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The Queen of Hearts
Author's note: Inspiration: Jibber Jabber (where jessica and marcey are ghosts in JibJab Manor) Hope: I don't know, I'm not them.
“It was a night like any other. “ Her voice carried ghostly through the room, eerily sending convulsions down the others’ spines. She took in a rattling breath, “Then things started to happen. These things can barely be described. But, they say, they were things with paranormal inequality.”
The torchlight glinted in her dark eyes. They hypnotically were educing the attention of the entire house. The Sleepers sat up in their beds. The Partiers came up from their casual slouches. Everyone was captivated. Goosebumps rose on their skin.
“You could say no-one lived to tell this story. Not even me.” Then she dispersed.
Shae woke from a trance with the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. Her breathing was quick and shallow, that probably explained the light-headedness. But for some reason, she could definitely tell it wasn’t the explanation for how the sultry summer weather had turned icy cold.
Maybe ghost stories weren’t a good idea. She was anxious as her friends, here to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, shook their heads and rubbed their eyes. The smallest girl, Freya, shuddered uncontrollably. You could only see this as her white-blond head shook in the darkness.
“Oh my god. That was the freakiest story in the world!” Delilah said with surprise, “Where’d you learn to tell stories like that, Shae?” She looked up expectantly at Shae, hoping for her to spill her secrets.
“I didn’t. I mean. I–it wasn’t me! I didn’t tell a story yet.” Her stomach squirmed.
“But, then–who?” Wenny asked, face pale and blue eyes wide. She stared at each girl in turn. Each one refused it was her. They all sat speechless. Thoughts fluttered around the room. Then that foreboding feeling set in, heaviness in the pit of their stomachs and the sweat on their brows.
All at once, they knew they were being watched.
They all lay down side by side, with their twelve eyes open. The birthday girl, she sat in the middle. She was of interest to the young girl swinging her legs from the mantelpiece. She opened her mouth to give them the next part of the story.
“But I am here to tell you what I have seen. Mind you, the trauma you receive is not my blunder. It is yours for summoning me. Now listen, Partiers and Sleepers, for I will only recount this once...
“The night was hot. I was turning sixteen, too. My friends and I came home from the party they had planned. We were tired and decided to crash at my house. Mum and Dad didn’t mind us here, just as long as we didn’t wake up Benny. But that was the worst mistake you could ever do. Let someone into your house...”
Shae sat upright in her sleeping bag. Had someone been talking? She checked her girls, but no, they were asleep. However, it was an appalling sight. Peaceful sleepers, they were not tonight. They rolled over, they cringed, they even shouted into their pillows. Ghost stories had definitely been a horrible, horrible idea.
She lay her head back down on the pillow, aware that she would never get back to sleep if she kept tensing her muscles. It wasn’t like someone was sticking needles into her. Was it?
She ran her long fingers through her straight, red hair. It calmed her little. She flipped to her stomach, linked her fingers underneath her pillow and closed her green eyes. It should be morning soon. Hopefully.
“We ate dinner; we all rejected the greasy party food. We were all into those types of things.
“Then we sat in a circle on this very floor. We linked our hands. We chanted what we had been conducting for months now. And, that night, it was my very turn to be pushed into the centre by an unknown force. One that you have been meddling with, one you should never indulge. But you indulged it. You let it saunter straight into you...”
She sat and watched as her vivid words formed the images of repulsion in their mind’s eye. It was a sweet taste in her mouth to watch the torture that she had not even begun to perform...
She watched the two brunettes on the outer of the line stand and wander off. To where she wanted them.
Alicia opened her brown eyes as shock powered through her; she could feel Gretel to her left doing the same. They both froze to the spot, afraid to revolve their heads to look at one another. The basement of Shae’s house had always been frightening, and neither had ventured into its dusty depths. Although this was true, they now stood dead-centre in it. Shafts of wind blew through the vents; it was piercingly wintry and howled the harsh sound of agony through them.
A faint white light grew stronger as it came towards them, and shimmered off their identical necklaces. Alicia’s glimmered gold and Gretel’s smattered pink on the floor.
The light formed a shape. It looked rather like a person, wouldn’t you think? It strolled towards them, and spoke to them.
