vignettes from the door between words. Hello reader-friend! Let me first and foremost say happy October and thank you so much for navigating yourself to Book-Faeries! If you’re an in person friend, you’re probably reading because I’ve harassed you to finally pick up a piece of my work (bless you, dear!), but a few of you may be loose acquaintances who saw a mysterious halloween-y post on my instagram stories and decided to click. Regardless, I’d like to thank you thank you thank you for giving me a try, a click, or a read. Writers are nobodies without people to read their work.
I’d like to begin with a synopsis of the idea. When I started writing The Darkening of Ophelia Richter, I began with the idea of an intelligent woman, a professor, who wowed all the men in her life. She was married to a handsome soldier-boy, and he loved his wide-eyed, dreamer wife. I started my tale at happily ever after- a dreamer with her eyes wide open in wonder at the unknown- and I pushed it to the extreme opposite pole. Darkening is my means of revealing to my readers the easiness of a path down into the dark pit of sin due to the lies of earthly satisfaction. It’s my effort to explain the anxiety that accompanies relying on the earthly, and how, ultimately, the pursuit of goodness (here in our world, similar but more perfect (as it was made by the Creator) than Ophelia’s -the pursuit of the One True God, of Jesus Christ) is the only pursuit worth chasing. Ophelia offered me a chance to craft a novella that explained the darkest, most bandaged parts of my heart.
NOTE OF WARNING: This is a dark tale, perhaps one of the darkest I’ve written, and I’d like to say isn’t for the faint of heart. Varying viewpoints on speculative fantasy works (particularly within the Christian community) have lead me to defend my story before anyone reads it. Darkening deals heavily with adult themes (it’s my first real adult work) and that of sins such as adultery and false gods, and as a result, I don’t recommend it for younger readers. Themes of witchery, magic, and darkness are heavily present. I understand some may see this as a stumbling block in their faith, and I’d never want a brother to stumble. I always maintain that fiction fantasy stories and fairy tales in general can reveal to us themes and lessons of goodness, and I believe it is here, but as I stated, if you find these ideas triggering or offensive, this story isn’t for you. I have other stories posted on my page under the tab short stories that may be of more interest and use to you.
Again, I am a woman of faith, and despite the darkness that happens throughout the tale, I urge you to trust me with the message of the novella.
That being said, I hope you will enjoy the first part of this spooky novella. Parts will be released on the Fridays of the month of October, the fifth part published on Halloween.
Thank you for your endless support. Enjoy! – E. H. Taylor
Part One: Her Undoing
“If this is another one of your stories, Profesorin, I don’t want to hear it.”
Ophelia cocked her head to the side, blond curls tumbling into her eyes as she squinted at Professor Lukas Richter through her circular wired glasses, and she did what she did best. She argued for that which had gotten her, one of the only females to graduate from the University, an occupation to teach at the very same place.
“True, Professor, they are simply stories, but you don’t want to be the one who doesn’t have faith in them when they’re finally revealed true, do you?” She smiled at him, and he harrumphed, carrening backwards on the back two legs of his chair.
They were sitting in the lounge. The school year finally over, the two had found a bottle of stowed away liqueur confiscated from the dormitories and had christened the unopened bottle. The alcohol had only loosened up their weary, beaten souls a little bit, but Ophelia found, whenever that burning liquid passed her lips, she couldn’t keep the stories in.
She was fascinated with the fantastical. For logical chemistry professors like Lukas, believing in the creatures of the unknown was positively ridiculous, but Ophelia’s graceful literature-driven mind ate up every story she could find. Her students waited in long lines and once even brawled over a spot in her class on fantasies, but it was her regular literature and English classes the University paid her for. They thought like Lukas. Who should get paid to muse on and on about mermaids and nymphs and faeries?
Lukas took a swig from his glass, swirling the amber fluid around in his stumpy vessel as he swallowed the fiery liquid with an audible gulp.
“You never cease to amaze me with those tales. What was it that saved you from drowning in the lake as a child? Was it-” He cocked his head to the side and leaned his chair forward in a clatter of the two other legs to the floor. “A mermaid?”
