw right through him.
And he saw right through me, hitting me with his best shot; the Daddy question.
Of course I couldn’t tell him who his father was, so I did the only thing I could. I ran from his frustrated rage against me. Hid in the bathroom and covered my ears while my son screamed at me from the other side of the door.
Ma, please Ma! Talk to me!
I still hear him now, his pleading voice echoing in my head when all is dark and quiet and he whispers to me from the white noise. Ma?
And I never could repair the hole he put through the wall with his angry fist.
He took those fucking pills that night, with her. He told me that he loved her, and he ran out on me. And he died, at her feet, wreathing in agony as his heart burst with the pressure; the last face he saw, hers.
My boy died on a dirty floor while I sat alone, miserable and slumped across my kitchen table. As I watched the clock, waiting to hear the key in the door, his return to me, that filthy poison, laced with what only that scum dealer knows, coursed through his clean and healthy body with immediate and lethal force.
When I kissed him goodbye in the morgue, they hadn’t even wiped the blood that pumped from his nose. I like to think that they were too busy trying to revive him, but in my heart I know that they never even got that far.
And so I buried my baby. And the pain dug deep into my heart and took up residence there, so deep I could barely breathe.
But I am still breathing.
People look at me now, sideways glances. She’s a strange one, she is. Why isn’t she crying? I hear them from my silent world, but they can’t hear the screaming inside my brain. The real me is trapped in there you see, looking out, while the new me itches inside my veins. She wants from me, more than I can ever give her.
I don’t like her, though I can’t shake her off. She is relentless. She is determined. I do understand her though. She has a purpose now, with her different face, and she is stronger. The real me has no purpose.
Extract from LADY BETH. All Rights Reserved. 2015. Reproduced in Time Standing Still, a collection of short stories and other musings
On a crisp winter morning such as this one, the view from Quinn’s bedroom window could be breath taking, but only if he looked straight ahead, keeping his line of vision over the tops of the grey slate and terra-cotta rooftops.
Quinn allowed his gaze to move across towards the smoke-hued mountains in the distance. Folding as they did and disappearing through the faded powder-blue sky, he could see the ice clouds knit together in that slow and lazy motion that calmed him like nothing else could.
A morning like this didn’t come very often these days, or if it did, he wasn’t in any state to appreciate it.
He leaned out now to greedily inhale the fresh dewy air and tried his best to take comfort from the scenic view that capped the cramped council houses, and the risen, empty blocks of apartments that overshadowed the last vestiges of open space, defiantly holding its own against the solidity of concrete that ebbed at its fragile borders.
“Are you up yet son?” his grandmother, Maggie, called from downstairs.
Quinn moaned quietly, his insides burning again, searing acid rushing at his throat. His head, heavy as lead, weighed down on his neck and shoulders, and how it pounded, relentlessly, like the dull ache in the pit of his belly. And that smell, that fucking smell kept clawing at his nostrils, seeping out from under his skin to keep him there, in that moment, in that memory; that moment.
He only managed to get in one drag of his cigarette when the sound of Maggie’s ascending footsteps prompted him to stub it out with licked thumb and forefinger. Carefully placing it back inside his precious pack of twenty, he stuffed the carton down the front of his tracksuit bottoms, hurriedly fanning away the last of the smoke that curled from his nostrils before she entered the room.
“Alright Nan?” he asked, without awareness that his tone, while emanating from such a tough and armoured expression, was so soft, so benevolent and gentle, that it could still surprise or unsettle the one person who knew him best, or at least, thought she did. With his ruddy, weather-beaten face and tightly shaved hair, the colour of hardened chestnuts, his features were too rough, too lived in, for a boy of seventeen; a fact that would have broken Maggie Quinn’s heart, if it wasn’t fractured irrevocably already.
Quinn studied her lined expression now, each deep wrinkle a scar-like testament to the toughness of her life. She was creasing her nose in suspicion, an accusing finger pointing at her only grandson, and he knew that she was weary at the impotence of yet another idle threat.
She nagged him constantly, wore that frown, pan-caked to futility, like a mask, her eyes screwed up and glassy to make her look constantly on the verge of tears. It was a face that could tug at his heart-strings and still manage to drive him up the fucking wall.
