An Unwanted Night

“Am I broken?”

That was the question Mary Biron asked herself as she looked herself over in the mirror. She was, by all means, an attractive lady in waiting. Short, light hair with a fair complexion and warm eyes. Or so, that is what her handmaids told her every morning as they readied her garments for the day.  Every day, they told her that, and every day, she wondered if they were lying.

Mary didn’t believe that she was ugly, or, at least, unattractive. But the maids were more than likely simply saying that to avoid offending their master’s daughter. Mary could not fault them for that kind of thinking. But, were the maids pretty? She had no idea. Some, Mary imagined, had lustful eyes upon them, but, for the life of her, Mary could not understand why. Was it their hair? Their bodies?

Forcing her eyes away for the mirror, and from her thoughts, Mary looked down at the letter that rested on her desk. It was full of the usual pomp and pious wording she’d had come to expect from an invitation to a ball, Dear Ms. Biron of the Biron estate, upon this day, October 22, I cordially invite you to–

“Ms. Biron?” A maid, Elizabeth, came into the room. ”Are you prepared, miss?”

“Always, Miss Saddler.”  Mary answered, keeping her gaze fixated away from her.

Elizabeth nodded, but the flicker of doubt she showed was enough for Mary to know that she didn’t believe her. “If you are prepared, then the steward awaits you.”

“I see. Thank you.”  Mary held back a heavy sigh. “I will be going then.”  Elizabeth nodded, and Mary moved to walk past her, but stopped. “Mis…Elizabeth.”  Mary paused for a moment to allow Elizabeth to acknowledge the use of her first name. “May I ask you something…prudish?”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.

“N-no.” Mary shook her head. “Never mind.” She walked away from Elizabeth, her thoughts scattered as she spied the steward, Bartholomew, waiting for her.

“Your ladyship.”  Bartholomew greeted with a wave of his arm and a bow. He was a tall older man, with features that Mary had overheard many of the maids describe as “handsome.”  For the life of her though, Mary could not see nor understand their reasoning. Bartholomew had a solid face, with a strong jaw and broad shoulders, but were these the traits of an attractive man?

“Are you well, Mr. Bartholomew?” Mary asked in return.

“As well as ever.”  He replied. “Your father has just finished getting the carriage ready, I trust you are prepared?”

“I am.”  Mary nodded. “You are not helping him?”

“The lord tasked me to wait for you as he prepares.”  Bartholomew replied evenly.

“Only that?” Mary asked.

“And to accompany you throughout the ball.”  Bartholomew continued. “To ward away any

unwanted suitors.”  A lie, but one by her father. To watch and not waiver.

“I see.”  Mary replied finally, then added. “Thank you for your service.”  

“I live to serve, your ladyship.”  Bartholomew replied.

Mary looked at Bartholomew for a few moments as his attention was driven away, but she found herself speaking. “May I ask you a question?”

Bartholomew glanced at her once. “Of course.”

“When you look at a woman, where do your eyes wander?” Mary said, then added. “Answer  as honestly as you can. Vulgar or otherwise.”

Bartholomew gave her a raised eyebrow in response, but after a moment, he spoke again. “The breasts, of course.”  He answered plainly, as if speaking of the weather. “Is there a reason why you asked?”

Mary turned her eyes away. “…I think I’m broken, steward.”  Her shoulders sagged. “I feel that I shall remain unmarried, because I do not feel…anything when I look upon a man or woman.”  Mary took two steps forward, and turned her head so Bartholomew would not be able to see her face. “I feel…empty.”

Bartholomew made a sound Mary wasn’t able to identify. “Forgive me your ladyship, but didn’t you steal those dreadful penny novels in the past? The ones with the explicit scenes?”

“And even then; nothing.”  Mary rubbed her face, and found tears stinging at the corner of her eyes.

Bartholomew spoke softly. “Give it time, and you will.”

Mary felt as if she had been kicked in the gut by a mule, and she must have shown it too. Bartholomew seemed to realize that he had misspoken, but before he could speak further, the doors to the lobby opened.

Entering was Lord Biron, her father, and despite his advanced age, he struck an air of authority that Mary couldn’t even hope to emulate.

“There you are.”  He looked to Mary. “Are you…” He paused, taking in Mary’s expression for a moment, then glanced at Bartholomew. “What happened?” He demanded with steel in his voice.

Bartholomew answered coolly. “The ladyship is simply nervous about today’s events.”

Lord Biron looked at Mary, who wiped her eyes with her arm. “I see.”  He said, then crossed his arms. “Load the bags onto the carriage then, steward.”

“Yes my lord.”  Bartholomew nodded, and left. Leaving father and daughter alone in the room.

“…Mary.”  Lord Biron said as softly as he could. “I know you’re…” He searched for the right word. “Uncomfortable with this situation, but it’s what’s best.”

