Woman in White

January 21, 2012
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Wedded bliss would have no meaning to the woman in white. She lacks a name, long forgotten in her thirty-one years at Maxwell Manor. The manor, once the sight of England’s most renowned, extravagant parties, has long since been deserted, leaving only a wife in her sorrows. The woman in white was the wife to the heir of the Maxwell fortune. She once spent her days playing host to the queen of England and the prime minister of Italy; she now mourns and broods in her manor.
She was the happiest, wealthiest woman in London, married to one that appeared to be a diligent husband. On the morning of their tenth year into marriage, the woman pulled on her pristine, white wedding gown and entered her bedroom to wake her husband. She planned to whisper in his ear, declare her love for him, and treat him a passionate good morning kiss. Instead, she found him already awake and she was greeted in far different way than she had planned. With the light just breaking through the window, anyone else would have viewed it as a beautiful sunrise beginning a beautiful day, just as she had wanted. He pulled a rope tightly around her neck, turning her to face him, the sun glinting off his dark chocolate eyes.
She had once loved those eyes. Those were the eyes she’d woken to each and every morning. She’d seen so many emotions in those eyes, despair, happiness, love. The emotion in his eyes she saw now was different from anything else she’d seen, pure madness. She tried to call out to him, to beg him to stop, to ask why, but the rope wouldn’t allow her to make any sound except for a demonic sounding choking. She died without an explanation from the man she loved.
She was lucky, or maybe not lucky at all, that she died in her manor. After the ten years she’d spent in the walls, she’d developed an odd connection to it. It kept her alive, in a manner of speaking. She was technically dead, as she couldn’t breathe and her heart wouldn’t beat and yet she was not a ghost. She was stuck between the worlds, a walking corpse. She couldn’t leave her manor, tethered to it for eternity. The thirty-one years she spent as a corpse in her castle only increased this connection.
While her mind stayed tied to the manor, containing her intelligence and emotions, her body, on the other hand, was in a constant state of flux. It seemed as though each day she’d forgot who she was and what she looked like. One morning she’d wake with a cleft chin, short torso, and short, blonde hair. By the following day she’d have an oval face, Amazon-like height, and curly red hair. Over time, she stopped paying attention to these changes and, with the loss of this identity, she became a bitter old woman, though she hardly ever looked like one. The only thing that stayed constant was that she always wore white, although the dress itself changed with the body it was on.
The tether caused the manor itself to be a constant state of flux, as if it were desperate to follow its owner’s lead. The woman in white had long since forgotten to pay attention to the changes that occurred in her own appearance, but she spent most of her day observing the changes that took place in or on her manor. She’d start the morning in a pristine, marble kitchen, leave to find a book in the study, and return to a kitchen cluttered with wood furniture all settled on a cherry wood floor. Outside, her Victorian manor had been a fairy-tale-esque castle, a southern American plantation, and, on one rare occasion, a tiny downtown apartment.
On this particularly odd day, the manor returned to a Victorian style, although far different from the style it held thirty-one years ago. A large, brass gate had been placed at the forefront and the ceiling was almost entirely glass, held by marble columns. Were someone to return from its past, they would have almost certainly not recognized it. Another odd feature was the lake that had mysteriously appeared. The murky waters were settled with a layer of fog, so eerie that anyone nearby may have been wise to turn and run as far away as possible.
On this day, however, one not so wise approached the unnatural scene. Leaving the gray spotted, old horse he’d ridden up on by the edge of the water, the figure trudged through the pool, taking long, heaving breaths as he went. About halfway along, he seemed too weary to continue, turning away from the manor, eyeing the safety and comfort of his horse. This is, of course, until he began to feel that as he watched his horse, another watched him. He searched the manor windows to find the source of this feeling, finally coming across the woman. He extended a hand in her direction in a wave but she offered no reply. All the same, he continued his journey to the manor, unmistakably drawn to her.