Quinn’s belly sometimes hurt with the deep feelings he harboured for her, but she could be such a pain in the bollix. Giving her opinion on everything, and mostly when least called for. Going on and on, about Monica and apprenticeships, and the state of his clothes; the company he kept.
And reminding, always reminding him. Like Quinn ever needed that.
He knew that she was trying to help, but sometimes it took more than a little self-control to stop him from telling her to piss the fuck off. He never did though. Avoided confrontation at all costs, after all, she was his family, and she hadn’t been the one to abandon him after his Da’s death, but Quinn never spoke of that other one, that dead-to-them bitch; and neither did Maggie.
In the cluttered, cramped kitchen now, Quinn watched quietly as Maggie prepared to go to her cleaning job. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to poxy minimum wage we go.
“Your man the driver is always going sharp” she moaned as Quinn watched her hurriedly pull on that old trench coat that he hated, once beige or maybe pink, now an insipid shade somewhere in between, “It’s like a feckin’ race every morning to get to the bus stop before he does!” She wrapped a printed cotton scarf around her neck, the only splash of colour on her slight, shapeless form. “And I want to go to the grave before I start.” Quinn’s stomach churned now, his mouth dry and set in a grimace as he anticipated her pause. Even with her back to him, he could see her quivering lips pucker up with that question. “You know the date, don’t you son? And don’t waste that breakfast – and wash up the dishes after!” she called back on her way out the door.
Quinn held his breath, the sight and smell of the mixed grill she had cooked for him made him want to puke now. He pushed it aside, his heart heavy.
He wouldn’t be going to the grave, not today, not ever. He rolled his livid blue eyes towards the ceiling, knowing she meant no harm, knowing she couldn’t help herself, knowing she was existing in a hell that must be similar to his own
“Fuck it! Fuck it!” Quinn swallowed a lump in his throat, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to erase the pictures in his head, the images that haunted his days and nights; that morning, a year ago now. The hammering on the door, the dull thuds of the shots, the growing pool of blood on the hall carpet as he cradled his father’s head in his arms, and time standing still as the car screeched away and the blood seeped into his jeans, and he waited for the ambulance. And waited, with this smell in his nostrils and that sound in his ears; the smell of a broken human being, bleeding out, and the sounds of the wretched gasps and gurgles as his father struggled to breathe, his precious gulps of air being sucked back out through the gaping, singed hole in his neck.
And afterwards, the silence, that terrible lull and the searing sense of loss.
Quinn held his finger on the doorbell as he peered through the frosted glass panel of Monica’s front door, his raw, bitten-down fingernails sliding off the glass as Robbie, a beautiful dark-skinned, chubby toddler, squealed, tugging with elation at his mother’s hand as Monica paused inside the hallway before opening the door.
“So you are not dead then?” Brushing past her to lift the wide-eyed boy high in the air to the child’s roars of excitement, Monica’s broken English helped to camouflage the tremor in her voice as Quinn wondered if she could hear the quickening of his heartbeat at the sight of her.
“Two weeks now — you go on holiday or something?” The sudden acute pain inside his ribs made him double over, ignoring her failed attempt at sarcasm as his legs quivered, and Quinn allowed Robbie to fall gently as he slumped, clutching his sides, onto a chair. Monica’s concern, her knowing, creased her expression to frustration.
“When you gonna quit doing that shit!” she yelled at him, “You made a promise to me!”
Quinn groaned through clenched teeth, “Don’t fuckin’ start Monica”, he winced, pain etched across his face, “Have you anything’ I can take – for the pain?”
Monica fell silent, turning away to compose herself. Quinn watched her from behind as she stretched up to reach the cupboard, his eyes travelling the length of her shapely body; the deep olive skin of her lower back and curvy hips showing from between her low-rise jeans and slightly raised sweater. A couple of years older than him, though she never told him her exact age, Monica was a fine thing, and he wondered now, and for the thousandth time, just what the hell she saw in him.
He was sorry he had snapped at her, Monica, of all people. He wanted to tell her that, among other things, but the words just were not there; few words, and even less courage to use them.