“I know, father.”  Mary replied quietly.

Lord Biron continued. “You’ll find a good husband, in time.”  

“I know, father.”

Lord Biron pursed his lips. “In any case, please get into the carriage. Miss Saddler and Bartholomew will be joining us shortly.”

“Yes, father.”  

Walking, or, perhaps, slumping past her father and towards the carriage, Mary set herself onto the cushion, and waited for her latest hell to start.

*

The ride to the Kerbeny Estate was both agonizing and boring, a combination that Mary rather dreaded experiencing. The three passengers, Mary, Elizabeth, and Lord Biron made conversation as best they were able. Or, rather, Elizabeth and Lord Biron were able to make small talk, and Mary was only able to catch piecemeals of their conversation.

Mary couldn’t help but roll her eyes as she listened. Elizabeth probably would have made a better daughter then she did, with her cheery demeanor and ease at which Elizabeth held herself in the affairs of nobles. What was Mary, in comparison? Melodramatic to the core, at war with her own lack of desires, and continually striding the line between pathetic and pitiful?

It was a bitter drink to taste, and Mary had taken it more than once. How quaint it was, that the maid and butlers of the estate were more capable than the nobleman’s daughter. Her education was stagnant, her teachers were books and the lessons were long hours in a solitary room. Compared to the trials of the world outside, how did Mary compare? Lacking and largethic, no doubt.

With her cheek resting on her hand as Mary gazed out the window, she tried to drown out both her intrusive thoughts, and the chattering of her father and friend. Soon enough though, Mary spied their destination.

When Mary found herself stepping out of the carriage and standing in front of the vast entrance. It was like something out of an old fairy tale, Mary realized. A hedge maze to the side, a large fountain with running water, and all the decor she thought only existed in storybooks. The main building was made out of fine stonework and bore more than a passing resemblance to a gothic castle. Gargoyles loomed over her, and with their wicked faces, Mary felt as if they could see through all that she could build between them. Taking a shaking breath to focus herself, Mary found Bartholomew at her side once more.

“Are you well?” He asked.

“…No.”  Mary could only shake her head, and trudged forward. “Not really.”  

“Madam–”  

She could only give him a strained smile as they headed inside.

Behind her, Mary heard her father greet some associate of his, and Mary took the chance to slip away towards the offered food. Some women needed to watch what they ate, but Mary did not. Her one apparent blessing from God.

When she made her way to the table, Mary quickly snatched up some small, easily chewable pieces of food and started to eat. She needed to make sure she ate something, after all.

“Miss Biron.”  Bartholomew began softly. “Your father just wants to make sure that—”

“Thank you, but I’d rather not.”  Mary cursed her choice of words. He was loyal and did not deserve this rudeness. “Do you know when the ball ends?” She asked.

“We’ve only just arrived miss.”  Bartholomew returned. “I imagine it will go on till well after dusk.”

“Of course. I merely–”

Mary found her words cut off as a noblewoman, who was entirely more well fed then the rest of the ball goers combined, approached Bartholomew. “You, servant!” She said with a grubby finger pointing at him. Bartholomew, within an instant, assumed a stoic face and regarded the noblewoman coolly.

“Yes, ma’am?” He said in such a tone that would make stones feel soft.

“My dog, find it!” The noblewoman demanded.

Bartholomew shook his head. “I apologize your ladyship, but—”

“Be quiet, peasant!” The noblewoman snapped. “Do as I say!”

Mary raised her hand and opened her mouth to speak. “Miss, I do not wish to appear as rude, but perhaps–”

“Oh, be quiet sow.”  The noblewoman spoke, and at this point, they were drawing eyes. “I do not remember asking you.”

“And I don’t remember how you managed to get through the doors with your girth, but here we are.”  Mary returned, her mouth moving faster than even she expected. The noblewoman’s face twisted in a mix of scorn, hate, and offense at Mary’s words. The noblewoman reached out, grabbed Mary’s ear and twisted sharply. Mary hissed in pain as the woman pulled her closer, the woman’s rancid breath against Mary’s cheek.

“I know you who are, you broken little thing.”  The noblewoman hissed, and Mary gritted her teeth, her hand curling into a fist. The noblewoman continued with her far too foul words against Mary. “I know what your father says about you, a disappointment like you doesn’t–”

“Back–!” Mary moved one foot backward, twisted her waist, and brought her clenched fist upward. “Off!” She felt the force of her blow ripple through the noblewoman’s cheek, causing the noblewoman to stumble backwards and trip over her own two feet, sending both her and a tray of food to splatter to the ground. As Mary took in heaving breaths, the rush of power from her anger waning, she realized Bartholomew was staring at her in abject horror, and that many of the other ball goers had now fully turned to see the commotion.

