Friday, July 1, 2016
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
“Angelique (The Devil Need Not Own You)”
A short story
by Laramie Dean
Angelique Rumson was exhausted.
The rain spat from the sky landed in fist-sized splashes against her windshield, and though the wipers drilled frantically back and forth, there was little they could do to expel the water. And the storm, she thought wearily, was only growing worse.
There was a sign up ahead. She could dimly make it out through the curtain of rain; green, familiar, yes, her headlights illuminated it, and she saw that it pronounced, “COLLINSPORT 50 MILES.” Good, she thought, and pushed a sheaf of white-blonde hair back from her forehead. The nose of the car swung forebodingly, and she re-gripped the rubber steering wheel with both her hands. They were slick with sweat and the wheel felt uncomfortably slimy in her hands.
Why don’t you simply use your powers, my dear?
She winced. The voice of Nicholas Blair. Not him, not really – he was consigned to the environs of the Netherworld forever, she was certain – but a close enough approximation of his snide, weasel tone. His voice came to her sometimes in moments of despair or panic; she could clearly see the whippet-grin on his face.
Go on. Whisk away the rain. Lift your car above the greasy track mortals have laid. Rise above it as you were meant to do.
Then his laughter. His sneering, interminable laughter.
Her hands tightened on the wheel.
No, she thought, I will not use my powers. I will not attract the attention of the Master.
Her eyes narrowed.
At least … not yet.
COLLINSPORT 50 MILES. Good god, was that all? Was that all the time she had left?
Her head throbbed; at least she had taken an Aspirin when she stopped in Logansport. What a marvel the modern world was! She felt naïve thinking this, but hadn’t she adapted well the numerous times she had reached out of the dim, dead past where she had been born, a mortal woman (no matter what the Nicholases and Judahs of the world told her) learning to adjust to oddities like automobiles, telephones, and, yes, even Aspirin? Barnabas, too, had adjusted nearly as well as she.
She didn’t want to think of Barnabas now.
It was still disturbingly easy to turn her emotions off, to tamp them way down, just as she had numerous times in the past. Faces flashed before her, some she would see again, some she would never see: Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, cowering, terrified against the plaque of Naomi Collins in the mausoleum at Eagle Hill; Dr. Eric Lang, his face purple and twisted with pain as she stabbed relentlessly at his heart; Joe Haskell, clutching her to him and hating himself; Maggie Evans, Carolyn Stoddard, David Collins … and on and on and on …
None of that mattered now, she told herself determinedly.
What a fool you are, my dear. Don’t you know you can’t escape your past? Why, your power is too great! Don’t you know that yet?
Modern conveniences; she grabbed desperately at the thought; the windshield wipers mightily swept the rain away; but the face of Nicholas Blair leered at her, as clear today as he had been the first time their paths had crossed … but that had been years, centuries! The old fury rose up in he and her teeth ground together. Then it disappeared as suddenly as it had come and she only felt tired. The porcine squealing of the windshield wipers sounded only dimly in her ears.
Why did I become a witch to begin with? Why didn’t I just ignore these powers inside me?
Because, she thought, and smiled thinly, I thought they could bring me love. But they have nothing to do with love. They are capable only of corruption, of twisting real human feeling into nothing, or worse, a darkness that can destroy so easily. How could I think that anyone could possibly love me? What I am? The loathsome thing I’ve become?
Miranda DuVal. As far back as Miranda DuVal.
The wipers flashed; the wind outside the car howled; she tried to swallow the memories, but oh –
On her way to the Old House to see Barnabas. Only it wasn’t called the Old House then, and his name wasn’t Barnabas.
And it wasn’t raining, it was —
(Miranda DuVal — 1692)
— bright. Blindingly bright; the spears of sunlight, even filtered as they were through the emerald foliage surrounding her, still pierced at her crystalline eyes. Miranda DuVal had a spark within her (“There’s good and bad in everything,” Mama had told her, time and again, “good and bad, like dark and light. Strive for the light, my baby. Shun the darkness. There is something in thy breast and in thine eyes that has a power. ‘Tis thy choice, Miranda, how you will use it. For helping ... or otherwise,” and Miranda had never forgotten it). Her long hair, uncurled and unfettered now by Puritan’s entrapping cap or ribbon, flowed down her back in white-blonde wave, so brilliant beneath the spring sun that glowed cheerily above the small Massachusetts town of Collinsport that it was nearly blinding in its intensity. But it was nothing compared to her eyes. They sparkled with a vitality and exuberance that had been sadly lacking ever since the trial of her former master, the arch-warlock Judah Zachery, and, after that, her final encounter with Nicholas Blair.
Will you stand against Satan? Do you want your neck on the block?
She could still hear the barking of Amadeus Collins, a judge at the warlock’s trial, as it rang in her ears.
Miranda paused for a moment on her journey up the walk to Collins House and placed a hand to her forehead. It trembled, she told herself, only minutely.
Birds twittered deeper in the environs of the woods surrounding Collins House, the home that Isaac Collins, eldest son of old Amadeus, had chosen as his home. He had been joined there by his brother, Aidan Collins, and it was Aidan whom Miranda wished to see more than anything on earth.
She found it nearly impossible to believe that it had been almost three years since she had first crossed the threshold of his father’s house and first set eyes on him, handsome, debonair, with deep-set hazel eyes that sparkled with youth, vibrancy, and a simple humanity that she found deeply touching even on first glance. His dark chestnut hair, casually swept over his forehead, gleamed with an inner fire, and even now she longed to run her fingers through it. She craved it. She needed it. He had taken her hand in his enormous paw and brought it delicately to his lips, his eyes on hers all along, and delicately brushed his lips against the skin, sending tingles of sensation running up and down her body until goosebumps danced in sheets along the skin of her arms.
“Mistress DuVal,” he had murmured in his rumbling baritone. “So we meet at last.” His eyes sparkled with mirth. “Or is it mademoiselle?”
She had blushed, dropping her eyes. This was not how servants were generally treated. “Just miss,” she had murmured, the blush staining her porcelain cheeks crimson. “I am English, really.”
