The hall clock has struck ten, which gives my pen a time to affix to this page, but I have melted half a candle rummaging through the corners of my mind for a date to enter beside it. However, I seem to have misplaced it. A few minutes ago, I awoke out of a heavy sleep, clearly hearing Robert’s voice calling for me. Even as I sat up in bed and touched a hand to the empty pillow beside me, I heard one final time: “Dearest Margaret…” Then the frenzied sounds of a tempest crashed into my consciousness. The thunder shake the house’s foundation and the scent from my shattered perfume bottles hangs thick in the air. Perhaps I ought to check on the girls. Callista and Maeve don’t scare easily, for they are twelve, but little Angela is often haunted by nightmares.
When I shone the candle into my daughters’ room, I almost dropped it in astonishment. Two women slept in the beds and it was only when I saw their faces that I recognized them as eighteen year old versions of my girls and no sign of little Angela anywhere. I staggered back a few steps, tears springing into my eyes. Had Robert’s death truly broken my mind so irreparably that I had missed years of life? I had wanted to be strong for them all—how had I failed? And where was Angel?
Amidst the sound of trees raking their branches across the house’s exoskeleton, I hurried downstairs to my study, only to find the door locked. All my spell books and ingredients were inside and hopefully my wand. When I first moved into the house, spare keys had been kept in the kitchen, so I made my way there. When I pushed open the door, I found the stove burning and a servant girl crouched in front of it faint glow. She winced every time the thunder growled. At the sound of the door opening, her eyes widened with fear.
“The storm, M’lady,” she explained in a rush, keeping her head lowered. “I couldn’t hear you call.”
Her voice was the only clue to her identity. Still breathy and childlike, even though she was now around sixteen.
Her eyes flickered up for an instant, but snapped away before they could meet my own. When I stepped forward, she reflexively brought an arm up to shield her face. I faltered. Where was Robert’s dainty child who tied ribbons in her terrier’s hair and practiced piano while I experimented in my study? Why was she now sleeping in the kitchen, a faded servant’s dress slipping off bony shoulders? In the darkness, I couldn’t tell if the shaded patches covering her skin were large smudges of ash or bruises.
“Angel?” I asked, using Robert’s pet name, hoping to reassure her. “Who did this to you?”
She clasped her hands behind her back and all vulnerability vanished with the movement, replaced with a dull, automatic politeness.
Not “Mama," not “Mother,” not even“Stepmother." My heart had stung when she cowered from me, but this unreachable blankness cut deeper. Deeper because her “m’lady” betrayed the truth:
Somehow, I had done it all.
Now, I am back in my bedroom, the storm outside a reflection of my inner torment. I barely had the presence of mind to ask Angel for the study’s key, but she said that “Lady Callista” kept all keys in her room. Sleep seems menacing for I cannot know how much time will pass the next time I succumb. If only I could glance at my spell books, I might attempt a potion to clear this madness from my mind. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to greet them tomorrow morning, a restored woman? It is worth a quick search of their room…
My heart is full of dread. I successfully retrieved the key to my study, but as I headed for the door, my feet tangled in a voluminous petticoat lying across the floor. The storm had quieted enough that the disturbance woke Maeve. Groggily, she craned her neck up.
Until my instincts urged me to lie, I had not consciously acknowledged that I distrusted my daughters. My feet froze like a naughty child caught awake past her bedtime. Behind my back, I rolled the key into the sleeve of my nightdress.
“I was just…Maeve, where is Angela?”
Maeve opened her mouth, but seemed at a loss for what to say. She glanced over at her sister and squeaked, “Callista?”
Always a light sleeper, Callista immediately rolled over and propped herself up on an elbow. “Callista,” Maeve explained nervously. “Mama wants to know where Angela is.”
“Mama,” Callista murmured, pursing her lips. “You should be in bed. Don’t fret yourself over Angela, she’s fine.” When I said nothing, she came over to me. “In fact, she’s spending some time with her aunt. You suggested it would be the best thing for her.”
Callista took my candle from my hand and led me away. I allowed my feet to obey her. We returned to my room. “The doctor said you must rest. Let me fetch you some tea.”
