GHOSTS (and the girls who love them) #FlashFiction FINALIST #2
Slipping into her shadow was easy now; simple enough even to ensure her absence wasn’t noted. Kenneth remained buried behind his paper or captivated by his bell-jarred ticker-tapes if she mentioned plans to wander their vast garden or check on the child he assumed was his, but she suspected was not. Stay pretty, speak softly, do her wifely duty when he wished, and her life was otherwise her own.
She had climbed the arcing staircase to the sparsely furnished room kept for those rare occasions when guests lingered longer than an afternoon tea. Another flight would take her to her son, a right turn onto the porch with the outer stair that descended into the gardens. She paused, listening for footsteps drawn near, for her husband’s familiar breath. Nothing. She turned her foot and shivered as her shadow opened.
He was intangible as yet, but she saw him still. His autumn locks stole in and out of her vision and his eyes were verdant as springtime, luminous even in apparition. She’d known he’d be here; he claimed the ability to leave the room but was ever waiting when she sought him. She walked into his embrace, letting his arms engulf her before they’d even exchanged greetings. His hands, his lips, his entire self became tangible where he touched her.
His scent of ever-impending rain threatened to overwhelm her as he kissed her hair.
“Clara.” His lips had moved to her brow, his tone hunger itself. “I’ve missed you. I’ve…waited.”
He said no more, but she read his meaning. “I know,” she said, “It’s Kenneth. He hasn’t been away for weeks. He’s home tonight but I…got away.”
A moment spanning eternity passed. “He loves you, Clara.”
She shook her head in emphatic denial. “Perhaps once.”
“No. Even now. Almost always, I am here. I watch. I know.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Not now. It couldn’t matter. She raised her face, kissing him fiercely, stoppering any further discussion of that matter. Kenneth was downstairs nurturing his true love, his business; if he still looked on her with longing, perhaps he should do so when she could take note.
He pulled away, shocking her. He’d never resisted her, since the night he’d first spoken to her from the twilight, to teach her how to find him. “He is mortal. As are you. As was I. Flawed.”
“He doesn’t love me as I love you,” she retorted. Though he seemed taken aback to hear such a declaration made outside of the intensity of their passion, his expression was gentle. Pleased.
She knew well what he’d been called, labelled. Demonfae. Witchchild. All for the shape of his ear, the brilliance of his eye. His eldritch nature had seen him hanged in this very room, beaten bloody by those he’d played with as a child now grown into men. He’d been near senseless when they’d pulled the rope through the rafter, believing that strangling the life from him might return vitality to their land. Yet not a fortnight had passed before a windstorm swept away their blighted crops, toppling houses and taking no few villagers in its wake. The remaining fools had died that winter, empty of belly and bereft of proper shelter.
And perhaps he had impoverished the village by some fae magic. Perhaps he had twisted the weather in a curse of vengeance from beyond his death. Her pity had been short had it blossomed at all.
His eyes grew somehow brighter and an unsure grin teased at the corners of his mouth. He pulled her to him, his spirit taking form as they drew together. Tender now, Clara kissed the red welts that marred his throat to underscore the truth of her words. Her breath caught as his hand tightened in her hair, his other slipping down her spine.
The voice was distinct, far too close. He broke their embrace, the glint in his eye vacillating between fury and panic. Kenneth.
“He cannot see you,” she reminded him, breathing the words into his ear as she traced its elfin point. Nonetheless he stepped away lest her touch lend him a solidity seen outside of these shadows. They watched as her husband passed by the still-open door. Kenneth stepped onto the porch, returning a moment later, glancing up the stairs. He has no idea where I said I’d be, she realized with a fresh rush of hot irritation.
“You must go to him.” His broken voice was the slightest whisper. Already he faded, pulling himself into a place she’d not yet learned to reach. Perhaps never would. “This night he will miss you. It will go badly if you’ve vanished.”
Indeed. It wouldn’t do to have a search launched. She touched his face, bringing him into sharp reality for a single, final moment.
“I’ll come to you again,” she said.
“Tomorrow. And I’ll see to it that he thinks I’m to be out of the house. For hours.”
He nodded, risking discovery by holding her face as he kissed her, his embrace swift but swollen with promise.
A single step and he was gone. Out of the house, out of this plane, she couldn’t know.
Kenneth had reached the uppermost storey now, creaking open the door to her son’s room. She turned her foot, slipped out of her shadow and smoothed her dress. Her mortal husband was stepping onto the stair. She knew her duty.
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