Mary looked around at their stunned faces, and at the noblewoman, bleeding on the ground and being attended to by who was presumably her son and daughter. From their panicked cries and the tears in their eyes, Mary feared that she had done more than simply ring the bells of the noblewoman. 

“I….”  Mary tried to find her words. “I didn’t…” She looked to Bartholomew. “I was just…”

“Miss Biron…”  Bartholomew said softly, and that was worse than if he had spoken harshly. “I would have–”

She had made a mistake, Mary realized. With speed that surprised even her, Mary found herself running out of the ballroom and into the outer courtyard.

There, she found a stone bench away from others, and let her walls fall. She cursed and cried, snap and scorn, but, after a period, she felt something rub against her leg. Glancing down, she spied a small dog, a poodle, looking up at her. Reaching down, Mary picked the dog up, and placed onto the bench, where it rested on Mary’s lap. “So, are you lost?” She asked the poodle. “For it feels that I certainly am.”  

The poodle looked up at Mary with it’s wide eyes, clearly oblivious to her plight.

Mary rubbed it’s neck. “I mean, I feel as if…no matter what I do. I’m just broken. I just struck a noblewoman after all. It will be a wonder if I can ever show my face outside my home ever again.”  

The poodle sneezed, and Mary gave a weak laugh. It responded by gently licking Mary’s arm. With a strained, but soft smile, Mary kept her gaze to the stars. After what felt like an hour, but was more than likely merely a few minutes, Mary felt the poodle stand up, happily bark once, and jump off the bench. Running in a circle, the poodle barked twice more, before dashing away, as quick as a mouse. She stood, as if in a daze, and followed. Turning the corner to the front entrance, Mary saw her father and friends huddled in a circle. The poodle, gone.

They were speaking in hushed whispers, no doubt about what a terrible mistake she was, and had committed. Elizabeth, perhaps by a wayward glance or because she had been searching, saw Mary’s approach first.

Elizabeth’s eyes went wide. “Miss Biron!” She shouted as she ran to Mary, running in-between Lord Biron and Bartholomew as she did.

“Hello Elizabeth.”  Mary smiled weakly, Elizabeth could only let out a gasp of confusion and concern as she looked Mary over, clearly caught between feeling a mix of relief and repulsion.

“That is…My lady, where were you?” Elizabeth asked. “I saw you run away, I feared that you ran into the woods and were eaten by a bear!” Before Mary could dissuade the notion, her father spoke up.

“Before anything else.”  He spoke with a bear’s growl. “Are you hurt?”

“…No, father.”  Mary braced herself for the inevitable blow. However, instead of the ringing of her skull, she felt nothing but a gentle hand on her head.

“Good. Let’s go home.”  Lord Biron glanced at Bartholomew. “Steward, gather our luggage, and when we get back, brew some coffee. We need to prepare to draft an apology for the lord of the house for our early leave.”

“Not the injured madam?” Bartholomew asked.

“No.”  Lord Biron shook his head. “She laid a hand on my daughter, as far as I’m concerned, she deserved what she got.”

Mary couldn’t stop herself from speaking. “But, father, won’t this result in a scandal?”

“It will.”  Lord Biron replied, and Mary felt her heart sink. “But scandals are rather common. I imagine this will be yesterday’s news sometime next week.” Lord Biron spared one last glance at the ball, then turned his back to it. “Let us be off.”  The two servants nodded, and followed in step behind him.

“….Father.” Mary spoke, even as the familiar vice in her throat came again.  “I’m sorry, for being broken.”

Lord Biron could only tilt his head in confusion, but, for reasons unknown to Mary, Elizabeth smiled sadly.

Photo by Drigo Diniz from Pexels

Damon Day is a graduate of WSU-Vancouver from the extremely stressful year of 2020. He is an aspiring author who has the seemingly impossible goal of breaking into traditional publishing. The road is long and thorny, but every step is progress. You can find him here: Twitter Website

Looking to submit to us? We’re accepting Poetry, Fiction, Articles and Art! Please get in touch.

A Fair Amount of Ghosts

He plays the trumpet brilliantly on the corner of Grand and Victoria. He doesn’t look like he’s from this era. He’s impeccably dressed, from his crisply fitting suit to his smooth fedora hat. There aren’t many folks that can pull that off. He’s cooler than the freezer aisle on a sweltering summer day. He performs the type of yearning melodies that give you the goosebumps. I’ve never seen anyone put any money into his basket.

There’s a formidable stone house that sits atop Fairmount Hill. It’s been for sale for as long as I can remember. The crooked post sinks deeper into the soil with each passing year. It isn’t a place to live in. It’s a place to dwell in. There’s a dusty rocking chair on the front porch. It’s always rocking. Always rocking. I’m not sure if the chair is occupied by an old soul or if it’s just the wind. Maybe it’s both. I guess the wind is an old soul.

