Contest #248 shortlist ⭐️

Paradise Lost

Submitted into Contest #248 in response to: Write a story titled 'Paradise Lost'.... view prompt


Romance Sad Historical Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger warning: domestic violence, mental health

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

(Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1)

Some say that Signor Dante’s Inferno is a most accurate representation of Hell. For my own part, I would argue that Man makes his own Hell when he ignores the corner of Paradise he finds here on Earth and lets himself instead succumb to fatal passions.

The cell from which I write has become my personal inferno, for Heaven is where she is and she is not here. They say I will hang on the morrow – if it be so, let the morn come quickly, for when I leave this earth, I will hold her once again – and this time, nothing shall separate us. She died in my arms; let me awake in hers!

Heaven is where she is…


If I close my eyes, perhaps I can regain the memory of Paradise – the moment when I first beheld my Love; the moment when she said she loved me. I was then but a boy of nine and ten, an under-footman to Sir Richard Manville. It was not the life I had envisaged for myself, but my father had gambled away my mother’s fortune before entering the debtors’ prison, and so it was that I was forced into servitude and my dreams of becoming a poet seemed sadly out of reach. Nevertheless, I determined that I would somehow find time to commit my thoughts to paper as often as I could, ever mindful of the idea that one day, I would fall in love and would need a ready supply of sonnets with which to declare my ardour.

My resolve was soon tested for I shared my quarters with three other young men in Sir Richard’s employ, of a similar age to me, but sadly far more ill-bred. I soon learned that, whilst not illiterate like so many of their rank, they took no delight in reading for pleasure and had no desire to better themselves intellectually. Worse still, I was forced to hide my own books and pens and papers after discovering one dreadful evening that, whilst I had been waiting on Sir Richard and his guests, my fellows had found my latest poem and were amusing themselves by reading it aloud to one another with additional filthy phrases. Eventually, I was allowed a tiny garret to myself, and now that I had no one to distract me, I often wrote far into the night, literally burning my candle at both ends.

I found my work enjoyable and I still continued with my poetry but – alas! – without a muse. Not one of the housemaids inspired me: they were either fat and lumpish or pinched and miserable. I longed for a Juliet to my Romeo (although without the tragic end), a Hero to my Leander. I dreamed of making love to a beautiful goddess; but I feared I might do no better than the second parlour maid.

But Aphrodite must have taken pity on my lover’s heart for, only days later, my world changed at a ball given by Sir Richard and his wife. The sun smiled when first I saw her face; the grey clouds were gone in an instant. I saw a glimpse of gold across a crowded room; a flash of blue sky as her eyes met mine. Later, our hands touched as I passed her a glass of punch. She was a lady and I was but a humble lad, but my love for her was pure and true. Something swelled within me: she was the poem my heart had been writing for years.

For some forty minutes I watched her, my eyes feasting on her golden beauty. Whilst other women talked and danced and flirted, my love observed the salon, her eye roving the room until it caught mine. Abashed, I looked away.

Later, she left the company of dancing fools, slipping away to the cool air of the garden where, like a fool, I was dancing in the moonlight, thinking only of her. At first, I did not see her, intent as I was upon the image of her inside my mind. Our hands touched; our mouths met. She was air and sunshine, spring and summer, my everything, my all. That was when I knew: this lady would be my bride and together we would dance through the storms of life.

But her hand slipped away from mine as I reached for her again. “Not now.” Her voice was a whisper of summer breeze; her smile a beam of sunlight.

She told me of a cottage in the woods nearby, a place that we might make our own. Softly, we stole through the trees – two young lovers, giddy with desire. I did not think to ask then how she knew of this haven, nor to wonder who else had been there before me: all I knew was that she was beautiful and she would be mine. I had to have her.

 The cottage was cold and deserted, but the summer night was warm. Laughing, she took my hand and led me inside, locking the door after us. “And now,” she said, “my handsome boy, let’s see what you are made of.”

I am afraid I disappointed her that first time. She asked me to undress her, but nerves made my fingers tremble as I unlaced her stays and desperation made me lose control of myself far too quickly. I tried again. This time, as I finally moved inside her, I was a god. Her skin was cool and white while mine was flushed and hot. I pumped my own heat into her, wanting to fill her with my love. Beneath the weight of my body, she seemed small and fragile; I held her close, not wanting to let her go.