Now, Ophelia knew by the look on Lukas’s face he meant to terrorize her. He liked to make her feel as if her English classes weren’t as significant as his silly table of elements, but she’d learned long ago not to play into his act. Truth seemed to be the best solution to times such as these, and she simply offered him a grand smile.
“A naiad, Lukas!” She smiled once more. “Mermaids don’t like freshwater. Naiads, however, love it, and I don’t think there’s any other explanation. Why, if you’d seen her face as I had, you’d believe me, too.”
“Bah!” He crinkled up a pale brow. “Never. Though your tales might sound great after another glass of this-”
A hand swung out between them and swiped up the stopper, instantly placing it into the bottle and setting it down with a clank. “You really should care for your liver more, Bruder.”
At the sound of the deep, masculine voice overhead, Ophelia didn’t even have to look as she shot up from her chair and wrapped her arms around the tall figure. The coarse material of his army uniform scratched her cheek, but she was too excited at the chance to smell the pine-forest scent of him again. He smelled like a fairytale, she thought.
“Frank!” She finally looked up from where she buried her face in his chest. He smiled down at her, swiping a few curls from her face before pressing a kiss to her brow. His strong arms held her so tightly she could burst, but at the sight of his fair hair, matched so perfectly with the army green hat atop his head, she’d readily be squeezed to death. “You got back earlier?”
He flicked her nose gently and released her slightly before answering. “I might’ve worked something up with my commanders. Figured you’d need some help preparing for this weekend.”
Oh, yes. This weekend. How could Ophelia have forgotten? She was getting married this weekend. Or, rather the ceremony was happening this weekend. The gold band on her left ring finger meant she and Frank had already tied the knot, but she’d never worn that white dress.
They’d eloped after she’d graduated from university, but a letter from both sets of parents proved a wedding should be in order in the following year. After months of preparation, the time was finally at hand, but a white dress, cake, and champagne didn’t make Ophelia feel as if Frank were her husband. No, she’d accepted it in her heart long, long ago in that history 101 lecture hall in which they’d met, and the legal document had been signed with a flourish of a pen, knocking down any wall between them. Ever since, Ophelia had been like a second skin on Frank, and he on her. Neither of them seemed to mind.
She’d be foolish not to admit a wedding excited her, though. She’d spent countless hours ruffling through shops for a sixpence to stick in her shoe and something blue to accessorize. She’d felt like such a child, but, like all stories, the moment excited her so much her heart could burst with each full beat.
She’d written Frank nearly nightly (despite the fact her correspondence wouldn’t reach him for a long, long time), telling him tales of her trips to the dress shops to find the perfect white gown. She’d contemplated wearing something different. White seemed hardly appropriate after the night of their visit to the courthouse and neither did a veil (Ophelia would be the first to admit she’d seen and explored every inch of Frank as he had of her. Such are the joys of marriage- for Ophelia loved every other freckle on her beloved Frank.).
But in his letters that had eventually made it back to her, Frank detailed how he wanted to do it, and he wanted to do it right. Partly because his German mother would faint at the sight of her son’s bride walking down the aisle in red or blue or whatever magical color Ophelia could dream up, but mostly because he wanted that moment to lift that veil and behold underneath his beautiful bride.
“That, my dear,” he had written. “Will be the truest moment of our fairy tale.”
It should also be stated, Reader, that Frank believed in every ounce of Ophelia’s stories because he loved her so. In his choice to love his little wife through better and worse, he seemed to adopt a foolproof fascination with her stories. Love, it seemed, had a great deal to do with faith, and when he saw her face light up with the excitement of those little scraps of the unknown she’d glimpsed, he had no other choice but to believe.
So as he slipped his hand into hers, fingers dancing over those gold bands Ophelia had used every last penny of her first paycheck to purchase, excitement seemed to dance over the two of them.
Had Lukas been a believer in the magic Ophelia seemed to ooze in Frank’s eyes, he might have noticed the love flitting about them like a flock of pure white doves, but instead he saw, with jealous intent, two of the most naive people he’d ever beheld in his entire life.
He shoved himself up from his chair and mocked vomiting as he walked up to them, one of his pale brows tilted upward as usual. “You two make me sick.”
Frank smiled at his brother, a towering foot above him, and ruffled his hair like the younger brother he was. The professor didn’t make a move to slap his older brother, but his face said it all.
