by Pi Rae
Short Story: tragedy strikes Cecily's family and she will go to any length to see justice.
“Mama! Come see the monkeys!” Cecily Powell smiled at her six-year old son. He grabbed her hand and pulled, trying to make her move faster. She quickened her pace, trying to appease the child’s impatience.
The sun shone warmly on her shoulders and cheeks. A gentle breeze ruffled the tassels on the edges of her parasol. The clear blue sky promised quiet weather for the afternoon. Her son skipped along ahead of her. The London zoo was his favorite place to visit in the spring.
He stepped up to the cages and grinned, blowing raspberries to the chimpanzees. One of the chimps noticed him and stared back blankly. Charles giggled and made faces. The chimp’s lower lip curled down, and its face broke into a lopsided grin.
Smiling, Cecily picked up her son. He wrapped his arms around her neck and played with tendrils of hair curling around her face.
“Oh, mama, no! I’m not done looking at the monkeys yet!” her son squealed, reaching toward the cage with all the might his little body could muster.
“I know, darling. But it’s time to go home; papa will be waiting dinner for us if we don’t hurry.” Charles sighed in disappointment but ceased his struggling. She set him down and he walked quietly beside her, clinging to her thumb. The footman held the door of the carriage open for them. They sat in comfortable silence for the ride home.
When they approached the Powell family home, the butler opened the door for them. Cecily handed him her gloves, hat and parasol. He bowed silently as he accepted them. When Cecily had her back turned, he winked at Charles, evoking a grin.
“Thank you, Bernard,” Cecily murmured. Instantly, the butler’s face remade itself into a mask of absolute indifference. He made a slight bow to the lady of the house and gracefully vanished, as only butlers can do.
Cecily and Charles went into the dining room where Thomas was sitting patiently at the head of the table.
“Daddy!” Charles ran to his father, who was often at work and never able to spend much time with him.
“Charles! Is this how a gentleman behaves?” his father barked. The boy stopped in his tracks, chastised. He slowly and carefully walked to his father and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“It’s wonderful to see you father, how was your day?” Desperate for approval, the child behaved as much like a gentlemen as a six-year old possibly could. Cecily found it comical. She could hardly wait to see the man that little Charles would grow into.
“My day was fine, thank you for asking.” Thomas answered cordially, setting a good example for his only son. As the maid served dinner to the family, Cecily’s thoughts wandered happily over the family seated with her.
She and Thomas had been married nine years. He had been the most promising of all her suitors, and her judgment served her well. Thomas rose to be the governor of the Bank of England. He was been able to provide a luxurious living for his family and proved to be a good father. He had even understood that Cecily did not want to leave her family’s home. After her mother’s death, they moved into the much smaller house that had belonged to the Adams family for generations. It had taken four years of trying for her to become pregnant. The labor nearly killed her. Afterwards, the doctor informed her that she could never have another child. While she was saddened to hear this, little Charles was such a marvel that she doubted she had enough room in her heart to love another child. He was her curly blond-haired, bright blue-eyed treasure.
“So how was the zoo? Did you enjoy your outing?” The question had been directed at Cecily, but it was Charles who answered.
“Oh, yes father! We saw birds and-“
“Charles! Was the question directed at you?” Thomas fixed his son with a stern glare. Charles studied the rug under his chair.
“No sir,” he mumbled.
“Do gentlemen answer questions that are not addressed to them?”
“No sir.” Thomas glanced at Cecily and winked. She tried to hide her smile.
“So, Charles, how was your outing?” The boy’s face broke into a wide grin and he picked up exactly where he left off.
“We saw giraffes and elephants and monkeys! And… thalie... thilie…” he looked to his mother for help.
“Thylacines,” Cecily filled in.
“Thylacines. One of the monkeys made a face at me, it looked like this!” The boy’s lower lip curled down in an amusing attempt to imitate the chimpanzee’s expression. Cecily chuckled softly into her napkin and looked at her husband, her eyes gleaming with adoration for their son.
Much later that night, Cecily was awakened by a crash coming from the general area of the drawing room. She sat bolt upright, listening carefully. Thomas was fast asleep next to her. He mumbled in response to her insistent nudging. She poked him harder, covering his mouth with her hand. His eyes suddenly popped open.
“I think there’s someone in the house,” she whispered, removing her hand. Thomas’s eyes widened. They sat in silence, enveloped in the pitch-black dark of the room. Sounds of someone creeping around downstairs softly bled through the floors and walls of the old house. Thomas rose, trying to make as little sound as possible. He silently walked to the fireplace, lifted the poker and walked quietly to the door.
