“Well, you should learn to control your temper…” – Belle (1991, Beauty and the Beast)
Duels to the death. Witches, wizards, and curses to break. Fantasy worlds in peril and magical items to destroy. Heart-melting romance and impossible choices. All of those meant one thing to Bella: adventure. Or, to be more specific, and adventure she would never have.
Or, at least, what she thought she wouldn’t have.
Life is filled with ups and downs. The chaos overwhelms most even only a quarter of the way through their life. There was almost too much adventure. Bella didn’t see it that way, and that’s why she spent so much time at the library. On any given day, if one was to go to the Fleur Township Library, one would spot her. She wasn’t that difficult to find; all anyone had to do was look for a girl with wild hair, large glasses, and crazy tights. She’d be pawing through the shelves, intent on finding an elusive, perfect book. She would be that person. Yes, that one. The one with a stack of books so high that she was in constant danger of running into other patrons.
That’s where her adventure started.
Hoisting her overstuffed bag further up on her shoulder, Bella cursed at herself. She shouldn’t have maxed her library card that day. There was construction on the bridge that separated ‘Posh Fleur’ and ‘Mundane Fluer’, which meant that she would have to take the long way home. Checking out the entire Harry Potter series had not only slowed her down but was ruining her back. Although, when her mind drifted to the thought of spending hours luxuriating in the pages, she released a content sigh.
With a renewed spring in her step, Bella veered off the asphalt towards Foncé Forest. As the cement faded into a broken brick road, her heart thumped with that exhilaration one feels when surrounded by trees. Bella adored the woods, especially during the summer when it was the only respite from the unrelenting sun. More and more buildings were being built, which meant that her summertime refuge was rapidly dwindling. Foncé Forest was the last place within the town limits that still had such a large number of trees in one spot, and Bella was grateful for that. The woods were one of her favorite reading spots. It was spooky. It was enchanting. It was –
A branch snapped.
A glowing pair of yellow eyes stopped the girl in mid-step.
Setting her bag down, Bella coaxed the creature to come closer. “Here kitty, kitty!”
The slinky thing pranced up and rubbed its face against her legs.
“You poor thing,” Bella pet the purring feline. “You’re too skinny. Would you like some food?”
At the mention of food, the cat perked up. Meowing, it dashed up the path a ways and ran back. It seemed to want to lead Bella somewhere. If it had been anything or anyone other than a cat, Bella would’ve tossed it a bit of her granola bar and kept going. But this cat reminded her of her own recently deceased pet. They had the same eyes and spot on their tails. How could she not follow it?
Bella was desperate for an adventure; even a little one.
Concealing her bag in a tree, she had to jog to keep up with the animal. They played Tag through the thickening trees and over many creeks. Later, Bella would scold herself for being so stupid as to wonder in unfamiliar parts of the forest.
The cat stopped short.
She hadn’t noticed it before then; she’d been too absorbed chasing the cat. The trees weren’t as thick and the bramble was at a minimum. Instead of endless trees and cutting brush, there were an abundance of rose bushes and sculpted branches suffocating a tall brick house.
“Come on, kitty, let’s go.” Bella said, not wanting to be shot at for trespassing if a lunatic lived inside.
The cat stubbornly refused and danced further in.
This was so not happening! That cat could get itself killed for all she cared. She wasn’t going to be written up for trespassing.
Taking one last look at the overgrown house, she jumped out of her skin.
Normally, Bella was more aware of her surroundings, but there was something about that darned cat. Freaked out by the figures in the attic window, Bella failed to hear the crack. Though she managed to catch a glimpse of a blurred object falling down and the burst of pain that followed, her mind was stuck on the ghastly faces crying for help when her world went sideways.
When she came to, the first thing her blurred eyes saw was a fuzzy black thing nuzzling her shin. Next, she felt a sharp, continuous pain in her leg. The more awake she got, the more it hurt. Sinking her teeth into her lip, she blinked back the tears. Taking a few deep breaths, she drank in her surroundings. She was in a room the size of her old apartment with the ugliest wallpaper she had the misfortune of seeing. Candles lined the floor, bookshelves, and table tops, making Bella think that if she exhaled too hard, she’d start a fire.
