Fiction writers for June: Emma Guinness, Samantha J. Wright and Josh Bingham.
ON AMBER DREAMS
The icy water enveloped Claudia’s body as the spectral mist descended over the lake. She could see memories flood through her consciousness, each one more vivid than its predecessor. Her dress weighed down upon her chest as her life slowly began to slip away. The world drifted in and out of focus as though it too was fading into the night. Death was close and she could feel his skeletal fingers slowly wrap themselves around her body and she welcomed him like a lover. Before long, she lifted her gaze towards the light which acted as a lifeline in the icy water, only for it to be obscured by a passing shadow. How could she have been so foolish? If only she had stayed away from the Manor. After all, she knew the price which she would inevitably have to pay. She was entranced by Edgar and just for a moment had felt complete and now, her soul belonged to darkness. The world was black and yet none of it seemed to matter. Her eyes were solemn and spoke softly of the sorrows which she had borne for years. Soon, she closed her eyes and let her body float gently downstream as though she might be a lone branch caught in the river.
Through the pain of death, she saw the world in coalesced hues of grey. The only hope for her was that one day, she would be able to embrace her visions and chase them without fear. Her dreams were cryptic and possessed an ethereal beauty. As her body began to die, all that she saw were flashes of what could have been. After all, her life had been nothing more than a withered flower which had, from the outset failed to blossom. There was always something that seemed to be missing. Perhaps it was this longing for something more which led her to the Manor. Her life was full of people with the same dreams and desires, each of whom was emptier than the next. She was a Lady and thus expected to marry, but knew that none of these ‘men’ truly cared for her heart. With lustful eyes and muted senses, their influence was suffocating. She could see through them all, as though they were faceless shadows. Like fallen stars, they longed to shine, but still their lives remained insignificant.
As the light faded from her eyes, she felt herself being pulled from the lake by an unknown force. The sounds of nature comforted her and she felt her strength begin to grow. Her body was weak, but not dead. After a few moments, she heard an unfamiliar yet strikingly beautiful voice and shed but a single tear. Her eyes flickered as they began to adjust to her surroundings and the man who stood above her. He smiled, as though an angel and knelt down before gently brushing his hand against her cheek.
“You are so very fragile. A young woman like you should not have wandered here alone,” he uttered with an anxious tone in his voice.
Seconds passed and before long, he took a pocket watch out from the inside of his waistcoat and observed it anxiously. It was old, yet something about it seemed different and for a moment she thought that it might be a miniature portal to another world, in which the Manor was no more. She observed him and attempted to limply move from the ground and yet with each strain pain surged through her body.
“We don’t have much time before Edgar comes for you again,” he said as their eyes met for the first time.
In response, he took her pale hands in his and pulled her to her feet. She was unsteady and still he supported her with ease. Her dress was frayed and he helped her to untie the corset which restricted her breathing.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped as she held tightly onto his body.
“My name is Charles,” he replied, before observing the woman who bewitched his every waking dream.
“I’m Claudia,” she said, smiling faintly.
Together they began to make their way through the forest, under the crescent moon and midnight stars. The air was crisp and thick with fog and for the first time in years, Claudia felt like she was not alone. He stayed by her side and the warmth which radiated from his body comforted her. She wanted to die with him beneath the moon and for their souls to leave this world as one. Edgar’s laughs and jeers echoed through her memory and yet the pain which his blade had inflicted upon her skin seemed to ease. Despite this, she did not know where they were running to and before long collapsed in exhaustion.
With a perturbed mind Charles picked her limp body up from the ground and continued to run. It was a race that he could not afford to lose. The sounds of breaking foliage underfoot awoke her and she lifted her head and screamed, for in their path stood Edgar. The mists seemed to part around him, as though they too knew of the evil which resided within his heart. Charles then turned around and began to run in the opposite direction and Edgar followed. He was cursed and mumbled words that were too faint for either Charles or Claudia to understand. After sometime he gave up on his pursuit and faded into the mists. It was then that she felt the need to impart a reason for being in the Manor:
“You must think me quite mad, but…well, I don’t know who I am anymore,” she stammered hesitantly.
“I saved you because I promised myself that I would.” Charles revealed as he looked solemnly into her eyes.
It was then that a flicker of recognition crossed her face as though, just for a second she remembered the days of warmth and gaiety that they had spent together. The Manor had once been grand and full of life and now, all was overgrown and shrouded by sorrow. Its only resident was possessed by a terrible demon. Years of solitude brought silent terrors to him, they warped his thoughts and blackened his dreams. Edgar was a killer and a merciless one at that. His eyes were manic and longed for death. He savoured the power which he was able to yield over the fools who dared enter his company. Swathed in ragged clothes he waited. Living only for death. Soon, the two gazed up through the rain and looked upon the Manor. It was a lone ghost bound to the empty landscape.
