The Devil of Moravia : The welcoming darkness

What has happened to Frances and why does she feel such affinity to Edmund? Read on to find out more and see below to read previous instalments.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty and twenty one.


 

‘A hand grabbed my wrist, pulled me forward, the light blinding me. Again, hands were on me, tugging me this way and that. There was laughter, a hand on my back, then my shoulder – one on my throat. Something tugged at my skirts.

‘Had I been spared one terrible fate only to succumb to another?

‘The grip on my throat tightened, unforgiving as a noose. The little light I saw began to sparkle and dance, cut to pieces by my failing sight. I would wish to say I thought of our Saviour, of his kind hand resting upon me, gathering me home, but fear had gripped my callow heart and I could think only of how little breath remained me, how many moments were left of my existence. As the night fully dimmed, I believe I thought of my mother and father, my little brother, how they would mourn my loss, lay flowers on my grave in the coming years before they lay themselves in the earth.

‘Then the pain and fear fell away, cold took me and there was only chill darkness, a sweet sinking nothingness that I know I shall only feel again at the moment of my true passing.

‘Perhaps I died a moment then. Perhaps I had merely sunk into a faint. Whichever, the next moment I was aware, pain pierced my skull, my throat, my limbs, my chest. I tried to claw back the embrace of the cold, to drift back to that numb state my body and mind had crossed into. But someone was shaking me most hideously and though I beat at them with my fists I could not free myself from their iron grip.

‘I opened my eyes. Atop me was a beast, long matted hair falling over its foul, snarling face, its eyes burning red, the weight of it pushing me into the mud, that seemed to suck at my back, pulling me into the earth. My mind raced. I was on the brink of death and here it seemed, a demon had come to claim me. I began to fight, kicking, punching the creature, clawing at its eyes, but it was too heavy, its grip too assured. Still I fought and as it shifted its weight to one side I snatched my knee up sharply, hoping to dislodge it for good.

‘There was a cry, a deep groan and the beast rolled aside, falling to the ground beside me. I thought to scramble away, to run for home, but my skirts were trapped beneath the demon and as I struggled to pull them free, I heard a voice.

‘”By, Sam. Bested by an alley cat.”

‘And the voice fell to an amused, breathless chuckling. This threw me, made me pause in my efforts to escape, for I did not imagine a demon to be called Sam, or indeed for the soldiers of Satan to be capable of such thoroughly human laughter. Then I heard some movement, a lanthorn was taken up from behind me and its flickering light revealed the scene.

‘I was still in the physical realm, still in Vauxhall Gardens, for I could just make the shape of the pagoda against the pale glow of the half moon. The lamp light danced and flickered quite madly, coming closer until it shone above my head.

“Sam,” called that same voice. “Do you live, man?”

‘Then the demon beside me shifted, rolling over, the hair sliding aside to reveal a face twisted in pain, but altogether human.

“Aye, for now,” replied the face.

‘As the flame flickered on those sharp cheeks, those fox-like features, a memory came to me of a small boy dancing, taper in hand as a paper city blazed …

“You’re the child,” I gasped. “The child who burned Hamburgh.”

‘The man laughed at my horror, my ridiculous words. But dipped his head in a mocking imitation of good manners.

“Samuel Longmire Gordon,” he said. “And you are Frances Lucretia Kindley.”‘

Frances paused then, her agitated fingers dancing at her lips.

‘Perhaps it was at that moment I was lost. Sitting in the Vauxhall mud, staring into his eyes. His expression was one I had never witnessed before. It was as if he knew me utterly, could look inside my mind and see the deepest workings, divine every ignoble thought and silent curse and selfish deed and accept it all. Nay, not accept – welcome it. He welcomed every darkness in me, encouraged them to thrive.

‘And there was something more, something blacker still. I would shudder to speak of it to any other than you. For there was a hunger there too, Edmund, a desire for possession.’

Her hands were shaking as she reached for mine.

‘He meant to own me, to have complete power over every part of me and even in that moment …’ She shuddered. ‘Even then, I believe I should have been helpless to resist him.’

She shook her head. ‘Then the spell was broken by his companion, a man I later knew as Josias Candle, who took reached to pull him to his feet.

“Come,” he said, “The night falls deeper and there is little more sport to have here.”

‘That Candle was the one who had his hand about my throat I little doubt and what his plans were for me, I am loath to contemplate. Samuel had at least saved me from that fate, just as Candle himself  saved me from the girl and her sharp boned accomplice. That these two men were dangerous there was no doubting also. That they prowled the gardens in search of sport of the most heinous kind I knew in my marrow and that in itself should have made me run for a constable.