Quinn stood up and moved in closer to slip his hands around her waist, thoughts of his pain subsiding as he pressed his body against hers, his hands caressing that invitingly soft skin beneath her sweater, reaching for her warm breasts as he nuzzled into her hair. She smelled sweet and fresh, a clean soapy scent that he loved. It made him forget, it made him wish he could breathe her in so deeply that it would drown out that other smell.
Quinn turned her around to face him, tried to kiss her; she barely brushed his lips with hers. “Not in front of my child” she whispered quietly, “You know this”. She gently pushed him away and Quinn let his arms fall awkwardly, stepping back from her as his need to touch her, to be connected to her body, rushed through him; a craving, so like the other.
“Do you know who got picked up last night?” She asked carefully, “I heard there was a raid?”
“Should I?” he replied, and more defensively than he would have liked. Quinn did not speak to Monica of such things, neither confirming nor denying his involvement with anything that might sway her against him. No lies, no truth.
He was on eggshells as it was; if Monica knew where he had spent the night, how he had spent the night, in the burned out remnants of the community centre. And those scorched walls, barely providing adequate shelter from the creeping cold. Until dawn, until the last deal had been done and he’d finished himself off from his profit for the night after that fuckin’ psycho had come to collect.
And then, Quinn had been alone again, to float away on his powdered clouds, time standing still until they cruelly disappeared from beneath him, leaving him to fall, fall, and he was back there again, sprawled on the piss-damp ground, his veins throbbing from inside out, and praying that if those scarred walls would stop closing in on him, that if the contents of his stomach would stay down just long enough for him to get some dreamless sleep; he’d never touch gear again.
If Monica knew how he had spent the night.
Quinn had trouble now looking at her, meeting the disappointment in her eyes. Coal black, cutting into him, through him, causing him to suck air into his heaving chest as he baulked internally at the vacant promises he kept making for himself, his good intentions meaningless.
Monica cleared her throat. “I also heard some guy is dying. A bad fix.”
Quinn’s expression darkened. He stared at her, his mouth tightening. He knew that poor fucker, the one who’d just had his leg amputated after injecting his heroin fix, cut with wallpaper paste, straight into his veins.
“What are you tellin’ me this for, what the fuck has it got to do with me!?”
Instantly contrite, he sensed Monica’s turmoil bubble inside her now, sensed how she struggled to suppress it, her dark lashes sweeping down to conceal moistened eyes. No shelter though, from Quinn’s penetrating, needy gaze.
“Monica, stop worrying, okay.” Quinn relaxed a little as she nodded, the corners of her full lips lifting ever so slightly. Yet, the gnawing unease remained as he silently admired her prettiness, her courage, her sense of herself; her duty to her son.
What the fuck was she doing here? Monica did not belong in this shitty, low-rent council bungalow. Spending her days, her nights, waiting, and for what? Quinn had no illusions about himself. He didn’t even mind when his mates called him ‘the foreign bird’s bit of rough.’ She deserved better, better than anything he could offer her.
Robbie clambered up onto his lap, a broken toy in one hand, his other hand, with small sticky fingers, clutching at the hood of Quinn’s sweatshirt. “Fix it yada”, he warbled, dropping it onto Quinn’s lap. An uncomfortable smile escaped Quinn as the innocently mouthed implication settled on his brain. He felt the colour rise in his cheeks and couldn’t meet Monica’s mortified expression. Pushing the child away, tentatively, and not daring to look into the tiny puzzled face, Quinn became engulfed by a sickening panic.
“I have to go — have someone to see”, he stumbled, embarrassment, legs like jelly as he headed for the door.
Outside her house, and with the cool evening air to soothe his flushed cheeks and heated brow, Quinn hesitated, but it was only for a moment before he strode quickly away.
The psycho would be waiting for him, with another stash of gear. Quinn quickened his pace. That fucker wouldn’t wait all night, and if things didn’t go his way, he’d be pissed off. And he knew all about Quinn’s Da.
The psycho was always reminding him about it.
As you begin to read these words, the scribbles of a person whose name you do not recognize, I can just imagine the curious thoughts that must be swimming around inside your head. Can almost conjure up your puzzled expression as you wonder if this lunatic, yeah, that’s me, has a few screws loose; if the rain is getting in upstairs.