The two brothers had moved from Germany several years past, and after finishing Uni, Lukas got a job teaching at the University and Frank had enlisted in the military much to Ophelia’s dismay. Perhaps the worst part about it is how she knew he was good at it. Too good at it, she believed. And as someone who couldn’t help but beam when others had truly found their place, she had to let him do what he did best, and of course, he loved it, too. Well, aside from the being away from her part. Lukas, though, had been ruffled by his adoptive brother’s success, his PhD another drop in the bucket in his parent’s eyes, but perhaps a little bit of Ophelia’s optimism had saved him from pure loathing.
“Dinner at Lucinda’s?” Ophelia offered, cutting the tension between the brothers with her knife of usual hospitality and kindness.
Frank might have looked a little dismayed that his wife had invited his younger brother along, but her kind blue eyes drained every bit of that out of him, reminding him that the next week would be theirs.
“Actually I have another appointment.” Lukas offered his lopsided smirk, grabbing his briefcase from behind his chair. “But- I’m walking that way.”
Ophelia took this small triumph and grabbed her brother-in-law’s arm, stringing herself together with Frank and Lukas, and she walked them to the door, collecting her little purse at her desk.
Out on the street, night was falling, but the city was waking up. She could smell the scent of restaurants preparing dinner, the hearty perfumes and colognes of men and women on dates, the fragrant smoke of cigars and cigarettes lit in the means of a sort of communion meeting between men. The lights were all glittering in the fine mist of the cityscape, and as they rounded the turn to Lucinda’s, she loved.
Ophelia loved frequently. Often, one could argue she loved too frequently and too fiercely, but to her, there was no such thing. She was grateful for her job in the city, grateful for the little flat she shared with Frank, grateful she could walk the streets tethered between the two men she loved most in the world.
Frank noticed that look in her eyes and wrapped a hand around her waist, pulling her close to him. Perhaps he smelled her hair as he nestled his head atop her- the smell he told her smelled like the freshest water for bathing mermaids or the crystal clear seas of Nysa, land of the nymphs. Perhaps he felt her warmth course through him by the sheer touch of his skin to hers. Whatever it was, Ophelia beamed at it.
“And… that’s my cue to leave.” Lukas wrenched his hand from Ophelia’s arm and turned to face them, adjusting the fedora atop his head so it nestled just a bit straighter. “See you tomorrow?” Despite it all, he smiled at the bright blonde haired dreamer before him.
“Of course, and don’t be late.” Ophelia grinned. “You did pick up the suit from the tailor?”
Lukas had already headed off in the other direction down a smoky street. “Yeah! Yeah! I got it!”
“Wear the red tie!” Ophelia called.
Lukas turned away, heaved up a thumb and kept heading to wherever he was going. Ophelia shook her head. How she wished to understand the inner workings of a doubter’s mind. Well, perhaps not, she thought.
“Strange one, that fellow.” Frank chuckled, walking Ophelia towards the happy little restaurant not a block away.
“I’d say so.” Ophelia giggled. She stopped before they reached Lucinda’s and she pressed a gentle kiss to her husband’s neck, feeling the strong pulse beneath her lips. She smelled that enchanted faerie forest smell, and he squeezed his hand tighter in hers at the feeling.
“I missed you, Ophie.” She felt his lips move atop her scalp, and the feeling never failed to send those tiny shocks through her lower abdomen. Even on the day those shocks would fade, which she hoped would never happen, she knew she’d always feel that covering tug of love in her full heart.
“You, too.” She bit her lip, stealing a glance upwards to swipe a few fingers down his face, letting her fingernails skitter over the rough stubble of his cheek. His crooked smile beamed down at her like the sun, and she shone as bright as a full moon in perfect orbit.
“Well,” he kissed her quickly. “I’m starving. Are you hungry?”
She swiped the rogue hair from her face and stifled the urge to wink at him. “Absolutely famished.”
The sun had gently tugged her eyes open that morning rather than pry them open with raging bright rays. She figured Frank must have closed the blackout curtains at some point in their exchange last night. She’d been too excited to spend time with him to think. The following tangle of limbs and sweet words had ended in her falling blissfully asleep on his chest, but she roused face down on her stomach.
