The Sins of the Mother
My most recent short story, inspired by a Gothic story competition and after reading a bit of Dorian Gray and Edgar Allen Poe - dark times my friends, dark times...
THE SINS OF THE MOTHER
I had always thought myself different.
Strange in a way.
“Freak” they used to call me. Some still do.
It was not until the day of my Mother’s funeral did I start to really appreciate what being different meant. As my boot crunched on the hard snow, I gazed across at the gaggle of disgusting human pigs that waddled towards my Mother’s final resting place. To be accurate, she would be buried in a monumental palace of a family tomb, underneath the family estate. The hole in the ground and coffin that lay before us was merely part of the act. She always had an eye for theatrics and excess.
As the Vicar began his ramblings, I noticed that mine was the only dry eye. The fifty or so mourners that had turned up to feign sorrow were all wailing and fainting. Even the Vicar could smell gold and was ramping up the tears. I could sense their little, piggy eyes glancing over now and then, desperate for my attention. As I was the only heir to an enormous estate, young Master Rathbone was finally someone that everybody wanted to know. I had never wanted this life; privileged was what my Mother had always called me. She had detested me ever since my Father had left us when I was merely a child, as if my doughy eyes could have had any effect on his lust for my Nanny. She had quite coldly and with great joy informed me of his death a few years later. She was evil incarnate, and I couldn’t have been happier to know she was now rotting and feeding the earth with her toxic being.
In the mix of the rabble, an older woman had caught my eye. She was unfamiliar to me and I had a memory for faces. Her hawkish eyes made coal look light and her tall, skeletal frame was hugged tightly by the most beautiful of black fabric.
I stand corrected – there was another dry eye.
“Your father is not dead. What your Mother told you was a load of nonsense.” Gretchen Von Oosthuizen spat as she searched my face for weakness. I was not a very emotional person normally, however this revelation took me by surprise. I could feel my face tighten. The other guests noticed the minor change in my emotion as they shovelled their gluttonous ‘after-party’ spread down their cavernous holes, muttering between them. They were so desperate.
“I’m…sorry?” I stuttered.
She slapped my wrist quite forcefully. There was a gasp around the room and everyone stared. It was short-lived as Gretchen Von Oosthuizen fixed them with a withering look, causing the guests to return to their conversations. She returned her focus to me.
“Never apologise. Von Oosthuizen’s are never wrong.”
“Who are you?”
“Your grandma. Now, stop with these foolish questions boy and take this.” She thrust an envelope into my hands. The touch of the material was otherworldly. I felt both warmth and cold in tandem for a fleeting second before the questions became overwhelming and they flowed from my mouth.
“But my Father is dead? Why are you here now?”
Grandma Von Oosthuizen dismissed my questions with a swift move of her hand, her bony finger uncurling to stab at the envelope. Her stare bore into me, the dark eyes flashing a brilliant amethyst as the clitter-clatter of dinner plates softened into the background.
“Open the envelope. Your answers lay within.” Her raspy voice echoed about my head.
“Seek us out when you are ready.”
As I regained focus, Grandma Von Oosthuizen had vanished. The family lawyer was on stage, waiting for my focus to return. In her hand, she held a single piece of paper and her face was a melancholy one. All eyes were on me, but I had no idea what for. The family lawyer sensed my confusion, cleared her throat and repeated with venom,
“You’re broke. There is no estate. Debts up to here.” She stretched her bloated arm to its extent above her head, only stopping her exaggerated action due to her ankles buckling from the weight.
As soon as the shock had dissipated, the guests’ greedy eyes went blank. Within moments, they swarmed from the room, faster than they had arrived, clearly despondent that they couldn’t pick clean from what remained of the Rathbone carcass. As the realisation came, I felt a great sense of relief and was more than happy to sign the papers the family lawyer had thrust in front of me. Everything was being handed over to the creditors. The Rathbones were done. But I wasn’t a Rathbone any longer - was I?
I tore open the envelope, no longer concerned with the craftsmanship that had been invested to perfect such an insignificant item and pored over the letter within. The ink glistened as if the pen had only recently been removed from the paper. The hoarse voice of my recently discovered Grandma von Oosthuizen reverberated around my head.
The instructions were clear; I was to head to a small, seaside town in Wales called Tenby. Supposedly that was where my Father was and where my questions would find answers. Attached to the reverse of the letter was a train ticket. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of purpose and my Rathbone identity had fortunately died with my mother, therefore there was nothing to keep me here. I marched from the building with vigour as those butterflies in my stomach performed acrobatics.
I watched the rain snake down the thick window of the carriage as we thundered along the Welsh countryside. Despite hearing tales of luscious green fields and an infinite bounty of nature’s greatest assets, Wales was turning out to be a very macabre and gloomy place. The family that sat opposite paid no favours to my prejudice as they glared at me, their grubby clothes making my nose turn. I forced a smile to lighten the mood but received nothing in return. I turned back towards the window and found some solace in the wicked weather, hoping that we would arrive in Tenby soon.
That feeling was perhaps premature as a very pretty girl opened the door of our carriage; no sooner had I inhaled sharply at her beauty that the entire family opposite was jostled out of the door by the Father, who shot a pitying look my way before slamming the door behind us.