I can assure you though, that nothing could be further from the truth. So before you scrunch this letter up and slam-dunk it into the nearest bin, I ask you please, to bear with me for just a few minutes. You see, I could not pass up this opportunity to make a connection with you, and to say that I am sorry, and to remind you that our paths have crossed before.
Now while I am fully aware that you may have no recollection of me whatsoever, I remember you, vividly and will do my best here to remind you of a skinny, tatty-haired five-year old with pale skin, freckles and horn-rimmed glasses; a small frightened little girl with a heavy heart and not much to say for herself.
And though we only met that one time, this memory that I speak of has stayed with me ever since.
Still with me? Good. Well then, perhaps this will all start to make sense when I mention one word, or rather, one place, Goldenbridge. Yeah, the children’s home, or the “Orphanage”, if I can go all Dickensian for a minute!
I was there too.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to dredge up any painful memories. Heaven knows, there are enough of those to fill an ocean. And, if, at this point, I have managed to upset you or to make you feel uncomfortable, then by all means, feel free to tear these pages to shreds. On the other hand, if I have managed to fan the flame of your curiosity, then please read on.
I think you might have been eight years of age at the time, though I’m not exactly sure, but you could not have been much older than that or you wouldn’t have been sent to the “Orphanage” in the first place. Only the little boys were kept there amongst the female majority.
Do you remember David, the television room? How we small children would sit before bedtime, cross-legged on the floor, and so happy to be allowed to watch the black and white movies; the Shirley Temple films, or the Wanderly Wagon Show or maybe Gene Kelly, singing in the rain?
Now, do you remember the “Minders”? Not all of them were bad, I’m sure you will agree. And the ones who could, on occasion, turn nasty, well, I’d simply prefer to have pity on them now, wouldn’t you?
Anyway, moving on. The day in question that I refer to, we were sitting together, you and I. You struck up a whispered conversation with me, and how chuffed I was to see your rugged, friendly face amongst so many scared and gloomy ones.
I didn’t talk much myself back then, very shy I was and overly self-conscious for someone so young. And I was always hiding behind those awful glasses.
Can you see me yet? Well, we must have forgotten that rule. The “No Talking While the Telly is On” rule, for before I knew what was happening, I was dragged up by the arms and thumped into silence before being made to crouch down in the small space beneath the television set. How stupid and embarrassed and humiliated I felt to be stuck in there, with an audience of surprised, to say the least, slightly amused little faces all staring back at me.
All except your face. For you were indignant, the only one with the guts to speak up for Specky-four-eyes!
“She was only answering my question!” you shouted out, your tightly shaved head cocked to the side in nervous defiance.
“Is that so, you little bugger!” the Minder replied, her open hand making swift, sharp contact with your stunned little face. “Then go and take her place, and it’s you who won’t be seeing any telly today!”
Sheepishly, we switched places, crawling past each other on all fours, our eyes making contact just one more time. And though I never saw you again after that day, I can still see you blinking back those angry tears of injustice.
How often I’ve thought of that incident. I consider myself to be a happy, successful and fulfilled person these days, but sometimes, in the still of a dark night, when sleep fails to arrive, I go back there, to that place, and your face always comes to me.
David, I long for you to know how sorry I am that you were hurt that day, because of me.
Perhaps you are laughing now, thinking how daft and sentimental a character I must be. I am clearly both by the way. Or maybe you still have no recollection of this little story of mine, and/or couldn’t care less.
No matter, I’m just glad to have this opportunity to write to you. And for goodness sake, don’t be alarmed, for I have no intention of ever seeking you out. The memory of a blue-eyed boy with a heart as big as his mischievous grin is all that I need to chase the bad stuff away, so here’s to you David,
All the best,
Copyright of the author, Caroline Farrell. All Rights Reserved.
I don’t know about you, dear Reader, but I hit the ground running in 2013, haven’t stopped since, and while overall, it has been a fantastic year, the running was not always to or from a positive place!
However, as the days and weeks rushed on, there were a lot of wonderful times and small successes, little inroads made, and big and little smiles amongst the stressors. And a lot of good work was done, writing side, so all in all, and in the bigger scheme of things, I have little to complain about.
