Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Woman In White: Short Fiction

The Woman In White
 Chris Costello

The church was an odd affair, all spires and stained glass and gothic arches. It looked more like the temple to some long-forgotten demon lord than anything else. Needless to say, that didn’t exactly inspire confidence in me.

“Jason!” I looked up to see Mark bounding down the steps of the church. He was clad in an ill-fitting tuxedo that made him look like a particularly tall child. “You made it! Just wait ‘till you meet her. She’s the loveliest, most wonderful-”

“Whoa.” I cut in, putting a stop to this gushing. “Who are you and what have you done with Mark Lambert? Hell, you used to get pissed if there was a single kiss in the action movies we watched.”

“Evelyn’s changed all that. She’s touched the romantic nature in my soul.”

Offhand, I wouldn’t have said Mark had a soul, never mind one with a romantic side. I figured this girl must be something pretty special to make him act like such a buffoon. I shouldered past him, filing into the church before all this talk of true love made me vomit.

All the while, Mark continued to rave about Evie. I tuned him out, or at least tried to. From what I could gather she was some kind of angel. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. His face was flushed, his hair eschew, his eyes wild. He looked like an addict. It was almost as though-

No. I wouldn’t even let myself finish the thought. It just wasn’t possible.

At that moment, Mark’s “Evie” Came down the stairs, meeting us in the middle of the foyer. She moved with an almost feral grace. If Mark was an excited puppy, she was a wolf on the prowl. I tried to judge if my former best friend had made a good choice, but I couldn’t get a good look at her through the veil. Something about her seemed familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Nor did I have time to try to figure it out. An impatient usher was insisting I sit down.

Finding a seat, I tried to chat up the little redhead in front of me, but she shot me down. The music started. It struck me as rather too similar to the tunes they play at funeral marches.

The procession of flower girls and bridesmaids and whatnot made their way down the aisle, and I yawned. At long last, the bride approached the alter.
Suddenly, a tingling sensation sparked at the base of my skull. The feeling that something was off only got stronger.

When the bride stood beside him, Mark lifted her veil.

“Matilda?” I cried in shock. The spectators around me shot me some frankly disturbing looks, but I ignored them, focusing on her instead. I saw a faint smile tug at the bride’s scarlet lips. Those bright blue eyes, the misshapen nose that I’d never apologized for breaking. Why hadn’t I seen it before?

I leapt to my feet. “Wait!” I shouted. “This can’t happen!” Everyone looked at me again, their expressions even angrier this time. Mark glared daggers, knives, and swords at me.

“And why is that?” The minister asked.

“She’s...already married.” This was not strictly true, but it definitely got results. Everyone started talking at once, clamoring excitedly as they all shared their theories on this new development. I think Mark was trying to tell the minister to go on regardless. 

Matilda merely flashed one of her white-toothed smiles at me. She gave me a haughty look, and her emerald eyes morphed into burning golden orbs. A second later, her mortal facade reasserted itself.
How can Mark not see that? I wondered. Either he was the dumbest person alive, or her magic was seriously powerful. I wasn’t sure which option I detested more.

“Please.” I said. “Can I just have five minutes alone with the bride?”

The minister turned to Matilda, and she nodded at him. Then she closed her eyes, muttering an incantation. The air around us began to shimmer, and the chatter of perplexed guests halted abruptly. Their animated gestures stopped, giving them all the appearance of statues

“C’mon, that spell will wear off soon.” She said, breezing out of the room.

Once we were standing in the parking lot, I turned to the woman in white.

“Dracovious.” She said before I could get a word in. “No, wait, you’re going by Jason now, aren’t you?” The smug grin never dropped from her face.

“I hear you’ve taken a new name as well, Evie.” I shot back.

“Only temporarily. Fear not, I’m still your Matilda.”

“What are you doing with Mark?”

“Marrying him, what does it look like? I thought your kind were supposed to be observant.”

“No shit you’re marrying him.” I said. “I want to know why.”

She looked me up and down, and then, “You wouldn’t answer my letters.”

My jaw sagged open. “You did all this to get to me?”

“No!” She bellowed indignantly. “Get over yourself.”

“So why are you here then?” I demanded. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop my face from burning up.

“It’s Lord Gregor.” She said.

