Published on 2011/07/24

The Stone House

Cherie Larkins

Rain pitter-patters on the roof of our car. My new husband—I love saying that—reaches for my hand and kisses it, all gentlemanly-like. Blood rushes to my head, hopeless romantic that I am, and when he begins sucking on my finger, I moan. He turns to me and smiles.

“Watch out,” I yell.

Tires screech. Purse, arms, seat, windshield, green, legs…red. Then blackness.

***

Pitter-patter. Blood drips from my husband’s lacerated neck and into my cheek. I push the car door with my good arm but it doesn’t budge. Smoke trails from the busted hood, and if I don’t get out of here fast enough, I’m sure to be roasted alive. There’s an ugly gash on my left arm revealing white bone underneath the scoured flesh, but even as I pry the tree branch gouged on my shoulder, the wounds knit themselves. Hiss, hiss, it says, like flesh seared on a grill.

I sigh. Sure I can’t die, but does it have to be so darn painful each time? The smoke thickens. I blow a kiss at the dead guy. He was an absolute sweetheart and for what it’s worth, I’m going to miss him a lot. More so than No. 53 who had the body of a Greek god but the brains of a two-year-old. I flex my fingers, feeling strength returning to my body. With a kick, the door finally bursts open. I scramble out of the overturned car and roll out of the way as flames lick the engine.

Two seconds, three. My newly rebuilt life explodes in fire and fury. Gone, like the others. I take off my wedding ring and pocket it. It’ll come in handy when I get low on funds. Damn you, Erandihl! I glance at the remnants of my short marriage. The tire marks on the road indicate where my ex-husband swerved off to avoid the phantom deer. And of course, it had to be perfectly timed so the car would hit the massive oak tree and roll down into the ditch. Erandihl and his master plans. Seriously, the dude needs a better hobby.

Or he needs to get a life and find fresh blood. A new object of affection. Why he keeps on harassing me is beyond my understanding. Two centuries and you’d think he’d get tired of chasing after me. But no.

“Curse you, Erandihl! I despise you, you hear?” The woods echo my anger. Their leaves rustle as I wander off into the forest. I smell their fear, their distrust. “What am I supposed to do, huh? I can’t go back in there. The cops will be all over it and trust me, they know he just got married. They’re gonna wonder why the bride didn't get roasted as well. If you lot don’t want me here, tell your master to stop killing off my lovers!” They bristle, as if indignant at my outburst but I ignore them. My stomach churns at the smell of charred flesh.

I quicken my steps, my breath catching in my throat. The trees leave me alone. I follow a slightly overgrown path, hoping it’ll lead me to a stream, a brook, whatever. I just need to wash the sticky blood off my face. My bones ache, my joints protest as I walk for miles in the deepening woods. It'll be the highlight of my day if I were lost. No, I don't care anymore. Will Erandihl let me die if I curl up on the dirt now and never move? The memory of my hollow stomach eating itself then repairing the damaged tissue over and over again makes me shudder. Cross off starvation and suicide. There is no slow death for me, only lingering pain.

I climb down a ravine, careful not to fall. Broken bones take longer to heal. Rocks, undergrowth, grass, more trees. My lips crack and I taste blood before the cut closes up.

Sunlight filters through green-gold leaves. My legs buckle from exhaustion and I lurch forward, crashing through prickly bushes. They taper off into a clearing, and in the midst of it stands a house. A stone house. Ivy and moss cling to its walls in loving embrace. Wildflowers spread on the ground, a meadow of purples, yellows, and blues.

I glance around me. It is quiet.

“No tricks, Erandihl,” I say under my breath. I walk up to the door and knock. No one answers, though the door opens at my touch. The smell of warm bread tempts me inside. I can’t die, I can’t die, I remind myself. Erandihl’s curse made sure of that. Still, my heart pounds so hard it leaves me breathless. I stagger my way in, knocking over an umbrella stand.

A yellow umbrella. The sight of something so ordinary, so normal sends me cracking into a loud guffaw. I clutch my stomach, tears leaking at the corners of my eyes, when the back door opens.

“Can I help you?” says the man, taking off his sun hat.

His blue, blue eyes. His dark hair. I gasp and rightly faint.

***

I’ve read a thousand novels, all romance, because I yearn for my own true love. Erandihl tells me I don’t need to look, that he is mine and I am his. He promises me eternity and power, but can he give me the moon? Can he make my heart beat? No. I tell him this and he only shakes his head as if I’m a foolish child asking for sweet treats.

I loved once. A pure love. My chest tightens and I blink away the memory. It’s no use remembering what I’ve already lost.

“Are you awake?” he asks, handing me a cup of water. I nod. Waking up in strange places has been the story of my life, so this one isn’t even close to topping the incident in Austria. Yeah, having the Polizi find you butt naked in the middle of the street is a memory not easily repressed. But that’s a story for another day.

“You were covered in blood, but I can’t find its source. Are you hurt?” He doesn’t blink. I turn my face away. Please don’t stare at me. His eyes are beautiful, but no, not him. I can see now why I mistook him for Roberto, my first husband. I dig my nails into my palms. No, no, no. I need to get out of here.

“Don’t move,” he orders, his voice sharp. I whip my head in time to see him reach for a leather-bound book. And then I see the spider creeping on the edge of the cot. A black widow.

“No,” I yell. “Don’t hurt it.” The spider scrambles into my open palm. I place it on the window sill and it scurries away.

