Category B: Highly Commended (2020) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Sara Gilbert
The air was thick with the smell of dust. A candle’s flame flickered, bidding long shadows dance on dark oak walls. Floorboards voiced their displeasure as a cloaked figure traipsed the melancholy halls. The heart of a longcase clock beat rhythmically; the figure’s footsteps fell in tandem. Two hands, pale as the moon, pulled back the hood and withdrew a single pin. Ebony hair fell in cascading waves. Her eyes – empty and black as tar – fell upon a familiar gargoyle. She brushed her fingers against the cold, hard stone. A creature of protection. A blessed sentinel.
He had told her she was blessed.
She passed a decaying piano, ravaged by time. Some keys were chipped and others missing entirely. She sat down at the stool, biting her lip as she gently played a broken chord. Sheets of score still rested atop the aged instrument, but the corners were bent, and the printed notes had faded enough that they were barely readable. Her gaze drifted to an old portrait. A woman stared blankly back at her. It was like looking in a mirror. Except for the eyes. The woman in the painting had eyes like amber, whereas her own were darker than death itself. The painting’s golden frame was detailed with delicate filigree. She traced the swirls and curls and with her fingers as though she were reading braille.
He had said she possessed a gift.
A black linen cloth had been perfectly laid across a dining table. Porcelain plates and golden goblets sat untouched, dulled by dust and dirt. A broken window left shards of glass sparkling on the ledge like diamonds in the candlelight. She approached the casement, wayward shards cutting into the soles of her bare feet. A cedar tree stood stiff, branches jutting out in every direction like lightning bolts. A raven perched on a lifeless limb, it's feathers inked as black as the surrounding sky. A single white eye glared at her as she gazed longingly at the stars. Another eye watched from the sky - full and unblinking. Wind whipped through her hair, whispering cold words in her ear.
He had convinced her she needed him.
Bending over, she dipped the candle towards the dried wood. Within seconds, the fireplace roared with auburn flames. Holding her hands over the fire, her icy skin absorbed it's warmth. She watched tongues of fire leap about the heath. She reached forward, allowing the blaze to engulf her hand. The tongues of fire crept up the sleeve of her dress, but never did they burn her. Fate had brought her here. The Holy Puppeteer had pulled Her strings and decreed that she should venture these halls once more. She had lost track of how long she’d been sitting here, but when she withdrew her arms from the flames, her skin was icy cold. Sighing, she manipulated the fire and made it twirl across the room like a flaming ballerina. A wind-up music box played of its own accord, the delicate notes accompanying the delicate dancer. She followed the light up a worn staircase. Cobwebs attached themselves to the chipped railing.
He had said he loved her.
The door to the master bedroom was closed. She stared, hollow, at that door. The door that should have remained closed, and yet she reached for the handle anyway. The hinges creaked a warning against the hesitant hand that dared to venture into that forsaken room. A balcony's open doors allowed the moonlight to shine down on the image before her. Where other rooms were covered in dust and spiders had made homes in nooks and crannies, it was as though even time would not set foot here. Silk bedsheets were strewn across the mattress. A woman was sprawled along with the covers, her face contorted in pain. Her amber eyes glazed over, forever to stare of into the distance. A man was slouched against a wall. These were people who she should have known - who should have watched her grow into a woman. But Fate had drawn them the shortest straw, and cut them down with the sharpest blade. She swayed dangerously and stumbled out onto the balcony. The stars appeared to be laughing at her, the way they twinkled. The bodies behind her, they were her first. An innocent baby. Born without a soul - who needed the souls of others to survive.
He had her craving his affection.
She leant over the rails, heaving. Acid rose in her throat. Blinding pain ebbed in her skull. She staggered back inside, her hands blindly feeling for something - anything to grab on to. He found her. He raised her. He manipulated her. Her breathing laboured, she leant against the wall. She had tried to forget. She had tried to block out the pain. But she could still hear their screams. Each and every one of them.
He had forced her to kill and kill and kill again.
Sliding down the wall, she gripped her head, trying to ignore the suffering – the agony she had willingly caused. She wept as she rocked on the balls of her feet. She had revelled in their torment. She was a monster.
She was Reaper