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The Scarlet Cape
What a burden it put upon my heart, to have had to share my name with such a dysfunctional daughter! She was seeing people! Tall, thin, old ones, ones of all variety! Had I any other choice than to send her away? Now, I will tell you, I have a perfectly fine head upon my shoulders, but that girl -- she was insane! The shame of bearing such a daughter was quite too much. She was going to let me sleep well at night again, one way or the other. I figured helping her along to the other side was the most promising way.
I had hidden underneath the bed of my daughter, lingering far past the visiting hours. Lucie was so preoccupied with the people and colors she claimed she was seeing, that she hardly noticed when I had crawled underneath her as the last doctor came in to blow out the kerosene lamp. The thick, cream-colored envelope the doctor had given me was digging into my side. It was such a burdensome thing. I had better things to do than to read his foolish ideas. When the hallways grew dim, and I saw the feet of the last man in his white coat thump out the door, I stood up, greeting Lucie with a daunting smile.
“My dear daughter, how are you feeling this evening?” I asked.
“Very well indeed,” she answered, her voice soft and uncertain.
I could tell the drugs were beginning to wear off, just by the small sense of sanity in her voice. I carefully slipped a few tablespoons of medication into her mouth.
“Just a bit to help you through the night,” I informed her.
“Yes, yes, but no more. The doctor said…”
“Never mind them. You are such a small, thirteen year-old, but so very wise. Lucie, you know how much you can handle. You hearken well,” I said quietly. “Why don’t you and I go for a stroll? The night is awaiting our arrival.”
She arose from her bed, and I wrapped her in my crimson cape. We headed down the dim white hallways, with Lucie following obediently by my side. It was torturous, with every blank wall looking exactly the same as the next. We passed by, room after shadowy room, I, watching the restless figures inside.
I eventually found a dark, wooden door that led to a winding staircase. There were no windows, hardly the slightest ray of light. It was like a nightmare -- the kind where you know you are running from someone, someone right behind you, but no matter how fast you sprint, you make no progress. Your feet just keep moving forward as the shadow comes up from behind. I had the same feeling of being watched. Eyes everywhere.
“Come, Lucie,” I said as I pulled her by her wrists down each and every step.
“Mother, where are we?” she asked wearily.
I shushed her as we passed by an open doorway.
“Mother, I do feel faint…”
I watched as her eyes turned cloudy, rolling back into her head.
“No, no, my dear. We are almost out. And we shall enjoy a stroll in the cool, fresh air. Won’t it be wonderful?” My eyes traveled, searching for an escape. The walls were cold, covered in perspiration from the mist outside. My legs ached, stair after stair, after stair… “Stay awake, Lucie.”
At last, the ashen moonlight shown through an open window. I heaved Lucie’s weak body out first and listened to it clout upon the cold ground. I slipped out slowly after her.
I let her regain semi-consciousness before continuing onwards.
We stumbled over stump and stones, the full moon as our guide through the pitch-blackness. Lucie’s blood-red cape was prominent over the dead foliage.
Ideas, horrid ideas, were running in and out of my mind. How to rid of her before she lost all consciousness, before the rush of killing her in her right mind wore out. How to rid of the body was the hardest part. How…how?
Wolves sang their empty songs in the distance, sending chills up my spine.
“Motha…” Lucie’s words were so slurred, I could barely understand her.
“Hush child. Isn’t this lovely? Look at the moon. Look how it looms among the trees, like a white cat.”
“Mmmm. The cat, it’s white, yesss white motha…”
I was about ready to give into the fact that this murder was going to be impossible without an axe, or even a shovel, when the cloak, once again, caught my eye.
“Shall we rest a moment, dear?” I asked innocently.
“Um, huuummm, yesssssss, very nice.” The medication was corrupting her. As if she needed more reasons to fill her mother with shame. Such a useless, horrid little creature I had created.
“Sit,” I coaxed. As she lowered herself to the ground, I slipped off the cloak that hung around her slender body.
Before she could even blink, I was knelt down by her side, wrapping the red fabric around her neck, jerking it tighter….tighter…tighter.
“You are mad! You shout and flop about as others watch and laugh!”
Lucie attempted to say something, but only a long groan came out.
“They laugh at me! And I must only hang my head as I listen to them cackle. You worthless, worthless, crazy girl!”
I pulled the sleeves harder, watching her face turn from bright pink, to violet, to blue.
Lucie chocked, strange sounds spurting from her thin lips.
“Leave me be!” I shouted. “Just go and leave me be! They’ll all think you died in the mad house, and they’ll never know a thing. Nothing to be ashamed of, Lucie, just go…”
One last, strong tug and I stared as her face turned pale, her bloodshot eyes rolling backwards in her head once more.
I fell back on my heels, admiring my work. Finally, after months of enduring this awful taunting from women around the town, it was done. An eerie peace settled around me.
When the wolves howled again, my daughter’s final resting place was clear. I left her limp body by the outside of an abandoned house, where cackling gargoyles guarded the front stoop, their stone eyes glaring at me so coldly, I could feel their presence in my bones. I would let the wolves devour the evidence when they came back, starving, from their unsuccessful hunt.
As I was sauntering out of the woods, I felt the familiar pinch of an envelope against my hip. I slipped it out from the waistband of my skirt, peeling off the golden seal.
My eyes began to follow each line, and when the last word passed through my brain, my mouth dropped open.
To Cardia Smith:
Your daughter, Lucie, is a wonderful person. It would be a shame to lose such a bright girl with such beautiful ideas to a mental illness. Fortunately, your daughter is more than well in the head. Her hallucinations and fits were simply due to her burning fever. She was quite sick, a bad case of influenza, I must say. Lucie shall recover wonderfully, as long as she is given the proper doses of medicine and proper care. In fact, I shall send her to a hospital in the morning, so that she may see a doctor that specializes in the body, not the mind. In a matter of days, she’ll be back to normal. Contact me with any concerns.
My heart was pounding out of my chest. Her right-mindedness was lost so quickly I wondered how I hadn’t thought of it before. A fever! Ha!
My muscles tightened as I heard hollering in the distance. They were crying out my name, “Cardia! Cardia! What have you done?”
So if it not be her that was insane, would it be I?