Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Macabre Tale Of Daniel and Isabel

The Macabre Tale of Daniel and Isabel


Connor Alexander

He was sure that his father had kissed his sister's forehead. Daniel awoke from the dream. It was the same dream he'd had every night since the Terrible Things had happened. The dream wasn't really something from Daniel's imagination though. Instead, it was more like a replay of the events of that fateful night. It was no less surreal or disjointed than a regular dream, however. It played back in his mind the same way it had played out in real life for Daniel. A series of foggy scenes and still images that made no sense to the poor boy no matter how he rearranged them in his mind, which he often did over the years.

But the tangled story in Daniel's mind only reinforced the evidence left in the wake of the Terrible Things. Something horrible had happened in the Hoster's study that night. Daniel's father, Oswald, was never seen from again, nor was there a trace of his passing. Daniel's last image of him was his face contorted and squeezed tight in a grimace. Had there been a stranger in the room as well? Maybe. Daniel's mother was found on the couch, her forearm across her brow, her eyes wide open. The only mark on her was a large bump on the back of her head where it rested against the wooden arm of the couch. She was wearing a silky black nightgown.

Oddly, her shoes were off. Her pair of black leather heels stood side by side facing the open window, which was floor to ceiling. One of their servants, Calvin, whispered to another that it appeared as though lady Hoster had flown out of her shoes and landed on the couch. While most people thought that was a silly notion, what wasn't silly was that she survived the evening. Her eyes open, her pulse steady, her breathing shallow, Miranda Hoster said nothing, nor moved or responded for the rest of her life.

Amidst all of this, Daniel and his sister were found. Daniel was dazed, unsure, a confused eight year old. He was sitting on the floor next to his mother, staring out to the open window. "Father always told us to keep the windows closed," He told Calvin in a serious tone when he was found at the scene.

But it was Isabel who changed the situation from a bizarre tragedy into something people became afraid to speak of in the dark of night. Isabel was found standing in the middle of the room making a strange sobbing sound. The twelve year old might have been crying, had she still had her eyes. There was no blood, no weapon found and indeed, her eyes themselves were never discovered. The smooth dark skin around her eye sockets was scarred and ravaged in a way that made it look as though the wounds had happened twenty years prior.

The worst of it though was that Isabel was not actually blind at all. The pretty little girl still had eyes, but they were eyes that were not her own. They were small. Much too small to be human eyes. The black pupils took up almost all of the whites. They floated in her lidless sockets, unattached to any part of her body. They moved around in her head as Isabel's own might have and no matter where you stood, it appeared that Isabel was watching you.

Most of the servants and household staff could not bear to look at her for more than a moment. And like Daniel, she had no clear recollection of the events that took place on the night of the Terrible Things. Calvin found her, her chest heaving, her mouth quivering and her eyes gone. Other than the terrible scarring though, she was unharmed, her vision unaffected and her memories of the evening even less clear than Daniel's.

It didn't take long before the facts of the evening and Daniel's vague recall began to weave a tapestry of mythology throughout the castle and the village below. As the stories grew and metastasized, they became more sordid and more grizzly. Miranda Hoster had been cheating, they said. With the stable master, they said. Isabel was his child, they said. Oswald Hoster had discovered her dalliances, they said. After killing her, he took his daughter's eyes and fled into the night, they said.

Of course, when it came to the fact that lady Hoster had no wounds or that Isabel had inhuman eyes or that the children had no memories of the events in the study from that night, people tended to shrug and say things like, 'It was God's work'.

Miranda Hoster was made to be comfortable in her bed, where she spent the next ten years staring at the canopy. No one ever heard from or saw a trace of Oswald Hoster. With both of their parents gone, Daniel and Isabel became the heads of their household. But things didn't remain the same for long. Many of the servants began to believe the family cursed. Soon, all but the most loyal of the employees had fled.

Isabel was older, but since Daniel was a boy, the castle and the lands would become fully his when he came of age. In the meantime, the lawyers and counselors kept the Hoster pantries full. Daniel, always a gregarious and robust boy, soon made a modest recovery from the Terrible Things. Only the dream kept pulling him back. He spent many an afternoon pondering the images in his mind. The open window, his father's grimace, his mother's wail. And always, his father kissing Isabel's forehead.

Daniel was as disturbed by his sister's eyes as anyone else. Unlike the others though, he still loved her dearly and was the only one who could understand her pain. While Daniel received sympathy, Isabel received only fear and scorn from the employees and the people in the village. Daniel, being a kind boy and a loving brother, did the best he could to make his sister feel accepted. Despite his sister being four years older, he felt responsible for her.

