Belladonna, by Anette Dinh
A lonely garden sat underneath a pale, wintry sky. Flowers of every kind rested mournfully in their hearths, their small, decadent blossoms falling away from their once beautiful frames. Bright, crimson thorns caressed their feeble stems, and tiny dew droplets gracelessly cascaded from their leaves. Twisted oaks gave no reprieve to the buds, as the trunks and vines taunted them cruelly. All the while, darkness stroked the scenery, lulling the flowers away from life, away from reality, and toward desperate dreams not even the trees themselves knew.
Deep within the garden stood a castle. Gothic arches gazed out at the maddening scene, and tall towers soared through the trees, willing themselves from the foreboding atmosphere. Stained glass windows revealed little of the mysterious home, with only grotesque depictions of elegant savagery to splay themselves across the surfaces. Iron gates guarded the castle, the gleaming metal cruelly staring down at the gardens. Grey stone complemented the low light hidden behind velvet curtains. Just beyond those curtains were two hazy silhouettes, both of whom seemed oblivious to the misery outside.
Small, fragile insects kept stumbling around, endeavoring to remain quiet along the edges of the shadows. Soundless cries echoed through the solitary air, as they sought out a warmth that had long since been barred from them. Some insects lay within the cracks in the stone, trying to take shelter from the harsh wind. Others, however, clawed at the walls, their tear-streaked cheeks frozen on their faces. Some circled the towers, leaping from balcony to balcony, while others sank low in the mud, the life within their already dull eyes gradually disappearing. Some sat at the front of the doors, pleading that they be let inside, while others attempted to break the windows, bleeding recklessly as they did.
What was it? the insects asked themselves. What had they done to upset their lord? What did they do to deserve such callousness? Was this a punishment, a consequence, a lesson from a terrible time no one dared remember? If it was, then shouldn’t the master be blamed for it?
As quickly as the accusation came, it left, replaced by a fear the insects have beaten into themselves. Was the master listening? Where was he? What was he doing now?
But even so, the judgement remained in their minds. What did they do that was so horrifying? What did they say that was so terrible, so sinful? What was it?
What was it?
Then they all froze.
They came toward the insects, the monsters, their glassy eyes taking in the garden’s shamefulness. Some were big, others small, some hideous, others beautiful. Some had claws, others hands; some hearts, others a mere hole. Some were bleeding when they came, while others held no such conviction, and instead, practiced their inhumanity by their own, sadistic right.
As the monsters came forth, any pride the insects had left shattered. Horrified screams broke the silence, replacing the wind in all its entirety. The insects began slamming against the doors, the gates, the windows. Frightened, cold hands beat against the stone, their piercing howls drenched in pity. Desperation filled their eyes, as they begged, pleaded, screamed, demanded that they be let in.
What sin was this? Whose sin was this? Apologize! Say sorry and they may still escape this fate! Apologize! they all cried. Apologize! Apologize apologize apologize apologize!
Whose sin was this?
Whose sin was this?!
A young man leaned against the window, with an arrogant smirk dancing lightly across his lips. What a humorous scene; no matter how hard they try, in the end they had no say in their puny lives. Nor did the creatures that devoured them, nor even the winds that overtook their pathetic demands. Though he knew he was no better than them, it was that contradiction that gave him his life, a paradox which made him laugh so many times over. There was something intoxicating about the notion, something enticing, that he couldn’t help but ask for more.
He turned back. The low light of the fireplace engulfed the frigid room with warmth. Bright, orange embers flickered here and there, and stray wisps of smoke escaped through the chimney. Remnants of charred wood happily carried on throughout the night, as the loose shadows around it pranced lively on the floor.
In front of that fireplace sat a dark, rosette couch. Small, golden leaves were etched along the fabric. Two brown pillows were settled on either side of the armrests, their simplicity entwined lovingly with the couch’s ostentatious design. An ornate table sat near the couch, and on that table, a white teacup, which settled on top a golden plate.
A young woman lay upon that couch. She had calm, amber eyes, which reflected back the comforting light the fires gave. Crimson hair cascaded down her back, her strands neatly held by a small, black ribbon. Just behind her was a depressive, melancholic shadow, which stoically observed the silence around her. A deep, red dress of the finest material adorned from her body, and jewels of every size decorated her fingers. A golden necklace covered her throat, with a single, thornless rose dangling from the middle.
Drevis smiled lovingly at the young woman. He would be lying if he said he hated her. She was beautiful, after all, and she was charming, just like he never was. He loved her captivating smile, her laughter, the way she rambled on about a dream she had, or a story she read, how she would blush, and fall quiet whenever she did.
Yet her innocence was the only thing that tempted him. There was no one in the world that could possibly match her sweet heart, no one who could imitate his beloved’s magnificent ignorance. There wasn’t a single lie she didn’t believe, not one, deceitful smile she didn’t genuinely fall for. No, she was untainted, untouched, unblemished by the reality around her.
She was perfect.