“We had no idea what this ‘magic’ could do, but it was exciting. It was different. It was fun, then. It still is now. And we pass it down our line.”
She tugged each necklace from their necks, leaving ruthless marks where the chains had dug in. The girls collapsed to their knees, eyes fiery red. They looked up at her. She was in command of them.
“They were pawns in a simple and pointless chess game. Quite like yourselves. Now, that’s not fair, is it?” She smirked as anger contorted their faces. It twisted their bodies, too. They were machines. And they were ready to kill.
She slipped their necklaces over her head, so that they lay on her chest next to her own bloody red one. It smeared on her skin when it was jostled by the other necklaces. It was old blood; it was almost maroon with age.
How long had it been?
Freya screamed to consciousness. Just a dream, it could’ve only been a dream. She traced her face with her shaky, cool hands. Wiping her matted hair from her clammy forehead, she writhed out of her sleeping bag.
Remembering her noisy wake-up, she inspected the others. They all still slept fitfully, like her shriek had not even penetrated their thoughts. That was odd. Yawning at the few hours’ sleep she had received, she collapsed back on her pillow. Asleep before the cushiony comfort caught her head.
“We sat in a circle, all joined. It was a Mexican wave of adrenaline. It was what we had hoped for, like a child hopes for lollies. A diminutive bowl balanced on a small pillow, next to that sat a knife. With a black handle and the words ‘believe me’ printed in white. We had paid oodles of money for that.
“Two cuts per hand. Shallow, mind. Nothing to damage or scar, we couldn’t have people thinking we were the ‘self hurt’ type. Because we were not, we were something dissimilar entirely. But you know what we are, girls, you are like us. Do not deny me.
“We had to fill the bowl with our blood. You know the ceremony we were completing. You’ve all wondered about it yourselves. Each girl, one at a time, bleeds into the bowl. You could not push the blood out, as forced blood would not work. You had to give it willingly.
“Once the flow of it stopped, you were free to do what you wanted with the cuts. This ceremony did rather you lick your hands clean, but many of us wiped it onto tissues and burnt it. That lingering smell of smoke hyped us up again. People outside you here wouldn’t believe what this ceremony asked of you. But you do believe and you do know...”
She could hear their hearts thumping in their chests. Even their breathing was louder than normal. She smiled contently. Weaving the enchantment of chaotic catastrophe was when you needed the most patience. But if you knew that the saccharine taste of their blood would be under your control soon, you would even allow the one virtue you did not care for to be allowed.
The two brunettes, Alicia and Gretel, walked back to the room where they had been previously. Their red eyes shrouded by their hands. The light was bright and shone through their eyelids. But that did not matter. All she needed of them now was to be normal.
“Sleep peaceful for now, dear Sisters. Because I will be back to show you how this story always ends and I need you to be rested and strong. We can’t have the standards drop now, can we?”
Dispersing again, she left them to dwell in the horror that she spoke of.
Shae mumbled in her sleep. She said something about a dog chasing its tail, how it’s so comparable to...
She set up the alter-like setting. A plain white bowl, smaller than normal, next to a knife. Black handle with ‘believe me’ written on the hilt. The blade was old, and rusty. It had never been washed in its life. So what was rusty was also something else. Could you ever guess?
She laughed softly. The girls never knew, never. They were always deluded and unaware. They knew but were so very clueless. Just like she had been. No guilt or unhappiness flocked in her; she was not ashamed of what she had done. What she was doing, either. She was meant to do this.
She beckoned Alicia over. She held her steady hands in hers. She slashed a large X into both her palms with glee. Alicia smiled happily and upturned her hands and their pooling blood into the white bowl. The cuts were deeper than usual, but not deep enough to cause damage. She left Alicia to wait for the blood to stop and lick her hands.
She had a gnawing feeling that tonight; they were going to need another bowl.
Alicia licked the blood from her hands, stood up from the bowl and walked away. The blood smeared on her mouth started to dry. Gretel came up to the bowl. She waited for her to return. She did, and with the knife too.
The second set of two large X’s marked another girl’s palms. The soft splatter of her blood into the bowl was reassuring. She checked the level of blood. It was almost halfway.
