My editors love this genre–a period occult tale. We think Emily’s work is quite well-done and has some beautifully written lines in it. Lines that will haunt… -Jim
Child of Alastor
The town of Berryfield suffered tremendously from the flood in 1890. Henry Mott lost his entire farm, watched his bushels be swept away by the fierce waters. He and his young son, William Mott, held onto each other while Mrs. Mott rotted in bed from tuberculosis. The other citizens of Berryfield were horrified to find the Mott’s in the aftermath of the flood with dozens of flies surrounding the gaunt corpse of Mrs. Mott. Their son stared at the blinding sun, refusing to look at her.
Henry Mott’s garden looked like nothing more than sand dunes riddled with weeds. He rubbed the soil between his fingers every now and then. He laid the last one hundred dollars the family had on the dining room table one night. From atop the staircase William watched his father- the mold on the first floor was so severe William vomited often. William Mott was certain God had put a curse upon his family.
“Now, William, I’ve got to tell you something,” he said over dinner one evening. “I’m going to sell the house and most of what we own.” William, being only ten, agreed with his father non-verbally. He stuffed his mouth full of peas and pushed the little green pods into mush on the roof of his mouth. While he did know that he and his father were now poor, he distinguished himself from other poverty in Berryfield. The Mott’s had succeeded again and again, no matter what sort of hardship. The sort of pride that one must uphold to not lose one’s head during trying times; times of avid bill-collectors and empty cupboards.
For the next seven years, Henry and his son were laborers for a family friend, Jackson Lovett. William told his father in the confines of their bedroom that he feared the curse on his family, for he did not trust Jackson and his greed. Henry told his son that the Lovett’s were harmless.
The winter of 1897 distorted the predictable path William’s life was traveling on. “There’s nothing to be merry about,” said the physician standing out in the snow. “I’m afraid this is the last evening you’ll have with him.” Jackson’s father was still and cold on his deathbed, surrounded by christmas decorations and family. William watched from the parlor where he was wiping down the furniture for a christmas party the next day.
The Christmas party became a funeral when Lovett Sr. drifted out from the world of the living. William did not attend. Jackson harshly patted him on the back before leaving, his gruff face looking more ghastly than ever. When he arrived home there was somebody with him.
“Your room is upstairs, I’ll have some- Ah!” William felt a blush rise across his face when he saw a young woman at Jackson’s side. In a rose colored gown she twirled a blonde curl in her finger absentmindedly. He was struck with instantaneous infatuation by her delicate shoulders, her tight waist and thin fingers. She was a lovely raspberry, a blueberry, something sweet and full of life. “This is my sister, Zoe Louise Lovett. The Mott’s are very respectable people of their type. I’ll have William show you to your room.”
She smiled at him without showing her teeth, playing coy in front of Jackson. The two went up the staircase. When they turned towards the hall she snagged his sleeve. “What is it?” he asked. When he turned his head, he was met with her oval eyes, which appeared almost animal as they glistened in the sunlight from the window. Similar to the way a cat has a noticeable layer that is glossed over their eyes. This made her look especially alien to him, and even though William definitely knew women of causal standards, Zoe was something much more extraordinary.
“I hear your father and my brother have been friends for a very long time. I know my brother is much older than me, but I’m turning sixteen in the spring.” Zoe chimed. William glanced down the hallway, to make sure nobody was watching them. Being aware of his place was only half of the work, William kept himself from getting into any trouble that may distract him from an honest life. He dreaded the idea of a curse following his family, and with young Zoe breathing on his collar, he saw situational disaster.
“We should go to your room now.” William could see it in her eyes that he could have been kinder to her. “Your brother has helped me so much since that awful flood. I can never repay him enough.”
Zoe pursed her lips together and scrunched her nose. Grabbing the doorknob to her room, she mused, “You know, you don’t have to praise my brother on his behalf. It’s only because of father’s death that he brought me home from boarding school. I hated that damned boarding school. Miss Angelique’s School for Girls in Athens. Have you ever been south, to Athens?”
“No, I’ve never left Berryfield.” William said meekly.
“Well!” she exclaimed, “Don’t be a stranger, William Mott. I find comfort in new faces.”