Finally, she sighed and said she must return to the ball before she was missed. We dressed quickly, knowing there would be other times, and only then did I think to ask her name.

“Porphyria,” she answered with a smile.

“Porphyria,” I repeated, tasting the syllables, letting them melt like snowflakes on my tongue.

Her next words broke my heart.  “Lady Porphyria Stanton, wife of Sir William.”

I stared at her aghast, not wanting to believe her tale. My goddess – married! But I had thought to make her my bride. Even Adam, after eating the apple, could not have been more disappointed than I was then.

‘Twas not a love-match, she told me, laughing. Sir William was old – more than thirty-five - and he visited her chamber only once a month, to make an heir. So far, his seed had not flourished – “Unless,” and here she laughed again, “you have succeeded where he has not!”

My heart stood still. Was that all I was to her? I thought bitterly. Was I merely a studhorse, similar to the ones my master kept for breeding?

Perhaps she noticed my anguish, for she reached out and touched my cheek with the gentle brush of a butterfly’s wing. “You are my guilty pleasure,” she told me: “my secret vice. I would see you here a thousand times if I could but escape my husband.”

Her words dripped like honey, sweetening the pain I felt. Foolishly, I promised to wait for her the following night. I would wait a hundred years if I had to. She was my soul.

I waited for her night after night after night, forgoing sleep to steal out to our special place – sometimes she joined me; sometimes she did not. When she mentioned, more than once, that she had left Sir William at the gaming table, my heart was filled with anxiety that my father might be there also; but then I lost myself once more in her hair, her eyes, her curves. Like a fool, I was so grateful every time she came; like an idiot, I despaired when she stayed away.

But oh, the delight each time my lover came to find me in the cottage. She had given me the key, a heavy, leaden-looking thing, so unlike the key to Paradise, and bade me light a fire each night, lest, she said laughing, our love was not enough to keep us warm. She laughed often, it seems; yet my heart was always heavy, for I feared that each night together might be our last.

My lady showed no such sensibilitites – I call her my lady, yet she was no lady in bed, but a wanton mistress with an appetite as great – if not greater – than my own. And her imagination knew no bounds: she had tricks that would make a French courtesan blush! (Of course, I had not been to Paris; but some months previously, I had discovered a bawdy volume by a certain Monsieur de Sade in Sir Richard’s library and borrowed it, hiding it under my mattress to keep it safe from those who did not share my interest in continental literature.)

I worried, though, that her fascination with me was somewhat superficial: often, I would extricate myself from her arms, wanting to sketch the curve of her bosom, or the cloud of gold spread across the pillow; each time she would pull me back to bed and make it very clear that she had other ideas in mind. “This is the only instrument that pleases me,” she said on more than one occasion, tossing aside my pen or my charcoal and placing her hand in a position of ownership. I was young; I was flattered. With her by my side, I could climb mountains or fight dragons; without her, I was nothing.

Summer faded into autumn, the air cooling, the wind tugging the leaves from the trees. Her absences stretched for longer and my anxiety grew: was she tiring of me already?

One week I waited and she did not come at all. I stole down to the cottage, night after night, each time hoping and praying that she would be there. I waited and waited and waited, and still she did not come.

Rain. Beating down outside, hammering my heart inside. Only she can chase away the clouds; only she can tame the tempest that tears through my soul.

One week stretched into two, two into three. Twilight now muted the day’s colours, shading everything in a soft grey haze as the evenings surreptitiously crept in. As I sat there, waiting, waiting, I wrote feverishly, filling page after virgin page with flowery sentiments, romantic epithets. My love for her was to have set the world on fire; but the dying coals in the hearth each night seemed a sorry reflection of her cooling ardour for me.

Hour upon hour passed and I remained alone, my heart filled with terror - had she cast me aside for good? I found myself unable to eat, or drink, or sleep; my soul starved for lack of her. Rage and despair began to battle within me. What devil was she to toy so carelessly with my heart? What angel was she if her presence would bring peace? My poems reeked of desperation now, but I could not give her up.