“What a coincidence,” Aidan had chuckled. “So are we.” He shrugged. “For the most part. My father’s brother is Irish, and in Ireland he remains to this day. Though I hear rumors that they soon plan a visit to New York, the jewel of this, our new world.” His smile was pleasant and open. “I am his namesake.”
“An unusual name, ‘tis true,” Miranda had remarked carelessly. Her blush deepened when she realized what she’d said, and added quickly, “But a fair one as well. A ring to it there is, and it rolls so easily off the tongue.”
He pealed merry laughter then, and took her hand. “I am glad that you are in my house, Mistress. It will be a pleasure to have you.”
Miranda hadn’t been well acquainted with witchcraft until she came to Bedford (and the bed of Judah Zachery), but the possibilities fascinated her. She loathed her status, just as she loathed the woman to whom her Aidan was betrothed. Samantha Good was a tall, willowy creature with a fall of chestnut hair and huge, round brown eyes that exemplified — glorified! — innocence.
Miranda hated her.
She was impossibly wealthy, as were the Collinses, and a perfect match for Aidan.
Save that he didn’t love her in return.
“They want me to marry her,” Aidan murmured one night, his bare arms supporting her and his lips pressed against the hollow between her shoulder and neck. She smiled, cat-like, as tiny arrows of sensation trilled up and down her spine. “How can I? She means nothing to me.”
“You do not love her,” Miranda had whispered, and her smile grew as she felt him nod against her. Just as I don’t love Judah Zachery, she wanted to add, but forced herself to be still.
“The master is worried about you,” Nicholas Blair told her one night as they both left the coven meeting, Miranda feeling ridiculous with the dark robes Judah required his acolytes don before each meeting tucked under her arm. She despised Nicholas, with his thin moustache and sharp little smile. He was Amadeus’ lawyer and the most devoted of all Judah’s followers. Except, of course, for her. Though she hated to think of Judah doting up on her, as she knew he did, the powers he had awakened within her more than made up for the ugliness of his face, his scabrous, balding pate, his eyes that blazed at her sullenly, with no warmth or hint of human kindness.
Ah, but the power … her powers now …
Miranda had tossed her head. “He shouldn’t be,” she said, and knew she was pert, and didn’t care.
“He thinks that you have grown too close to the Collinses.”
Miranda said nothing, but glared instead.
Nicholas, grinning, said, “To one Collins in particular.”
“It isn’t like the Master to be jealous.”
“He wants you,” Nicholas said, rolling his eyes heavenward, “and for the life of me, I cannot hazard a guess as to why.” Then his eyes dropped down, rolling lasciviously over her breasts, hidden beneath the sky blue of her gown, so different from the grays and browns of the other women of the village. And they noticed, of course. They noticed everything, those Puritan women. Those bitches.
“I serve him,” Miranda said, as demurely as she could. “I serve him well.”
“See that you do,” Nicholas said. All humor drained from his voice, and he was cold again. So cold. “And see that you continue to.”
“I use my powers well.”
“You,” Nicholas purred, “should prove it.”
And so it was an easy enough feat to conjure Samantha Good away from Bedford in the
middle of the night, taking with her only the bare necessities and her father’s horse. Where she had gone was a mystery to all, including Miranda, and she somehow felt more at ease that way. I didn’t need to make Aidan love me with tricks and spells, she would think with a great deal of satisfaction as he lay in her arms after love; all I needed to do was erase the competition.
But then Aiden had disappeared as well. The day after Judah’s execution, when Miranda was to be given safe escort out of the country. And there was only one person in all of Bedford who could possibly know where old Amadeus had sent his son.
“What’s the matter, girl?” Nicholas had sneered at her the night of Aiden’s disappearance as she stood before him, her lips trembling with defiance. “Come to me for another spell now that you have ensured the end of Judah Zachery?”
Miranda bowed her head. “I have renounced the powers of darkness,” she said. “I am no longer bound to the Dark One.”
Nicholas threw back his head and roared laughter. “Oh, my dear Miranda,” he tittered after the blaring gouts of laughter had subsided, “how you doth amuse me. I have only been a novice for a short time by his standards, but in that time I have realized that when the Devil owns you, you are his … for all eternity.” His smile vanished utterly, leaving only his cold, glittering eyes to sparkle at her venomously from across the darkened room. The altar in the center of the room, draped as it was in a sheath of black cloth, seemed to point at her like an accusing finger. “There is no reneging, my dear.”
She tossed her head defiantly. “That remains to be seen,” she declared, then raised an amused eyebrow and indicated towards the altar with one outraised hand. “And what little ritual are we conducting tonight, my dear apprentice?”
“First you will tell me why you have come here this eve.”
“You are the only person in Bedford who would know,” Miranda said, trying to shake away the vestiges of darkness that still clung to her like fine grains of dirt, the scarred remnants of her psyche even after the small spells she had woven to send away her competition. Now she made her voice as sharp and hissing as she knew she could. Her eyes grew enormous with her fury, and they blazed an icy blue. “Where has Amadeus Collins sent Aidan? Where, Nicholas, tell me, or I will go into Bedford and turn you over to the authorities myself.”
“And will they believe you?” he shot back. “Will they believe your wild tales about the most respected lawyer in Bedford, dear Miranda? Conducting heathen ceremonies by the edge of the sea? You, the confessed mistress of the Devil’s Son?” He chuckled infernally again.
She glared icicles at him. “But you are afraid to find out,” she said, “and you will — when they bring their dogs after you ... when they force you from the woods, screaming, disheveled and dirty, and burn you right here on the beach.” She smiled almost pleasantly. “And it will happen, Nicholas. I can make it happen.”
His smile faltered. “You — you do not have that kind of power,” he said.
“You know that I do!” she retorted. “You will tell me where Aidan Collins has
been sent, and I will be reunited with him, as it was meant to be.”
“It would be so easy just to use your own powers,” Nicholas purred, his voice crushed velvet. “You could find him yourself, Miranda.” He lifted one of the candles from the altar and held it up to his face. The shadows highlighted the contours and canyons of his features, transforming him into a ghastly demon. “Go on my dear. Give it a try.”
“I will destroy you if you refuse to tell me what I want to know!” Miranda shrieked.