Tonight would be like a massacre.
“You could say we were crazy. But we weren’t, we were determined to prove science wrong. We did, didn’t we? We proved that science was wrong.
“Now, Freya. Step forward. We need the Angelic blood after the Pawns; you know this though, don’t you?” She stepped forward to small Freya who towered over her. She yanked off Freya’s brilliant blue necklace, and placed it with the others.
“These necklaces are of no use to you now; they hold no purpose for you. But for me... Let’s continue this...” She lacerated the blade across Freya’s wrists. Two long lines down them. Staining the sleeves of her top, she let her fingers drip the blood into the bowl.
Yes, another bowl was definitely needed, soon.
Delilah and Wenny collided with each other as one voice called to both of them. It was aged and vulgar and had them tossing and turning. But just before the voice could grasp their minds, Wenny rolled to the left and Delilah to the right, waking them up when heads hit shoulders and knees dug into stomachs.
“Ouch!” they both muttered as they rubbed their newly made bruises. Their identical necklaces stuck to their damp chests. They looked into each others eyes. Wenny’s blue eyes had turned amber, so had Delilah’s grey ones. It was bewildering to see. And they kept staring at one another.
Until they were forced to close their eyes once more and Alicia stood over Wenny with her hands fisted, likewise did Gretel above Delilah.
She sat next to the two unconscious black-haired girls, “Some were harder to introduce the ‘religion’ to, but eventually it jammed them. Many of us, especially me, had trouble believing it at the start. But the first forbidden ceremony, and the last, is a beacon of light to everyone alive today. To taste that, you will soon know.” She patted their heads as their eyes opened lazily like a panthers.
The irises glowing red.
They lay their hands into hers, pulling them from the floor, the knife held between her perfect teeth. She still holds their hands, and leads them to the ‘alter’.
She places their hands palm down this time, as they are the Knights. They have scars on the outside only. On the back of their hands she curves the cuts. Like two C’s but the other is backwards. She tries to make them as neat and as clean as possible.
Placing a new bowl under their hands, she waits for it to flow to a stop.
One breath through a tight oesophagus had Shae awake again. Groaning as she stirred and rolling as she woke. The air had stuck in her throat, bubbling down little by little the deeper the breath. Yet, she still felt afraid, even though the dream had abruptly stopped when she had stuttered over one breath.
“A dog chasing its tail, it’s like history.” She muttered with irony coating her voice. Coughing to clear her throat, she balanced herself on one arm.
The room looked strange; there was a blood-orange glow to everything. So it must be near morning. With this light, she could see pretty much everything.
But maybe not seeing everything was better.
Her friends were not in their sleeping bags, or lounging on the couches. And after gathering her courage to check the kitchen, they weren’t in there either.
Walking back into the room she found something she hadn’t expected to see. Blood staining every girls bedding but her own. Seeing as she was already up, she went to check the bathroom. Just in case.
But the house was too quiet. And things were plain wrong. Standing in the room by herself, she inspected what she could from its centre, scared that someone would jump from the couches if she got near enough.
No-one did jump out though, not Delilah, Alicia, Wenny, Gretel or Freya. Not even the crazed axe-murderer that she had formed, sneaking around the house, in her head. However, this made nothing okay, absolutely not. Ultimately, it made everything worse and she couldn’t think of anything worse than this.
But, maybe, Shae spoke only a little too soon.
The gory trail of blood from the sleeping arena was too sporadic to follow. Her heart beat in her throat, her palms grew sweaty and, even in the summer breeze she shook hysterically.
Then the voice started again, the one that she had been hearing all night...
“We had not bled like you, no. But the blood we used like this: the one coming of the age, the leader, the Queen, she put the bowl to her lips, savouring the taste of her friends’ trustworthiness. But this blood was poisonous to whoever drank it, if it had not been mixed with her blood beforehand. They bled me, as I let them, as the others had. But from me, and from you, Shae, it had to be taken the slightest bit forcefully. I was royalty that night, but my reign is ending, and there is but one heir in this house.