The pretty girl smiled, walked over to the seat in front of me and sat down. As she stared out of the window, also tracing the droplets as they moved down the window, I couldn’t help but notice how she looked; her blue & white striped dress came down to her knees, as did her straw-coloured hair, which bounced with every breath she took. Her eyes were a brilliant green, which made it impossible not to stare into them. After nervously glancing back at me a few times, she caught me staring and started to play with the hem of her dress. She looked up and fixed those stunning eyes onto me,
“Can I help you sir?” she had the most angelic voice, with the slightest twang of a Welsh accent. I had lost the ability to speak and merely garbled and shook my head side to side.
She giggled innocently and kicked her legs,
“You’ve gone a funny shade of red, sir.”
I took a deep breath to regain my nerve and swallowed.
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. Not sure what came over me.” I paused and dabbed my brow as she continued to look at me. How strange she must have thought I was.
“Are you visiting family, sir?”
“Yes, indeed I am. You?”
She nodded and bit her bottom lip.
"It's my eighteenth birthday today, so my family have a special surprise."
"Happy Birthday then."
We stared at each other for a few minutes before I felt the train come to a stop. With that, she jumped from her seat, wished me a quick goodbye and exited the carriage. I shook my head in disbelief; naturally I was upset that I didn’t have the courage to ask her name, but also happy that this journey was over.
As I stepped out, I was forced to hug my thick coat closer as an arctic wind swept across the platform, causing the lantern of the Station Master’s office to crash to the floor and extinguish the only source of light. I watched as an elderly lady was pushed into the arms of a portly gentleman that had been taking cover from the elements. I couldn’t tell if the loud crack that followed was her breaking something or part of the wind’s cruel game to frighten us further. I thought of the pretty girl in my carriage and how she was faring in this weather but could not make her out in this storm. She was not my problem – my problem – was to find my Father and to find a cab. It wasn’t until the grizzly looking oaf that drove the cab demanded money upfront did I once again remember my predicament. I was penniless.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I stammered. He could sense my embarrassment, but that only made him angrier. He bellowed at me in a thick, welsh accent,
“Stop wastin’ my time. Clear orf and make room for payin’ customers!” I couldn’t tell if he was shouting because he was annoyed or, so he could be heard over the crashing of the wind and the waves. We were only feet away from the shore and the sea spray was relentless in its pursuit to drown us. I yelled as loudly as possible,
“I need to get to Waterford House.”
What I could see of his face under the hood changed dramatically at those words. Even his horse started to pant and dance on the spot. He would no longer look me in the eye and only pointed to an imposing house on top of the cliff in the distance. No sooner had the gratitude left my lips did he whip his horse and the carriage flew out of sight leaving flecks of dirt across my face.
Fortunately, I had packed light, so the harsh incline to the top of the hill wasn’t too arduous. As I was never one for physical exertion, it brought a sweat to my brow, which didn’t last long as the storm washed it from my face. I would only be a sopping wet new addition to the von Oosthuizen family, rather than a muddy and grubby one too.
Waterford House was an imposing colossus of brick and stone; from what I could make out from the brief visibility that the lightning overhead provided, there were three towers that ran the length of the house, jagged and pointed at the top, each one larger than the last. I was surprised if upon closer inspection there wasn’t a sleeping beauty ready to be rescued. I ran my fore finger across one of the two, brass knockers that were attached to the two imposing, wooden doors that towered at least another three feet above me. I recoiled at the touch – the otherworldly and icy sensation reminded me of the letter. I swallowed and composed myself and after providing some much-needed self-motivation, I grasped hold of the knocker and swung. Once. Twice. Thr-…
Before I had finished the third swing, the doors began to creak open.
What met my eyes was strange, yet not wholly unexpected based on my previous encounter with Grandma von Oosthuizen; a sliver of candle light illuminated my feet, but as I rose my head to peer into the murky darkness, I saw the outline of two hulking beasts snorting down at me, their breath heavy and coming in short, angry bursts. I took a step back, slipped and the last thing I remember was hitting my head. The dark grew darker.
As I stirred, my eyes remained shut, but I could hear the faint whisper of voices around me.
“He must be ready…”
“There cannot be a single drop wasted…”
“Quickly! Father is waiting to rise.”
My eyes slowly began to open, letting the faintest of light in. Standing at the foot of my bed were the two large creatures that had greeted me at the front door; their gorilla frames and buck teeth were a strange contrast to the beautiful and mesmerising blonde hair that cascaded down their thick torsos. These women were identical in every way, except the chains that hung about their fat necks. One was a golden goat and the other a golden dagger. I lifted my head to look around but couldn’t make much out in the darkness; a solitary candle provided some light.
“Who are you?”
The twins unfolded their arms in unison and pointed to a chair in the corner, which had a neatly folded pile of clothes. It was only then that I realised I was naked.
“Where are my clothes?”
“Change now.” The one on the left grunted. The one on the right snorted her approval.