Nicholas waved a hand at her. “All right, Miranda, all right,” he sighed. “I grow weary of our constant bickering.” He beamed broadly. “Aidan is where I told you he would be all those weeks ago. His father sent him to Boston ... but he traveled instead to Collinsport, the fishing village his brother Isaac founded. He is there right now.”
“And does he know of your ‘hobby’?” Miranda hissed.
Nicholas shook his head. “Sadly, no,” he said, then gripped her arm fiercely and snarled, “And you will not tell him.”
She jerked away and slapped him across the face, at the same moment crying, “And what’s to stop me? You? You are nothing, Nicholas Blair. Nothing but a puny, puling excuse for a magician.”
“You will pay for that,” Nicholas whispered, bringing a startled hand to his cheek, which now glowed a dull, angry red. “I’ve always held a certain fondness for you, Miranda. You are, after all, such a pretty little thing.” He began to grin again. “And once the ceremony is over, you will become my bride.”
She stared at him, wide-eyed with disgust. “Ceremony?’ she choked.
“Oh, yes. I told you, you will pay. And the price is a heavy one, as it always is with our kind. You must learn the lessons of the damned.”
“Judah Zachery could not stop me,” she declared, hands on her hips. “And you think your power is a match to mine? You think you can best me, when even Judah could not? Me?”
He said nothing, only grinned his evil grin.
“You are a fool,” she snarled, then froze, eyes wide and terrified, as she felt a creeping lassitude begin to paralyze her. Slowly … slowly …
Nicholas’ eyes were blazing at her, black as coals, and limned with crimson.
“No!” Miranda cried. “You dare not, you dare not!” Terrified, her eyes darted around the room. Judah had taught her many lessons, had awakened within her with his vile, lecherous touch the blaze of powers that felt so familiar to her, and one of the most important (“Especially,” he would say, absently stroking her breast, flushed with the glow of their foul intercourse, because it wasn’t lovemaking, no action Judah ever performed had love behind it, “especially since we live in these witch-haunted times, where the Puritans, with their provincial ways, will destroy us without another thought. Remember, Miranda, remember”) was that anything could become a weapon.
Now Nicholas had raised one hand and chanted, “I call upon the Powers of Darkness to do my bidding. I bring to you a soul from the outer darkness ... draw it from this world —”
“No!” Miranda screamed, and then she saw it. So near, only inches away from the warlock’s frockcoat. Of course! “We fear the flame,” Judah had told her at the beginning of her apprenticeship, “just as we use its power to enhance our own. Dark and light, good and evil; there are always two faces, Miranda, at least.” With one deft movement Miranda knocked the candle from Nicholas’ hand. The flame immediately caught on the lapel of the long, gray coat he wore and spread eagerly, the flames crackling and popping with hunger.
“This cannot be!” he roared, slapping at the flames even as they spread.
“Hear me, powers of fire!” Miranda cried, lifting her arms. “Take the air you need to live, and grow! Create a blaze where before there was no blaze, and become an inferno! Burn! Burn! Burn!”
Miranda watched, and, yes, a part of her was horrified, and yet she was at the same time filled with a surge of exhilaration that bloomed within her, causing her to gasp for breath, as Nicholas reared backwards and plunged into the altar. The bowl of whatever dreadful substance he had laid upon its ebony surface splashed onto him, and the flames from the other candles licked at it eagerly. His shrieks became indistinguishable from the rest of the crackling of the flames as they spread throughout the shack.
Miranda forced herself to look away, and threw open the door of the shack and flung herself into the chill of the early springtime eve. Fascinated, she watched as the shack was quickly consumed in flames, taking with it the warlock and whatever dark powers Nicholas Blair possessed.
“Good riddance,” she had whispered then, and she said it again into the bright of this glorious afternoon, smart with satisfaction.
She wiped the thin sheet of sweat from her brow, blinking rapidly in the bright light from the sun, and continued her trek up the path. Just ahead she could see the bone-white glint of Collins House through the trees, dappled with the sun and painted with the cool green shadows of the forest. Excitement bloomed in her chest, hot and heavy, and she hastened her steps.
She brought her fist to the door, then paused, her heart lodged in her throat. I’ll never use my powers again, Miranda thought firmly, then rapped soundly against the door, three times, a magic number.
I swear it.
“Aidan!” she exclaimed as the door swung open and her beloved was facing her, but there was something wrong after all. “Aidan?” she asked again.
She stopped short, the words choking and dying in her throat. Aidan wasn’t alone in the doorway.
There was someone beside him after all. A woman.
She tossed her dark hair and her cow eyes narrowed suspiciously. “So,” Samantha Good Collins hissed, “you have found us after all.”
Miranda’s drilling shriek of horror rose from her throat like that of a trapped animal, grew in volume, expanded, and echoed through the forest —
(Angelique Rumson, 1972)
This same forest, these same woods.
She turned off the ignition and fell back against the seat of the car. The rain still fell in torrents, and through the gloom the Old House rose like the unearthed skeleton of a dinosaur, bones in all that dark. A chill wound its way down her spine, and she shivered involuntarily.
Terrible things had occurred after she abandoned the Collins family to their fate – the scrying crystal she retained for just this purpose served her well – but she would have nothing to do with them. Even after her divining powers told her that Barnabas and Julia had timeslipped again, damn them, back to 1840 this time, stitching and re-stitching the fabric of time to suit themselves, as they had always done, she refused to return to this place.
Even after the memory resurfaced of her own final moments in that time – “I will always love you,” she had whispered, before slipping into yet another moment of death – she refused to return.
But now everything has changed.
She set her mouth firmly, that determined look she knew Barnabas loathed. He was right to; ordinarily, when her teeth were bared like this, she called up something terrible.
She could have used her powers to protect her from the rain as she threw open the door of the car and darted out into the gale. Instead, she allowed the winds to buffet at her, tearing at her hair and her clothes, the rain pelting her with a million deadly needles. She could hardly see. Didn’t matter. She knew the way.
And then she was before the door, gasping, and she seized the knocker and pounded it against the ancient wood.
She tried again, more forcefully this time.