I’m not going to bore anyone with the usual list of what I see as my annual goal-busters, nor to share the woes, but I do feel the earth shifting beneath my feet somewhat, and all I can hope for, as indeed, all any of us can hope for, is that it keeps shifting in a positive direction. Anyway, to round off the year, I offer you this bit of flash fiction…SPIRIT…which, mind you, is not intended for the faint hearted!
Blessings on your lovely heads, I wish you all more smiles, less stress and more success XX
Spirit of New Year
New Year’s Eve, and the low-sunk winter sun, now streaming in through the frost-encrusted window, cast slivers of light on Spirit, a bronze sculpture, so lovingly placed in the centre of the mantle. Joanna’s favourite thing, and though paid for by him, was a gift she had picked for herself, on this, her tenth wedding anniversary.
Spirit’s windswept hair was made of fine tendrils, and Joanna gently blew a shimmer of dust from those tendrils as she made a wish before settling the crooked ornaments on the now slightly wilting Christmas tree. As she did so, the sun fell away to cloak Spirit’s graceful limbs with the watery green shadow often seen descending on the wasteland that surrounded this cottage. Their refuge from the world, or so he had described it, and the perfect setting to rekindle their troubled relationship.
The week had gone well, with at least some compromise reached on their many disagreements of late. Ten years was a long time to invest in anything, but a relationship was more than time. It was for keeps. She reckoned he understood that now, though still wondered how things would be once they got back to the city tomorrow.
Back to reality. To a new year, and a fresh start.
She was still pondering it all when the first blow struck her from behind, and she fell across the floor to land on her knees. As the blows rained down, searing shocks vibrated the length of her body, and Joanna could see splatters of her own blood fall around her. A hit to her spine sent her spinning upright to see Spirit lashing down on her, flaying thin tendrils leaving peppered holes in Joanna’s forehead.
And she saw him then, naked – mostly — her blood running down his muscular legs, like watered-down paint collecting in the Wellington boots he had been wearing earlier while clearing some debris from the wasteland at the back of the cottage.
As Spirit loomed in again, her ponderous questions of earlier seemed answered with a finality that she would never have expected of him. And how utterly terrified he looked, trembling and crying, hovering over her as Spirit whispered in Joanna’s ear, Happy New Year, for wasn’t that what she had wished for, until a single tear of blood glistened from the corner of her unseeing eye.
To celebrate the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death, lots of fun stuff of the gothic variety has been happening in Dublin over this weekend…walking tours, literary workshops, street theatre and much more, all dedicated to the greatness of his life and work…and none of which I could attend, due to an untimely flu bug.
To make myself feel better, I am posting a short story of mine, The Birthday Gift, which incidentally, took Third Prize in the Bram Stoker Literary Festival in 2010. The story, written many years before, languished in the virtual bottom drawer for many years before inspiring me to write my first attempt at a novel and feature script, ARKYNE…
So, as a personal ode to the great man himself, there ya go...
The Birthday Gift
Midsummer’s Night, 1649
Heavy oak dulled the sounds of the revelry below stairs as Ursula quietly closed her bedroom door. Her hips swayed gracefully as she sashayed across the room to lift her wash jug and pour out her bath water. And as the trickle swirled into the small ceramic basin, tickling sensuously between her elegant fingers, the birthday girl just could not help but smile at the reflection in her looking-glass.
With a sense of rippling excitement, she loosened the bodice of her pretty dress, untying the delicate ribbons that held her full linen sleeves in soft billows. How lucky she was. Blessed, as her mama always said, with a tiny waist, Ursula did not have to resort to the torturous wooden busks that some of the local girls bound into their under garments. She shuddered now at the thought of their corsets pulled so tightly around their torsos, their squashed rib cages leaving the foolish girls so open to all sorts of maladies.
Yes, she was the lucky one. Sweet sixteen…and she did so like the manner in which her new corset swelled her breasts, and how the sensation caused her to feel so alluring when HIS gaze had lingered there.
Standing naked now, in the half-light of dusk and candle, she lifted her head to listen to some soft and muted bird sound from outside her closed window. A cuckoo; it was very bad luck to hear one on this, the longest day…or so her mama always told her.