Autumn threatened to become winter; the weather changed. Still I visited the cottage; still she did not come. The storm raged, without and within.

And then, after I had almost abandoned hope, I heard the sound of the door handle turning. At last she entered. She was sunshine after rain, the calm after the storm. She was my soul. Yet still ...

I did not move, nor speak, as she removed the sodden shawl and hood. I sat immobile as she tended to the embers of the fire that once blazed bright. Her hair was yellow sunshine and her eyes the clear blue sky, yet a grey cloud still filled my heart. Later she would leave, and I would be once more alone. The storm gathered.

Moving across the room, she slipped her dress from her smooth white shoulder, making it bare. Her skin was alabaster. Sunlight streamed from her face; she sat down next to me and pulled my head towards her. Her promises were whispers in the breeze.

I could not forgive her – not yet. She moved her lips towards me; I turned away. Laughing, she drew me to her once more. She was so sure that she was mistress here, that all she had to do was smile – or throw me a kind word as she might toss scraps to her lapdog. I might have been her devoted spaniel once, but the fever was upon me, the pain in my chest gradually ripping me apart.

Slowly I ran my fingers through her hair, stroking sunlight. She had wrapped herself around my heart just as surely as I now wrapped her hair around my fingers. Her smile melted my soul. I could not live without her; she must not live without me.

She was smiling still as I wound her hair about her exquisite little throat. Her eyes closed in ecstasy and, when I pulled tighter, it was too late.

Minutes passed, then hours. Anyone who did not look too closely would think my love still to be alive, her cheeks flushed by the heat of the slowly dying fire, her eyes open but empty. “You will not leave me now,” I told her; and, indeed, she did not argue - nor did she attempt to leave as daylight filled the cottage.

I sat and held my goddess, my muse. In death she was much heavier than she had been in life; I found her weight oddly comforting.

As the last embers finally lost their orange glow, I found my own eyelids closing. Still I held her in my arms – I think I knew then that I would never let go of her. For a while, I slept; and so did she.

And when they finally beat the door down, I was still holding her.


Heaven is where she is…

           The night she died, a tiny piece of me died also. Paradise was in my grasp; now it is constantly out of reach.

           Night passes; my candle burns low. Sometimes, I dream I am still holding her – only this time, my hands do not wrap her hair around her throat. In other dreams, she is the hangman, wrapping the noose around my neck yet all the while telling me she loves me. Perhaps this is Paradise – to die at her hand as she died at mine…

Dawn floods my cell. I will see her very soon.

April 27, 2024 21:00

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Story Time
03:26 May 15, 2024

Such a wonderful look at the dynamics of love in all its forms. Well done.


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Philip Ebuluofor
18:42 May 13, 2024

Congrats. Fine descriptive ability.


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John Rutherford
10:54 May 11, 2024



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Amanda Stogsdill
20:53 May 10, 2024

What an unusual story! In the style of Jane Austin, I thought I'd be familiar with the plot. I should have seen the twist when in the beginning, he's in a cell. I also thought she'd end up pregnant. I have to read the beginning again, I misunderstood his age. I believe ten and nine is nineteen. That was my only concern.


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Alexis Araneta
17:32 May 10, 2024

A beautifully poignant tale of forbidden love. Wonderful job !


Jane Andrews
18:13 May 10, 2024

Thanks, Alexis.


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Carina Caccia
17:11 May 10, 2024

Congratulations, Jane. Well deserved! Your story was beautifully haunting. Had you told me you'd written The Song of Achilles, I'd believe you.


Jane Andrews
18:14 May 10, 2024

Wow! Thanks, Carina - that’s a huge compliment. Glad you liked it.


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Helen A Smith
15:52 May 10, 2024

Congratulations Jane 🥳


Jane Andrews
16:20 May 10, 2024

Thanks, Helen.


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Mary Bendickson
23:26 Apr 27, 2024

Classic. Congrats on the shortlist 🎉


Jane Andrews
18:15 May 10, 2024

Thanks, Mary - and thanks for faithfully reading all my stories too.


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