Footsteps inside, approaching the door, and she was suddenly swept by a cold terror and sense of deja vu so potent that she nearly turned and ran. But fear held her a frozen prisoner, locked in place. She could only wait.
Then the door opened, and the face inside went white and blank with shock, and the emerald eyes narrowed with an unconcealed hatred.
“You!” Julia Hoffman cried, then spat, “What are you doing here?”
(Angelique Bouchard — 1794)
There is darkness in this world, Angelique Bouchard reminded herself; a kind of chasm lurking beneath what the world sees, a vast black hole that the ordinary people never really see. They can only sense it. And here it is, opening before me. A door into the underworld, into that places that lies beneath us all. A door into hell.
And it’s going to swallow me whole.
The man beside her was a man she had only just met, but a man, nevertheless, who held her rapt, with a face so familiar — and so hated — that she knew she must have met him before. The humidity of the island, even this close to midnight, had condensed on his face, and streaming rivers trickled over his forehead and veered dangerously near to his eyes, which were, at this moment anyway, closed. That was a relief. The eyes of Nicholas Blair filled her with an inexplicable dread, and a loathing so deep it seemed to chill in her bones or to circulate in her blood.
The night around them pressed close and hot, even under the thick, leafy canopy of trees that broke only a little so Angelique could see the round white face of the moon floating in the black above them. It seemed a giant eye to her, a huge glowing eye that had opened and found her and marked her forever.
Nicholas was chanting something quietly under his breath. As she watched, he opened one gloved fist and sprinkled a combination of herbs into the empty air before him. They floated and circled as they flitted down to the earth and entered the charmed circle he had drawn in the earth before them. This same earth was already stained black with the blood of the goat Angelique had stolen at his command from the slave quarters. The goat had been black as well. That was important, Nicholas had impressed upon her, and Angelique had questioned nothing.
But I am powerless, Angelique always told herself, whispering essential truths like prayers in the empty black of the morning while she lay in her narrow servant’s bed in the house of the DuPres. I don’t have Maman’s abilities. I can’t snap my fingers and make flowers sprout from the earth fully grown, or call to the sky for rain to come, or heal a wound by running my fingers over the cut even as it gushes a torrent of blood. I can’t do any of the things that she was so good at —
— except …
— except she could. She knew it, had sensed it all along. I am Angelique, she thought now, and I am more than the fools on this island, more than mortal. I know it. I feel it. I do have power.
She had known this after she met Barnabas Collins, and, after that, when she discovered that she could never have him. Because of the pretty mademoiselle, the little mademoiselle, for whom the world spun in a particular way. She could recall the fury she felt when Barnabas told her that he was betrothed to Josette, the knives that shredded her inside. She knew the night she had called out to the universe for help, for the ability to change things. She had known when Nicholas Blair appeared to her a breath after the sounding of her call, in the dark of the night, in the secret and so still of the night.
After that she had reached her mind into the darkness outside and felt an entire world she never knew existed at her fingertips, a vast reservoir of energy — of power — that she could tap. And she plunged into it without hesitation. She explored the power, allowing it to bloom inside her like the flowers Maman plucked from the earth, like black night-roses; it hummed inside her, rising in the pit of her stomach and glowing in her sex; it sang in her fingers and in her eyes until she was suffused, consumed with the power inside her.
But it lacked a focus.
And so here she was.
In the so secret and so still of the night.
“We will help you, Angelique,” Nicholas had told her. His smile was all steel shavings, and his sharp teeth glittered at her under the moonlight. “We have heard your call. But know that this is to be a bargain. Everything comes with a price, and yours will come, we promise you. Can you accept that?”
The power, blossoming inside her, twining inside her, golden, silver, hot red and hot black —
A price. Always a price.
The face of Barnabas Collins; his eyes, so deep and so sad, always so sad, and
the curve of his mouth, the spill of his hair, wild over his forehead, his hand in the sweet, tiny hand of Ma’amselle —
“Yes,” Angelique had said, and now there was a steel in her as well, like wet iron in her mouth, new and exciting. “I can accept that. Anything.”
Now the moon glowed above them and spilled silver through the cracks in the trees, and Nicholas was chanting, and as his hands passed through the air, her eyes widened. They left in their wake trails of what seemed to be fire, but it glowed a deep venomous emerald that fell into
complicated patterns before fading away completely. (Witchfire, a voice whispered deep in her mind, and you’ve seen it before.)
“As the worm slithered fresh from the mud,” Nicholas intoned, his eyes closed tight and his hand burning through the air, “as the serpent wise called forth like a clarion from the bowels of the earth, as the charred and blackened stars rained over this world at your beginning, let that call be heard again. Let the fire come. Hear us, Dark One, and be here with us now. We have consecrated a place for you. In your name and at the behest of the Nameless Ones you serve,
appear to us ... now!”
Her breath caught in her throat.
Something was coming.
The air reeked of ozone, split open by the magic Nicholas had invoked; the world was aflame around her, and she could feel the power brewing inside her, turbulent storm clouds ready to split and release.
Suddenly fire erupted all around the perimeter of the charmed circle, red and alive and crackling with hunger, and then ...
... oh, and then ...
She saw something.
Something inside the circle.
Only a hint, just a suggestion, but there was a great shaggy head, and eyes the size of the buckets at the well, enormous sparks that glowed a hot orange, and a cruel mouth twisted in a smile —
And then a voice. A Voice.
My darling. My angel. You have come home at last.
“Who are you?” she whispered. “What are you?”
You know me. You have heard my voice before, whispering to you. You have seen me, walked with me, in your dreams. You are my child, my most beloved, the most beautiful one of all. I have been with you through oceans of time, guiding your hand, your steps, my will intertwined with your life, with all your lives —
“My lives?” Horror caught in her throat like black water.
Those great orange eyes glared into her, pierced her, and knew her. Intimately. It was a look beyond recognition. The gaze of the thing in the circle of fire glowed hot inside her. Into her soul.
Dance with me, angel. Join the dance.
The fire flared up, and she felt something respond inside her, like a caged animal straining in her breast for freedom. The power danced around in her the air, and she felt the fine blonde hair on her arms stir and rise.