Before long, other lords began to pay them visits. While the reasons given were usually cordial and simple, Daniel was smart enough to understand the real reason. They always brought along their teenage daughters and made sure that Daniel could spend some time alone with them. Some of them were nice. He especially enjoyed the one that showed him her breasts. But even at his young age, Daniel knew that behind their thin kindnesses were nothing but jagged shards of greed and endless groping hands. In the end, he always thanked them for visiting, overlooked their inevitable discourtesies to his sister and sent them back to their own castles.

When not with his sister, Daniel enjoyed going down to the village and playing with the other boys. They always let him win any game they played, but he knew that to ask them not to would make things awkward, so he said nothing. But his favorite person to visit was Gloria. She was the baker's daughter and just a year older than Daniel. Daniel knew that many of the other girls made fun of Gloria for being twice the width of many of the other girls, but Daniel didn't care at all. Of all the people in the village, Gloria was the only person who treated Daniel as he imagined all of the other children were treated. She secreted him chunks of her father's raisin bread and they played down by the stream, trying to catch fish with their bare hands. Daniel liked Gloria.

None of the children would play with Isabel though, not even Gloria. At first Isabel pouted and made her strange, tearless sobs. But as Isabel grew into being a teenager, her sadness changed to anger. Those horrible floating eyes of hers would spin and jerk in her hollow sockets and her fists would shake at her sides.

One night, after discovering she'd not been invited to a dance in the village, she stormed into Daniel's room and screamed at the top of her lungs. Daniel stood in shock, not because she'd screamed, which she'd done many times before, but because all of the things in his room, the toys, paintings, clothes, even the furniture, it moved. Just a little, but it moved. It vibrated with her screams.

Over the next few years, more things moved with Isabel's rage. Her terrible tiny eyes would roll completely around and a painting would fly off the wall and smash. Daniel never told her she was bad or that she should stop, only that she shouldn't do it in front of the servants. After her rage had subsided, she would nod, making her strange quiet heavings, and agree to keep her unnatural behavior between them.

Isabel became interested in boys the same way most girls do. Daniel knew that she had an eye on the stable master's son, but he didn't have the words to tell her that the boy was terrified of her. Isabel finally worked up the nerve to speak to the lad when she knew he was alone in the stable. She'd been waiting weeks. In her eagerness, Isabel mistook the boy's quiet, respectful work ethic for an acceptance of Isabel's appearance.

"Would you like to kiss me? You can." The moment the words left her mouth, Isabel regretted them. The shock and horror washed over the stable boy's face like a tidal wave and he backed up from her as though she might stab him. His warm brown eyes briefly locked with the tiny black orbs floating in the twin scar sockets in her face. Then panic overtook her, she babbled. "We don't have to kiss. You can just stick it in. You don't even have to look at me. I can put my face in the hay. You can do it from behind. No one has to know." She hadn't said half of that before the boy had run from the stable in a silent panic.

It took Daniel days to clean his room up after the rageful destruction Isabel brought to it that day. He let her fury run its full course, laying quietly in his bed, knowing that even at her most angry, she would never hurt him. When it finally died down, she sat on the floor, her back against his bed. He reached out and stroked her hair.

"No one will ever love me."

"I love you, Isabel."

"Not like that. I'm hideous. I'm a monstrosity."

"You're beautiful."

"No, I'm not."

"You are, Isabel. You're beautiful. Maybe it's just that I'm the only one who can see it."

Isabel turned to look up at him and Daniel couldn't read the frightening black orbs in her face, but he'd meant everything he'd said and she knew it. She stood and faced him and then undressed herself in front of him. "Have me, Daniel. No one else ever will."

Daniel was only thirteen and he didn't love her in that way, she was right. But he did love his sister and he knew that she was also right that no one else would ever want her as long as she had those inhuman eyes. So he let her mount him and pleasure herself until they'd both finished.

After that, Isabel often sneaked into Daniel's room late at night and they explored each other's bodies. They never spoke of it the next day, they never pretended that they were in love. They both knew it was wrong, but they also both knew it was what Isabel needed.

Before long, Daniel decided that he wanted to bed Gloria. He began to make almost daily trips down to the village. He would laugh and talk with Gloria, eat her father's raisin bread and then he would spill himself into her. He thought he might like to someday marry Gloria. But that would be complicated.

Daniel thought back to all of the Lords that had come to visit him. Some of them had sons. Perhaps if they were willing to marry off one of them to Isabel, he would agree to marry their daughters, he thought. He arranged to have them all come back, one family at a time. Daniel's lands and money were still of a vastness to be revered in the area and many wealthy families jumped at second chance to wed their daughter to the heir of the Hoster fortune.