‘Instead, I allowed Samuel to help me to my feet, to reclaim my cloak, to remove a little of the mud from my heels and skirt. He returned my necklace and bracelet too and it was only later I wondered at what happened to my attackers, where they had fallen. If they lie somewhere still, unmourned, unrecovered. I stood motionless as marble as Josias fetched a carriage to take me home, as Samuel pressed a shilling on the driver to pay for the journey.

‘That I permitted all of these things to pass shows a weakness in me, a thread of indecency I had not thought dwelt in my soul. But as Samuel handed me into the carriage, I found a defining proof that I belonged more in this devilish company than with the sweet, good society my parents dwell in. For Samuel snatched me to him, pressed his lips against my cheek …’

Her eyes were swollen with tears, brimming on her cheeks like a river breaking its banks after a heavy storm. She seemed so lost, so hopeless as she struggled to say the words.

‘… and I did not push him away.’

Suddenly there was a loud knock and without pause the door swung open. There stood Slatina, a thin smile curling on his lips.

What pegman saw : The Whisperers

 

It’s after the museum closes for the day, after the last tourist has shuffled out onto Nassau’s sweating streets, that the Whisperers come.

Jalen takes his time locking doors, scooping dropped tickets from the floor. The dust slowly settles, a powdery gauze slipping over the displays.

When he’s done he stops, lets the thump of car stereos, the calls of passersby drift like silt to the bottom of his mind as They float to the surface.

They’re shy at first, hugging the shadows, but then one will step forward, whisper a name – Efe, Temitope, Abena – then another comes and another, name after name, countless names. Jalen feels the manacles cinch his own ankles, the sea water swell his lungs as he sinks below the waves, as the sun slips away and green night falls.

Some days he wonders if he’ll join them, whispering in the darkness.

 


Written for What pegman saw, a prompt using Google Streetview. See here to join in and to read the other tales. Inspired by the Slavery and Emancipation Museum in Nassau.

I’m still in Mothers Day recovery mode, brain still frizzed and frazzled, so my usual Monday instalment of The Devil of Moravia will be tomorrow instead.

If I have some brain cells back by then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every day, forever

 

She leans forward to scrutinise her reflection, dodging the voids in the glass where the silver has aged and peeled away. Portions of her are missing wherever she stands but by swaying and ducking, she finally sees her face, though sectional, disjointed. There are no signs of strain, no nervous tics or twitches that might give her away.

Gordon’s been dipping in and out of the water all day, slick and shining wet as seal, while she clung to the safety of the sands. Now he’s beached on a stack of grey striped pillows, his hands clasped behind his head, a white shadow of skin along his hairline. His nose is red, the tip flaking.

She watches him in the mirror. His eyes are closed, his breathing long and deep, a soft inhalation, a catch, the air turned gravelly by slack vocal chords. She’s never examined another person as much as she has Gordon these last days. She always thought skin was skin, but his is detailed, peaks of moles, troughs of scars, a forest of hairs at the base of his neck.

Has she ever been this hot before? The bowl on the washstand is full and she waits for the water to settle, considers drinking the whole lot down, as if it’s a cup of cloudy punch. Her sundress unzipped and poised to drop, she turns her attention back to herself. Where Gordon is copper and bronze, she is white with crimson details, her hair damp with sweat, the usually tight curl stretched into soft waves. The skin under her arms sticks to itself, only coming apart with a quiet sucking, and she imagines stepping into a bath, waiting for the water to lap the sweat away.

The sundress drops around her ankles. She’s sharp, her shoulders right-angles, her bones moulding skin into triangles and trapezoids, a geometry lesson for Gordon to run his hands over. She looks for signs that her flesh is bulking, finally billowing into feminine curves, but finds only straight lines. Her bra is a sad joke, the cups deflated to her chest, only there to save her modesty, or at least they were – after three days of marriage she has shed her outmoded coyness, something that she’s happy to be rid of.

‘Come to bed, wife.’ His reflection beckons, burrowing under the covers until she can see little of him except a copper hand and the red tip of his nose. She steps out of her sundress, leaving the water in the bowl.

 


Tis Mothers’ Day weekend here in the UK, which means at present, I’m making bouquets for other well-deserving mothers. I will not be able to read or commenting for a few days, but bear with me my dears, I’ll return to you soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FFfAW : Twilight warning

This week’s photo prompt is provided by Sunayana MoiPensieve. Thank you for our photo prompt!