“How strange you are,” William replied smoothly, leaning against the wall. Zoe blushed red hot. William cleared his throat and added, “I’ll talk to you soon, Zoe Louise?”
Smiling genuinely, Zoe opened the door. “You most definitely will.” Then it was shut and she was gone.
Over the winter, William and Zoe spent every minute they could together. Often he found her alone on the porch, reading or eating small candies. Inhaling, Zoe would breathe in the cool, crisp air. Her pupils never shrunk when she gazed at the blinding sun; she gawked at it like an interested cat.
February strolled in like a love-struck bachelor, head-high and expecting sweet new surprises at every corner. William followed Zoe onto the porch two weeks into that month, shyly nudging her with his shoulder. “Do you think anyone would notice if we ran away?”
“The scandal!” Zoe cried, grinning. “But we could meet so many wonderful people and do so many wonderful things. It does sound like a good time.” Her face grew painfully still. William saw her calculating every day of her life, until this single moment with him, and he was suddenly cold to the bone.
“I’ve always been afraid that my family is cursed. Ever since that flood. I didn’t understand why my mother died that way,” William said, looking at his fingers as they dragged the railing of the porch. Zoe went to her chair, dusting it off and seating herself properly. William continued, “I don’t know if I believe in the devil, but I’m willing to try to run if it means I could have–”
Zoe slammed her hands on her legs and with her lips stuck out she snapped at William, “There is no place for us here! Jackson is a fool and would never listen to us. Running away has been the best idea you’ve had all winter.”
Without hesitation, William kissed her roughly, his hands immediately finding their way into her braids, unwinding them so her blonde curls could hang loose. When his tongue met hers, she closed her eyes and purred against him. As he kissed her repeatedly, he played with the tips of her ears and tugged at the baby-hairs near the nape of her neck. This was his meek, mortal attempt to convey the intensity radiating off her that caused him to feel so untamed.
“I’m sorry if that wasn’t pleasant,” William whispered, “You don’t think there’s a curse on my family, right, Zoe?”
“Heavens, no!” Zoe stood up. “You shouldn’t believe in such nonsense, William.” Out of breath and still in a daze, Zoe’s expression moved into a spellbinding sweet smile, and she tried to lock eyes with him. William placed his hands on her shoulders. His large, warm palms weighing her down slightly. He knew that if he looked into her eyes for a moment, just a moment, he’d lose himself and may never return.
The following week William read to his father before it was time to sleep. After closing the book, William hesitated to blow out the candle. Weakly, his father’s eyes rolled in their sockets towards him. He took his father’s hand. It was cold, as if life was draining from him quicker than William thought possible. Then, William suddenly heard the sound of a voice deep and menacing from outside their chamber door. Leaving his father in the weak glow of the candle’s flame, he stepped out into the hallway and was met with empty space.
On the ground leading towards the backdoor, William spotted dainty footprints pressed with white powder. The voice was coming from the other side of the backdoor: it spoke in a language he did not know, beckoning and terrifying him at the same time. “William?” his father called. “Water, son, water.”
“Coming!” William called reaching down and dipping his fingers in the white powder. Spreading it along his fingertips, his suspicions were confirmed: ashes. He cursed under his breath, hurrying to his father’s aid. The voice was quiet when William was able to return to the backdoor, the footprints were missing, but the remnants of ashes remained on his fingers.
Henry Mott passed in his sleep only hours later.
Early April meant a miserable heat was beginning to set in. He went several days at a time without seeing Zoe, as his body could do nothing except sleep once work was finished. Time passed slowly; his skin hung heavy on weary bones and William could see the end of days as brightly as the shining sun ahead.
William felt alone at the sight of Zoe’s balcony empty, leaves from the pine tree nearby falling onto the railing. If there were a way, he would climb to her side and hide away from the heat. His mind drifted to her often, of her kiss, the mere air she breathed. Her gentle grace reminded him of his sickly mother; Zoe’s demeanor was a sick sweetness William obsessed over.
Disgusted with the berries, disgusted with any food, William lost weight during the hot spring. Some of the other workers said that he was simply struggling with his father’s death and he should be ever-so thankful to have not caught the dreadful disease from him. However, William’s heart beat softly in his chest, his head clouded with chaos, and he rarely spared time to think of his father.