“You cannot deny me, as history repeats itself. In a couple million years, I will live again, and die again. All in the same way. This night will relive itself every sixteen years. But you all never get to be sixteen. You don’t get to live old, have children and go to a nursing home. The Pawns, Knights and the Angelic all disappear to wherever they belong. But the Queen, we stay stuck in the dimension of Black Hearts, as we love to call it, until you’re summoned by the changing of a child.
“It was like sleeping for ever. I was caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. Blocked from the outside world, but the outside world could reach me. Your birthday plans needed a bit of tweaking, I must say. But, I guess, mine had too.”
Shae shuddered softly as the alluringly old voice pulled her along the blood-spattered path.
“Tonight will not scar you, it will horrify, but never scar. You will be perfect for this job. But if you so much as put a drop of ‘friend-only’ blood to your lips, you’re poisoned. Your blood will dry up and it will be a slow, slow process. Need I say more?”
Shae nodded to the invisible being. The cold icicles of fear were settling in her brain and veins. It was harder to breath, harder to move. But it wasn’t harder to think, not at all.
Except, it was harder to think for herself. She could feel a smoky substance weaving through her thoughts. Changing them from fear to calm.
The two, perfectly straight lines across the section of her fingers between her second and third knuckle, were dribbling blood. Her knuckles stuck out from under skin, threatening the world that they would break through. She held her hands in tight fists, shaking at the effort it caused her. The second bowl supplied by the Storyteller, had only filled halfway. But she knew that it didn’t matter how much blood there was just as long as there was blood. She remembered the consistent way she had held her hands over that same bowl, on that same pillow, in the same room, on the same carpet.
“When they sliced the backs of my fingers, boy, did I scream. And this old blade here,” She traced its length, sucked the blood off her finger, “was placed into my hand.”
She grabbed Shae’s hand roughly, shoving into it the squalid knife. It, in Shae’s warped state of mind, was nothing more than an heirloom. It wasn’t a potential weapon. It was what it seemed. A cherished object that had now been entrusted upon her.
The formality of her thoughts rammed at the trance swathed on her fruitlessly. She had no intention of speaking like that. Her slightly accented voice and her slang vocabulary was something she was proud of.
It was how she found herself, in a sea of other people. It was her recognition. Her trademark characteristic. She didn’t have the will to let that fall from her
Whether she had the will or not, however, did not matter. She transformed nonetheless.
From her neck she pulled her sparkling red necklace, handed it to the Storyteller. Then, the Storyteller pulled it around her neck, she stroked it softly.
By the time she stopped stroking it, it was coated in blood.
“Then the night grew colder. The wind howled. The blood still dribbling from my lips pattered onto my neck. The bowl had overflowed on me, cascading from my face to my shoulders without hardship.
“The dogs next door wailed with the wind,” As if on cue, the two dogs next door yelped and called out to the moon, their voices getting lost in the sadistic wind, “Light bulbs splintered, and littered the ground.” The light bulb above her head did as she told, falling in a myriad of glossy shards around her.
“My stomach growled and distorted. The blood was too potent for my stomach. But I kept it down. They made me keep it down...”
Shae lifted the large bowl which had the other content of the two smaller bowls inside it. With her glowing red eyes closed, she placed it to her lips. The liquid sloshed violently. It shone evenly from the five set of eyes from the other girls circled around Shae. The sun had not peeked over the horizon yet, but soon, she felt it would.
“Drink, now! Drink it! The sun cannot touch it; it will broil your blood from the liquid. You cannot let that happen, remember what I said. It’s poisonous to you, it will dry up your blood, and you will die no matter what you do. Your heart will stop dead. It will be the most painful death you have ever imagined beholding.”
The sun broke through the curtains, as Shae drank the last drop. And no-one was attentive that that minute ray of sunshine had hit the very last drop of blood before it fell on Shae’s lips. No-one but Shae...
“We die, we all do. Now, girls. This is how our lives ended...”
She shook with laughter as they ran to places they could obtain weapons, could hide and wait. She knew the Pawns would hide together. They were smarter like that, but so very, very obvious.
“The fight started, low key. Murmur-like, soft, and, when asked to speak again, it got louder. Kitchen knives, unholy utensils with their plastic hands and blunt blades, were clasped in fists.”
Freya drew a knife from its holder, letting the blade scrap along the edge, forming a high-pitched sound that alerted them all.
