The Devil of Moravia : The Changeling

 

Arthur Rackham, fairy tale, book illustration

Image : Pixabay

Edmund’s fate is chasing after him. How much longer can he outrun it?

To read previous instalments – from quiet beginnings, through a debauched middle, heading for a blood soaked crescendo, search below.

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Then came another voice, familiar and yet one whose distance in recent times had plunged a dagger of yearning in my chest.

‘Edmund. Come to me.’

‘Frances?’

Did I slumber still? Was that sweet, clear voice reaching to me through the veil of my consciousness, worming inside to pluck at the very root and core of my manhood?

‘Edmund, my love. Open the door.’

I looked about me, from Samuel to Peg, to the broken window glass and the fallen furniture. This was no fantasy, no wishful dream. My dear girl was outside the door. Oh, to gaze upon that face! I made to rise, but Peg Fair was by my side in a moment, restraining me.

‘Please, sir. You mustn’t go.’

Despite wearing only my nightgown, I pushed back the covers, shrugging Peg aside. It was as if my fever was still upon me, fizzing in my brain like strong wine, pushing me onward when the lucid part demanded me to stop.

‘You do not understand!’ I bellowed, dragging the blanket box aside, tripping on my gown, only to rise up and set to clearing the door. ‘Frances needs me. She has been unwell.’

Peg’s voice, calm, insistent, pressed against my certainty. ‘You have been unwell, sir, or you would understand what happens here. Your lady is not your lady.’

‘Do you hear me, Edmund? Come out to me. Come out to your Frances.’

What nonsense Peg spoke. For that was my love’s voice. The same, sweet girl who had twisted daisies in my hair, had laughed like a child to see me look so foolish. The same girl who had loved me more than I ever deserved to be loved.

I had to reach her. The need grew inside me, gnawing at my heart, pushing me on. I had dragged the blanket box away, but still has to move the chair, the clothes press, tall as a man, heavy as two. Splintered wood covered the floor, sweat broke out on my forehead, my back, but still I pressed on, had to press on.

‘Lord Samuel, please, sir!’ Peg went to the stricken man. ‘Please. You know the sense of it. You told me yourself that the Devil might bring the lady. Sir! You must tell what this means.’

I stole a look at the curled shell of a man that had been Samuel Longmire Gordon. But there was little to see but a spine circled on itself. Little to hear but weeping. I returned to my work.

A few scarce seconds and the chamber door would be clear. I would see she who held my heart. I knew so clearly that all would be well, I scarce considered Slatina, the Red Men, the putrid scene of ill used flesh at Samuel’s home. All I knew was her, that soon we would be reunited, never more apart.

Now Peg walked beside me, shadowing my fevered moves as if she was a reflection in a twisted glass. ‘Sir, you are not thinking what the lady’s presence here signifies.’ She spoke in a quick, hushed voice, as if keen to tell me all, keener still to keep her words from passing through the chamber door. ‘There was a washer woman back, lived in the swell of the stream below the mill race. Babbie Peckford was her name. Sweet natured as a doe, soft as a leveret’s pelt, though soft minded with it. She was wed to Nat Marten, though he’d first set his mind to another. A fine wife, Babbie made. Never slacked at her work, not through seven pregnancies and five births. Perhaps tis why the Fair Folk came.’

The door was almost free now, with only the press to move. Still, Peg talked.

‘They took her, sir, to care for their young as well as she had cared for her own. Poor Babbie Marten, Peckford as was. But the Fair Folk never just take, for they think that bad dealing. They leave a body behind, you see? A Changeling. A body who looks the spit of she who has been taken but is not her. Is different as any can be in temperament and nature. Tis what they left. A hollow woman instead of Babbie.’

I had shifted the press aside a little, almost enough. Almos enough to swing wide the door and let my lover in. But something stayed my hand. Something in Peg’s words rang a true note. My body damp from effort, I asked her, ‘What happened to the washer woman?’

‘To the true Babbie? She never saw her children more.’

‘And the … the Fairy woman left in her stead?’

‘She would not wash. Would not cook. Would not care for the little ones. She walked the woods searching for a Fairy Ring, a crossing place to take her home. She was found in the mill race on St Stephen’s Day, blue as forget me knots.’

The fevered energy had left me now, leaving only exhaustion and pain. ‘You think Frances a Changeliing?’

Peg shook her head. ‘I think she is nothing so sweet as that. Only that love blinds us from seeing what remains when evil has had its way.’

A voice reached us from near the bed. ‘If Frances is here, it is because she has fed. Your Frances has been swept away by blood.’

Those words hammered into me, a nail piercing all hope. It was the truth, I felt it. There were but beasts beyond the door, creatures of death and trickery, willing to inflict any pain, to break any will.

‘Edmund.’ That voice, so like my girl, yet now I listened close, with a flash of steel running where Frances was only ever laced with gold. ‘Edmund. I grow cold without you. I suffer such pains.’

Now the spell was broken, I could not believe I had come so close to opening that door, to throwing myself upon her untender mercies.

‘But how can we survive this? Surely, there is nothing to be done.’ I felt suddenly so weakened, my knees buckled under my own weight.