William went into the kitchen for a drink. He stumbled in with his hands outstretched, almost blind from the imprints left on his eyes from the sun. Some of the maids rushed around frantically. They never paid the male laborers any mind.
“Are you feeling alright, William?” Chirped a voice from the sink. A hand stretched toward him, and William faintly saw a silhouette in his glass of water. “He’s really working you to death. Jackson’s a filthy bastard, isn’t he?”
William’s breath was heavy and his sweaty uniform stuck to his skin. “I’ve never seen a man waste away like you have. When was the last time you ate a real supper? William, you poor thing!” The sing-song voice continued, wrapping around his brain like a hot rope, searing into the soft bits of his brain.
“Zoe,” he heaved, rubbing his eyes with a dirty hand. “You shouldn’t be here. Go back to your room before someone sees you. I don’t want the curse to come for you too.” William could feel the eyes of the maids on him, their ears pointed eagerly in his direction.
She chuckled at his weak state and his pathetic commands. “Aren’t I the Madame de Lovett? I’m not afraid of my brother anymore, and I’m not afraid of some silly curse!” William put the glass in the sink and stared at the slow drip of the faucet. Zoe’s words spun around him and yet he couldn’t understand any of it. The deep voice from the night of his father’s death spilled from the cracks in the walls or crawled up from the depths of the soil no matter where he was.
“I can only wonder what you mean,” William said.
“I would think you already know. It was your idea after all,” she said as she came close to his ear. The smell of her skin proved it was Zoe beyond his impaired vision. “Meet me in the woods beyond the farm at midnight. The time has come, William.” She dashed into the hall and William was left in the middle of maids with disgruntled faces. He went back to the fields; a strange shadow loomed over his thoughts as he finished his work.
Thirty minutes to midnight, William dressed himself in his finest clothes. He even packed some miscellaneous items and left his bed perfectly made He believed they would not come back, that Zoe’s plan was a sweet one after all and they might run away into the hillside and be rid of Jackson and the curse forever.
Walking through the berry fields at night was mystical. The bloomed berry bushes having reached their peak gleamed under the full moon. The bushes became tall walls guiding him into the woods. Dew hung on the leaves, dropping into the soil to make tiny moist patches. William could see nothing in the trees, only a lit path where moonlight wasn’t shadowed by the treetops.
“Zoe!” he called as he approached the treeline. He heard not a sound. Not the scurry of a creature, the rustle of a bird, or the faint sound of a leaf hitting the ground. Silence held still from the woods but William was not fearful. He was irrationally brave with Zoe’s gaze flowing through his veins.
Suddenly, William saw a light growing from deeper into the woods. Without hesitation he dashed towards it, his arms reaching outwards in a crazed attempt to feel his way straight to it. “Zoe! Zoe!” he cried out desperately. As he came closer, he saw it was a small fire burning from loose branches and berry leaves. White powder– ashes, he realized– surrounded the fire. He was stumped, finding himself alone in a clearing and the full moon directly visible above him.
“Zoe?” He called out once more, sounding a little nervous now. His expectations were fading him. The confidence that gave him such a heavy step now bled from his pores like pure toxin. “Where are you?”
As if out of thin air, she appeared on the opposite side of the fire. Her delicate hands dangled above the rising flame. “You really came!” Zoe cried gleefully. Her arms rose higher, and her face became illuminated by the sensational flames. Her brooding face and twisted smile struck a nerve in William and he backed up a few careful steps. “Where are you going, William? You only just got here!”
“What are we doing? Are you trying to let everyone know where we are?” William said in a hoarse whisper, pointing at the fire. The flames flickered as if greedy fingers, trying to snatch at his coat. Zoe’s skin looked especially icy blue under the moonlight. Her hair was a tangled mess, half-heartedly tied up with ribbon. In her rawest form she was as irresistible as ever. “Tell me, what’s the meaning of this?”
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” William began to think he was sleeping. His mind raced and he looked back towards the estate attempting to wake up from this worrisome dream. “This is where everything happens. I knew you’d come. We believed in you.” She wore nothing but a silk nightgown, too large for her young physique, and a rosary with a broken cross that fell between her breasts.
William tensed and peered closer into the fire. “Who is ‘we’?”