This town is full of posters for Missing Cats. There’s one for a sweet, fluffy Maine Coon named “Bear.” He’s been gone for a while now. I’ve searched through every alleyway, under every porch, and inside of every bush for him. Sometimes I think I see him out of the corner of my eye. But then he’s not there. The rain has pretty much washed away the tattered posters. If he ever turns up, I worry that the posters will be missing.

I met the love of my life in Irvine Park, near the gloriously spouting water fountain, beneath the serene umbrella of oak trees. We spent a small piece of eternity there together. We talked about whether or not the world was coming to an end soon, and if all of our memories will be diminished along with it. After we said our goodbyes and she walked off into the distance, I never saw her again. So I left my heart in Irvine Park.

Zach Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories have appeared in Peculiars Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Emerge Literary Journal, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Ghost City Review, Lotus-eater, Crêpe & Penn, WINK, Drunk Monkeys, and Fat Cat Magazine. He lives with his wonderful wife Kelly in St. Paul, Minnesota

Looking to submit to us? We’re accepting Poetry, Fiction, Articles and Art! Please get in touch.

A King In Darkness

“Did you know that King Richard II was starved to death by his captors?” said Arabella, as Mark wandered back into the living room.

“Uh, no,” replied Mark, vaguely. Arabella could see he was distracted, as he loaded his mug very deliberately into the dishwasher. How he managed to do even the most basic thing so incredibly slowly was beyond her.

“Yes, he was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, after being usurped by Henry, Duke of Lancaster – who became Henry IV. There’s a source in this book that says he was kept in chains and started trying to eat himself.”

“Self-cannibalisation is probably a fetish, isn’t it? I expect it would be rather alarming to Google it,” said Mark, becoming more interested, as he sat down on the sofa next to the cat.  The cat opened his eyes briefly, looked at Mark suspiciously, then closed his eyes again. It seemed that the cat wasn’t terribly interested in English history.

Arabella put down her wine glass on a little wooden tool trolley, one of Theo’s toys. A classic local mum network bargain, she’d been pleased with it – £5 and a slightly annoying drive through the suburbs to pick it up, rather than £45 new. And wooden, so it would pass muster with the plastic toy police. Theo had played enthusiastically with it for a few twenty-minute stints over a period of a couple of weeks, but didn’t seem to be particularly interested in it anymore. They kept it in place in the living room next to the sofa, referring to it affectionately as the “occasional table”. The things that you find killingly funny after having kids would surprise your pre-parent self, if you could go back in time and tell yourself. 

“It’s mad, isn’t it. All those famous history stories that we all know. Divorced, beheaded, died. My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse. And I knew literally nothing about this king until I read this book. And it’s really salacious and gory, what happened to him. I wonder why it’s not more famous?”

Mark sat back on the sofa, watching Arabella getting more and more animated. She got all obsessive about things like this for a while, until it passed and something else piqued her interest.

Doesn’t he understand that I’ve got nothing else to do with my brain all day, she thought, waiting for him to reply, to engage in a conversation about something other than money or how tedious each of their days had been.

She sighed and got up from the armchair.

“I’ll get dinner rolling, then, shall I?”

Later, Arabella closed her eyes in bed and tried to go to sleep, but she couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d read. It was unimaginable to be so hungry that you started to eat yourself, to tear at your own limbs with your teeth. Unimaginable to be kept naked, in chains, in the dark. He must have been driven completely mad. If he wasn’t mad already, which by all accounts he may have been. Not by all accounts, actually – by that account. Which Arabella acknowledged to herself might not be true. It might be legend, or myth, or propaganda. It might be tabloid-friendly popular history, rather than weighty, properly-researched reference material.

But as she lay there next to Mark, who appeared to have fallen asleep already, she kept imagining what it would be like to never see the light. That kind of torture, without even taking the starvation into account, would be enough to break your mind into pieces. Alone in the darkness for hours and hours, days and nights merging into one. Alone with your memories and your regrets. Missing people you loved, raging against your captors and those who had betrayed you.

And there was so much to know, so much to learn. How astonishing and terrifying to think of all the things that were out there to discover, to read about. Infinite knowledge. Infinite light and infinite darkness.

Hannah is a freelance writer and blogger, who shares fiction, poetry and other ramblings at Secret Scribbles in London and ideas for living more sustainably at The Everyday Radical. She is currently also working on a strategic project with a public sector client, and is in the very early stages of writing a novel. Hannah lives in South East London with a marauding toddler, an occasionally-marauding husband and a rescue cat, known as The Fluffbeast, who believes he has a very tragic life.

Looking to submit to us? We’re accepting Poetry, Fiction, Articles and Art! Please get in touch.