“You mean Dad.” I said, spitting out the words like they were poison. Knowing him, they very well could be. “You don’t have to use his real title, no matter what he says.”

“He requirers a meeting.” She replied, far more evenly than me. “With both of us.”

I thought it over. Going back to the Coven was out of the question, but she didn’t know that. Maybe I could use this as leverage.
“I won’t even consider returning until you remove the spell.”

Matilda was silent for a moment. Then, in a low voice, “He needs you, Dracovious. He’s been cursed.”

“What else is new?” I scoffed. “Dad gets cursed by somebody, like, every other week. He’s always bounced back before.”

“This is different. He’s in bad shape.”

I chuckled. “What help could I possibly be, then?”

“I’m not asking you to cure him.” She said. “Just be there for him. We are family, after all.”

“What has he ever done for me?” I said. “You know, aside from the emotional scarring. And if you’ll recall, we didn’t exactly part ways on the best of terms. If I go back, he’ll probably have me killed. You know that.”

“Please. In his current state, he can’t even move on his own, let alone cast a spell. And besides, you know how Dad operates. If he wanted you dead, you’d be underground right now.” Matilda paused, then continued when I made no move to reply. “And besides, this isn’t where you belong.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” The empty feeling in the pit of my stomach grew.

“Do you think you’re really friends with Mark?” Matilda snapped.

“Of course I am.” I said, nodding tersely.

“Why were you at the back of the room-at your best friend’s wedding? Why weren’t you up front with the other important people in his life?”

I tried to interject, but she silenced me with a look. “It’s because he knows there’s something different about you, something not quite right. One of these days, he’ll cast you aside. He’s already started.”

“That’s a lie.” I said, more to myself than to her. “I’ve let go of magic.”

“No, it’s not. Think about it. How many long-term romantic relationships have you had since you turned your back on us?”

I didn’t reply.

“See? You know I’m right. You’ve made no real connections with any of these people. No matter what happens, you belong at home, with your family.”

“The charm.” I said, fighting to get the words past the lump in my throat. “Take it off.”

Matilda grinned, pulling me into a bear hug. She let go after a moment, and I heard my sister murmur the invocation. Her words were quiet, but oozing authority. 

Then there was a flash of light, and the big chapel doors burst open. The mortals spewed out onto the cracked pavement. Their faces were flushed with crimson, but they didn’t seem angry. Just confused.

“You know where to find me.” Matilda said, beginning another spell. “I’m so proud of you.” She vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving me alone with a bunch of perplexed mortals, each talking excitedly to one another. Again.

I wiped the tears from my eyes. “So like a wizard, taking off just when the shit hits the fan,” I muttered, stalking towards my car.

“Wait!” One voice rose above all the others. It sounded wounded, like its owner was clinging to his last shred of hope. I halted, turning to face the source of the noise. Goddamned conscience.

Mark came hurtling towards me, tears streaming down his face. His eyes were red and bloodshot, his cheekbones sunken. He reminded me of one of the demons my father kept as servants. He came to a stop in front of me.

“What happened?” He pleaded. “One minute everything was fine, and then you screamed. Then everything just...stopped. You left with Evie.”

I tried to smile, but it came out more like a grimace.

Mark gasped, eyes widening in horror. “You’re in love with her.” He said. “She’s running away with you.”

Me and Matilda...together? The idea struck me as funny, and before I knew it, I was laughing. A great, booming guffaw that I’m sure they could’ve heard on Mars.

Mark looked appalled, and a second later he burst into tears again. Maybe the spell hadn’t worn off just yet.

“No, Mark, listen. It’s not like that.” My voice sounded scratchy and alien, even to me. “She left for your own good.”

Mark sniffled, stopping the flow of his tears. “So she ruined my life to protect me. Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?”
Hearing it like that, it didn’t make as much sense. But I couldn’t very well take it back now. I had to make him understand. “That’s exactly it!” I shouted, waving my hands about frantically. Sweat clung to my face, and I probably looked insane. Come to think of it, I felt crazy, too. Mark continued to frown at me, and I sighed. “You’d never believe me if I told you.”

Rage flashed in Mark’s eyes. He turned on his heels and stormed off.

I shook my head. “Way to go, Jason. Another friendship ends. My perfect losing streak remains intact.” I rummaged in my pocket for the car keys. “Time to go home...Dracovious.”

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