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Drama Historical Fiction Thriller

I, Victoria Anne Harker, being of supposed sound mind, do hereby declare this to be my Last Will and Testament. I revoke all will and codicils previously made by me.

I appoint Henrik Harker, my husband, as my personal representative to administer this Will, and ask that he be permitted to serve as my personal representative.

I leave everything in my possession to you, my dearest Jaina. All of my family's wealth, estate, and material. It will all be yours.

Upon my death, I direct that my family will be given one final visit of my body, as well as the accompanying note I've written, before my remains be given to Doctor Cotard for examination. They are then to be finally buried and forgotten. Left in the dirt how they should have been so many years prior.

Signed, Victoria Anne Harker. 1867

Now that formalities are done with.

My dearest Jaina,

If you’re reading this, then I must be dead. Veiled in makeup and dress for your final goodbye; I am thankful you now finally see me for what I have been all these years. A corpse. I was dead long before you were given this last Will and Testament, my dear Jaina. What our family was quick to name an illness, I knew, deep down, was a curse.

I know you will detest what you read below, but I ask that you read every word of it. And that you understand what lived with you in place of your mother.

I knew I was gone long before your father took me to the asylum, where they forced cocktails of medication down my throat. The tickling shock therapy--the showers I learned were supposed to feel freezing. The insanity of that place never phased me, not in the slightest. Rumors lingered in the halls from denizens who named this place Hell. They begged God to rip them from their iron and stone cells. I heard gossip of the lucky ones--the ones whose rooms were made of a pillow-like material. Their screams echoed throughout the night, but never did I add my voice to their horde.

Not once.

I could suddenly no longer feel--hunger had left me. I knew not the need to sleep, eat, or even breathe sometimes; nothing felt living within me. When you pressed yourself into my bosoms, you said you loved its heat, but all I could feel was cold. A vacancy lurked in my chest; it was a frozen wasteland. In time, even that sensation faded until there was nothing.

And still, inside my new home, they brought me food and forced me to eat anyway. Perhaps it was to mock me. I didn’t care if it was; I was already not a part of their world. I was placed in a room--my very own--beside where the caretakers brought those who were beaten by their treatments. Bodies strapped to squeaking, wheeled tables passed by my view weekly. They were the only ones I could relate to. The dead and decaying. 

They were my siblings--my family. I knew they understood how I felt, and I envied how people believed them over me. Did we not look alike? Why was I not strapped to that chair, bound for a grave of my own? When I asked, they told me it was because I was still living. I had a pulse, they argued, and was capable of speech, even.

Nameless doctors wanted their chance to study me. Each one offered me their name, and a different reason why they believed I was ill. I never cared to remember any of their names. We lived in different worlds; we were different creatures in God’s eyes. I wanted to join Him, though I knew He wouldn’t allow me in His kingdom. I was condemned to eternal damnation. And this was why he wouldn’t let me be strapped to one of those chairs.

This is why everything I once loved became like ash between my fingers. And why you saw so little of me the more you grew.

That was when I met him--Doctor Cotard. A young doctor from the far away lands of France; he told me he was going to help cure me. He even asked about you and your father… he was the only doctor to do so. We conversed, and I begged him to understand what was wrong with me. To understand that I was dead. A walking corpse to be disposed of, not cared for. And certainly not loved.

We spoke of my supposed illness for many weeks. He named it Le délire des négations--The Delirium of Negation for my English ears. An ailment of the mind--a demon whispering in my ears, convincing me I was dead.  How wrong he was. There was no creature deep inside my skull, nor was there a broken piece. Just a truth which lingered longer than it should have.   

We spoke of you, my dear Jaina. How I could no longer look at you and love you how a mother should. I know you’ve grown to hate me, but I do not expect you to understand. Nor do I expect your father to. He is not a God-fearing man, and I know you take after him more than you ever did me. You have your own husband now, or so I hear--I pray you will not live to be cursed. I pray your love for one another is endless.

In our conversations, which he recorded should you seek more uncomfortable truths, we spoke of what “living” meant to me. I told him my time had already passed. When he asked how I thought I died, I told him I believed it happened calmly in the night. My heart stopped beating then, and when I woke and expected to find myself in Heaven, I instead saw your father gazing back at me. He was smiling and rubbed the hair from my face, and I felt nothing at all. Little things only worsened the fear that dwelled in me.

Had I died that night? Had I journeyed into His kingdom, but found its pearl gates closed? Is that why I was now beside him again?

The breath of the sea air by our home above your father’s warehouse. The burning that should have come with the wine he gifted me. Your young giggles as you played in the house with the doll I made for you. None of these things which I once loved existed anymore. They felt like echoes bouncing around me, ones now meant for someone else.

I was never always honest with you, my dear. In reading this, I know you will come to hate me more than you ever loved me. But there is so much I wished to tell you before I died. And now you must face my death a second time, and this time neither you nor your father may deny its truth.

I wish you knew that, before you, my life was tragic. Not in a romantic way like how the novels might tell. It was in a mundane way I thought I might be able to escape when I left the country and met your father in London. For a while, he brightened the world around me. There weren’t as many grey clouds that followed me; I no longer felt weighted down and exhausted. I began to think that love did exist. And then came you, the most precious thing in my life. You were perfect in every way… it was I who was the black spot within our family. 

But the grey clouds returned and, along with them, the weight made itself known again. It was crushing, like a giant was stepping on my chest. I stopped sleeping, and wandered the streets instead. Not even the street lamps could produce a smile now.    

I was dead the moment I could no longer look into your father’s eyes and feel his love. I could no longer understand why the warmth from his kiss had vanished. Nor could I understand why you appeared like a stranger to me the longer I laid eyes on you. I knew I was supposed to love you, but I couldn’t understand why it now felt impossible to.

Until I could understand--I was dead. There was no other possibility.

Doctor Cotard tried his best at treatment, even when I argued I did not want any. He believed showing me my own blood would wake something inside of me; a corpse can still bleed putrid blood after the soul leaves the body. Mine just had not left yet. It was still trapped in my decaying flesh. Nothing he did could change my mind. A lament he was quite vocal of, for he was a man with a brave and loving heart unlike the rest here. 

I hope you two may meet one day and discuss the pieces of me that might be worth remembering. 

My dear Jaina… I wish I could have loved you until my bones became brittle and my skin sagged. I wish I could have felt your love beat through me like how I once did, in the tenderness of your touch and the loving smile you shared with me. I think of it always and will always when I am brought to His kingdom, or somewhere deep beneath it. Perhaps there I will remember its strength. Please tell your father, should he be too heartbroken to read this letter, that there was no other in this world who could have kept me smiling for so long. A finer man could not have existed in my dreary world. 

Doctor Cotard and I have struck a deal. My body is his for his research. He wishes to look inside of me--to peer deeper into my being. He warns I will not wake up this time and I told him that I haven’t since that terrible morning.

I belong with the dead, and the dead will take me in their greyed hands this time. 

Please live on my sweet daughter… may God be with you.

September 03, 2020 16:52

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2 comments

E.N. Holder
23:31 Sep 06, 2020

Oooh this was a very interesting concept. Nice job!

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Brian Sweeney
17:30 Sep 07, 2020

Thanks Elise. It's an incredibly fascinating, albeit little known about mental disorder. It almost feels too fictional to exist...

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