Samuel and Peg exchanged a glance before Samuel went to staring at the floor once more.

‘What is it?’ I said.

‘You are weak,’ said Peg. ‘You have not eaten.’

It was true, I could not think of a morsel of food that had passed my lips in days.

Peg began to roll up her sleeve. ‘If you were stronger, perhaps we might fight the Devil.’

Uncomprehending, I gazed at her forearm, at the fresh red welts that wept there. I was suddenly gripped by a terrible hunger, an overwhelming thirst the like I had never felt before. It gripped my stomach, pulling it tight as a drum.

Unable to pull away, unable to make sense of the horrible drive that befell me, I stared at Peg, helpless, speech a stranger.

She smiled, sweet and sad. ‘Time to accept who you are, sir.’

 

Three Line Tales : Shifting the goalposts

three line tales 73 midsummer

photo by Christian Widell via Unsplash


 

Years ago it had been their pitch, a rough piece of wasteground surrounded by a ring of scrubby trees that caught tumbling crisp packets, discarded newspaper shiny with chip grease.

They’d used their jumpers for goalposts, left bottles of lemonade in the shade to keep cool on hot days. Talked about Thunderbirds and Dr Who and how Shane Lacey in the third year kept a knife tucked in his sock. Long, hot days.

Now there was a proper goalpost, crisp white lines painted on the grass. No more chip papers, no more warm, dusty lemonade. How he missed it.

 


Written for Sonya at Only 100 Words’ Three Line Tales. See the picture and write a tale. Visit here to read the other stories and to join in.

Friday Fictioneers : A new normal

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz


 

‘Calm down.’

The skin twitched at Jeanne’s throat, her pulse beating hard. ‘What if they search the car?’

‘They won’t search the car if you look normal.’

Panic grabbed her. What did ‘normal’ look like? She wasn’t sure she knew anymore.

He sighed, forced a smile, squeezed her hand a little too tightly. ‘It’s okay. We haven’t done anything wrong.’

The rain was easing, the wipers juddering over the drying windscreen.

The sight of a uniform made her heart jump. But the official waved them through, his eyes fixed on the far horizon.

From the boot, the knocking started again …

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. Tell a tale based on the pic in 100 words or fewer. To join in and to read the other stories, take a look here.

 

#tuesdayuseitinasentence : Feast or famine

Cornucopia, feast

Image : Pixabay

When David shared his attentions, it was either feast or famine.

Sharon could go weeks without seeing him, her texts ignored, her calls cut off without an answer. Then one day he would turn up at her flat, the boot of his Mercedes overflowing with bags from Hermes, Gucci, Prada, Tiffany, enough to paper over the cracks his absence had breached.

Then she met Col, who ran his own building firm and could bench press 230 pounds. She began to wonder if it wasn’t time she enjoyed a more balanced diet.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventures’ #tuesdayuseitinasentence. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

The Devil of Moravia : The killer within

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


What has become of Edmund? Is he alive or passed onto the great beyond? Read on to find out and it if you’d like to catch up on his previous trials, see below.

Onetwothreefour, fivesix , seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelvethirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eighttwenty ninethirty. and thirty one.


As more blows fell and more, I knew I was to die. As I sunk into the pain, there were but two thoughts that haunted me; that I had failed to save the girl.

And that Slatina yet lived.

Darkness took my hand.

Time passed, a kaleidoscope of light and darkness, harsh voices snatching me from unconsciouness merely for me to plunge back into that dark silence. I had a sense of movement, of the city’s streets, gables close above me, but Frances was by my side throughout, by some miracle returned to full health, her smile radiant as the sun at Midsummer. I reached for her hand but she was ever beyond my reach, dancing ahead of me, a May fly on the breeze.

You’re home, Edmund, she whispered, sliding beyond my reach, slipping away from me as my eyes slowly opened.

It took a moment to realise, I was indeed home. The same dark curtains, pulled tight across the shutters. The same scent of beeswax and dust. And a shadow beside me, straight shouldered, the waist slender and tapered, fingers working a needle into a circle of fine cloth. There she was, my girl, my Frances. God had looked upon that ghastly sickroom, at the depraved state of that house and the deeds committed there and he had seen there was one deserving of his mercy. He had plucked my love to safety.

I made so many vows in those few moments – to keep her ever safe by my side thereafter,  to always protect her, to never allow a single harm to befall her as long as I was fit to do so. And even if the Lord should take me to him first, to protect her with my spirit through the years of her ageing until we were reunited beyond.

All this I promised through fevered, grateful tears … Until the young woman beside me raised her head at my weeping and I saw with true eyes that the fair hair was of a darker hue, that the hands were roughened by work, the shoulders narrowed and hunched by poor diet. That it was not Frances at all, but Peg Fair who sat vigil over me.

Is it possible for a broken heart to break anew? If so I believe mine cracked further still in that moment, that a fissure widened inside me, threatening to tear my frame in two. I wept.

