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Thriller Drama Mystery

“The Dark Lady is coming,” Mother Agnes whispers hoarsely, her large glass eye swiveling in its socket. “The Dark Lady is coming.”


I inhale sharply.


The Dark Lady is coming.


“I must warn the others,” I say. “Rest well, Mother Agnes.” I gather my skirt from the dusty wooden floorboards, kicking up dirt and cobwebs as I hurry to leave the elder woman. Mother Agnes remains still in her cot, her wildly long hair splayed around her like the rays of a sun. But her eye––the one that is real––carries the dim burden of truth.


I swing the door of the small hut shut behind me. The day is yellow and cheerful, with hummingbirds fluttering about and dragonflies zipping past my ears. But I ignore all the sounds and the pleasant smells and the way the air clings comfortably to my skin. I run through the tall grasses, past the children running and laughing as they finish their afternoon classes, past the small collection of huts for the few families that rest happily here, past the gardens full of carrots and potatoes and beets and pumpkins.


“Father,” I gasp upon the staircase to the City Hall, the building lying at the entrance to our quaint village. “Father!”


There are a small group of them standing inside, surrounding a large oak table, their heads down, deep in thought. For what reason, I do not know.


Father looks up, his eyes forehead wrinkled with confusion. “Adelaide? What goes on?”


“Father,” I say, nodding my head respectfully to the other four men. They nod deeply, stepping back to give me space as I approach the table. I wait a few feet away, clasping my hands in front of me. “Mother Agnes speaks.”


He gasps. “Speaks? Of what prophecy?”


“She says…” I take a deep, steadying breath. “She says the Dark Lady is coming.”


The men freeze, paralyzed. I see fear shroud Father’s eyes, his wrinkles deepening, a heavy frown setting in upon his face.


“Adelaide, is this true?” He whispers, taking a step towards me. “Tell me at once.”


“Yes, Father. It is true. I heard her myself,” I say, struggling to keep my voice even and calm. “I was by her bedside when she spoke.”


“Mother Agnes,” one of the other men murmurs, stroking his chin thoughtfully. It is Healer Lotus. “She has not spoken in ten years. I suspect that what she says is true.”


“But we are not ready!” Father barks, pounding a fist on the table. I jump, and he waves his hand in apology. “I am sorry, Adelaide. I do not mean to frighten you. You must leave, while I converse with our leadership. We will report to the village by nightfall.”


“No,” I say, firmer than I intentioned. Father opens his mouth to speak, but I quickly clear my throat. “Father, I wish to help. Please.”


He hesitates, stealing a glance at the other men. “I am not sure that is wise, Adelaide.”


“Father. I am ready. Please.”


He gives me a long, measuring stare, before giving a short, curt nod. “Alright. Then come here. We must discuss our plan at once.”


************************************************************


We wait quietly together in the city hall. Our whole village fits comfortably within these walls, all the children and husbands and wives and healers and teachers and leaders. We sit in groups, huddled together, with loads of blankets and pillows and soft material to lay upon our shoulders. Candlelight burns around the room, casting gentle shadows on frightened faces and creaking walls.


I had helped Father prepare this room. It was my idea to cover the windows and any cracks in the building that lead to the outside world. Though it is dark, the sounds and sites outside are smothered, allowing the children to smile happily, not exposed to the terrors that await.


I sit up at the front, with the other leaders. Father smiles at me.


“You have done well, Adelaide. This village is in able hands.” His smile falters. “If something were to happen to me tonight…”


“Father, please,” I interrupt, laying a hand gently on his shoulder. “Please. Let us face these terrors together. I believe we will overcome them.”


He sighs, nodding. “We overcame them once, long ago, with Mother Agnes’ warning. But it was a terrible night. One did not make it. I hope our people will not experience a similar fate tonight.”


I pat his hand softly before swaddling my blanket around me tightly, so as to keep me comfortable and sound.


And we wait.


To my dismay, it does not take long.


Mother Agnes, thought to be asleep in the corner, suddenly releases a gasp. She sits straight up, her glass eye zipping about.


“The Dark Lady approaches,” she whispers in her hoarse voice. She falls back down silently to her cot


Silence befalls us. The children stop playing. The adults quiet their laughter. The candles continue to flicker.


And then, she arrives.


It is said that the Dark Lady was once a fair villager, kind and beautiful and loved by all. She fell in love with a bright, warm man, who brought light to the village. But when he was found in bed with another woman, the once kind villager was overcome with an envious rage and cast her horrors upon the village. And now, every ten years, she plunges the village into a cursed night to condemn the episode where she discovered her lover and his mistress. 


She vowed to stiffen the hearts of every villager; to make their hearts beat slow, so slow until they could not beat for those they love.


This is the tale we have been told of the Dark Lady from birth until we are grown. I was too young to remember her last visit; I was not four years old.


This night will be one I know I shall remember.


