The crackling fire popped in its square box of a fireplace behind the dreary stone hearth. Its flames reached upwards—like it desired to escape but tortuously knew its sparks were the only escapees.
But why? It hadn’t done anything wrong. It was just a substance once lit and then snuffed out. Its smoke left to drift away to voice its epiphany. If it had any.
“But there isn’t. For any of us.”
The speaker would be a silhouette if the living room was a little darker. She lay on a scarlet cushioned couch, the darkness covering most of her so she was two legs in boots, leggings, a coat and a pair of knitted mittens. They reached up only to her finger knuckles. She was so cold. A fire roared just feet away, but the speaker barely received its heat available her. She wasn’t going for it.
Running pounded throughout the hallway. Scurrying into the living room, she stopped, standing erect, hands clasped behind back.
“Please,” she commanded, flicking a hand towards the fire, “move this sofa closer to the fire.”
Snuggling down onto her back, she sighed, complaining for her servant to hurry up. The companion grunted she’d go faster and then pressed her lips together as she carried the farther end to where the couch was perpendicular to the fire. When she questioned her mistress about her work, the speaker barked at her. She bowed her head, immediately retaining submissive posture as she blinked at the sprawled rug with the fire’s shadow dancing on it.
“I was just asking.”
The sofa creaked—the much older woman had sat up, the companion saw out of her peripheral vision.
She got up, and the eternal companion looked at the sofa. She knew she wasn’t allowed to even ask whether she could even sit on the couch. It belonged to her mistress, the woman with the orders and icy glares. She played with her sweaty hands and then shot out that she just wanted to have a relaxing moment on that couch. What was the harm in any of that comfort? She’d at least be momentarily free from the pain of having to endure these seemingly endless days with her hateful companion in Hell. She forsook her loved ones to get vengeance on someone with whom she was irate. This woman then told her she would help her solve this vengeance problem, so the eternal companion agreed—only to wind up trapped down in hell with someone too hateful to keep her promise. Anyone entering this place couldn’t leave. Love didn’t exist anymore. She should’ve listened to her loved ones by refusing to avenge.
The speaker congratulated her on her first successful move of the day, her mouth twisting into a nasty snarl. Then the speaker shook her head and strode away. “She’ll never understand. Never.”
When the speaker whirled, the eternal companion resumed her posture, jerking her eyes down at the hearth rug again. But she couldn’t stop shaking, her frown a pressed one and her eyes staring at the floor.
“Never what?” The speaker hissed.
“Never mind.” The eternal companion whispered, her legs knocking and her eyes flickering up to her faster than the firelight. The speaker scoffed that she wasn’t doing her job right. When the eternal companion objected, the speaker’s icy-blue sharp eyes narrowed, and she started walking slowly towards her, the companion’s hands waving frantically in front of her.
The eternal companion said that she didn’t want to live with an abusive witch forever. The speaker, whose eyes were fiery and mouth twitched with rage, raised an enraged fist. The eternal companion uncovered herself and clambered backwards onto the hearth.
“You think you can—”
Maybe even the words felt the harsh blow of the smack to the face. After the cry, she rubbed her cheek with a bony hand. The speaker raised a tight fist above her right shoulder, about to deliver the backhanded blow, but the eternal companion gave her a piercing glare. The speaker’s lividity was so real her mouth was barely able to verbalize the punishment. But the eternal companion just hurled down, storming towards the rest of the stone-grey house with its drab stone walls, pillars and stone floors covered only by ugly rugs and furniture. “I’m leaving! You can sleep all you want.”
She traipsed back where she had come. A slam of the front door, and the speaker gritted her teeth.
She can’t run away.
She headed for the door, words of rage and punishment spewing from her mouth. Whipping the door open, she screamed threats and harsh treatment, but the companion yelled back that she was hiking somewhere—anywhere—to get back to her loved ones.
“You can’t—it’s Hell!”
But the speaker slammed the door, and headed towards the kitchen table, plopping in the head chair. Plucking a quill pen, she laughed to herself while dabbing it in the black ink jar before penning “important letters to my friends. We’ll have a party!” on a parchment scroll.
Her smile widened as her hand scribbled word after word, a train of thoughts forming as the quill scratched after going in and out of the ink jar. Soon, the letter was rolled up and tied with a scarlet thread. “There—now I have to tell the postmaster to deliver this one across the valley and into the woods to Dragon and her sister. Once Dragon knows I’m having a party to celebrate the sending off of my friend, Letters, it will spread smiles on their faces as well.”
She watched as he tipped his French beret hat towards her and thanked her kindly. She now needed to write Letters a letter for her to come home immediately to prepare her friends’ and her feast. She grumbled on the way home about her stupid way of never understanding her needs. That she had always thought of herself. She was here for a reason. To serve her friend.
The speaker gave it to the postmaster.