Turning her head over on the pillows, she looked over at him, sitting propped up on several pillows. The day’s paper was in his hands, his eyes scanning back and forth. She could smell the rich scent of coffee somewhere nearby, and it filled her up with the most pleasant warmness.
“You know it’s bad luck for you to see me today.” She smiled, voice scratchy from sleep.
He actually took his eyes from the paper and looked at her with brows pinched together, his eyes comical under the glint of his reading glasses. “This whole thing is the biggest joke.”
“I can’t believe we gave in to our parents.”
He took the glasses from his face and considered her with his kind eyes. “Not that I don’t want to see you in a beautiful dress and stuff my face with cake and spend a whole week- one whole glorious week of just you. You’re my wife, Ophelia. I never needed a big party for us to make it so.”
The sincerity of the deep tones she loved so much in his voice sent her from where she reclined and she flung her arms around his neck, squishing the paper in his hands, but not seeming to care. He let out an astonished sound of surprise, but he no longer cared about the fleeting paper in his hands. He wrapped his steady arms about her, rubbing soft circles into her soft, pale flesh.
“I love you.” She said, and oh dear, how she meant it.
He chuckled at the woman clinging to him for dear life. “I love you, too, my Professorin.”
She let go only a little bit, pressing a tender kiss to his cheek.
“I’m not going anywhere, my sweet.” He said, laughing as he loosened her almost painful hold on him. She only held on tighter, still holding his neck to her but sliding off the poor man so as to not suffocate him. “I fought too hard to win the strong woman to my side. I’ve seen how those other professors look at you. My smart, sweet Schatz. They want you for your looks, but I love that dreamer’s mind.” He tapped a finger to her temple, finger lingering briefly to trail down her soft cheek.
“You know what they say don’t you? You rescued me from heathenism.” She smiled up at him and he met her smile with his, their lips tangling somehow together in a delicate mix of teeth and tongues.
“Not true, dearest.” She felt him smile against her. “You rescued yourself from a lonely life and a terrible name.”
It was true the little Professorin hadn’t always been called Ophelia. Her given name was Beatrice. Ophelia had been her mother’s afterthought -some name she’d heard once in passing while nodding off in the one room school of that quiet farm town. Little did she know her daughter would grow up to study the very thing that provided her that middle name.
Frank said Beatrice sounded like the girl who’d have stayed back on the farm and not applied to university halfway across the country by a longshot ad in the paper. Ophelia liked to think he was right, but every now and again, that fragile farm girl crept in, and Ophelia was reminded of her humble beginnings.
She hadn’t been brought up in the lap of luxury like Frank. No, she’d shoveled so much muck in her first sixteen years of life she had many calluses on her palms, but they’d faded after she’d gotten that acceptance letter that changed her life, propelling her an eight hour train ride into that big city where everything changed and nothing would be the same.
It was those farm stories, though, that never left her. It was the magic in them that never faded. It was what pushed her to finish schooling all the way at eight years after her arrival at the university. It was what got her a spot teaching the very classes she so adored.
“You might have had a little something to do with it.” She cracked a smile and finally released her arms from around him. Before she stood, he grabbed her hand, pressing a fierce kiss to her knuckles, which she clung to and only after she’d let go did she hold the hand to her cheek as if she could still feel the warmth of his lips on her skin.
She stretched out her body, vertebrae and other joints cracking into place. She shifted back the curtains and let a bit of the golden sunshine flitter into the room.
“I guess it’s time to start getting ready?” She asked, turning toward him. The beautiful light illuminated her pale golden purity, face alight in that wonder he so loved, and he wanted it to last forever.
“I guess so, meine Frau.”
And she’d never been more excited.
They’d briefly rehearsed inside the small church at the corner of the city’s square, the pastor insistent that Ophelia not walk down the aisle until the very ceremony. Lukas had arrived, however an hour late, and Ophelia’s sister had arrived complaining of how the dress she’d been assigned to wear made her look like a goose.
She’d decided not to get frustrated with it all, though. Each glance at Frank reminded her of how excited she should be for the next week, and once she’d unpacked her white dress, thrifted from a consignment shop somewhere in the artist’s district of the city, her heart swelled.