Once there, Daniel would host each family in the same courteous fashion. He would serve them a delicious meal. He would lead his would-be wife in a dance at a lavish gala held in their grand ballroom. Later that night, he would sneak into the girl's room and bed her if she was willing, which most were.

The next morning, he would declare his intentions to marry the girl. He would face the girl's father and say, all that I ask is you arrange for your son to marry my sister, Isabel. Each and every father would go pale. Some stuttered in anger or embarrassment. But each would find a reason to decline. Some politely. Others less so.

One was so rude as to actually disparage Isabel right to Daniel's face. As Daniel showed the red-faced man and his family to the door, he whispered in his ear, "If your daughter spends any extra time in the privy today, my apologies. I must have emptied a weeks worth of energy into her back side last night." He never heard from that family again.

And so it was for a long while. Isabel raged and pouted and sneaked into Daniel's room at night. With the exception of her eyes, she grew to be as lovely as her mother. Daniel continued to love his sister and to love Gloria. He sometimes bedded other women, but he never strayed far. Gloria teased him about sharing him with other women, but it was always with a smile.

Daniel grew into a fine young man. His dark brown skin framed his even darker brown eyes. His long,wavy black hair looked like something from a fine painting. He became a swordsman, a horseman, and very well read and learned. But he still was unsure of what to do about Gloria, about Isabel and about taking a wife.

It was on his eighteenth birthday that the old man and his daughter arrived. He was dressed lavishly, but right away Daniel knew that fine garments were not something this man wore often. His daughter was comely in her own way. She was pale and narrow hipped, with a thin nose and bright green eyes. Her dress was a fine lace but Daniel thought she was probably more comfortable in a tunic and tights.

The old man announced himself as someone of noble birth from far away who's family had fallen on hard times. He had come not for personal gain, but to see if Daniel, being a lord of fine reputation, might take his daughter in as his wife.

Daniel invited them into his home and they stayed the night. That night the dream returned! Daniel had almost forgotten it. It had faded and dulled, receding into the back of his mind over the years. Never quite going away entirely, but hiding itself from him in the corners of his memory.

He sat bolt upright in bed, a sweat on his brow. Isabel lay next to him, naked but for a sheet over one leg. The room was still scented with her loins. He knew she was asleep only by her breathing. Her lidless eyes stared up hauntingly at the canopy above them.

The dream had returned in fullness to him. The open window. A third person in the room. His mother's blank stare. His father's contorted face and the kiss he'd laid on Isabel's forehead. Daniel shook her leg. "Isabel. Wake up."

"Yes?" There was no opening of the eyes, no blinking, no transition from sleep to wakefulness. Just stillness to the sound of her voice.

"The night of the Terrible Things. I've dreamt of it again."

"I'm sorry." She touched his hand and the black marbles in her dark pits rolled in his direction, a pin prick of candlelight reflecting off of them.

"No. It's okay. I'm close." Daniel looked down at Isabel, his brow furrowed. "Father is to blame, isn't he?"

Even in the dark, Daniel saw Isabel's neck go through a contraction as she slowly swallowed. "Yes. I think he is."

"And the old man here tonight. He's here to kill me, isn't he?"

"I think he might be."

"Let's end this."

The first thing the next morning, Daniel and Isabel arranged to meet with the old man and his daughter. Just the four of them, in the study, where the Terrible Things had happened all those years ago.

Daniel and Isabel both dressed formally and the old man and his daughter did the same. Daniel and Isabel sat down on the couch where their mother had fallen. The old man and his daughter stood before them.

Daniel wasted no time. "It was you who killed my father, wasn't it?"

The old man looked to his daughter, who was not actually his daughter at all and said calmly. "Yes. How did you know?"

"My dream. I used to think it was like other dreams, full of fog and confusion. But that wasn't my mind playing tricks, that fog was real. It was here in this room that night. It was an unnatural fog."

"Yes. Your father made it to protect you."

"Made it?" Daniel's eyes narrowed. He didn't understand, even if he felt that the old man spoke truly.

"You don't know what your father was, do you? Either of you." Daniel looked between the old man and the girl, both of their eyes were on Isabel's. Daniel turned to Isabel and looked at her. He looked into those hard black spheres hovering in the jagged black holes where here lovely eyes used to be. There was no reading them.

Daniel turned thoughtfully back to the old man. "I guess we don't."

"Your father wasn't a real man, he wasn't human!" The old man became animated then, the last vestiges of his false identity gone. He flung his arms up dramatically. "He was hellspawn, a thing of evil. He and his forebears built this castle on lifetimes of blood and pain and horror."

Isabel and Daniel shared a grin. "That's a bit theatrical don't you think?"