Zoe mocked him with laughter, her shrill cries of delight intensified the darkness surrounding them. “You know, that boarding school was so boring. I hardly got anything done compared to the others. I became a bore to my father and to myself…” Something in her tone sounded mischievous. “Then I met someone. Someone who made me feel less alone and gave my life meaning.”
She bent down, reaching for something on the other side of the fire he could not see. There in her hands– pointing it up to the sky– was a long dagger. It was so sharp it’s blade reflected the moonlight onto the grass. William ran forward, almost losing his balance. He was overwhelmed with terror. “What are you doing?!” He shouted.
Zoe’s expression was washed, her fingers clenched tightly around the dagger. A small smile grew on her face, showing just a glimpse of her teeth. She quivered before William as a desperate young girl who had made an unthinkable promise with an unlikely friend.
Without a reply, Zoe plunged the knife into her wrist. Her hot, red blood splattered across her face, covering her gown in a large stain. Her fingers went stiff, shaking from the trauma on her nerves. William screamed and fell on his back as his feet kicked loose branches, knocking a legion of embers into the sky. The hissing of the fire sounded like the voices of a thousand crying angels– the pained moans Zoe made as her blood spilled onto the ashes surrounding the flame horrified William.
“Why are you doing this? Stop!” William jumped onto his feet, coming around the side of the fire. As his quick hand moved to grab the dagger from Zoe, a force knocked him back. The breath taken from his lungs and lying on his back he wheezed. His fingers dug into the soil. A drop of Zoe’s blood had landed on his lip and he accidentally lapped at it with his tongue as he attempted to stable himself. Her blood tasted like a ripe blueberry.
“There is nothing you can do to stop this.” Zoe said, pressing her wound to her chest. The blood began to seep down her gown in a massive red stain.
“I just don’t understand,” He grunted. “You said the curse was nothing, and yet…” His chest felt tight and his body ached. At the sound of her wicked cry of delight, William’s eyes widened to see the shadows of her feet under the gown floating several inches off the ground.
“Men are fools. Especially a man so deeply caught up in his lust that he forgets his place.” She lamented pitifully. Her voice sounded as if it was all around him, in his ears and miles away. “When I was at that boarding school, I learned how to summon creatures from hell. That’s when I met my master, Alastor. He told me I learned there would be a great sacrifice in order to turn my life into everything I dreamed it. Not just you, William, I have sacrificed practically all of me. From the moment I saw you, I saw my way out of this life. We thank you for this.”
Visions of eternal darkness and a pit of flames instantly filled his sight. Around him was blackness and a strange pain erupted from inside as if a creature feasted on his skull. He could hear the creature’s tongue swirling pieces of his brain around in his shattered cranium, a pain inexpressible except for a unrelenting scream which woke him from the visions. He was met with Zoe’s round blue eyes, an oasis of ocean in the middle of an apocalypse. She had crawled over him. Her legs straddled him and the wetness of her blood dampened his trousers. William now knew that a place in Hell had been reserved for him. Since before the flood, before his own birth, perhaps, the curse followed him always.
He reached for her face, the peach fuzz on her cheeks rested softly in his palm. For a moment she relaxed into his touch. Her hand gripped the dagger so tightly her veins popped from the skin around her knuckles. “Was there ever a chance for you and I?” he whispered. She sat back stunned at his final question. “Don’t tell me, I don’t need to know.”
Pressing the blade to her lips and giving it a long, breathless kiss, Zoe grabbed a fistful of William’s hair. His arms fell weakly at his sides and his eyes rose up to gaze at the full moon. “You knew all along, what a smart young man,” she said sweetly. William choked on his blood as Zoe carved into his chest. Darkness began to fill his sights again and William blinked slowly to see Zoe curling her fingers around his warm, pulsating heart. Her thumbs rubbed at the swollen muscle as it withered with her touch. She stuck her free fingers into his gaping chest and whispered to his lifeless body. The fire roared behind her, hundreds of legions of demonic entities living within the embers chanted her name in voices terribly deep as they flickered
Emily Tassin is a senior at Lamar University in Texas. After graduating with a Bachelors in English, Emily plans to attend graduate school with dreams of becoming a professor of English. She lives in Beaumont, Texas with her family and cat, Gumbo.