She’d added intricate little flowers and birds to the dress in her own shaky novice embroidery, yet somehow it looked like something out of a fairy tale. Once it was on, her hair pulled up off of her neck, she thought she’d rival any other nymph or faerie alike, and her sister sat back in her chair with a heavy sigh.
“Beautiful, Beatrice. Absolutely gorgeous.” She swatted at her eyes with a handkerchief, careful not to smear the mascara about her eyes.
“Help me with the veil, please?” She asked.
Her sister took the fragile thing and pinned it to the top of her bun, arranging the bottom layer so the train, embroidered in the constellations of lovers past, would trail carefully behind her with each step.
The looking glass revealed her, and in all of her delight, she saw glancing back a faerie queen, keeper of the enchanted forest, beautiful in all her ethereality. She could smell the crisp smell of evergreen trees. She could see the flighty lightning bugs surrounding her like an aura. She was waiting for her king who’d keep her forever, and in the distance- why, something glowed like a portal to the infinite. The stories within her chest swelled, and before she could stop them, tears pricked the corners of her eyes.
“Don’t cry! I spent an hour on that make up-” Her sister swiped at her eyes quickly before stopping at the sound of an approaching figure in the doorway.
Lukas stood in the doorway, arms crossed across his skinny chest. She nearly careened into angry giggles at the gray tie he wore rather than the red she reminded him about last night, but as Frank had said, this whole thing was a joke. Leave it to Lukas to ruin her color scheme.
“They’re ready for you out there.” He nodded to her sister, and she skittered excitedly for the door.
“Get her veil down will you?” She said, placing a hand to Lukas’s arm.
The man nodded, letting her by as she scampered away without a second glance to her sister. She swiped her bouquet up from the stool beside Ophelia’s, stopping briefly to hand her sister’s bouquet to Lukas. Then she straightened her back and checked her teeth in the mirror before she grinned and walked to the foyer.
“She’s more thrilled with the idea of walking down the aisle in a pretty dress than being here to watch me do the same.” Ophelia let out a breathy laugh. Her cynical side came out when she was near Lukas. She’d never have said something like that to Frank.
Lukas grinned at her and offered her a sideways glare. She thought he seemed nervous as he walked toward her and gnawed on his bottom lip. Something strange played at his eyes when he looked at her.
“You don’t have to walk me, you know?” Ophelia said. She’d asked Lukas to walk her a week or so ago. Her father had passed away a few years after she’d left for university, and she figured she’d just do it on her own, but after lunch with her brother-in-law, he’d offered to walk her. Now, she was afraid it was too much for the seemingly timid professor.
“Oh no,” he shook his head, dissipating whatever it was that had danced in his gaze. “I want to.” He handed her the brightly colored bouquet of white and red roses, and she was grateful for something to occupy her trembling hands.
Still, she grinned brightly, and he grabbed the top layer of the veil from behind her, tugging it over her face. He was surprisingly delicate, and she noticed that strange look had appeared on his face again. He draped the fabric thoughtfully, and she thought perhaps the somber look that had appraised his eyes was simply an illusion by that gauzy white veil. She was grateful for it, though. She felt as if once she saw her husband’s face down the aisle she’d burst into tears. Perhaps she’d always wanted a traditional wedding after all.
She started to say something, but she thought she saw Lukas’s lips moving. The veil made it hard to tell, and she tried to mask the grouchy tone in her voice, as Lukas always had a habit of mumbling. “What was that?”
“You still look beautiful, Ophelia. I know that doesn’t matter today, but I thought you should know.” Something odd pulled at the corner of his mouth. It was an expression she’d noted on his face when something bad had happened or was going to happen, and her stomach roiled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” This time she couldn’t disguise the venom in her tone. She tried to shake it away with a few tilts of her head.
“He’d have wanted you to know that today.” Lukas gave a sad smile.
“Lukas, what the fresh hell are you getting at?” She wasn’t prone to snap, but at this she would. He wasn’t going to steal from Frank the joys of his wedding day, no matter how inferior he might feel to his brother. Just because one had something you didn’t gave you no right to be cynical and steal another’s right to be happy. She and Frank had always done their best to include Lukas in everything, but he’d always seemed content wallowing in self pity. Just this once, she let her monster cut the shine. He would not ruin her day.