 

She takes a last draw on her cigarette and throws the stub in the gutter.

A wave of commuters flows from the station, heads down, dashing past the busker and his open guitar case. Five twenty pees and a shirt button  – but he’s been plucking the notes and pound coins out, stuffing them in his pockets, careful to leave a few behind.

The sky changes, an eerie twilight that warns of more rain. The first drops fall, shivering the surface of the puddles. She lights another cigarette.

 … He points his camera at the busker, pretends to take a photograph while watching her from between his lashes. She smokes too much. He tries to imagine what she tastes like but he’s never kissed anyone who smokes before. He wants a photo of her to keep but she’s out of shot and he doesn’t want to move, to draw attention. A man approaches her …

‘Where have you been?’

‘Stuck at work. Come on. It’s going to throw it down.’

… He turns his lens away. Always looking …

 


Written for Priceless Joy’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. See the pic and tell a tale. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Fictioneers : The bright and shining days

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll


 

Whole village would go up to the big house each Christmas. Mr Gregory would bundle the kiddies in the haycart, the adults following on behind in best suits and hats, all brushed and buffed. There’d be plenty to eat, hams and cakes and the like, beer for the men and port wine for the ladies. Proper bright and shining days.

Then war broke. And there were no men to drink the beer. Poor Mr Gregory passed on the first day of the Somme, both his boys too, though one was underage.

Oh for those bright and shining days back.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the prompt photo and tell a tale. Visit here to join in and to read the other stories.

 

#tuesdayuseitinasentence: Cola Supernova

Red chilli pepper in front of grey

Image : Pixabay

 

He talks about her all through lunch at work, over the radio blaring eighties hits. ‘There’s a heat between us when we touch. It’s animal,’ he says. His mate turns the radio up a notch.

She’s out with a friend getting a manicure and when asked about him she shrugs, turns back to her celebrity magazine, the candid snap of a drunken starlet. ‘Have you seen the thighs on her?’

He buys a ring second hand, too big for its velvet box. When he buffs it on his sleeve and holds it to the light, it glows white hot, a supernova caught between his fingers.

She booked the restaurant – mid-price but not too shabby – and part way through dessert, he drops to one knee and her heart sinks. She’s just taken a mouthful of pavlova and before it melts on her tongue, before she has chance to speak, she sees the size of the diamond. Suddenly, his tight suit looks hipster cool, his features chiselled not gaunt. ‘Okay.’ She smiles through a mouthful of cream.

Fifteen years later, the ring is on the table between them, a chunk of gaudy ice. Funny how that stone never seems to catch the light anymore.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Today the prompt word is HEAT. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

The title is a play on the Oasis song, Champagne Supernova.

 

The Devil of Moravia: The Garden of Earthly Delights

Frances is bruised, both physically and emotionally and has come to Edmund for help. But how did she come to such a state? Do read on. And look below to find links to the story so far.

One, two, threefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen,

 fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen and twenty.


‘I cannot say exactly what was the beginning of it all, for the order of things has become jumbled in my mind. Perhaps it was the gift of a gilded rose, or a melody from a time long past whistled from the inky shadows. Whichever it was, I have been a puppet in the hands of men, in a labyrinthe of suffering from which I have been unable to escape …

‘I first saw Samuel when I was a child. I don’t believe I have told you that before. When I was six I had a nursemaid we called Pony on account of her prancing gait. She would take my brother and I to Vauxhall, to the gardens. Can you imagine it? Strolling through the crowds, tight rope walkers swaying over our heads, marching bands, tumblers, fireworks and currant buns to eat. Poor Pony would have been removed from her position had my mother ever known. But we loved our dear girl for taking us there, so we kept the secret close to our hearts.

‘One day at the gardens we were left to watch a theatrical. Pony had left us under a tall tree with our usual buns and told us to hold hands while we watched a recreation of the Burning of Hamburgh. It was rather a sombre affair with much verse and little burning. There were rough buildings made of painted card and a child of no more than eight with a taper – a giant striding over the reimagined city – who did little but shiver and speak too quietly for the crowd to hear.

‘My brother was tugging on my hand, urging me to come away to the Chinese pagoda to glare at the carved beasts, when a boy dashed from the crowd, snatched up the taper and began to dance like a tribesman, shouting and exclaiming and distorting his face into hideous shapes. As the crowd cheered, he put the flame to the paper city, the whole soon ablaze, sending sooty church spires and battlements and roofs into the air, the grass scorching, the trees smouldering from flying embers. People were running and screaming and still that blackened, wild boy danced on.