He had expected that the woman would have seen him approach and be waiting to welcome him in, but she did no such thing. Trying the door, he found it to be unlocked and walked in hesitantly.
“Hello?” he called, the echo of his own voice sending shivers down his spine. “Is this 8 Cherry Lane? I fear I may have lost my way. Hello? Is this the right house?”
“This is 8 Cherry Lane, but you have the wrong house.” A soft voice, not much unlike the sound of a summer breeze through the trees, answered him from the hall.
“My manor? Is it not 8 Cherry Lane?” The woman could see through the shadows that this was an old man, seventy at least. His hair had long since grayed and his chocolate eyes were glazed with near blindness. He seemed so lost and confused with this new information. The woman smiled to herself.
“Apparently not. I am the only resident here.”
“Then can you help me to my manor?”
“No,” she declared with finality, as if daring him to argue. Wisely, he didn’t.
“I should be off then. Sorry for my intrusion.” The old man started for the door but he suddenly noticed a peculiar sight off across the water. His horse had bent itself down for a drink. He eyed the muddy water tentatively before cautiously sticking his tongue in for a sip. That was when he let lose a blood-curdling whinny, so high and so pain-stricken, one might have thought he’d been in a slaughterhouse. The man almost attempted to run to help the poor creature until he noticed that small bubbles began to form in the water. Almost instantaneously, the water came to a boil. “How could that…what’s going…but how?” he demanded of the woman, but she simply shrugged and walked off down the hall. The man moved quickly to keep up with her.
“I’ve been here a long time. The manor always changes,” she said cryptically. She suddenly stopped her walk and opened a large oak door. “You may stay here until it is safe for you.”
He began to thank her but she’d already started to walk off. “My name is Francis,” he offered kindly, but she offered no such reply.
The next morning, Francis woke to the sun shining through the manor window, a web of cobwebs letting it enter only in streams. He hadn’t noticed the cobwebs the night before. Perhaps they weren’t there before at all. Clearing them away, he stared out across the pool of water. His loyal steed had deserted him in the night. The water still bubbled below.
In the kitchen downstairs (had there been a downstairs the previous night? He could have sworn the kitchen was across the hall for his room) the woman stood over the sink staring out to the boiling water.
“Good morning,” he greeted hesitantly. He received no reply.
“I hope I’m not intruding but I see I still cannot leave. Would you happen to have any breakfast?”
She spoke only a curt “no” and he waited a few seconds as if hoping she’d apologize and offer a meal. When he realized she’d do no such thing, he left the kitchen and wandered the halls searching for his room. In the room he thought was his own, he found a library. One candle burned in the corner of the room, flickering on an old, oak desk. Somehow, his old bones guided him to the harsh leather chair in front of it. The candle illuminated a dusty large book, unopened.
His hand quivered as he opened to a random page. There stood a tall, handsome man with captivating brown eyes and pale yellow hair. His strong arm was linked with a beautiful woman, a perfect figure matched with a perfect face. His top hat and tails coat and her pristine white gown showed that their wealth was quite eminent.
He knew this face, the woman. It was the woman he’d woken up to day in and day out for years. The face that haunted his every dream, the one he saw every time his eyes closed. The candle left shadows over their faces in the book, and little by little the shadows lessened until Francis and the book were left in complete darkness.
A whisper in the dark left him shaking, as he muttered to himself, “It’s only the wind,” over and over again.
A louder whispered shook to him silence. A breath on his neck left him in convulsions. Finally, the woman in white appeared to him, the manor flicking the candle back on to reveal her. The woman that was playing host to him had gone and in her place was the woman from the picture, identical to the very last detail.
His heart beat faster and faster and faster. The smile on her face was demonic, creeping up bit by bit. It beat faster still. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Her voice was the same as he’d always heard it, driving him mad. And faster still. Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump. And faster until it stopped all together.
“Hello, dear,” the woman in white whispered. “Missed me?”

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