The Widow in White

Submitted into Contest #64 in response to: Set your story in a Gothic manor house.... view prompt

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Horror

Joyce had always known the consequences. One could not visit her great aunt’s manor house without the conversation eventually leading to its rich history of tragedy and loss. Each curved archway, squeaky floorboard, cool breeze, or faint rustling inspired a deluge of stories of phantoms lurking in the dark. 

It had always been a thrill to spend time in the manor. There had been countless sleepless nights of anxious anticipation filled with watchful wide eyes and trembling huddles. Her cousin took a special delight in claiming she had seen the resentful widow dressed in a long white nightgown peering at them from darkened doorways. However, Joyce had never had the thrill of such sightings despite her cousin’s wholehearted insistence. The two girls had spent many evenings peering down the long velvet laden hallways, peeking into the study, or searching around the tall staircases to no avail. Joyce often became resentful and frustrated at her cousin’s insistence which led both girls to inevitable tears and arguments. Weekends away were often cut short by impatient parents who were tired and could not comprehend how such loving cousins would always argue about such petty nonsense. Joyce truly loved her cousin but never failed to grow exhausted by her relentless tales of the widow in the white dress.  

One such evening, Joyce decided to confront her cousin. 

“Where have you heard of this widow?” 

“What do you mean? I haven’t heard of her. I saw her. Why don’t you believe me?” 

“How do you know she is a widow? Did you talk to her?” 

“Of course I haven’t talked to her. She’s a ghost!” 

“Then how do you know she’s a widow?” 

“Look, you never believe me anyway. I’m not supposed to talk about her anymore. My mother made me promise.” 

“Just answer my question.” 

“I… I don’t know. I just know. Anyway, let’s stop talking about her. I don’t want to cause another fight.” 

At that point, Joyce was convinced her cousin was a liar. A cruel liar. Someone who delighted in watching her fear. How dare her cousin scare her at every chance she had. Joyce had been haunted by the thought of this widow woman spying on the girls. Perhaps she had had evil intentions. Perhaps Joyce was her choice of victim and took extra care to never be seen by her. Joyce had spent infinite hours picturing the widow: her frilly lace nightgown, her long dark hair waving down over each shoulder, her pained and angered expression, her pale and weak arms stretched out, and her long bony fingers just out of reach of the girls.   

The anger at her cousin’s betrayal bubbled up within her and, without thinking, she swung her hand to forcefully slap her cousin across the cheek. Her cousin’s head flung to the side and her hand reached up to cradle her cheek. As she righted herself, she stared wide eyed at Joyce in silent shock before bursting into loud wails.  

Their mothers came running, flung open the door and separated the girls immediately. Joyce’s discipline came swift and thorough. Her mother never stopped once in her flurry to gather their things, apologize profusely, pack up the bags, and load the car, all the while admonishing her daughter for her terrible behavior.   

The incident had occurred thirty-five years ago. Joyce had never seen her cousin since. Of course, there had been letters of formal apology and profuse lamentation to which her cousin, surprisingly, had accepted and had even written back. The two girls continued their correspondence and grew into adult friends. Her aunt, however, had taken greater offense and her visits to the manor house swiftly ended.  

Joyce and her cousin wrote of their childhoods, challenging teachers, first crushes, lessons learned, apartments rented, hearts broken, and on, and on. Occasional letters would harken to the past and their memories of the manor house, but never a mention of the widow in white.  

Joyce’s move across the country was heartily encouraged by her cousin, as was her rapid courtship, and eventual attempts at child rearing. Joyce, in turn, offered sound advice and celebration of her cousin’s love affair, marriage, and budding career as a painter. Neither girls ever became mothers, but led rich and exciting lives full of joyful life events and painful sorrows. The cousins became mutual pillars of strength for each other, holding one another up against life’s heavy burdens. Joyce made herself on hand as her cousin suffered the tragic loss of her husband to a sudden stroke while her cousin shed many a tear for her agonizing failures to conceive. The two continued to grow closer over the years and, upon infrequent visits in person, grew a short hand communication wherein a sideways glance or clearing of one’s throat spoke more than mere words.  

Today, a brisk and early fall morning, Joyce had come to visit her cousin at the manor house. Their great aunt had long passed, leaving Joyce’s aunt the responsibility of its care. Now, many thankless years later, the matter was decided to sell the great property. The two girls, being the most youthful and willing of the family, were tasked with a final examination to ensure no family keepsakes or personal items were accidentally left behind.  

As Joyce approached the grand entryway, she became aware of her slightly quickened heartbeat. Childhood fears rarely dissipate, but rather, linger in shadows ready to thrust forward when opportunities allow.  

It had always taken a solid thrust to open the grand door and moment for one’s eyes to adjust to its entranceway. Laden with dark carved wooden panels and long hallways, Joyce’s call to her cousin absorbed into the walls.  

Her footsteps echoed as she started to the right, her hand reaching out to feel the soft tapestry hung against the cold wall. Her finger traced along the vine which curled upwards and down across the entire piece. The house somehow feeling larger than she had recalled.  

“Strange that,” she thought to herself. “As one grew older, don’t things from one’s past shrink, lessen, or weaken?”  

The house and its contents seemed to intensify the deeper she walked in.  

“Take a long breath, it’s just a house,” she told herself. “Once again, your imagination is getting the best of you. Nothing can hurt you.” 

Shaking her head and exhaling, Joyce gathered herself. Clearly, her cousin was not in this wing. Turning around to try the other way, she noticed a sweep of white at the other end of the hall, far in the distance.  

Calling her cousin’s name louder now achieved the same result. Joyce hurried down the hall to the entryway again and, this time, took to the left. A soft rustle behind a door garnered Joyce’s attention and she entered the study. Scanning the room, she saw nothing of note. Impressive volumes of novels, journals, and collections lined the many shelves. This had not been a room of interest to the girls in their youth. A final scan before leaving but then something caught her eye just outside the window. She hurried over to see a glimpse of a figure passing by and heading out towards the gardens.  

The figure was a woman. Her long black hair stretched over her shoulders and downwards. Her white dress hung low, almost touching the ground, making it seem like she was floating rather than walking.  

Joyce’s heart stopped as she froze, wide eyed at the window. The figure, as if mirroring Joyce, also froze, almost hidden by the branches and leaves of the forest she was entering. Slowly and steadily, the figure began to turn towards Joyce. A gust of wind blew a wisp of her long hair across her face, but the pained expression was evident and the piercing eyes were unforgiving. 

“Joyce, there you are!” her cousin exclaimed, entering the room. 

Joyce jumped at the sound. Her eyes darting back to the figure. A bramble of trees and blackness were all she could find.  

October 23, 2020 02:13

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1 comment

Keri Dyck
13:03 Nov 06, 2020

Good job with this story! It was well paced, interesting, and grammatically correct as far as I could see.

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