He jerked his head up and down, tipped his hat to her and walked away with the letter. But the speaker grabbed his baggy coated arm and ordered it back. “You know what. Just give me the letter back!”
“Fine!” The postmaster threw the rolled up parchment onto the pebbled ground and stomped away, rumbling under his breath. The speaker gathered it and marched home. As the fire greedily stripped the paper of its life by transforming it into a shriveled ash heap, the speaker simpered.
Whatever. I’ll just have my friends drag her into this rejected life. The speaker gave another letter to the still grumbling postman.
“Still dark out, miss.”
Her icy glare made him immediately take the letter. When her friends showed up, the speaker reached out and yanked the companion from someone’s fierce grip. Everyone went into the house, chatting and gossiping about the day and its ill-fated fortunes with other people not like them.
The speaker barked for the table to be set and food to be steamed, cooked and broiled for everyone to dig in and satisfy themselves. Within minutes, the eternal companion was serving cold, frozen broccoli, raw chicken that filled the room with such a stench the guests could not bear another second without clogging their noses, bread with mold spotting it every few inches and rotten fruit with its red ripeness replaced by ugly brownness. The speaker watched impatiently, and the guests and her mistress started ripping their plates from her and barking for her to hurry up and serve them. Struggling not to burst out laughing at the guests’ fat cheeks gorged with the dangerously under-cooked meal, the eternal companion kept flicking her eyes down towards the floor.
The speaker finally looked at her servant after everyone had complained on their way out the door that the “worthless nobody” didn’t even serve dessert. “What’s so funny, Letters?”
The eternal companion’s mouth twitched as she washed the last of the platters. “Nothing.” After the kitchen’s boring grey countertops and ugly tiles were wiped and swept clean, she threw her head back, her mouth a wide O as she howled, banging her rag-holding hand.
“Stop this nonsense!”
Within seconds, the laughter was cut short. The eternal companion was on the ground, a huge red mark on her temple. Her eyes were closed, and her head lay limp on the floor. “There.” The speaker dropped the large metal frying pan onto the tiled floor. “Knocked out cold. Maybe she should be there long enough to remind herself that she shouldn’t challenge authority—especially by running away—”
The speaker started heaving, her stomach gurgling. Clutching it, she dashed to the bathroom and vomited all her dinner. Hunched over the toilet, she noticed some red meat, blood and pink meat staring back at her. Widening her eyes, the speaker dashed to her and shrieked that her guests and she just ate raw food. She started grabbing her hair and shaking the girl, hurling verbal insults at her and demanding her to answer at once.
After the eternal companion came to, she looked drearily up at her mistress’ glowering eyes and furious face. She scrambled from the floor and jabbed a finger at her. “Your stupid friends deserved it!”
The speaker whipped a hand back, but the eternal companion dodged it. The second her mistress’ surprise vanished, the eternal companion started evading every swing, jab and thrust. She soon stood there and stared at her servant.
But another backhanded blow, but she whipped her head to the side. She just dodged every step of the way until the mistress was exhausted. A final blow made its way onto the counter, and the mistress, heaving, fell to her knees. The eternal companion rammed her foot right into the owner’s ribs.
“Maybe you’ll think twice about having any friends at all.” The eternal companion flicked her eyebrows up and down. “Or maybe even having me as your stupid, worthless slave!” Another kick to the ribs. But the eternal companion then widened her eyes, frozen with shock.
She frantically whirled around to find a plastic phone sitting by the stove. She lunged for it and dialed 911. The operator picked up, and the companion rushed that her friend was on the floor, unconscious and hopefully not bleeding internally. As she heard the dispatcher ready herself to come to her house, the servant checked her mistress. Just a broken rib. She stayed on the phone until the dispatcher zoomed into the house and lifted the speaker.
“My friend—” the eternal companion dashed out with her as she carried the unconscious speaker to the open ambulance. “She’s—”
“She’ll be okay.” The person somehow leapt into the open doored back and strapped her into the wheeled stretcher. “She’s just injured with a broken rib.”
The woman told her to come with them to the hospital.
“No—I need to stay here.” The companion elucidated that her mistress would have proper care without her. “For a personal reason.”
After the ambulance’s sirens screamed away throughout the growing night air, the companion slid her hands into her jean pockets as she returned inside the house. The servant knew her vengeance upon her mistress was almost fatal.
“I almost killed her. Good thing I didn’t, or she wouldn’t be able to pay the bills.” The eternal companion swung the door closed and then kicked it when it stopped half-way. “But I…” The eternal companion thought. “I can’t maintain this house alone forever. I don’t want to just serve her anymore.”
The next morning, the companion woke to the phone’s repeated ringing. She dashed down to the kitchen and answered it. After locking up, she ran to the hospital a few miles down the road. Soon, she was standing in front of the speaker’s hospital bed, her mistress glowering at her, a cruel smile sliding up her thin face.