“Dark One,” Angelique breathed, and Nicholas glanced at her, annoyed.
“Be quiet,” he snipped. “I am the master here. We must wait for His coming.”
She stared at him with new eyes, and there was a coldness in them. He couldn’t see the Dark One at all. What did that mean?
It means that he is a fool, my darling one. He is a tool. A convenience. Through him you have come to me again.
“Because I called to you,” she whispered.
Words. Trifling. None of it matters. You are here now. Blair has served me well, but you — you will give me form and substance. Just as you have before.
“Form,” she repeated. The power crackled in the air around her. There was a heat in her breast, and when she held out her hands, the power answered her, and the witchfire — red now instead of emerald — crackled minutely between her fingers. “Substance,” she said, pleased.
You matter now, my angelic one. Great things are in store for you, I promise you that. I can see them. The world will tremble at your feet. And that is how it should be.
“The power,” Angelique said. “I already have the power inside me.”
But do you have enough?
She thought about this for a moment.
Immortality. The chance to live forever, to end this pointless cycle of reincarnation. To ride the night wind forever at my side. Safe within my wings. Protected.
She glanced at Nicholas, eyes still locked on the circle of fire, waiting expectantly. Her eyes narrowed. He can only help me so much, she thought, and shifted her gaze to the horned thing watching her expectantly within the flames. And so can He, she thought, and that decided her.
I promise you, dearest. At your moments of greatest peril, it is I who will save you.
“Help me,” she said at last. “I beg of you. Grant me your power. I can be what you want me to be. I’ll prove it to you, for all eternity.”
I will come to you when you need me the most, angel.
“Show me your power!” she cried out, and thrust her hands into the circle of fire.
She was galvanized instantly as a black tide swept over her, into her, through her, and filled her utterly. Her eyes flew open, and they were jet black and crackled with dark magic. The pool of energy around her — emitted from every being in nature, from the earth itself — turned black as she drew it into her body. The being in the fire was a conduit for that energy, she understood that now, and it was as black as the secret night whispering around them. She was lost in a luxurious garden, an ebony paradise where the power roared and sang around her, and she was the power, she was the magic, and she was the entire world.
And oh, but that world was a vast chasm, and it was all dark, dark, darkness.
And, nearly a year later, as she lay and thought herself dying, her eyes burning into the murderous bastard who loomed over her, the man she would have given up everything for, even her powers, she was also in the garden, in the secret and still garden, and she felt its power nourishing her. And she wasn’t alone. The Dark One had come to her, as he had promised her he would.
You think you are dying, my angel. You are wrong. You can never die. You will exist throughout eternity at my side, like a shadow beside me. You will ride the night with me. Safe within the ebon folds of my wings.
Oh, Dark One, she wanted to moan; the blackness threatened her; she nearly swooned.
Join the dance, angel.
“I set a curse on you, Barnabas Collins,” she spat at Barnabas, and her teeth were flecked with bloody foam. “…for whoever loves you will die …”
I set a curse on you …
The power was around her, and hung over her in a shroud. It was hard to breathe. The world was dark because she was dark, and it was so very, very cold. And in that moment
she was a witch as she had never been a witch before. The power flared up around her, as black as her heart, as cold as the soul that flitted away as her heart pumped out her lifeblood all over the floor of the house she had shared with her husband; it flared up, and it answered her call.
I set a curse on you …
… for all eternity …
(Angelique Rumson, 1972)
She didn’t wait for an invitation, but instead swept — or tried to sweep — into the room as if she owned it. I was the mistress of this house once, she thought petulantly; that gives me a right to come here, doesn’t it? Then she remembered how Roxanne’s fangs had slid so easily through the layers of skin on Julia Hoffman’s tender throat like paper, and how her blood, hot and sweet, had spurted into the vampire’s mouth and ran in a scalding river down her throat, and how their minds had been instantly linked, master and slave. I did that to her, Angelique reminded herself; that was me. Hot shame burst over her like lava.
“Get out,” Julia said flatly.
You’re off to a brilliant start, my dear.
Angelique turned to face her. “Why Julia,” she tried to purr, tried to capture that old tone, that old fire again, “is that any way to greet an old friend?”
“You are no friend of mine.” Julia’s voice was iron. “Get out of this house this instant.”
“I can’t do that,” Angelique said, and shrugged simply. “You know why I’ve come. You know what I’m here to do.”
“No. I won’t let you.” Her mouth became a line that disappeared as her jaw thrust out, her strong jaw. Angelique found she missed it somehow, this look.
She narrowed her own eyes. “I mean it, Julia. I need to see Barnabas. This minute.”
Julia barked harsh laughter, and Angelique’s eyes widened. “Or what?” she said. “You’ll turn me into a doormat? Send me back in time two hundred years? Sic a vampire bat on me? What can you possibly do to me that you’ve never done before?”
Angelique said nothing.
“I think we both know the answer to that,” Julia continued, and now her smile was positively venomous. Angelique began to feel nervous again. Julia’s nose wrinkled. “And you’re dripping all over the rug. Get out of this house, Angelique. Get out of this town. There’s nothing for you here, and there never will be. Leave. Now. And forever.”
Angelique felt impotent tears of rage and shame and utter despair burn her eyes again. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.
“How nice,” Julia said dryly, “to see you speechless for once. I never thought I’d live to see the day. Neither, I suppose, did you.”
“I don’t want to fight with you.”
“I don’t care.”
“But I need to see Barnabas. I know what’s happened to him.”
“You don’t know anything about it.”
“I do.” Angelique smiled; she couldn’t help herself. Perhaps it was being back in this house, in this room –
This is where it all started.
“He’s dying,” Julia said. Her voice was brusquer than usual, little iron nails, and the smile faded from Angelique’s face. “You know that, do you? He’s finally dying. And no amount of medicine or magic will bring him back.”
“That’s not true.”
“I won’t let you anywhere near him.” Julia stood before the staircase that led to the second floor bedrooms.
“I know where he is.” Angelique felt serenity fold over her, different somehow than quashing her feelings. I have to do this, she reminded herself, even if … even if …
Save it. Save your powers. They serve you; you do not serve them.