They sensed my hesitation, and both took a step forward roaring at me,
I leapt from the bed towards the chair, desperately attempting to protect what dignity remained and started to unfold the clothes; there was a long, silk robe that seemed to emit a strong purple glow, despite the low lighting, a pair of equally silky and purple elbow length gloves and a blindfold. Not wanting to antagonise the hulking beasts in the corner any further, I pulled the robe over my head, slipped on the gloves and placed the blindfold over my face. I felt an enormous, hairy hand grab my shoulder, almost crushing it as I was bundled out of the room.
The blindfold omitted my vision, but I could feel the icy cold bite of the marble beneath my bare feet. I heard the creak of doors opening towards my mysterious destination, shuffling feet and heavy breathing, which was overpowered by a familiar smell of burning wood and another scent I couldn’t quite place. My memory teleported me temporarily to when I had gashed my leg upon a rock as I climbed around the cliffs in my teens and the family doctor had to cauterise it to stem the flow. I scoffed at the possibility of it being the smell of seared flesh.
When I finally came to a stop, it was upon what felt like cold, wet stone. A familiar hoarse voice barked somewhere in front of me and the voice echoed, like in a cave.
“Remove his blindfold.”
As it was lifted from my face, my eyes didn’t need much adjustment; I was stood in a cave with the light as low as the rest of the house and a howling wind battered through the cave, causing the tiny droplets that fell from the stalactites to echo loudly. In the distance the sea and its waves crashing into the cave’s entrance were visible, but we seemed to be protected from the freezing chill that had greeted me earlier this evening, as if in some magical bubble. In the centre of the cave was a circle of strange symbols that had been etched into the ground and stood just above it on a makeshift pedestal was Grandma von Oosthuizen, dressed in a robe like mine.
“What is going on?” I yelled at her, taking a step forward. I felt the twins’ heavy hands about my shoulders, but Grandma von Oosthuizen shook her head. I was released and took another step forward. She eyed me with great interest, licking her lips in the process. A shiver ran up my spine and the hair on my arms stood to attention.
“We are welcoming…” she started with a cool and confident manner, the words slowly making their way off her thin lips.
“…a new member to the family.”
I took another step forward, inches from the centre circle. Her eyes narrowed, and the twins dragged me back swiftly. I shook them off with a newly found sense of purpose.
“This is hardly the normal way to introduce someone to the family. I’ve only just met you and you’re already parading me around nearly naked in some oddball fancy dress. Is this some joke? I don’t want to join the family if this is how you’re going to behave…”
Grandma von Oosthuizen’s bird like gaze never faltered. She threw back her head and cackled loudly.
“Oh, my dear boy, you honestly believe that is you? You were an easy recruit…” She gestured to the twins, “Bring out the girl.”
With my mouth agape, I stared in disbelief as the young girl from the train, was brought into the cave. She too was wearing a similar robe, but hers was pure white. There was no fear or trepidation. There was even a hint of a smile as she side glanced at me and winked. She leaned in and softly whispered in my ear,
“Well this is awkward.” She walked into the centre circle and was disrobed, her silky skin glimmered in the candle light.
“Bring the sacrifice,” Grandma von Oosthuizen commanded. I felt my feet leave the floor before being forced by the twins onto my knees in front of the young girl. I turned my head with as much force as possible, so I could see the old witch that stood above us and to protect the girl’s dignity.
“Where’s my Father?”
Grandma von Oosthuizen’s face cracked as a sinister smile grew across her face, a shark would have been jealous of the pointy teeth that lined her gums.
“Your Father is dead.”
She relished in the confusion on my face. “You are the last of your family. We needed your blood to complete the ritual. That’s why I visited you. You were so gullible, so desperate to find your Father.”
She leaned forward on her platform, those eyes as black as any mining pit.
“Your Mother was responsible for this. She had your Father come to us, but his blood wasn’t strong enough. You were the next best she could offer to continue her life of riches.”
I was too shocked to ask any further. My lip quivered, and my eyes rolled in their sockets, desperately searching for an answer to this most hideous of natural treachery.
“Faust, my dear boy. Faust.”
Grandma von Oosthuizen removed a steel dagger from beneath her cloak as she made her way down to the centre circle; something slithered across its matte black surface in the dull light as she held it above the girl’s head. I tried to scream, to protect the girl, but was paralysed. The girl raised her hands and smiled, welcoming her fate as the knife came down and slashed across them. My face splattered with crimson. The girl turned to me, her face had lost its innocence and was now maniacal, feral. Her hands had been cut deep from the blade, but it was as if she felt nothing. I tried to struggle again against the twins, but I could barely manage to turn my head as I saw Grandma von Oosthuizen gift the girl the dagger, who brought it above my head with an upswing dripping in ecstasy.
The girl stopped, the dagger inches above my forehead. Her face softened slightly at the sight of my tears. She bent down. I could feel her cold breath on my face. Her tongue reached out and licked the tears from my cheeks. The girl closed her eyes to savour the taste.
With that, the last thing I remembered was a searing, splitting pain in my forehead and the sight of two scaly feet emerge from the centre circle. A deep, rumbling voice spoke a language I’d never heard before as my blood slowly pooled around my face…