The door on the far end of the room creaked open, footsteps neared her, and a shadow moved. “I ap-pologize if-f I fri-i-ightened you.” A few of the candles around the voice fizzled out. With each step towards the couch Bella was on, candles hissed out and an imposing chill crept closer. “I’m terribly sorry about the light. If it m-makes you feel any better, I’m n-n-not meaning to do it.”
Finding her voice and a blanket draped over the back of the couch, she replied, “It’s, ah, okay.”
The figure rustled around the end-table by her feet, the sound of creaking joints bouncing around the room. “Aha!” A narrow beam of light shot up illuminating spiders dancing on the ceiling. “Here, this should help a little.”
A cold hand brushed against hers. “Thank you.” she said, accepting the flashlight. “Sorry for trespassing. I was an idiot and didn’t notice where I was until it was too late.”
“It’s fine.” The figure shifted away from the beam of light. “H-how’s your leg feeling?”
“Sprained.” she lied.
“I know you don’t know me and are fri-ightened. I don’t blame you. But I haven’t done anyt-thing inappropriate to you.” The figure who Bella had identified as a man, stammered on. “I-i-if you think you can hold on for an hour or t-two, I’ll go into town and get a doctor.”
“Don’t you have a phone or car?”
“There’s no reception. Besides, I haven’t had a use for it before.”
Bella shivered, drawing up dozens of horror stories that took place in an area with no reception. “Not even a land-line?”
“Believe me, I tried it, but it stopped working decades ago. This house is old, too old -” He was interrupted by a crash. Bella’s flashlight beam hit his face when he left in a hurry. “I apologize but I must check on something!”
“Please, wait!” she cried out but it was no use; he was already gone.
There was the sound of feet scrambling up a staircase, the slamming of a door, and an empty silence. Bella took that time to test how much pain she could withstand. She grit her teeth during a futile attempt to wiggle her toes. Hoisting herself up, she made out a window on the far side of the room. Swallowing down the pressing tears and bile, she shoved herself from the couch to the coffee table.
It was an agonizing and slow process, but, after what seemed like hours, she made it to the window. Rain was coming down in sheets and a wicked wind was shaking the house. A man covered in a black trench coat had tied a rope around the trunk of a fallen tree. He was pulling and doing their best to move the damn thing with very little process.
Bella caught sight of the front door. Maybe, just maybe, she could make it out and through the storm. Her thoughts drifted to the bag of books getting soaked, and all the water damage fines she’d have to pay…
A blur outside drew her to the more pressing situation.
Heart stumbling, her breath caught. The man was gone but the huge oak tree that had been threatening to fall went through with its threat.
Inching her way towards the door, Bella slowly tugged on a windbreaker. She hardly had touched the knob when the door burst open. Wind and rain beat her back as she edged out, hollering an eff you at her injured leg. Spying a cane propped in a corner, she snatched it up and hobbled out.
It must have been at least half an hour filled with slipping, sliding, and eating mud by the time she reached the fallen tree. Dizzy, Bella spotted a way around the tree. Clawing along, she passed where the man had been. The rope hung limp and tangled in the branches.
Oh no. Bella felt a shudder of defeat when she saw a black clad arm sticking out from under the tree. Please move. Please move. She prayed, although a part of her was hoping otherwise.
She had moved naught a few feet towards her escape route when a scratchy moan intermingled with the roaring winds. Frozen in her tracks, she heard a faint voice… coming from the body.
“Anna… lise… please… don’t go… not yet.”
Why did he have to be alive?!
It took a long time and quite a lot of digging, shoving, and yanking for Bella to free his body. The storm raged around them. Debris sliced into whatever skin it could touch. Bella was about to give up when something wet and fuzzy and awful smelling nudged her.
The cat from earlier meowed before taking the body’s jacket between its teeth.