If only that were true.
Angelique bowed her head. “Julia,” she said and mustered all the calm she was able. She could feel the spark dancing inside her, burning to run like molten gold through her veins, into her eyes and fingertips, ready to explode out of her and run destructive through the stormy night …
She lifted her eyes to the other woman who was staring at her, a lioness with trembling chin. “We were friends in the past. We have worked together before; let us work together again, please! I promise you, I –”
“Your promises mean nothing, Angelique.” Julia’s teeth were still bared. “Not now, not ever. Your powers corrupted you long ago. Even if you are sincere – which I doubt – it won’t matter. The magic has destroyed anything good or clean inside you.”
Tears welled in her eyes, then evaporated instantly. “Perhaps,” she whispered, “perhaps you’re right.”
Julia seemed not to hear her. “I don’t care about your powers,” she spat. “They are nothing.”
She could hear Barnabas’ voice, echoing toward her through the corridors of the past, when he had told her the same thing. “What good are your powers?” he told her one stormy night in 1840. “You put far too much stock in your magics, Angelique. You always have. You have used them to control and manipulate those around you when they wouldn’t play your little games, including me. Perhaps if you had abandoned them long ago ...” His voice trailed off.
“I need them, Barnabas,” she had told him, trembling. Her voice had become small, the voice of a very young girl. “I’m ... I’m nothing without them, can’t you see that?”
But was that really true? Judah took them away, Petofi took them away, Nicholas … but she regained them. She always regained them. She always took her power back eventually.
The source of my power is …
“I’m going to see him,” Angelique said suddenly. She lifted her head; her eyes flashed, and something in them caused Julia’s mouth to drop open and her hands to come together and flutter above her heart. “And there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
She moved past the other woman who seemed so suddenly turned to stone, and as she went, Julia cried, “You’ll see! You’ll destroy him! You destroy everything you touch!”
But Angelique was already on the landing and moving with purpose down the hallway toward Josette’s room.
(Cassandra Collins, 1968)
She smoothed out the wrinkles in the gorgeous caftan Roger had purchased for her in Brewster’s that afternoon, the one strewn across with a delightful pattern of circling purple butterflies, and smiled a tiny feline smile to herself. It was the end of her second day at Collinwood, and she was quite enjoying her role as the new bride. And, she told herself as she patted her helmet of bobbed black hair and beamed at her reflection in the mirror, it is rather agreeable possessing a body once again. She wrinkled her nose. She wasn’t wild about her new hairstyle, but keeping up appearances was important, and she knew that damned portrait Nicholas commissioned was down in the drawing room where anyone could have a whack at it. I’ll have to sneak it up here as soon as possible, she promised herself as she ran lipstick over her mouth, then smacked her lips appreciatively.
Alone at last, she thought; Roger was safely ensorcelled, snoring away on a couch in the drawing room. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Which escaped her mouth in a twining white plume.
Her eyes widened. The temperature of the room had plummeted nearly twenty degrees in the two or three seconds since she had magically locked the door.
She was not alone in the room.
She had been exposed to hauntings and spectral activity before, of course. It came with the territory. The air around her was deadly calm, but Cassandra felt sheathed in a shell of glass. Yes, she decided with a shake of her newly darkened head, this indeed had all the earmarks of a spiritual visitation.
“Who is in this room?” she called bravely, not expecting an answer, and not receiving one. The wisest course of action, she had learned the hard way, was to deal with ghosts without exhibiting even a modicum of fear. Ghosts could sense it, and a witch stood to lose the most minute control of a spirit if she expressed even a tiny sliver of apprehension. “I demand that you appear to me! Now!”
Laughter. Male, horrible, and familiar.
The face of the spirit as it materialized wore a smile as mocking as its laughter, and for a moment she thought the lined and sunken face belonged to her nascent husband. No such luck, she thought gloomily; Roger I can handle.
Joshua Collins — or, rather, the ghost of Joshua Collins — was wreathed in a green, spectral luminescence, and Cassandra was aware that the light in her boudoir had grown dim. “If it isn’t my dear daughter-in-law,” he sneered. “Even if I can’t say it’s good to see you, I can say it certainly has been a long time. And how well you look. Is this the style of a woman’s hair nowadays? My dear, I must say that I prefer you as a blonde.”
“I don’t know you,” Cassandra said patiently. “Leave this place — now.”
The smirk faded from the spirit’s face. “How typical,” he growled. “Did you really think that you could fool me? I remember you so well, Angelique.” She stiffened as he pronounced her name, and then railed at herself because she was certain that he had noticed. “I remember that first day you came into my house. I dismissed you then as a simple servant girl. How much tragedy I could have averted if I knew then what I know now. You aren’t simple at all, are you.”
“Leave this place,” she hissed.
“And yet you are a servant still.” She rose to her feet, her mouth open in a silent snarl of fury. “Isn’t it true? Aren’t you bound to these powers that have restored you to life? Given you a new body? Aren’t you indebted to the Dark One for all eternity?” The spirit shrugged. “Perhaps you’ve traded classes — risen above the station you inhabited when you first came to my house — but you’re nothing more than a servant. A slave to whoever wields the power, and for one simple reason. You have no power for yourself.”
“That isn’t true!”
His voice grew bitter and melancholy by turns. “You destroyed my entire family. You destroy everything you touch. I often asked myself why you didn’t kill me when you had the chance.”
“Because,” Cassandra said, her face suddenly wreathed in a bilious, poisonous smirk, “I knew that your punishment would be more fitting if I allowed you to live, knowing that you were alone in this world, and that you had condemned your son to an eternity of night, of starvation in the coffin where you imprisoned him.”
The air before her grew hazy, and Joshua Collins shimmered like heat ... and wasn’t Joshua Collins anymore. Cassandra withdrew with a cheated scream, and placed a hand to her cheek as if she’d been slapped.
The doe-like visage of Josette Collins (Samantha Good, an unknown voice whispered in her mind, but she didn’t understand, didn’t have time to understand) blinked at her with dewy eyes from behind a gauzy wedding veil. Her pouting lips trembled. “But Barnabas is free,” Josette said reprovingly, and Cassandra could almost believe she saw the hint of tears in her former mistresses’ eyes, and felt that familiar hatred well up inside her again, cold and biting. “Free from the chains with which he was bound.”