It was the fact Lukas’s brows knitted together in that same pity she’d always had for him that scared her the most. He reached for her hand, but she snatched herself away in disgust. Perhaps she would walk down the aisle alone.
But as she peered down at her hand she’d pulled away, what she beheld was a darkening scene. The bouquet in her hands started wilting. The red and white roses began to lose life and wilt before her very eyes. And they didn’t stop at brown. The flowers turned black and tumbled to the floor like ash in her hands, like a faded memory slipping farther and farther away from consciousness.
She glanced up to Lukas to see if she were truly dreaming, but he had turned from her, presumably to let her cool down the slightest bit after her outburst.
She nearly gasped, however, when she began to change, too. Her beautiful wedding dress, the one she’d decorated herself, started fading to black. The length shortened, too, the hem creeping up, up, up towards her knee. From the hem upward, black crept like ink soaking the material through. The embroidered doves transformed into ravens. The little lace details on the sleeves darkened to pitch black.
She turned to the mirror, sure she was hallucinating. Surely she was dreaming! To her shock, just like one of her stories, she watched the transformation finish like a fairy godmother come to punish her charge rather than reward her for good behavior. Darkness spilled at last along the edges of her veil, consuming the stark, pure white and leaving behind a dark veil that covered her face in a cruel twist of fate. Finally, the white comb atop her head grew into a hat that held the veil aloft.
She took in a few shaky breaths, taking a hand to her face. Behind the veil she could just barely make out puffy, tearstained eyes. None of the makeup her sister had applied remained. Her blue eyes stood reddened with- grief?
As she was ready to turn, she yelped as blackness enveloped her hands, black gloves consuming her from her elbows down to the tips of her fingers, growing like some wicked fungus across her skin.
Why, it was just like one of her stories. It had to be. She was dreaming for sure. It was simply a nightmare from which she’d never woken that morning. She pinched her arm, hoping in the pain she’d rouse from the treacherous plot and wake next to Frank, who’d hold her as she cried the last bits of the dream away and would laugh with her about it later.
But the pain only reminded her more that she was here. She let out a shocked sound of surprise when she didn’t wake up but rather remained in that present state, clad in funeral black that meant only one thing.
Lukas turned back around at her noise, eyes filled with remorse and pity at the tears that had immediately begun to tumble down her cheeks. “Ophelia-”
“I’m dreaming, and somehow I can’t wake up. It’s a nightmare, Lukas. Help me get out.” Her voice trembled with the tears that clogged her nose and throat.
Lukas looked at her peculiarly and unsure of what to do next, his eyes flitted to the side before he finally grabbed her by the shoulders. He almost looked remorseful. “They’re expecting the family in a minute or so-”
“I’m not doing this.” Ophelia didn’t hide her panic with the loud tone of her voice. “I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming.” She repeated over and over again.
Lukas tightened his grip on her. “No, no, meine Süsse, no. You’re not dreaming, you’re here. I’ve got you.”
She gave him an incredulous look, wanting to tear from his grasp and run into the sanctuary, find her beloved and ask how they’d possibly pulled off this stunt or ask which mental institution could pull her from her wicked trip.
“Ophelia…” Lukas glanced about him fearfully. “Ophelia, Frank’s dead. You know that.”
All of the air rushed from her, and her knees gave way. Lukas somehow managed to keep her upright and off of the floor, supporting her weight with all of his might.
“That- That’s not possible, Lukas, we were just about to be married-”
“I know. I know. He’d just gone back when they sent you the letter. It was a shock to all of us.” Lukas swiped a few tears from her face with a hand under her veil, and the corporeal feeling of his hand on her skin made her realize it was truly now. She was here and somehow the happily ever after that was getting ready to ensue- that had already truly begun- was slipping steadily from her grasp.
“What- what happened?”
“He was stationed overseas on some new mission. It was supposed to be harmless, but they showed up and- and he was hit. They said he died nearly instantly, the body made it into town yesterday.”
“No.” She whispered. Then, more firmly, angry even. “No. Lukas, you’re wrong. There’s been some mistake.”