“What are you?” he asks, backing into the other side of the room. I look around, curiosity finally gaining on me. Small, cozy place with only a desk and a big mahogany chest to furnish it. There are journals piled in one messy corner, with sketches of plants and herbs peeking out between pages.

“Who are you?” he says. I meet his gaze. Those eyes.

I am done for. Oh Roberto, why haunt me through this stranger’s eyes?

“I am Evie, the one they call the Black Widow. I am a murderer of many men, though not by my own hands.” Sorrow chokes me and I can’t talk. Will he turn me in now? I’ve spent a quarter of my life pleading for innocence and no one ever listens to me. Why would they? No one believes in vengeful Faerie Kings who think if they can’t have what they want, then nobody else should have it. Erandihl gave me immortality so I can suffer through the death of each man unfortunate enough to love me.

“Tell me your story,” he says, dragging a chair next to my cot. I look up. My heart beats hope through my veins. And I tell him.

***

Three weeks of bliss. The stone house is my refuge, its owner my salvation. We live in isolation, wrapped up in each other’s arms. Each morning I think of running away before Erandihl finds out, but one look at this man’s sleeping face, this man who had vowed to protect me, and my legs refuse to move. But I know. One day I’ll be gone to save him. I must save him because I love him.

Isn’t it enough to taste of love? To live another century with the knowledge that I have truly loved, to know that he would live years even after knowing me…. It’s my only wish.

I get out of bed to stoke the glowing embers in the fireplace. The floor is ice beneath my bare feet. At first it comes as a whisper, a tingling by my ears. A warning. I turn around. The doorknob rattles. Rough winds batter against the window shutters. My palms turn clammy. I shake my lover’s shoulders to wake him. Run, run away! Hide….

It’s too late. I feel Erandihl’s presence in the way my skin crawls. He laughs though there’s no mirth in the sound.

“Erandihl,” I say, lifting up my chin. “Why are you here? This is uncalled for. I haven’t married anyone.”

No, you haven’t, he answers. But you’ve given away your heart.

“My heart is mine to give.”

Then give it to me and the mortal shall live.

“You will not hurt him? Not in any way?”

The wind caresses my cheek. Erandihl murmurs his promises, the same old song. I clench my fists and swallow down the bile in my throat.

“Let this man live and I will…I’ll be your Queen. But first, show yourself to me.”

My pleasure, your Highness. The wind buffets around to form a swirling mass of demon proportion. Erandihl clothes himself in human skin, but his eyes are red orbs encased in golden rings. Gleaming fangs protrude from his lips. His icy-white hair flaps behind him. An unnatural imitation of man. My knees buckle and the wind presses me down, forcing me to bow down before this incarnation of evil.

You will not regret being Queen of my kingdom. You will be a most powerful ruler. You shall bear me children, and they will have untold powers greater than all the faeries combined together. We shall rule both the mortal and the faerie world. This has always been your destiny. My destiny.

He continues to push me down until my face is pressed to the floor. Erandihl laughs again. The black widow spider scurries toward Erandihl’s foot. It starts climbing up his leg but he doesn’t notice.

“Erandihl! Keep your promise!” I say. He releases me and I get up on my feet.

Come, my Queen, your kingdom awaits. He touches my lips with his cold, slimy fingers. A kiss…he wants to kiss me.

The spider positions itself on the king’s neck. As he leans closer, I shout, “Now!”

Erandihl screams. A cloud of dust covers us, and I choke. Coughing, I look up to see my lover standing behind Erandihl, chanting words and throwing powder made of herbs at the faerie. Erandihl’s body convulses. I pick up the iron poker lying by the hearth and drive it into the faerie’s heart.

Why, Evelyn? Erandihl whispers. I only wanted your love. His human skin begins to melt. Fire bursts out of his eyes, traveling down the length of his torso until he is engulfed in flames. The blankets catch fire. Black smoke quickly fills the room, suffocating us.

“Evie, we need to get out of here!” My lover holds out his hand but Erandihl grabs my waist and locks me in his grip.

“Run...go now. Save yourself." I scream as the pain eats away at my flesh. The stone house blazes in red. Beautiful, terrible red.

***

Today is my birthday. I’m two hundred and fifty years old. The last scar has finally healed and though I look like my young self once more, my soul is still burning as it did fifty years ago. I'm walking in the woods with a bunch of tourists, their cameras clicking and snapping away.

It’s a cold, wet morning. People are huddled together, seeking warmth within their circle of friends. They are here to see the ruins of the Stone House. I am here to make peace with my past.

I run my hands over the weathered stones. The walls made green with moss. Some vandals have painted graffiti over the room where the kitchen should have been. The bedroom is gone forever like a chunk pried off the building. Like the missing piece of my soul. I sigh at the memory of many happy mornings spent there.

An old man stands in one corner, his head bowed as if in prayer. He takes off his hat and holds it in his frail, leathery fingers. One hand sports a swathe of pale smooth skin, a scar long healed from a burn. Years weighing down on his hunched shoulders...or perhaps it is memory. Someone tugs at the hem of his coat—a little boy with a mop of black hair.

Grampa, come look at this! There’s a spider hiding over there, says the boy. I smile. The grandfather nods, puts his hat back on, and turns around. Blue, blue eyes.

I let myself get swallowed in a crowd of babbling ladies. My heart beats again.


Cherie Larkins is a mother by day, and a writer by...well, whenever she gets to write. She is working on a Young Adult Urban Fantasy book and blogs at Ready. Write. Go.. Occasionally, she dabbles in short stories to keep her writing muse happy. She lives in Utah with her husband and two kids. No cats, though.