“Oh, no,” I said, trying to sound as tired as possible. “I feel so weak, I’ll just go back to sleep.” I sunk onto my bed to further my case.
She studied me carefully before nodding, pulling the door shut behind her.
I pulled the covers over me, but pinched myself to stay awake. Fifteen minutes later, I heard the door open.
I heard Callista whisper, “Alright, I think she’s asleep.”
Maeve whispered back, “Will she be all right at the ball?”
“I won’t risk it. We’ll tell everyone she’s sick. Let her stay here and keep an eye on the wretch.”
Then they left. After another twenty minutes, I sat up to keep myself from dozing. I intend to continue writing once I reach my study.
The familiar lemony-mint scent of magic in my study still comforts and stimulates me simultaneously. All is not how I left it, though. My wand proved easy enough to find, despite its confusing placement atop my supply cupboard. More troubling, though, are the massive quantities of green walnuts and ash piled in untidy heaps across every countertop. Identical bottles of some pale blue liquid crowd every shelf. My open spell book lies on the floor, the outline of a torn page clearly marking where the simplest answer to this mystery once lived. Someone’s been busy in my absence, but neither Maeve nor Callista inherited my faerie blood, so unless Angela—no, I remember distinctly Robert telling me that her mother was full human.
I paced, trying to keep my mind moving, but when I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth, I felt a dull throb where my hand pressed. Rolling up my sleeve revealed a rather sickening sight: perfectly straight rows of scars running the length of my arm, starting above my elbow. Each was about a half an inch long at most and became fresher as they climbed to my shoulder. This is not the work of a physician’s bloodletting. He would have concentrated his efforts nearer to my wrists. Someone was trying to hide her work. Is using my blood to compensate for her own lack of magic? I’ve only heard of such things!
On the work table, I found a thick piece of paper. In fancy calligraphy, it invited every eligible lady of our household to a ball at the palace—the same ball my daughters were talking about. I finger the edges now, imagining how Callista will revel in attracting the prince’sattention. In fact, the walnuts and ash are probably part of some scheme to charm her way into his favor. Imagine,my Callista a crown princess! Yes, my deceptively enchanting daughter whose jealousy has rusted her sparkle. And Maeve, as always, following in every game. And what will happen to Angela? Out of us all, shouldn’t she be the one to marry a prince?
And, why not? It’s the least I could give her after all the suffering we’ve put her through. She’s always had natural beauty—she’d only need a dress and a carriage. Oh dear, and a driver, and footmen, and a talisman to protect her from Callista. I’m not sure I could sustain all of those spells at the same time. And if I could, would Angela even accept help from the woman who has been nothing but a tyrant to her for over five years? I must try. It will require the entire day to prepare. I will carry everything to the tool shed on the edge of the estate so no one can find me.They will wonder where I have gone, but hopefully, they will be too preoccupied to search.
15 hours later (7pm)
Till midnight, I told her, but already I feel my energy stretched so tight I can barely walk. It will only get harder, though. Concentration is imperative, so after I’ve recorded these details, I will curl up and focus on preventing the pressure from squeezing me to death.
I came to her disguised by a glamour spell, looking dazzling and exotic. I told her I was her fairy godmother and she believed me. I had no time to gather extra materials from the house, so everything was created from objects surrounding me in the shed. I only had a raccoon to use for the footman, so he appeared a rather shady character, but her carriage, made from a large metal washbasin, looked quite respectable. The gown was woven from any golden leaves and flowers I could find along with handfuls of my own blond hair. With a sweep of my wand, I cleaned her curls and erased her bruises. I wove the protective spell into her shoes—which look like diamonds because they were forged from the shed’s windows.
My head pounds out the seconds. I clench my fists, concentrated on breathing. I must stay conscious until midnight.Angel must have her chance even if it means that I will not survive. Oh, Robert, I am watching over your child as best I can. If her happiness is secured, then I am happy to die for her. Spare me only if our fight must continue.Otherwise, I am ready.
Image by Simeon Solomon.