Cecily followed her husband into the hall, where he motioned for her to stay. A creak came from the door of her son’s bedroom. Both Thomas and Cecily jumped at the noise. Charles peeked out of his room, eyes cloudy with sleep. His eyes widened when he noticed the fire poker in Thomas’s hand. Cecily fixed him with a stern glare and raised a finger to her lips. Her heart was still pounding at the sound the door had made. She held out her arms and he walked carefully to her.
Thomas tip-toed down the stairs, poker in hand at the ready. Cecily listened intently from the top of the stairs, while Charles clung to her leg. Thomas’s muffled voice wafted up; he was, no doubt, telling the burglar to leave. A soft moan followed the sound of a strange man’s voice. She covered her mouth with her hands to keep from screaming, temporarily releasing her hold on Charles. In the momentary distraction, Charles let go of her leg and ran down the stairs. Petrified, Cecily could only watch as her son ran to his father.
Recovering her senses, she chased after her son. The hardwood floor was cold on her bare feet as she entered the drawing room. A lamp had been lit. As she ran through the doorway, she was grasped from behind by someone with strong arms. A hand clapped itself over her mouth.
Thomas was lying on the floor. His eyes stared emptily at the ceiling. Her son had been dumped unceremoniously on top of him. A pool of blood surrounded them. Whose it was, she couldn’t tell.
“Listen carefully, you rich, spoiled whore,” a harsh voice whispered into her ear. “You are going to lie down on the floor and keep your eyes closed. I am going to walk out the door and you will never see me again.” Hatred dripped from every syllable. He forced her over to her fallen family, forcing her to lay face-down in blood. Her stomach churned, but she forced it to be still. She heard the burglar go towards the door, step through it and shut it. She lied in place until she was certain he wouldn’t return.
Sitting up, Cecily could barely control her body’s tremors. Hands shaking violently, she rolled her son’s tiny body over to reveal that his throat had been slit. Thomas’s nightshirt was pure red. Her hands dripping with blood, she covered her face trying to block out the gruesome picture. A blood-curdling scream echoed throughout the house when she could no longer deny the truth.
Bernard came running from the servant’s quarters followed by two of the maids. Sarah and Mary were still pulling on their bathrobes and blinking the sleep from their eyes when they entered the drawing room. All three froze for an instant before immediately taking control of the situation. Bernard went to the telephone and demanded to be connected to Scotland Yard. The maids went to Cecily’s side and pulled her away from the bodies.
Cecily had gone into shock. Mary helped her mistress to a chair as Sarah hurried off for a glass of water and a wet towel. The angry crimson covered her face, hands and dress.
A loud knock on the door announced the presence of police officers. Bernard opened the door to let them enter. Two men in dark blue uniforms came into the room. Their eyes widened as they absorbed the morbid scene before them.
Cecily sat through their procedural questions, tonelessly answering and barely conscious of the words coming out of her mouth. The police had the bodies taken away. They cordially expressed their condolences before leaving. The room fell into complete silence, with Cecily still immobile on the settee. Mary brought tea, which she drank slowly. Sarah led the way upstairs to a bath that had just been drawn. She allowed the maid to help her undress, but paused as Mary started to take the blood-covered nightgown away.
“Leave that in the bedroom, Mary,” she said.
“But madam, it’s ruined. Why-“
“I said leave it!” Cecily insisted harshly. Tears came to Mary’s eyes as she bobbed a slight curtsey and took the nightgown to the bedroom. Cecily sank into the steaming water. She wasn’t sure that she’d even blinked since the incident. Behind closed eyes, images of her child and her husband flashed across her mind.
Suddenly, the shock wore off and her soul finally understood what had just happened. Iron bars were gripped her lungs and tightened. The blood from her hands mixed with the bathwater, turning it slightly pink. Charles’s blood. Thomas’s blood. Quickly rising to her knees, she leaned over the side and vomited onto the bathroom tile floor. With no food in her stomach, muscles contracted and forced her to expel tea and bile. Spent, Cecily collapsed back into the bathwater, futilely seeking comfort in the heat.
Mary appeared a few moments later. She looked at the floor and looked at Cecily. Cecily was furiously scrubbing blood from her hands and face with a cloth. Turning around, she went to find a mop and bucket.
When Bernard appeared with tea and crackers, finding Cecily already out of the bath, wrapped in a clean robe. A towel held her hair in a turban on top of her head. Her face and eyes looked nearly dead, completely void of emotion.