“I shook on the floor while the others ran. Her voice was telling a story to us. We were following that story. I couldn’t breath, my throat had swelled. I waited until my muscles had stopped contracting, so that I could join in the fray.”
Shae stood shakily from the floor, and like a madwoman, ran into the dark house nadir.
“The knives were gone from the kitchen, I was defenceless. And I knew that they all knew this. I was an easy target. And, yet, no-one aimed for me. I was invisible to my friends. So I watched in confusion as they threw themselves into the eradication...”
She whispered Wenny’s name, but she did not turn and acknowledge Shae.
“They butchered the house. I sat there, hushed as I was a useless thing. Debris of things that I should not mention, were everywhere. In the air, in my stomach. I followed my closest friend up the stairs.
Shae stalked behind Alicia, who was crawling up the stairs to the top story of her house.
“I tried to stop her, but she entered the room. Knife in hand she hacked at the bed. The sheets turned black as it spread through them. The lumpiness of the bedding evened out across the surface. Except a large lump on the pillow. Still asleep.”
She brandished the serrated knife she held before she entered a room. Shae screamed out in protest as Alicia did something Shae never thought she would do. Impossible. They’re dying.
“Another friend of mine laughed from another room. It was disgusting, and so very wrong in her angel-like voice. But I ran to her, not afraid. I had a feeling they could not hurt me.”
Freya laughed as moans filled the air. No, no, no, this could not be happened. Red hair lay cut on the ground, flattening from the blood dripping from the left side of the double bed. Delilah stood beside Freya, carving and twisting and snapping. Oh my god.
“I ran away from her after I saw what she did. You can trust no-one, I was lonely. I was unhappy. I wanted revenge!”
Shae ran back to Alicia. Her first, she killed first. Taking the knife that had been handed to her, she struck.
“I hacked at her legs firstly. They should go, so then she would never walk away before I was done with her.”
Hack, hack, hack. The small knife hit the bone, Shae whacked at it, trying so desperately to severe this leg, make Alicia bleed.
“That’s when I realised. Attack, you get hurt. Attack and you now fend for yourself.”
Alicia raised the serrated knife. Shae cringed with closed eyes as she waited for it to drive through her. But the searing pain she expected never came. She looked up. Alicia had cut through the bone and was starting on her arms.
“They finished whatever I started. I smiled, my revenge would be tangible. And all I had to do was give one scratch for them to destroy themselves. It was easy...”
Shae left Alicia, coughing blood and going pale, to finish what she could not be bothered ending. Herself.
“I heard gurgling next, from the upstairs bathroom. It sounded awful. My vision glazed red. I was angry like a bull in a china shop. And I knew... I knew I would not fail.”
The gurgling was going ahead. And it pained Shae. But she ran to him. To avenge him before he died. Gretel stood holding him from behind, slowly dragging the shortest knife across his throat.
“I sliced down on her fingers. Then, her forearm. She froze. Then began to do that to herself. I was destroying her. It was bittersweet.”
Shae did what was said. Blood slashed onto her pyjama top. She was too late to stop Gretel from killing the man, but she showed Gretel what she should do.
“I hunted after the other two who had murdered the women. They were fighting. They were wild.”
Shae walked in on Delilah cutting into Freya’s stomach. Organs fell out. Shae hid behind the television. Her stomach clenched, she wished she could throw up.
“She grabbed one of the old sheets that we were using to sleep in. It was patterned in thorny roses. It smelt good too. She wrapped the other girl in it.”
Delilah pulled up a rose patterned sheet from the floor. Its scent wafted into Shae’s face. It had her mouth watering. Rolling Freya and her dispatched organs into it, she wrapped and knotted until it was tight around the small girl’s physique.
“I never knew she had the muscles to lift a fully grown girl and hook her on the chandelier. But then again the girl she was lifting was so small, so quiet. And so dreadfully, dreadfully dead...”
She hoisted her up. Hooking a thick roll of sheet over on one of the chandelier arms, breaking the globe that was set at the tip of it, Delilah left Freya to cough blood from her paling body.