She stared at him, his beloved, her demure orbs inviting him over for yet another peaceful moment. He took her invitation, his quiet footsteps softly hitting the wooden boards. He reached for her hand, and cradled it within his grip. “Yes, my dear?”
Carefully, she traced the lines on his palms, the tip of her nail lingering upon his golden wedding band. “Where have you been?” she asked.
He chuckled. “Here.”
“No, you haven’t.
“I’ve called for you so many times, but you never answer,” she explained stubbornly, as she placed his hand on her lap.
“I’ve been here all day.”
“Physically, yes. Your mind, however-”
“Is something the matter?”
His lips barely parted. His fingers entwined with hers, unable to let go of her helpless fingers. “I’m fine,” he answered.
“…Are you sure?”
She breathed a deep, anxious sigh. As she did, Drevis closed his own eyes, groping for the right words to say. The fact that she’d noticed something was a bit odd. And what a strange thing she said, about his worries, especially at a time like this, when she should’ve been gazing in that fire.
As she supposedly would.
As she happily would.
He squeezed her fingers. “Really love, everything’s fine.”
She regarded him with even eyes. It only took him a single second to see that childlike glimmer falling away from her pupils. “I can tell.”
“Then please do.”
“I’ve been with you since we were kids Drevis,” she replied quietly. “I know you.”
She leaned closer to him, a slight frown replacing her once adorable smile. “Where’s Josephine?”
He cocked his head. “Josephine?”
She nodded. “Our maid. She was going to read me a wonderful story tonight.”
“Oh? About what?”
“Well that’s just it. She said she would’t tell me until today. She was actually supposed to come now for tea.”
“Did she give you any hints about the story?”
Her eyes widened pleasantly. “Yes, of course!”
He cupped her cheeks delicately in both his hands. “She felt rather ill today, and she wanted me to tell you in her place.”
His beloved’s eyes fell. “Oh,” she murmured. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“So that’s why-”
“I’ll wait until tomorrow.”
“Josephine said she’d read the story to me,” the mistress whispered happily, as she twisted back toward the fire. Her hands slipped away from his so quickly, that in an instant, he held only air. “So I’ll wait. Besides, I’m not a good actor. If you tell me now, everything will be ruined.”
He barked out a harsh laugh. “You really are spoiled, aren’t you?”
Immediately, his eyes came toward the empty teacup sitting beside her. Quickly, he snatched up the cup, and pretended to examine it. “Finished already?”
“Ah, Edward was supposed to come back and refill it.”
“So please, you don’t have to trouble yourself-”
The master turned away. “It’s fine. You need your medicine, after all.”
“Y-yes, but Edward knows what to do-”
“I have to remind him every day,” he replied. “He was always a bit forgetful, wouldn’t you agree?’
“I beg to differ! He’s one of the brightest people I know! Well, aside from you-”
“I’m not doubting his skill Aileen. I’m just going to remind him, alright?”
“Aileen,” Drevis said in a rather stern tone.
As he waited to leave, he couldn’t help but notice the fire growing dimmer and dimmer, the warmth subtly losing its way to the cold. He could see the blue shrouding her skin, her shadow gradually clawing out from its confinement. The gentleness in her eyes hastened away, and as darkness covered the room, he saw her wondrous innocence losing its grip.
He could feel her scrutinize him then. He could feel her compassionate smile quickly disappearing, her relaxed shoulders tensing at the very thought of seeing him here. He could feel every bit of love she poured out to him now vanishing before him. And even within her forgotten sins, he could only do so much to keep it from disappearing.
There was a brief moment of hesitation, and yet, somehow, she allowed him to leave, much to his relief.
“Drevis!” the mistress squealed, as she stared at the master with bright, enthusiastic eyes. She clapped her hands excitedly when he sat down beside her, the fire, once again, lit by the plethora of wood and air. She grabbed his hands greedily, and pulled him towards her. “What took you so long?”
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I got caught up with something.”
“Well, you promised to tell me a story, didn’t you?”
“I did, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did! Come now, out with it!”
He smirked playfully, as he turned to the fireplace, the heat diffusing easily throughout the cold air. There was no wind tonight, and the insects made no sound. Perhaps they’ve died out, or maybe they’ve all frozen to death. Maybe they moved elsewhere, though he doubted they could leave the garden. At least, not without his assistance.
“Drevis!” the mistress complained.
“Ah, I apologize,” he said rapidly. That warm, amiable grin was on her face, though that tinkering, delicate laughter was new. “Where was I?”
She groaned exasperatedly. “The witch! What was her name? Josephine?”
He pondered on the aspect for a while, before snapping his fingers. “Yes, that’s right! The wicked witch Josephine, and her familiar…?”
She giggled. “Drevis, do you even know this story?”
“Apparently not,” he replied. “Do you?”
“Of course! You’ve told me so many times! I can’t believe you’d actually forget something as important as this.”
“Then please, Aileen,” he said, as he stole a glance at the empty cup on the table, “be a dear and tell me.”
~This story has been published by short-story.me.