Before long, Claudia began to observe his countenance and noticed that he seemed strangely familiar. No longer nervous of her gaze, Charles took her fragile hands in his and smiled at the woman whose beauty was rapturous and all consuming. She was enchanting and though their situation was perilous, he couldn’t help but feel blissful in her company. Charles was amazed and his gaze never faltered. Her skin was fairer than winter snow and her hair the most entrancing shade of midnight black. She was a woman not of this world, but of the heavens and wore a single violet ribbon in her hair.
“You are beautiful.” He said with the utmost sincerity.
She was overwhelmed by these words and embraced him. Charles wanted to tell her how incredible she was and how he had always loved her, even when they had been nothing more than children. The young girl he had once known had blossomed into a woman of breathtaking elegance. Her lips were delicate petals and he longed to kiss them. The sound of his heartbeat grew in intensity and he could feel his defences weaken. Though Edgar longed to take their lives, he would never be able to take his heart from Claudia and Charles cherished this thought. Her dreams were immortal and her silence spoke a thousand words. Her beauty was no match for the moon and seemed to shine through the darkness. Then she, with a smile upon her face, demurely kissed him, before swiftly turning away.
Meanwhile Edgar waited in the shadows with a vengeful heart. They knew that their time was running short and began to frantically make their way through the forest. As they ran they heard a lone howl which seemed to act as an ominous symbol of things still to come. The forest was black and they could see no more than a few feet in front of them. Suddenly they were alert to the sound of breaking glass, but neither dared to turn around and learn of its origin. Soon, their paces grew less frequent as they tired and before long they saw a flicker of candlelight emerge from within the mist. Fear raged unanimously through their bodies as the light grew clearer and illuminated the eyes of a man possessed by hatred. A man whose sanity was no more.
“Tick tock goes the clock, tick, tick, tock…” Edgar chanted, before revealing a broken pocket watch.
With these words the pair remained silent and Charles did not once loosen his grip of her hand. The wind seemed to whisper their response and his eyes grew ever madder. They stared anxiously at the weapon Edgar wielded, which seemed to shine in the moonlight as though alerting them to their imminently approaching fate. His laughter broke the still of the night and slowly he raised his scythe. The two began running and narrowly missed his fatal blade as they fled into the shadows. He could almost taste their blood and see his hands stained with crimson. It was too much to bear and under the bright crescent moon and the mists which shrouded his forest, he caught sight of them once more.
Edgar followed like a poacher, hunting alone and ran through the seemingly endless sycamore trees of the forest. He hadn’t felt this much excitement in years. The chase was invigorating. He had seen them as children playing with such innocence and now, he would end it all. He possessed such a clear sense of power and with each footstep his intentions grew increasingly callous. He had waited too long for this moment and he wanted to savour it. Their lives were in his cannibalistic hands. His breath was unsteady and malign. Once again, he opened his mouth and spoke those same words:
“Tick tock goes the clock, tick, tick, tock…”
He was now face to face with Charles and Claudia amidst the clearing. The air was laden with the screams of a thousand rotting corpses and he revelled in it. He glanced at them with tears in his eyes; the night was black, but not as black as his heart. With a cry that seemed to chill the hair he lifted his scythe and struck Charles. In response, Claudia lunged forward and narrowly missed his blade. He laughed, before striking him again. She then looked at Charles, he was dying and she tried to restrain this madman.
“How can you be so cruel? Please, have mercy!” she cried.
In that moment Edgar was Lucifer. As she heard Charles writhing in agony, it prompted her memory. She did know him, though it felt like they had met only in a dream. It was then that she felt a stirring in her heart and as it grew in intensity she screamed. At last Edgar turned towards her; he raised his scythe and struck. He then began to laugh manically and without thought she injured him. Out of anger Claudia fought him with alarming ferocity. She then struck Edgar for a final time and watched as a pool of blood began to form around his head. He wasn’t dead and she watched as he crawled into the shadows like some broken monster and as he did so, darkness followed in his wake.
The following morning, the sun rose earnestly over the forest and the mists seemed to part. Claudia stood by Charles’s side and eventually his eyes opened. There were no words that could articulate what she felt; it was both new and wonderful. They sat entwined for some moments, before an all too familiar shadow descended upon them. His blade was swift and their deaths were instant. Edgar smiled as he looked upon their corpses, which to him were jewels and as he walked away from his crime, he uttered those now all too familiar words once more:
“Tick tock goes the clock, tick, tick, tock…”
He then dropped his scythe to the ground. His masterpiece was now complete and he took a blade out from beneath his frayed clothing and slowly inserted it into his heart. Edgar collapsed and cried out in desolation. He could feel the blood trickle from the wound in his chest and as each drop fell; the evil in his heart seemed to wane. Soon, the world faded into a sea of opaque colours as the light of day faded. The forest was now painted in pale and verdant hues. All was silent. On that day, the Manor stood as a haunting relic of a fallen dream and where once stood the lake, rested only an amber stream which glistened in the morning light. There was no absolution. Even as darkness fell, a silence reigned over the land. Yet in the midst of the clearing, a single bud had broken through the barren earth. A lone beauty that was now able to thrive.
The winter sky was crystal blue and the mists had long since passed.