“Let’s say, dear Shae, that we had all lost a consciousness to someone else. That I was the only one in control of me but I was hurting and changing. I couldn’t do much more than revenge. I was so frustrated. So mad, that anything that twitched died.”
Shae felt a stabbing pain in her heart, a groaning protest in her joints. This story is real. This story is real.
“Everyone dies tonight, everyone dies tonight.” The ghost girl’s voice chanted hideously.
Shae hunts down Gretel. She killed him, she killed the man. She has to go. Die, darling, die. With the knife from the Storyteller too small to make harm, she searches in the pooling blood on the floor underneath Freya. Something hard is nudged by her fingertips. A real weapon.
“My skin tingled, my fingers flexed. They had to go. So I made them. And it was the best fun I had had in so long. Trust me, you will feel it too.”
But Shae did not feel it as she watched Wenny go at Delilah’s back. Something was wrong with this. But she couldn’t think what. She just watched, another massacre of weirdness.
“She pulled out the tallest knife, raised it like a dagger, though, it was well oversized to do that.”
She shrugged her shoulders from her place lying down on the old bookshelf. She was so tranquil, like this didn’t assault her psyche. Because it did Shae’s, it drove her insane.
“But she wielded it glowingly, I could’ve been jealous. If not for the growing hatred for killing my subject. ONLY I KILLED THEM, ME, I, NOT HER!” She screamed and kicked like a child having a tantrum.
Shae felt the unwelcome anger zap through her muscles. Kill, kill, kill. It chanted in her head. So she did. Wenny went down. Fingers fell from her hand. Ears lay beside her head.
Some people just couldn’t control themselves.
“I killed my friend for killing my other friend. It was fair punishment, I believe.”
Shae put her hands on her knees after dropping the knife and Wenny to the ground. She hung her head. Ashamed was an understatement. She was aghast. She’d rather have eaten out their hearts.
“But one lay lurking in the house, still. And she was a Pawn. She could know anything. But she was stilted in intelligence. So it hadn’t been so hard. It will never be too hard.”
Gretel jumped Shae from behind growling like a madwomen. Big mistake. Shae hurled Gretel from her shoulders, on top of Delilah’s ready-at-arms knife. It protruded from her chest as her heart failed her and her lungs filled so very slowly with blood.
“It was getting hard to breathe. My eyes were glassing over. I thought maybe I had missed and her knife drove through my chest instead.”
Shae stood panting heavily.
“This was when the night got scary. When the lights went out and the walls were painted with red. The sun shone through the windows. It was ending...”
The sun warmed her body and bounced of the walls. Dim red light. She was royalty. She was the Queen. She had stopped their hearts. She won.
So why did it feel like she was losing? She had won, she should shine now.
But she couldn’t.
Finally, the poisonous blood finished assaulting Shae, and her heat stopped. The Storyteller realised too late into the plot, that Shae drank violated blood. That she will never see the realm of Black Hearts. That the necklaces are useless to her. She rips them all off, even her own, from her neck and flings them out the window which shatters to pieces.
Her plan is ruined. But though it was ruined, she gets to be a teenager forever. And she had killed; so many times, she had killed. But she had only spilt blood five times in her life. The others she had manipulated. And now, there were many more to come.
Shae’s body is complete, unharmed except for the two scratches that link up across her balled up fingers. Unlike the Knights, missing fingers and ears. Or the Pawns, utterly mauled into unidentifiable shapes. Or the Angelic, who hangs from the roof by an old sheet, drenched in her blood. Her sweet, dangerous blood.
Or the Sleepers, whose innocence meant that they were harmed. They should not have trusted their daughter. There were three of them. One had his throat slit from ear to ear. The other male had his limbs hacked off, his head still attached though. The only female one, she had patterns across her body, her eyes wrenched from their sockets, bones dislocated. An obvious warning of pain.
She stands up from the couch and stretches, it was nearly morning and the walls were glinting with the wet liquid. She yawned. The show had been amazing. But her job here was over now, and many other applications attend her, and Shae would not take over. Therefore, above the dead bodies she had created, she recites the rest of her story.
“That night. That night, we had done something now forbidden to our kind because of us. We murdered, slaughtered – which ever word you like – one another and now you have done the same. That night and this one...
“That night and this one, we painted this house red.”