Hobbling along behind, Bella collapsed on the floor next to the body. When she woke up, her mouth was dry, she was back on the couch, and the smell of bacon teased her. Her captor, host, whatever limped towards her.
Bella sighed and peered anxiously at the tray.
He smiled, a splintered thing, spreading his cracked, porcelain cheeks. He reminded her of an old, creepy doll in a horror novel. Except he was bigger and very much alive. “Is your leg feeling any better?”
“I can’t feel my leg period.” Eying him with care, she asked sternly. “Have you been drugging me?”
Handing her the tray, he checked the bandages wrapped around her leg. “I used a slave my mother used to use whenever I’d sprain myself.” He re-wrapped her leg and rubbed his neck. “Th-thank you for saving my life.”
Not about to tell him that a super-strong cat was the real hero, she nodded. “Now we’re even.”
“I really do mean thank you.”
“”It’s not a big deal.” Bella reassured him, wolfing down several pieces of bacon. “I only did what anyone else would’ve done.”
“That’s a lie,” he said. “Anyone else would’ve left me to die after seeing… me.” His cracked finger danced up her leg. “You’re… different. Better.”
“Whoa, you’re getting a bit too personal.”
He blinked those lashless eyes, snapping out of a daze. Yanking himself away, he muttered apologizes.
That’s how the next several days went. His painted face would go out of focus and he would touch her longer than she was comfortable with. While the storm continued to roar outside, during the day, they played music, read, and attempted to coexist in his massive library. At night, she lay awake, listening to the scuttling and thumps upstairs.
Determined to see how he would react and to alleviate her boredom one afternoon, Bella hobbled up to the cold, hard, breakable boy. “Will you honor me with this dance?”
He laughed, pupil-less eyes glittering. “How?”
She shrugged. With his limp and her crutches and his limp, whatever they tried to do would be a disaster. “Let’s wing it.”
So they did.
In the midst of a hobble/step, he spun her slowly. The glow of the chandelier shone on his glassy skin, lighting him up like a sun-catcher.
“What is it?” Bella asked.
“What, um, uh,” he cleared his throat. “What is your home like?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Homey.”
“But what does that mean?”
“Chaotic. Fights, tears, and no one gets along. A lot of the time you wish you are anywhere but there. But you would -”
“Die for your family?”
He stopped and she teetered into him. Catching her before she fell, he muttered an apology. Well, an apology for making her fall. Not for holding her longer than necessary.
Bella squirmed. “Let go.”
His grip grew tighter and Bella screamed as loud as she could. He let go and she hit him with her crutches. I shouldn’t have saved him. She thought and one of the crutches caught on a door frame.
“Ow! Ow!” tears threatened to spill when she slammed against a wall. Steadying herself, she swallowed the dizzying pain shooting up her leg. The sound of him chasing after her with jerky movements spurred her forward. Throwing herself into the nearest room, she slammed and jammed on of the crutches in the door. His footsteps stopped in front of the room. “Please… I’m sorry.”
She shook with silent sobs as the memories of his touching her invaded her senses. It wasn’t that he touched her was inappropriate, but the way he looked. That flash of a starving man dying for warmth not matter what the cost. That was inappropriate.
Bella had never been one to break down easily. She considered it as a sign of weakness or for children. But she was terrified. Terrified that the storm would never let up. Terrified her leg wouldn’t heal in time for her escape. Terrified that he wouldn’t let her go when she eventually did heal.
Shaking off the memory of his touch, she realized that she was in a bedroom. Lacey curtains let beams of gray light in, casting a spooky glow on the antique desk under the cracked window pane. Crawling over to the desk, she sneezed a thick layer of dust. Sitting on the creaky chair, she fished a letter out of the drawer. She glanced at the door before reading it.