“Ophelia, please.” He looked away, and she felt sure he was trying to keep his own tears from bubbling up to the surface.
And in just that moment she decided to play along. Why argue when all the cast of the dream seemed to be consumed in the reality that Frank was truly dead? She heaved herself from his grasp, standing shakily on the heels of her newly darkened dress shoes.
“They should be ready when you are.” Lukas said, sliding his hand into hers. His palm was ice cold, sending a jolt up her arm. It wasn’t at all like her Frank’s, nice, warm, and steady. Lukas felt like winter and was clammy.
He led her out of the room that had once been a dressing room and out into the foyer. It was empty, void of anyone else who might have been waiting. Lukas cursed under his breath and explained that the family must have already entered without them, angry at their rudeness.
She muttered that it was fine. She wouldn’t let herself believe Frank was dead until she saw his lifeless body before her. Goodness, it felt blasphemous to say, and it went against everything in her. She was a woman of sound belief that seeing was not believing. After all that was what had propelled her into so much belief in her stories, but when it came to her beloved, she wanted to be absolutely sure.
Lukas, still gripping her hand with frigid palms, turned toward her before he turned the door knob to the sanctuary. “Are you sure you-”
“Open the damn door, Lukas.” She grumbled, at last fed up with his antics, the demon within her pouring out. To her surprise, he offered a smirk to her. It was one of those spiteful things, an expression she thought he favored too much, and had she not been too impatient, she would have focused on the fact it played at just that moment.
The doors creaked open, and a few heads turned. It was as if everyone had been waiting. With her veil on, Ophelia felt like a bride of death. Her heart hammered at the faces, eyes glittering to her like neon signs. She gulped a swallow of nonexistent spit in her dry mouth and she peered down the long, long aisle.
She half expected Frank to be standing there, ready to embrace her as she admonished him for playing such a cruel joke on her. He’d clap his brother on the back and they’d get married at some point in the mix.
But instead, all she could see in the dark sanctuary, twisted macabre reds, greens, and blues falling onto the red carpet in rainy distressed hues, was a black coffin directly at the end of the stage.
The breath loosened from her lungs, and she thought she heard Lukas behind her. Trembling, and nearly mesmerized by the dark glittering thing, she stumbled toward it. She almost felt like she was flying. Her flighty steps quickened to a jog as she neared that black beacon of tortured light, and she got the terrible feeling this was actually playing right.
But it still felt like she wasn’t there. As she walked down that aisle, the faces of countless relatives and other colleagues seemed unrecognizable. She seemed to behold the scene from above, like she wasn’t truly in control of her mind and body.
Like lightning, she heard the sound of a military band strike up somewhere nearby. It stopped her dead in her tracks like a startled doe in that forest, and the trumpets and snare echoed within her like a second raging, racing heartbeat.
She all but stumbled toward the coffin, fingers bracing the side. A uniformed man approached her and whispered something she didn’t hear. He handed her a flag and she vaguely registered he wanted her to hold it.
It was surreal. The man backed away from her, and she barely realized that sobs were hiccuping from her chest. She was terrified, terrified to look inside that coffin, but she had to, oh dear, she had to.
Fingers touching the slick edge, she leaned over to get a clear look through her veil.
A broken sound escaped her. It was him. It was the man who had held her in warm arms this morning, who’d kissed her to sleep that night. She could just barely smell the scent of enchanted forest on him, the faerie forest long since slain to make room for the new. He looked dapper even in death, his handsome brow relaxed. She lifted a soft curl with a finger and let it caress her tearstained skin.
It was like peering into a glass coffin, an enchanted forest all present to mourn the loss of a believer in the unknown. Those woods would never be the same. It truly was a story. Something was amiss, but she just wasn’t sure yet. She’d heard stories of things changing in an instant, and perhaps his was just another one of those times.
But her stories always ended happily. Creatures of the unknown weren’t wicked trifles.
It seemed to Ophelia she hadn’t walked into a fairytale of comedy. She’d just settled into her front row seat of tragedy.
The world started to warp in her eyes, the reality of it all at last sinking in to crush the tiny fibers in her dreamer’s heart.
The flag had just started to fall from her hands as she fainted to the floor.