“Tea, madam? Bernard asked, proffering the tray. Cecily daintily picked up the cup of tea and the saucer, leaving Bernard to set the tray on the table next to the bed. He quietly made his exit.
Cecily sat on the corner of the bed, thinking hard. In the past, when things went wrong, she had always run to Thomas. But Thomas wasn’t there. The thought kept repeating itself. Thomas isn’t here. Thomas isn’t here. Charles… the light of her life… was gone. Nothing would bring him back.
Going over to the desk drawer, she pulled out Thomas’s flask. Shaking it, she found it to be nearly full. She tipped her head back and took a healthy swallow of whiskey. The fumes clogged her nose and throat, making her wrinkle her nose. She coughed and drank some more.
Cecily wandered into Charles’s room. Gaping loss engulfed her as she saw that his covers were still mussed from where he’d been sleeping just hours ago. Her soul felt completely empty. Beginning to feel slightly numb, she downed another mouthful of whiskey. Sitting on the bed, her fingers gently traced the indentation of Charles’s head in the pillow. She laid down, trying to absorb his smell from the pillow. The faint soapy scent wafted into her nostrils.
She poured the remaining contents of the flask down her throat and carelessly let it fall to the floor. The alcohol was working; before long, she was unconscious.
The next morning, Cecily awoke to strange surroundings. When she realized that she was in Charles’s room, an image of the gory scene in the drawing room flashed through her mind. Everything rushed back.
She began to aimlessly wander through the house, looking at pictures. Then she remembered the trunk in the attic that held keepsakes from the wedding. Even with a lit candle, the attic stairs were treacherous. Walking over to the trunk, she turned the key that was always in the lock. It clicked and sprung open, releasing the top of the trunk.
Nestled on top of her wedding gown was a photo album filled with pictures of the wedding and Charles’s first year. She and Thomas were happy and in love; her parents were still alive. Agony shot twisting nails through her intestines. Not a single tear would fall. A piece of degenerate criminal trash had torn her life from limb to limb. That worthless brute was utterly undeserving of her tears.
A muffled rattle shattered her reverie. Icy tendrils of terror snaked down her spine. Something under a pile of old clothes was moving.
She crept over to the pile of clothes, pulling them aside to see what was underneath. Moving the final skirt revealed another trunk underneath. The name Marguerite Adams was engraved on the lid. Her fingers briefly traced the letters. Marguerite Adams was the name of her great aunt, her grandmother’s sister. She knelt before the trunk, lifting the lid.
The trunk was empty, save for an old book. It was large and leather-bound, with an odd symbol on the cover. But before she could pick it up, it began to glow. The light intensified, blinding her until her eyes clamped shut to block out the light. Strange voices whispered "Your destiny is here. Your destiny… your destiny…"
Terrified, Cecily slammed the lid closed and ran down the stairs. She ran to her bedroom and sat down on the bed, trying to calm herself. The book had been glowing. Glowing! She shook her head in confusion. She must be going mad. It must have been a hallucination brought on by severe trauma. Squaring her shoulders, she made her way back up the stairs to the trunk.
The book now lay still; there were no strange lights, no voices. She took a deep breath and picked it up. Trembling, her hands turned the cover, revealing the first page. It was written in an incomprehensible language. But as she turned the pages, the words translated themselves into English.
Vaguely, Cecily recalled family stories about Aunt Marguerite. They’d called her a witch, but she had always thought that was in reference to the old woman’s bad temper. Intrigued, she turned page after page.
The spells in this book had been hand-written, presumably by her aunt. One of them, Limrena’s Nest, actually liquefied the entrails of the target. A malicious smile formed across her lips as she enjoyed a brutal image of this fate for the villain that had destroyed her life. If only she knew how to find him.
Suddenly, the pages began to turn of their own volition. Although startled, she lifted her hands, waiting for them to come to rest. They did, at another spell. This one required the blood of the slain, as well as a few other herbs and recitations. It was called Locus Vestri Hostilis. Cecily’s eyes narrowed.
She carried the book downstairs to the bedroom. After shoving it under her pillow, she walked to the window. Pulling back the curtain, she saw that the sun was beginning to rise. Hunger began to gnaw at her stomach. She rang for Bernard, who brought her tea, toast and marmalade. When he left, she locked the door behind him. Sitting on her bed, she pulled the book out and began making a list of the supplies she needed for both spells.