Ursula shrugged the thought away and finished her cleansing ritual, then carefully concealed beneath her pillow the silk-wrapped love-philtre of purple-flowered mandrake that her mama had mixed for her last Friday, the sacred day of Venus. Bad luck indeed, she thought dismissively.
‘To Venus, the goddess of love and the queen of the earth, of heaven and of hell, and hail to the wind, the earth, the fire and the water,’ she whispered, ‘I call for HIM to come to me of his own free will and to share with me this joyous love.’
Throwing open her window, she leaned out to inhale deep cleansing breaths. The scent of roses and moistened twigs hung sweetly in the air, and the house had gone completely quiet, the soft sounds of the oboe and the laughing, dancing girls from the party earlier now quelled for the night as she moved to lie down on her bed.
She was counting the minutes, lying there, and waiting. Unable to contain her excitement, her fingers traced tiny curlicues up and down her body, and she felt no shame or guilt for the anticipated pleasure she was feeling. Or, for what she was so willing to do now, for this was what she wanted most in the world…and it soothed her conscience to know that Ursula had her mama’s blessing.
* * *
The nobleman Monsieur Jordan was the perfect suitor for Ursula; her mama repeated this often. Lord of the Castle, built high above their little village, he was a powerful man in this province, wealthy, handsome, and most importantly, quite obviously obsessed with her.
Life had been such a struggle since the unexpected death of her Papa two years previously, a change of fortune was needed now, and Ursula’s mama had assured her that this was the best way to hasten the Monsieur’s proposal. A beautiful young girl like herself would surely be an asset to him. Much more mature than the other girls her age, whom Ursula knew, at any opportunity, would fall over themselves to vie for HIS attentions.
The Monsieur had chosen her though, with her delicate features, her plump, pink cheeks and luscious dark ringlets, falling against her shiny smooth forehead to shield her ultimate weapon of seduction; the violet blue eyes that had every man and boy in the village falling at her feet.
Ever conscious of the potency of her own beauty, she did not care that the others called her unkind names, said that she was vain. A sorceress, they accused, using her body and her dark gifts to secure her future. They were just envious of course, jealous of her magnetism, and her power of bewitchment.
Her love-philtre clutched to her breast, she watched the moonlight from the open window beam across her bed, and a small gasp escaped her as a dark silhouette of a bird appeared to form on her bedroom wall.
A shadow fell across the silhouette, and HE appeared in the doorway, his presence charging the atmosphere, and her waiting body, with hot fire. She could smell him, the earthy leather of his riding boots, a heady mix of night air, tobacco, and that tantalizing odour that wafted from the silk shirt he cast aside to bend and kiss her burning forehead.
She tasted the rich, fruity Cabernet from the earlier revelry as his tongue moved fleetingly across hers. Ursula could hardly contain herself, her legs longing to be wrapped around his strong body, her hands ready to pull at his unruly, coal-black hair. He held her back though, stifling her passion. ‘Why are you filled with such haste?’ He whispered, ‘Should not a lady possess the virtue of patience? Should the gift that you offer to me now not be so rushed or so impatiently unwrapped?’
Ursula’s heart fluttered like urgent gossamer wings that opened and closed with his touch. He wanted her, and so, he must love her. Why else would he ingratiate himself into their lives and home? Beguiling her widowed mother with his handsome stature and breathtaking charm, so that he might, at first hand, watch as she transformed from the skinny boy-like creature of two years ago, when he’d first set eyes on her.
And when he had suggested this party in honour of her birthday, her mama had taken it as a sign that he was making ready his proposal. Why else would he go to such lengths to secure the finest musician in the town, invite the noblest guests and provide the best food and most expensive wine? The latter of which she had longed to drink, playfully clasping her hands over his to bring the cup to her lips. He would have none of it and had reprimanded her, the protective gesture causing her to want him even more.
‘My lady must remain as pure on the inside as she deigns to be on the outside’, he told her softly, his lips teasing at her earlobe, sending a rush of warm air across the nape of her neck and down her spine. And when he swept her up to dance, her forehead barely touched his chin as they twirled and swayed, their bodies moving in unison and so close, she thought she might pass out with the sheer pain of want and pleasure.