It begins with a low, deep moan. The sound carries across the building, setting deep into my bones. My hair stands on end, quivering, as the moaning continues, long and deep and eerily beautiful.


A child whimpers. A mother hushes him.


The moan only grows louder, and louder, until I know I cannot hear any other villager against it. It is too powerful.


The Dark Lady’s Anguish, they call it.


What follows, I remember, is her Jealousy.


I feel them. Her fingers. I feel them seep into every small crack in the building, weaving their way in, wrapping around my heart. I feel the tips of my fingers grow stiff, and my toes. I pull the blanket tighter, but it does not stop––it is consuming me. I feel my heart beat slow; I feel her presence press down upon me, making me tired, a complete and utter exhaustion that I am not sure I desire to ever awake from…


“Adelaide! Do not sleep––”


I hear Father’s voice above the moan, and force myself to open my eyes. I look to him, and can tell the Dark Lady has taken a hold of him. The tip of his nose is white, and beginning to darken. His breath releases in a small puff, almost like that of a pipe. He is shaking, trembling; I realize that I, too, and shaking with the pressure of the Dark Lady.


He reaches over and grasps my hand firmly. I squeeze back, focusing on my shallow breaths, trying to lengthen them, to live––


The night is long. It is dark. It is almost impossible to resist the sweet release of sleep, of dreaming about yellow days and hummingbirds and dragonflies. But, every instance I feel myself drifting away, Father squeezes my hand, and I come back to the Dark Lady’s presence.


And then, suddenly, I feel her fingers unwrap around me heart.


She is gone.


I open my eyes.


Shakily, I rise to my feet, still unable to control the trembling in my legs. My breath still releases like that of a puff of smoke. I stumble to the window, other villages slowly coming to around me. I pull the blanket away.


Light streams through the window, hitting my skin, absorbing into it, making my blood flow once again. It thaws my stiffened heart, my still bones.


I let the light fill me until the cold has disappeared.

September 18, 2020 22:48

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12 comments

Kathleen March
23:05 Sep 22, 2020

I sense this is part of a longer piece, that this story doesn't quite have a final resolution. The description is just enough and just light enough to keep the reader pulled into the narrative. Again, I get the idea this is the skeleton for a novel or novella, with more to be told about the characters and setting. Nicely done.

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Lina Ozz
04:54 Sep 23, 2020

Thank you so much for giving it a read! I’m intimidated to develop this short story (or any of my stories) into something more, but it’s a challenge I’d like to overcome one day. I really appreciate your comment; thanks again!

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Kathleen March
13:49 Sep 23, 2020

I write a lot of my stories with the thought that they will fit into a novel I have in mind. That idea might help you keep ‘pecking at’ the larger story.

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Lina Ozz
14:53 Sep 23, 2020

That's an excellent idea; I've never though about short stories that way. Thank you for that perspective––something I'll definitely try in the future :)

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Kathleen March
15:08 Sep 23, 2020

I do not expect you to read them all by any means, but my Lavinia stories, all set in Santiago de Compostela, are what I am specifically referring to. There are also a few Graystocking stories that are part of the bigger picture as I call it. If you have ideas and want to share, I'd be happy to reflect/comment.

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Lina Ozz
15:55 Sep 23, 2020

I will absolutely read those—they sound fantastic. Look out for my comments later today :)

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Chris Manders
21:16 Sep 23, 2020

Enjoyable read but I thought the ending a bit abrupt, and that disappointed me as I could have read on for longer!

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Lina Ozz
01:52 Sep 24, 2020

Thank you for giving it a read and for your comment, Chris! I do tend to struggle with endings in short stories; another person made a great comment about thinking about the story as a longer piece, such as a novella or novel. Would you have any advice about how to approach short stories and developing strong endings?

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Charles Stucker
04:52 Sep 21, 2020

"It beings with a low, deep moan." - begins and beings are anagrams, so they both look correct and get past spell check. Further, they are more common because of how we learn touch typing. My worst offenders are for/fro, and form/from. If you see a word crop up repeatedly like this, then use the search function to find the wrong one efficiently. "I pull down the blankets that I had covered the window with." Watch for this in your writing. Both had/be constructions and that are weaker writing. Here, both can be removed without doing any o...

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Lina Ozz
04:57 Sep 21, 2020

Argh. My foes are "being/begin" and "breath/breathe". This is what I get for not rereading carefully. You're absolutely right. My battle with conciseness continues. I could have just written "I pull the blankets from the window" and achieved the exact same meaning. Thanks for the catch! Thank you for your comments; I really appreciate your feedback in helping me become a better writer!

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Charles Stucker
06:02 Sep 21, 2020

You can always read some Hemmingway for reminders to be concise. But see, that trick I mentioned, using the search function of your spellcheck- you know which words to SAR- search and rewrite. Much faster and more accurate than trying to spot it on your own.

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