The eternal companion jerked her eyes down at the ground and shivered. She turned to go, her owner demanding her to clean the house. She shifted up onto her pillow, but the same dispatcher urged her to mind her rib. She glared at her and then whimpered as she lay down.
The eternal companion nodded and then left. After cleaning, she removed her mistress’ ugly tiled floors for carpeted ones, ugly stone for beautiful and eye-blinding grayness of the pillars for smoothness even the speaker would compliment. She wasn’t going to live in an ugly house that just reminded her of her mistake—she was going to strive to have a new attitude with her mistress. Even if it took all of…well, even if it took a while.
A few weeks later, the speaker returned home. The eternal companion invited the formerly hospital-bound woman into the place. She yelled and barked, threatening the eternal companion with an eternity without dinner or breakfast if she didn’t help her with every need required.
“I am helping you. Don’t you see?” The eternal companion helped her readjust to her couch “Don’t you see everything around you?”
The mistress accused the eternal companion of laziness and lying. Afterwards, she peered around herself at the new pillars and living room carpet. After stretching as far as she could to glance at the revised kitchen, the mistress blinked. Then she said, “Hm. Seems you’ve proven yourself…” Closing her mouth, the mistress blinked and nodded. She lay back down, silent.
The eternal companion waited, hands behind her back. Then she interjected, “Do you want anything to eat or drink?” She told her to leave her.
“You are here to serve me for all eternity.” Her voice was brittle. “When I heal, you will have the food out and ready for that night when I’m better—warmed and crisp and prepared to serve. Delay, and you’ll find yourself up to your forehead in soapy water, cleaning those dishes.” She shifted and then let out a painful cry. “Do it,” she continued through gritted teeth.
The eternal companion prepped the meal, telling herself she’d get some reward out of it.
“I’m done. Go see for yourself.”
The mistress shoved her companion out of the way and went downstairs to the kitchen. “Looks…great for everyone else.” She returned and waved a hand in front of the bathroom washbasins and rags. “Get some of those cloths and clean!”
The eternal companion breathed calmly, telling herself she’d get it all done. Once she reported to the speaker, she went to investigate to see whether she found even the tiniest hair still lingering around on a bed or rug. Nothing, not even a crumb.
She shut her bedroom door. The companion squeezed her hands and jumped up and down a little, a radiant smile stretching at her cheeks. Yes! She raced downstairs after grabbing a book off one of the library’s dusted shelves. She opened it before she got to the hearth and then immersed herself in a world of dragons and dungeons, princes and paupers being rescued by these dragons’ dungeons. Someday, I’ll rescue myself. She thought. From this hell!
A cheerful smile couldn’t be broken from the eternal companion’s face that night all through the fanciful feast celebrating her mistress’ healed rib. The next morning, the speaker yelled for her to take care of breakfast and lunch after she had just cleaned the kitchen.
“Can I have some food now?” The question did not carry a begging tone.
“Make it quick.”
She took time savoring the buttery, crisp roll with fresh bacon. Closing her eyes and chewing slowly, the companion smiled. When this was done, she chewed the bacon, its crunchiness widening her smile as she heard the snap of it between her teeth. She cleared her place and returned to the speaker’s bedroom, opening the huge creaking door.
“Why do you hate me?”
The speaker narrowed her eyes. “I don’t deal with stupidity like you.”
But the eternal companion didn’t cower before her. Not when the speaker threw her outside. Wouldn’t when the speaker yelled right in front of her guests who just sat there and stared and then shook their heads and gossiped about the eternal companion. Couldn’t when she stood right in front of the fire, threatening to throw her mistress into its flames.
One night, she dropped her raised hand. “I can’t even threaten you anymore.” She told her servant she’d be going to the postmaster. An hour later, she returned. The servant didn’t dare inquire but studied her until she snarled for her to get lost.
Years went by, and the servant’s mistress stopped attacking her. One day, she looked down at her. “You made a mistake. You can’t atone for that. You’ll never make up for it, but we,” The mistress touched her rib. “can forgive each other.” She inhaled and stood straight, putting out a hand.
The servant nodded, not taking it. “I forgave myself last night. I forgive you.” She ushered her out of the room. Several hours later, she permitted her to come back. The mistress, eyebrows raised and mouth agape at her servants’ work of wreaths hanging before every entrance, streamers hanging from the stone-grey ceiling and around the pillars, applauded her efforts.
The speaker joined her at the beautiful feast. “We’re wrong.”
“But,” the servant advised as she doled out a plateful for her mistress, “that doesn’t mean we can’t be right from now on.”
The mistress clinked her gold goblets of red and white wine with her new friend reserved—
“For the two of us.”
The rest of the night seemed to sweep away in the stitching of a catastrophic relationship mended together as the two women deemed each night spent together stitching the hole of hatred and vengeance one thread string at a time.