Cecily had heard rumors of shops in the dodgier parts of London, shops that sold things that no normal person would want to buy. She chewed on her thumbnail, thinking quickly. Again, she rang for a servant and insisted on an address for such a shop.
She let her hair down and brushed it quickly, trying to erase all traces of professional care. Running back upstairs to the attic, she went through the pile of clothes that had been sitting on top of her aunt’s trunk. She found a dull grey, worn skirt and a faded lavender blouse. These clothes must have belonged to a servant at some point; she couldn’t imagine anyone from her family having worn them.
Half an hour later the footman helped her step into the carriage. He had an odd expression on his face but asked no questions. He took her to a spot a few blocks away from her destination. She told him to stay where he was, that she would return shortly.
The address she’d found took her to a seemingly empty building. The windows were covered in dust and grime. She cleaned a small corner with her bare hand. Wiping the dirt on her skirt, she peeked through the glass to see a completely bare room that obviously hadn’t been occupied for years. Stumped, she stood back for a moment and pondered the situation. Shrugging her shoulders, she tried the door anyway.
The door gave way easily to reveal a room that looked nothing like what she’d seen through the window. The shop was clean and well-kept. A clerk stood behind the counter, looking at her expectantly. She walked over and handed him her list of ingredients. He checked over them and raised an eyebrow. Nodding, he immediately took himself off to fill a bag with the items on the list.
She returned to the carriage with a sense of small victory. She had found an invisible shop to buy supplies to work magic. Twenty-four hours ago she would have turned her nose at the very idea of what she was hoping to accomplish. She had never believed in magic before, but the book’s activities had convinced her that it was a real thing.
Back in her room, she read the spells over and over again, making sure she truly understood what needed to take place. The first spell, the locator spell, would be no problem. The trick came for the second spell. In order for it to work, she needed something personal from the killer.
She laid out the stained nightgown on the floor. She poured sea salt from a vial in a circle around the dress. Standing in the circle, she began to chant as she sprinkled powdered wolfs bane over the dress. Finishing her chant, she looked down at the dress. It had begun to glow with an unearthly light. The blood moved, forming a map of London. A spot hovered over a dingy pub in the poorest part of the city. That spot continued to glow. Cecily checked the time; it was nearly 8:30. No doubt he was there drinking, using the money he’d made from selling her things. He would be there for quite awhile.
She re-donned her low apparel, shifting uncomfortably in the rough fabric. A small vial was secured in the waistband of the skirt. The vial contained most of the ingredients of the potion required by the punishment spell. All she needed was the personal item and fire. She internally groaned as she applied makeup- rouge, eye shadow and lipstick. Taking a final look at herself, she set off for the pub.
It was 9:30 by the time she got there. She walked into the dingy atmosphere. Only her upbringing kept her from wrinkling her nose at the smell of stale beer and cigars. She quietly sat in a corner table and studied her surroundings. There were three men in the bar, other than the bartender. She had no idea which one was the one she was looking for. Momentary panic filled her. Not when she was so close!
The man at the corner of the bar was laughing loudly. He and the bartender had obviously just shared something amusing. Curious, she sat at the opposite end of the bar. She focused on the conversation, listening intently.
“And the duck said…” The drunk was telling a joke, but the very sound of his voice caused fear and fury to spread through her body. Hereto undiscovered strength poured through her, fueled by vengeful emotions. Cloaked in her new confidence, she smiled, walked up to the two men and ordered whiskey for herself and the target. She bought drink after drink for him, watching his senses slip away into oblivion. She would suffer any amount of groping and bad breath if only she could get what she wanted!
Eventually he passed out on the bar. When the bartender was looking another direction, she plucked a few hairs from his head. Smiling to herself, she walked to the powder room. She put the hairs in the vial and shook it thoroughly. Walking back into the main room, she took the chimney off of a gas lamp. Still unable to take the smile from her face, she emptied the vial onto the flame and waited, her eyes never leaving the unconscious figure.
He raised his head groggily. Standing up from the stool, he staggered a few steps and then froze, his face a contorted mask of agony. Audible gurgles could be heard coming from the stomach. He slowly forced his head to tilt, and he looked at his stomach, pulling his shirt up. His torso appeared to have worms squirming beneath the skin. The wriggling mass began to glow red hot as his hands and feet burst into flames.
Screams of terror followed screams of pain as the burning man ran, arms flailing, around the room. All of the alcohol in the room began to flame. Cecily ran towards the door. Elation and triumph surged through her, mingling with hatred, fury and all-consuming grief. A wry smile twisted her lips as, from a safe distance, she watched as the building burn.