“I wanted Barnabas,” Josette said. There was no recrimination in her voice, just the statement of fact. She didn’t seem angry or hateful at all, and this infuriated Cassandra unutterably. “I loved him. From the moment our eyes met, from the moment I felt a heat inside of me rise to answer his — he was the only man in the world I saw. The only man I could ever truly desire.”
“But I wanted him too,” Cassandra said, and, horribly, felt tears begin to settle on her eyelashes, poised there, waiting to fall. She bit them back with a snarl.
“Of course you did,” Josette said gently. “I understand that now.” She nodded, and smiled, and said, “But he didn’t want you back, did he? Not really.” Cassandra gaped at her. “Not in the way you wanted him to.”
“You shut your mouth,” she whispered.
Josette appeared not to hear. “You were my friend,” she said and, horribly, a tear slipped down her cheek and ran, leaving a glittering trail in its wake. “Ma petit Angelique. My friend, my friend, and you killed me. How could you do that, Angelique? How could you hurt me like that?”
“I was your servant!” Cassandra shrieked. “I was your servant, but never — never — your friend!”
But Josette was gone.
Cassandra felt all the blood fall from her head, and in a tide of numb wooziness she thought she would faint.
Jeremiah Collins stood before her, the rotted corpse with the grated face and his head swathed in bandages, one eye dislodged from its socket and staring crazily at some space about a foot above her head; the other glared at her balefully. The bullet wound that had struck him in the face, the bullet that Barnabas had fired, was black with gore and pus.
“Your fault,” the horror said in a wheezing, bubbling voice. “All your fault. Witch. Sorceress. Demon. All ... your ... fault.”
Cassandra rose to her feet as if shot, and thrust out one hand in a warding off gesture. She could recall, though two centuries had passed, the ice of his arms, the rotten stench of the grave that hung over him in a cloud; she could taste the sour earth in her mouth as he had buried her alive in the earth from which she had summoned him. Fear rose in her like a tide of midnight black water. “In the name of every evil spirit,” she intoned, and her voice wavered and cracked, “in the name of Beelzebub who will consume you in righteous fire, in the name of the earth of which you are a part, Jeremiah Collins, I command that you return to your grave.” The spirit blinked at her. Her voice rose another octave, and warbled hysterically. “With every power at my command, I order you to return!”
The witchfire crackled in emerald streaks before her hands, and the ghost of Jeremiah Collins winked out like a candle flame.
Cassandra sagged against her vanity, and placed one hand to her breast, where her heart fluttered about like a crazed, chittering bat. Impossible, she told herself, not possible at all. Why did they appear to me like that? Her eyes scanned the room.
“Looking for someone?” That voice, so mocking, so hateful now in her ears, rang out from the window, and she spun around.
“How did you get in here? I ... I didn’t see you standing there.”
Barnabas Collins stared at her with burning, red-rimmed eyes. His skin was like paper, and Cassandra thought she could see blue veins just below the surface. A witch is powerless against a vampire, she suddenly recalled. That sliver of fear pierced at her again, and she took a shambling step away from him before she even realized she had moved.
He grinned. “I have been told I am the possessor of a very silent step,” he said, and grinned at her wolfishly. His teeth were very, very ... sharp.
Cassandra’s hands fluttered before her breasts. “I ... I ... uh —” She swallowed. The power, she told herself, it’s all around you, like dark water — use it! She closed her eyes for a moment to concentrate, and felt it fill her like a vessel, that blessed, unholy coldness, and willed with all her might that Barnabas Collins would disappear.
She opened her eyes.
Barnabas Collins grinned his feral grin. And he was closer to her than he had been a moment ago.
“You ... ah ... you shouldn’t be here,” she faltered. “With me. Here. Alone.”
“And why not?” He took another step forward, and Cassandra realized that he was right. She couldn’t hear his tread on the carpet at all. He was like an enormous jungle cat. And she knew what he wanted. What he could do to her. Her blood would paint the walls of her room in scarlet splashes, he would tear her throat to ribbons, and there was nothing she could do.
“It’s not ...” She groped for the word. “Not proper!”
“No,” he grinned, “I suppose it isn’t.” His hands closed into fists, then opened. And then closed. And then opened. She stared at them as if fascinated. “But then again, you never really have been all that interested in propriety ... Angelique.”
Her head whipped up so that her eyes could glare into his, and her nostrils flared. “Why did you call me that?”
“It is a name that you used once. Long, long ago.”
“You’re insane!” Terror nearly strangled the words in her throat.
He pressed up against her now, his face scant inches from her own, his foul, dead breath icy in her face. His red eyes scanned hers, and she knew he could smell her terror. He grinned and grinned, and his teeth were long fangs. His icy fingers caressed the tender skin of her throat, and a parade of goosebumps swathed her arms, her back, her breasts. She shuddered with horror, with fear ... and with something like desire.
Oh god, she thought, oh Dark One, Horned One, help your maidservant now in her hour of —
Barnabas’ fingers closed around her throat ... and squeezed.
And all she could do was to stare into those hate-filled, animal eyes.
(Angelique Rumson, 1972)
He lay on the bed with his eyes closed and his face like a ragged sheaf of paper, and for a moment deja vu swam over her again. She remembered seeing him like this after that dreadful night in 1796 when he shot her and she cursed him. We are caught in this nightmarish merry-go-round, Angelique thought miserably, and nearly turned away, nearly ran out the door, down the hallway, past Julia Hoffman on the stairs, and back out into the gale. Then she would leave Collinsport and all its people and she would never, never return here again.
His eyelids fluttered; his face was gaunt, ravaged by the disease that burned inside him. His bangs were soaked with foul sweat. When his eyes opened, she saw how they had fallen far back into his sockets. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out, and he closed it again.
“I’m here,” she said. She forced her voice to remain calm and level. “Oh my darling, I’ve come back to you.”
“He is dying,” Julia hissed from behind her.
Angelique didn’t move, didn’t turn, stared instead down at the man she loved.
