The Four: Chapter 1

Mother. Brother. Both dead. Now she was dead too. The rattling and clanking moved outside; but the confusion stayed with her. They were almost done packing. And when finished it would be time to leave. She walked to the bureau-mirror and stared at her own face until she saw nothing. How could this be the same body that found a dead brother? Watched Mother fade into nonexistence? She could never escape her own selfness. She was trapped. The face in the glass felt no grief. No pain. Just dryness and numb flesh where a reflection should be.

She touched the mirror. Felt power. Movement. Something—insidious. Someone. Not in the glass. Inside her.

No. She grabbed hair and pulled hard. Nothing. Harder. Now relief instead of pain. The only relief possible. Twisting; pulling; hair suffocating. Her body hurt too. She needed more. Where were scissors, a knife, anything? She ran to her dead mother’s rooms, and in a table found embroidery scissors, the power moving her activity so frantic she didn’t pause to examine the cutting instrument. Or consider whether to remove the coarse-grown curls. Yanking at strands, she slashed until every hair was sheared to the skull.

Better. Now she could feel.

Closing her eyes, she discerned every follicle. Savored the comfort brought by release.

~~

Returned voices formed awareness. She knelt; the floor covered with hair. Hands creased in dark-red blood. The old scissors blunted and too short for their goal. Exhilarated, she gathered thrown hair and hid it under her clothing. More difficult to conceal were her unprotected scalp and hands.

She checked the hall and moved with caution until she reached her chamber. Once inside, she took a washbasin from the carved vanity; eliminated all traces of the drying stains from her hands.

Now to her naked top. The wardrobe provided an old duster to wrap her head. She needed to fool the servants into thinking her dress resulted from reverence, rather than misplaced control: for now her exhilaration changed. Threatened. The self-disciplined, ordered rules and rituals constructed to ensure her incorruptibility blasted into fragmented strands of hair. Passage into heaven would be bought with life’s blood, but not that blood. She must shut-herself-up inside and never do or think anything wicked again.

Eliza considered herself before venturing further. If any person looked into her face, she wanted what gazed back to be calm and normal, not the unsuspected creature that emerged in the bedrooms of her mother and self. She approached her home’s entryway; focus on the old stone floor. The early morning landscape matched the confusion in her mind: shrouded by moving shadows, fog, darkness—not dawn.

A little farther: the distance to the carriage short but jammed with people. The fog made it difficult to identify features, for which Eliza felt hopeful, but their presence penetrated conscience, required full will to remain in site. She forced weak legs to carry her body forward. Her mind shrieked. She wanted to hide.

Nathan, the steward, became visible. Nathan was supposed to be in Highbridge today.

Why is he even here?

Eliza rubbed her temples: Thinking caused pain. As she walked, more and more faces emerged sharp and focused; gave few clues as to identity until their nearness rendered her defenses raw and exposed.

Where next? Her eyes darted without comprehension. Nathan grasped and raised her to the carriage seat, his hands tight against her. When the door shut with a soft thwunk, her breath became audible, but she didn’t cry, lest someone hear.

The horses snorted and pulled; she gripped the cushion. Soon, Eliza sank inside her own head, and refused to contemplate.

Evening. The carriage stopped after hours of jostling along rock-embedded roads. They arrived at Burnham-On-Sea—time to lodge for the night. Nathan, still present, had arranged to drive south along the River Parrett, a long but secure route to Cannington, her destination. Stopping meant facing people and perhaps fielding difficult questions. Her (finally) calm demeanor should go unquestioned, but the shorn scalp? Impossible to explain with few words, and she couldn’t manage any more than that.

Looking outside, Eliza noted the weather: mist lay on the ground, and darkness obscured the port area.

Morning. Fear increased. Each moment spent near people excruciated. Reality seemed further and further, like grasping tendrils. Time to vanish. Literally.

Outside the inn, boats on the wharf beckoned. Cutters; East Indiamen; Frigates; Gigs; Jollyboats (what fun). Ketches. Catch the Ketch. If she could only… Two-masted, the perfect size to escape down river.

She rode the Ketch. No one saw her leave or questioned her presence. Colors converged. Purples, oranges, silver: dreaming. Fog; ever present—gave way in layers. Obliterated past, present, and future. Hid and revealed what she sought. Spirits rode the vaporous clouds, and sight disappeared. Somewhere mother, brother, and even lost father hid; teasing and tempting to penetrate the places so she may never find her way out again.

Eliza wanted to stay.

~~

The River Parrett flowed through reedy banks; bent southward, and along marshlands to the west. The boat hit bottom; arrived in a small port-town just miles from her destination. A short walk revealed farmers’ fields. She approached crossed roads, one continued west and the other south. Certain Cannington lay to the south, she turned left and headed over the meadows of the southern moors. Passed sections of ground divided by ancient stonewalls designed to keep sheep relegated to common lands, and protect the crops of growers from those same marauding beasts. Hedges dominated by elder, hawthorn, holly, elm, and spindle sheltered frightening creatures like red foxes and treacherous badgers, which used the formations for passage from one area to the next, but who could not altogether avoid contact with humans.

After trudging unpaved green lanes for hours, night approached. Not wanting to be left alone outside, she increased her pace. Openings between elder trees revealed scrub ending in verges; and in these shadowed areas skulking movements and glowing eyes danced just outside her ability to see.

A whisper of leaves brought confused images. Cold wind, rattling branches, and scurrying feet caused heartbeat to accelerate and blood to flow in uncontrolled panic; she ran, even as the terrain steepened and the cool nocturnal air numbed her body. She no longer felt her feet; skin, throat and lungs burned from the combination of exercise, temperature, and fear.

Night again. She saw dim lights. Cannington? She hoped so. A church clock-tower rose in the distance opposite a large, redbrick building. The arrangement met the description given to her by her own parish priest. The structure must belong to the Prioress of Cannington Church. Eliza struggled to remember the woman’s name, but couldn’t recall. No matter, her self-possession—gone until now—returned. She didn’t need to know. Returned, that was, except for a sneaking, lingering concern for her shorn head.

The daylong walk had occupied her enough to ignore this problem, except to find a way around it. Many girls sold their hair for a profit. Exactly what she intended to claim. If the prioress didn’t believe her, assuming she even cared, no proof existed to contradict Eliza. Besides, nuns tended to shear their hair anyway. What difference did it make? And why did she feel worried?

Disquiet remained.

(C) 2006 Sheila Muirenn

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2 Responses to “The Four: Chapter 1”

  1. Wayne Gore Says:

    I rhink this is really good wayne

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