Sleep must have taken me, for when I next woke, a candle was alight on my nightstand, the shadows long and threatening across the chamber walls, the clenched fists of a storm beating the house. A figure was seated in the chair beside me, but this I could not mistake for Frances. Samuel sat, gaunt and hollow eyed, his face a mask of fear and exhaustion.

‘I did not know whether to stir you,’ he said. ‘You have been two days in a fever which I feared might take you. And all the while they beat at the door.’

Only now did I realise, the noise I heard upon waking was no storm, but fists threatening to break through the wood and crack the hinges. A mahogany clothes press and a blanket box, a heavy chair that usually remained in the far corner by the window, all furniture of weight had been placed against the door.

Samuel sunk his head into his hands. ‘I could not think where else to bring you where you might recover. Now I have doomed us all.’

‘Who is without, Samuel?’

Peg stepped from the shadows of the window into the candlelight. ‘It’s those red devils, sir.’

With some difficulty I pulled myself upright. ‘The Red Men? It is the Red Men who beat at the door?’

But of course, who else would it be but those blank, soulless creatures. Had I been lying there senseless for days, the Red Men scraping like hounds after the fox as I slept?

‘Where is Slatina? Where is their master?’

Samuel merely shook his head. ‘No sign of him. Just the interminable knocking.’

My exhausted mind struggled to make sense of everything. Slatina must know that Samuel would have brought me back to the house and if he did not I was sure the Red Men would have sent a message alerting him to our presence. Why, then, was Slatina not the one hammering at the door? How was it we were all still alive?

It was then the words of Old Noah came to my mind… Know who you are. Embrace it, no matter how dark, no matter how squalid … I had to know the full answer to a question which had battered at my mind, that I had tried to push to the darkest corners of my soul.

My fingers gripped the locket about my neck. Trembling, I opened its metal doors and gazed upon the likenesses there. Still the Earth Angels shone, bright and beautiful  as stars. ‘Tell me truthfully what the potraits in the locket signify.’

Samuel gave me a look of the utmost misery. He clutched his own locket as he said, ‘Slatina gives one to each of his subjects to remind them.’

It pained him to tell me, but I had to know. ‘Remind them of what?’

‘He says we must always remember what we are. That we must not delude ourselves that we are decent.’ He swallowed, looked me full in the eye. ‘They are likenesses of our first kill.’

Had I known it all along? On that night of the ball, the night I buried the Earth Angels, was there some part of me that remembered my part in their deaths? I felt it now. Felt my mind, intoxicated by that night of debauchery, of the shedding of civilised conduct, overwhelmed by the most horrifying needs. Had I been under Slatina’s influence when those two young women died? Yes, of that I was sure. But perhaps all he had done was reveal my true self. Set free the killer hiding within.

Then it was as if the whole house shook beneath the hammering of a giant fist. Glass shook and shattered in the casements, glittering to the floor, the furniture barricade shook, fell, wood splintering under the impact. The bed quaked beneath me, Peg stumbled, cried out, falling against the wall and to the rug. Just as I felt sure the house would break apart around us, all was still.

I heard weeping and saw Samuel was on the floor, curled tightly upon himself, body shuddering with sobs. This was the only sound, as a voice reached through the chamber door.

‘Enough of this, Edmund.’ Slatina, his voice calm. ‘You hold no high moral ground here. You are no better than Samuel, pathetic as he is. No better than I.’

The sound of movement told me he drew closer to the door as he said, ‘We are killers all.’

It was true, but still I could not succumb, would not sink beneath the black waves of the life Slatina wished for me.

He must have guessed my thoughts, for then he said, ‘Perhaps someone closer to your heart can persuade you.’

Then came another voice, familiar and yet one whose distance in recent times had plunged a dagger of yearning in my chest.

‘Edmund. Come to me.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Line Tales : Scar Tissue

photo by Joel Filipe via Unsplash


 

‘Jelly sting,’ he’d said. ‘Swimming in the Gulf of Mexico with Nico. You met Nico, right?’

I’d kissed his scars – welts like bronze earthworms pushing from the surface of his back – he’d turned, pinned me to the bed as I wriggled and laughed, another afternoon lost to each other.

It was only after he went missing I searched his things, found the case, the money, the filmy packets and their dense white powder. All those scars.

 


Written for Sonya at Only 100 Words’ Three Line Tales. See the pic and write a tale. To join in and to read the other stories this week, see here.

And seeing as I seem to be making a habit of quoting from songs at the moment and it’s a lovely, sunny Saturday here in the UK, let’s throw in a little Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Friday Fictioneers : The Killing Moon

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson


 

I recognise the moon tonight. That same blue white ball that leaves a ghost moon in my vision when I close my eyes. The same clouds, ruched gauze floating in the black.

Do you remember our first night with that moon? Bars of light falling through the palms as if we were walking along the sea bed with fronds of weed waving above.

I think you’ve forgotten it all. How you looked at me. How you made me feel as if that rock was in orbit around us and us the centre of everything.

If you remembered you’d stay.

 


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See here to join in and to read the other glorious tales.

I saw the moon pic, I thought of the end of a great love … and I had to include one of my favourite ever songs by Echo and the Bunnymen.