‘Pony soon came up and dragged us away, muttering she knew the boy and how he needed the devil beating out of him. His name was Samuel Gordon.

‘Many years passed. Pony left us to marry a drayman, my brother gained a tutor, I the skills required for society, though not the desire to dwell in it. You and I met and were engaged to be married. From time to time I would hear Samuel’s name – always whispered, never mentioned in the same breath as the respectable.

‘Then the day after you broke our engagement, I received a parcel. Wrapped in moire silk, tied with a teal ribbon, it was a rose, the petals and leaves dipped in gold with only the nub of the stem in its natural form. I had never seen such a thing. I was sure it was a love token from you, a symbol that you regretted your actions, but though I searched the wrappings there was no note.

‘Days passed and I waited for word from you but none came. As days stretched to weeks, I grew restless in my pitiless seclusion. Nothing comforted me, only thoughts of days gone by, before my heart had known  what love was, what betrayal could do to a soul unused to wounds.

‘No, do not look so ashamed, Edmund. You and I are beyond such things and in truth I thank you. My youth was such a charmed one, so filled with gaiety, so free of dark knowledge, that were it not for the storm our broken love afforded me and the injuries I survived I do believe I would have sunk without trace in what came after.

‘My mind returned to dear Pony and our trips to Vauxhall and so I fell under a spell of some sort, sure that perhaps if I returned to that place of happy memory, then my old joys would return too. I confess I committed the first of my crimes that night, for not wishing to be stopped leaving the house, I took my maid’s cape as a disguise – a dull thing the colour of ermine in summer – and crept from the house.

‘I shall not tell you of the thousand perils and indignities, the lewd calls and winks from costers, the countless small abrasions and injuries I suffered as I pushed through the crowds and over Vauxhall Bridge. Many times I thought how foolish the endeavour was, how perilous, but misery and a hope of happiness recaptured pushed me onwards until I finally reached my goal.

‘It was with sadness that I walked the gardens. The colours of the Chinese pagoda had faded as if it had been laundered too often and too vigorously. The tight rope walkers were gone, the great military bands also, leaving little to entertain but a ragged man with a half-starved mongrel that danced when beaten and a penny whistle player whose tunes were old and cheerless.

‘There were still crowds, but now the promenading ladies and gentleman had gone, leaving only threadbare clerks and servant girls to push through the unswept leaves. The wind blew up as I walked, as the light faded and the gardens gave over to darkness and the occasional linksman and his bobbing flame.

‘When a hungry eyed girl and her sharp boned gentleman friend approached me, I realised the mistake I had made. I was alone in the gardens – a reckless act even my maid would not be foolish enough to engage in – with every hedge and tree rustling with laughter and groans.

‘The girl said something – some tale of a lost purse, a lost child – and I recall she was  making the sound of weeping, though her cheeks were dry as paper. I apologised, tried to move away, but she took my wrist, her grip cutting as a chain and though I pulled free after some effort, her companion was then on me, holding me tight about the waist. I struggled but the man was strong and the girl set about removing my cape, the necklace and bracelet I had been foolish enough to keep with me. With a blade she cut the strings of my purse.

‘The man bundled me towards the bushes, my boots skidding on the mud, unable to stop our progress. Fear gripped my throat. I was unable to cry out. I could smell filth, spilled ale, a sharp animal smell, foxes, badgers – man. Any moment and I would be hidden from view, the two wolves upon me, able to do as they willed.

‘Just as hope failed me, a woman cried out. Then I heard another cry – a man’s this time, and so close to my ear I knew it was my attacker. For a moment nothing more happened. I was still caught about the waist, still on the verge of oblivion. Then another cry, the pressure about me loosened and I staggered free of the bushes, back out onto the path and away from the stench of rot and death.

‘As I pulled my loosed clothes about me, a lanthorn shone bright in the darkness and I heard another voice, rather low and finely spoken, though this did not put me at my ease, for it said,

Slay those beasts and let us divide our winnings.

‘A hand grabbed my wrist, pulled me forward, the light blinding me. Again, hands were on me, tugging me this way and that. There was laughter, a hand on my back, then my shoulder – one on my throat. Something tugged at my skirts.

‘Had I been spared one terrible fate only to succumb to another?’

 


To read more about Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, see here.