She could hear the jealous sighs and clicks of tongues as the eyes of the other girls bored into her, and Ursula found herself enjoying every minute of their displeasure. And how she had loved the feeling as he let those ravenous eyes travel across her brow, her neck, her glistening lips, her décolletage…and when the party finally ended, she knew for sure what she had to do.
* * *
The magic hath spoken. She sat up suddenly to speak, her breathing heavy as he put his finger to her lips in quiescence and bent to kiss her forehead, his fingers running along her neck to rest on her breast. The sound of wings, flapping furiously outside, could be heard.
‘Listen. Can you hear that?’ she asked.
‘Your beating heart?’ He answered, and she almost sobbed with joy at his touch.
‘It is the cuckoo!’ she cried.
‘A cuckoo you say? Perhaps it is your mama, should I leave now?’
‘No!’ Ursula pleaded, ‘Oh, but you are mocking me–‘. He silenced her then with a kiss, a beautiful, long and tender kiss to which she responded only too eagerly.
‘You are so hungry to please me. Whatever would the cuckoo say?’ he teased.
Ursula could not contain her childish giggles as he quietened her again, covering her body with his own. ‘What an intoxicating creature you are, what if I–‘
‘What if — kind Sir?’ She asked with childish coquettishness.
‘What if I were to make you mine forever?’ The words she had so longed to hear melted over her like sweetened syrup.
‘I give myself to you willingly.’ Ursula pulled him closer. ‘For all that I desire is to be yours.’
He slowly raised her arms above her head and secured her wrists with one hand. ‘And so you will have what you desire!’ His strong back arched as he entered her, the sudden violent thrusts making her body stiffen with pain while he carried on, oblivious to her cries for him to stop. Cruel eyes, no longer dark with passion, but filled with a pleasure of another kind, now met her startled expression as he stifled her screams. At the end, he shuddered violently, transformed, his pallor turned yellow, his skin cracked, his eyes sunken in his head. ‘And you will serve your purpose in the hell of this earth that I am bound to for eternity!’ He roughly withdrew from her, parting his lips to reveal sharp, broken yellow fangs, the foulest of odours emanating from deep inside him. Ursula’s body had grown slack now, shocked and petrified beneath him as he slithered low to place his mouth on her quivering belly and sink his teeth into her soft flesh.
The pain of his stabbing, saliva-drenched teeth and tongue on her skin caused her to retch violently as he sucked at her until he drew her virgin blood…and drank it. With his appetite sated, he ran his sharp blackened fingernail across her lips and stained them with her own blood as she sobbed pitifully and tried to bury her face in her pillow. He forced her to look at him, to look inside those dead, cruel eyes, mocking her.
‘But you were so willing my sweet.’ He pulled her up towards him and greedily licked the tears from her face, ‘and all is not lost my lovely, for you will serve me well, a hearty vessel for the son that I crave.’ He pushed her roughly back onto her bed and stepped away, his appearance returning to normal as he blew her a heartless kiss before leaping from the window with the agility of an animal.
As she vomited from the pain and the hideous stench that lingered there, after him, Ursula turned her head, towards the silhouette of the bird, still perched outside on her window ledge, its wings flapping…and she listened to HIS low derisive laughter, fading from the silent house as he disappeared into the grey static of the night.
Confused and enduring unspeakable pain, she heard the hooves of his black steed as he galloped away, and then, was consumed by the silence and the stench that lingered in his wake. Too frightened to move or cry out, she plunged between dreams and reality and heard it again, that sweet sorrowful melody of the cuckoo, playing over and over, a tune that left her trance-like…until, inside her head, she began to hear a child’s sob.
A sob so terrifying, it convulsed her body and grew so loud that she thought the screams would burst forth from her throbbing skull.
It was only when the light of the new sun began to flood across her room that Ursula dared to heave her aching body from the bed. With fire in her womb, and the brutally jagged and dark crimson stain on her sheet a reminder of the savagery he had inflicted as he tore at her so cruelly, she touched her belly and felt the growing welt of the mark he had left there on her skin. The shape of HIS beast-like fangs, the diabolical mark, branding her forever more, and she realised the ominous truth. She was forsaken. She was damned, and so too, was the rotten fruit of her womb…
The Birthday Gift © 2010 Caroline Farrell. All Rights Reserved
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