"Oh, no one here is old enough to remember when your father's ancestors wore a different form. But look at your sister's eyes and tell me that they are human." He pointed a bony old finger.

"Are you trying to tell me that my parents were demons and that you are...what? Some sort of demon hunter? That my sister is a demon?" Daniel was torn between snickering and a gnawing sense of unease in his stomach.

"No! Your sister is not a demon. Neither is your mother. It can only be passed through the male lineage. Your sister and your mother are demonwhores."

"Demonwhores?" Daniel felt a slight tremor in the room and he grabbed Isabel's hand and squeezed it. The room calmed.

The young girl next to the old man finally spoke up. "Your windows and doors all have spells of protection on them. We can't come through without being invited. Your mother was cheating on your father with the stable master. That's how my master got into the house all those years ago. She thought it was her lover who climbed to the window sill."

The old man picked up the story. "I smote your dear mother and put her in the state she is in now. A permanent living hell."

"But why?" Isabel cried out.

"Her evil was so much worse than infidelity, child. She knowingly wed your father, a thing from below. He promised her power and wealth and revealed his true nature to her. It is the only way children can come from such an unspeakable union. She gave herself to the demon knowingly. She's as despicable as your father."

Daniel began to regain some of his calm, his composure. "You attacked my mother, but we were all close, we heard, and we came to her aid, didn't we?"

"Yes. Your father cast an unnatural fog in the room to hide you from me, Daniel. Then we did battle and I gave him a wound from which he could not recover." There was a look of satisfaction on the old man's face.

"I remember. The look on his face. Before he vanished. But if I'm his son and you're a hunter of my kind, why not kill me then? Surely the fog could not have hidden me forever."

The old man turned to Isabel. "You, daughter of hellspawn. His wound grievous, Oswald Hoster," he said Daniel's father's name with a sneer, "decided that the only way to protect his son in his own dying moments was to maim his daughter." Daniel looked to Isabel and Isabel looked to him. A chill ran down Daniel's spine. The old man said, "You have your father's eyes, dear."

Isabel's chest heaved and her lip quivered. Her pitch black eyes rolled around unnaturally in her face. "Daniel. Father did this to me. I think I always knew, somewhere deep down." She squeezed Daniel's hand. Books in the study shook upon their shelves.

"It will be alright, my beloved sister." He smiled warmly at her and then turned to the old man and his understudy. "So, you two are here to finish the job? To kill me?"

They both nodded solemnly at Daniel. The old man said, "With what your father did to your sister, I was unable to return to finish you off while you were still a child. But now that you have grown to manhood, you are no longer protected by his eyes."

Daniel let out a heavy sigh. Then with blinding speed he stood, drew his sword and with a single swift swing, lopped the old man's head off. Then he turned to the young girl and pointed the bloody tip of the sword at her throat. She stood shaking, staring at the head still rolling to a stop on the expensive rug.

"Let me be clear. I am not my father. Give me what labels you will. I care not. I need no spells or curses. What I do know is that in my lifetime, I've done nothing but care for the ones I love and be a generous lord to those around me. I know nothing of magic or demons. Perhaps my father did not have the time to school me in his dark ways. I believe your version of events, I believe you tell the truth. But your truth has no value to my sister or myself. It does nothing to add to our lives as they are today."

Daniel pointed the sword at the body on the floor. "That man killed my father and cursed my mother. What I've done to avenge them is the best I can offer. You however, have done nothing to me. As proof that I'm not the demon you would have me to be, I give you your life. You are free to leave. I will take no vengeance upon you. Although if you ever return, I cannot speak for what my sister may do." The girl backed up slowly. She started to turn toward the door.

"Take the head."

The girl turned back to face Isabel's voice and those eyes. "What?"

Isabel pursed her lips and for a moment Daniel thought those tiny black eyes of hers might float out of the sockets. "Take his head with you." Isabel pointed at the bloody pile at their feet. The girl grabbed the head with a quick snatch and ran out the study door. They never saw her again.

Daniel and Isabel cleaned up the mess. They moved their mother's bed into the study, removed the canopy and elevated it so that she could look out the window and continue waiting for her lover. The dream stopped coming to Daniel. Isabel still got angry from time to time.

Gloria and Daniel never married, he never proposed, but one night when they both had more gray hair than black, he told her the whole story, every bit of it, even about bedding his sister. Gloria said nothing, but nodded and offered him another piece of raisin bread.

Isabel and Daniel lived together in the castle until their last days. When they passed, they left no heirs. They were buried in a plot next to each other. The castle was forever empty after that. The village grew up around it and eventually swallowed the Hoster home, leaving no trace.

Daniel and Isabel dried and hardened and turned to dust in their graves. The only thing that remained were two small black orbs.

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