“Yes,” she said softly. “I know.”
“He refused a hospital. Cancer. We’ve known for months now, but it wasn’t until … until recently that –”
“I dreamed it,” Angelique said. Julia was at her side now. “So I knew, you see. He’s about to go. He won’t last the night.”
“I know,” Julia gasped. All traces of her fury had gone. She looked exhausted, haggard. Her fingers trembled; so did her mouth. She longed, Angelique knew, for a cigarette. But she had quit. Somehow, Julia Hoffman had found the strength to quite her decades-long habit during this, perhaps the most crucial time of her entire life.
Angelique couldn’t help feeling, as she had felt in the past, a grudging admiration for her once-upon-a-time rival, here for Barnabas at the last in a way that Josette could never be.
“So I came to say goodbye,” Angelique said.
Julia’s eyes narrowed. “And that’s all?”
Angelique said nothing.
“I’m sorry,” Julia sighed. “About what I said downstairs. You’ve … changed. I should recognize that.”
“Sometimes I almost think I have.”
“I have to remind myself,” Julia said heavily, “that you have done good as often as you have done evil.”
“I don’t know about that,” Angelique said.
“But you have tried to win back your soul. You’ve done … questionable things. And yet, you never gave up, did you. You never stopped hoping that you would have his love.”
“We’re not so unalike, you and I,” Julia said. “In a different world, perhaps, somewhere, we are more similar than either of us realize.”
“There but for the grace of God …” Angelique let her voice trail off.
But Julia’s eyes were on Barnabas. “I don’t want to lose him,” she whispered. The tears were coming freely now.
“I know,” Angelique smiled.
Julia hesitated, then offered her a hand. Angelique beamed at her and took it.
And let the power flow out of her.
Julia jerked back as if galvanized; her eyes were round and unseeing; her mouth opened and closed; she made a small sound, some insignificant noise; then her eyes rolled up in her head and she collapsed to the floor.
Angelique turned away without another glance. So much easier to be cold, to be hard. She’s strong, Angelique thought dimly as she knelt beside Barnabas; she’s been through worse than this; she’ll recover.
“Angelique,” Barnabas croaked. His fingers sketched meaningless patterns in the air.
“You mustn’t try to talk. There is very little time.” Oh, how easy it was. To force back the tears. To feel only the cold. The darkness.
The source of my power is …
She could hear Nicholas laughing even now.
“I’m dying,” he said. His words were the rustle of autumn leaves. Everywhere, everywhere there was death.
“Yes,” Angelique said. The pain came then and she let it, clawing and scouring her inside, only for a moment, and then forced it away … forever. “That is necessary.”
He blinked at her, confused. “Necessary?”
“For what must happen now.”
She stood. She raised her arms into the air and looked around. Her face grew hard with determination. “I call upon the Powers of Darkness to help me once again,” she intoned. “Let the Spirit of Dark Night take possession of this room!” Which was swept immediately into a shadowland. A green witchlight began to glow, illuminating the planes and angles of her face.
“Angelique!” Barnabas’ eyes were wide with horror. “Please –”
She ignored him. She had to. It was time. She felt the power roiling in her; somewhere, very nearby, the Dark One lurked, her master, now and for the rest of eternity.
Barnabas closed his eyes.
“I set a curse on you, Barnabas Collins,” Angelique whispered, and the power rose up and out of her, swirled around the room; the air cracked open with a scream, was rent, was shredded by the force of her will, her power that immense, that strong; the air cracked open and released a gust of stinking, carrion-fed wind –
And the bat.
It was immense; its wingspan at least ten feet, maybe twenty, she wasn’t sure; she held her ground, arms extended, the power flowing from her, the curse strong, and the bat –
— oh, the bat –
It was on him, it was tearing at his throat, and he was screaming, Barnabas was screaming and trying to knock it away, but it covered him, its wings loathsome and jumping with parasites, and she could smell the blood, that writhing, coppery tang in the air, and she had to turn away, but she could still hear the eager squealing of the bat as it gulped his life’s blood –
“Angelique!” he shrieked. Her heart was rent, but she didn’t move, didn’t attempt to stop it. “Angelique!”
She watched. She couldn’t turn away.
Then it was over.
The lights returned.
The bat was gone.
Barnabas’ empty eyes were fixed somewhere just above her.
The hole in his throat was black and red, enormous, more than just two simple wounds. There was very little blood.
“You should have destroyed me that night,” Angelique whispered, “when you came to me in the room I shared with Roger. When you came to me as Cassandra and you put your hands around my throat. Only dear Elizabeth saved me, barging in in the nick of time. You should not have allowed her to stop you. You should have put an end to me then.”
He was beyond hearing her.
She couldn’t look at him anymore. Nor would she again. Unless he came for her. She admitted that was a possibility. Came to her, whether to kill her or beg her one more time to remove the curse. But she wouldn’t do it. Never again. If she did, he would die, and this time he would stay dead.
And as for her?
It was time, she thought. Just about …
Her Master’s voice.
That flash of eyes, orange, fiery, that glint of horn –
“I am yours,” she told him, cold, cold, cold, “Master,” and that was the bargain, “take me,” and he swept her up, and she nestled against his chest beneath the sheaf of wing he wrapped around her, but it was like stone, rock, hard and unyielding and so, so familiar, swooped her up and flew with her, and so she was gone from the room when Julia’s eyes fluttered and, moaning, she pulled herself up off the floor.
“Barnabas,” she groaned, then looked on the bed and saw him – really saw him – and screamed. “Barnabas! Oh no … oh no!”
Angelique was gone. For eternity? Could be. What was eternity for a witch?
Julia sobbed like she would never stop.
Barnabas merely stared. His chest did not rise or fall. Blood dripped from the wounds on his throat.
Flying. Flying in the arms of her true lover.
(“There’s good and bad in everything,” Mama had told her, time and again, “good and bad, like dark and light. Strive for the light, my baby. Shun the darkness. There is something in thy breast and in thine eyes that has a power. ‘Tis thy choice, Miranda, how you will use it. For helping ... or otherwise,” and Miranda had never forgotten it).