I’m writing to inform you that I’m uninjured. I was caught in a dreadful storm and lost all of my luggage. But not to worry! A young man, Adam, and his sisters were kind enough to let me stay with them until the weather calms. They’re absolutely strange and terribly kind. Don’t worry about the young man; he’s taken a fancy to me but I’m not interested. At least, I think I’m not. Only time will tell. He’s the strangest of them all but he’s quite the scholar and musician. You should see their library! You’d take a fancy to the eldest sister, Anise. She’s quite the lady and has a wonderful sense of humor. Did I mention that she has a plentiful dowry and is single?
Please, tell our mother and father that I’m fine, and I’ll be home soon. I miss you all dearly, even Dickens. Oh! I’ve talked it over with Anise, Adam, and the girls and they said that they would love for our family to pay them a visit. Wouldn’t that be grand?
With much love,
Bella flipped the letter over, searching for any information about who this girl was. The address was smudged but she was able to make it out.
Mr. Michelson Yolen
1441 N. Baudelaire Dr.
“Michelson Yolen,” she muttered, running the name through her memory. It was oddly familiar. “Yolen…”
The bed behind her creaked.
The door was open and the boy sighed. “You found the letters. I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t.”
“Who is Annalise? You called out her name when I was freeing you from the tree. Are you the Adam mentioned in the letter?” Who was Michelson Yolen and why does he sound so familiar?
“Who was Annalise.” he corrected. “Yes, I’m Adam.”
“What happened to her?” Did you kill her? Bella watched him for any sudden movements.
“She was my… almost. We became close. I fell in love. At least, I think I was. When she -”
Bella wasn’t sure how much more of him she could take. He was creepy. He was porcelain, for goodness sake! Clearly, he had more than a few issues. She had no intention on staying any longer than she had to, whether her leg was healed or not. “How did she die?” She had to find out as much about his as she could. He was dangerous; that much was certain. All Bella had to determine was how dangerous.
He stiffened. A chill filled the room. “She had grown close with my elder sister, Anise, so when she was getting ready to leave, Anise fell into a rage. I tried to stop them -”
“If Anise wanted or did something, Lucy, Kitty, and Katherine would help in whatever way they could.” Adam looked clammy.
“They, um… Bless their souls… They shoved Annalise down the staircase. When they discovered that the fall hadn’t killed her, they… er, took turns beating her with those.” He pointed to Bella’s crutches.
“How long ago was this?” She fought the urge to burn the crutches with extreme prejudice.
“Not long enough.” he muttered. Pure anguish and heartbreak filled the cracks of his painted face. He looked like he needed a hug and then to strangle something. She edged away as so to make sure that it wasn’t her. It was then that she decided if she ever saw that cat again, she would drown it and not feel an ounce of pity.
“What happened to your sisters?” she asked, and remembered who Yolen was.
Michelson Yolen was her great-grandfather.
Screw it, Bella smashed the crutch over his head, and hobbled for the door.
“… ella…” Adam groaned, his breath whistling through the cracks along his cheeks. “… making a mistake…”
Grateful that this old house had the lock on the outside of the door, she quickly turned the key.
“… ella -”
“Shut up!” she screamed.
The pounding upstairs stopped.
Followed by a loud creak!
Thump. Thump. Creak. Thump.
Coming down the stairs.
“B-bella?” Adam whispered through the door, anguish dripping on every word.
“Meow!” the cat scampered out of the shadows and up the stairs. Thump creak thump snap! There was a startled yowl. Silence.
Bella stopped breathing.
Thump creak thump creak!
“Open the door, Bella!” he was on the verge of tears. “Bella!”
Thump creak thump creak!
Bella snapped into action and unlocked the door. Adam yanked her inside. The two of them pushed against the door. Listening. Whatever had been going down the stairs was right outside the room. Multiple shadows fluttered under the door. Bella could hear her pulse roaring in her ears.
“Aaaadammm!” a chorus of feminine voices croaned. “I heard your new toy!”
One of them dragged their nails down the door. “Bring her out. We want to meet her!”
Adam motioned for Bella to stay silent, like she already wasn’t. She looked through the keyhole.
A glass eye looked back.
Copyright © 2017 by Nita Pan
All rights reserved. This post or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a review.