Roses and Black Glass: a dark Cinderella tale

BOOK: Roses and Black Glass: a dark Cinderella tale
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Roses and Black Glass:

a dark Cinderella tale

 

by Lani Lenore

Text © Lani Lenore 2002-2013

All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be produced, distributed, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or
mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except
in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other
noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Prologue

The sign by
the road read:
Madison’s Mortuary and Dealings with the Dead

If an onlooker
was brave enough to let their eyes trail up that curving path to the top of the
hill, they would notice the grand house that sat there, looming three stories
high.  It was covered in wooden shingles, whitewashed as if to bleach out any
question of impurity.  The hill was the tallest within the limits of the town,
letting the house look down on the rest like some god of judgment. 

The house
looked perfectly regular - except of course for the sign.  If one looked
closer, however, they might notice the depression behind the hill that was
known as
the drop-off,
where carriages could be pulled around for the
sole purpose of unloading corpses off into the basement where the mortuary
rested. 

Though nothing
seemed amiss from the outside, while inside, all one could think about were the
dealings going on below in the mortuary itself - the cutting of human flesh,
bodies being drained of blood and fluids.  For this reason, the house rarely
received casual visitors.  The townspeople would come to speak of how the dead
were to be prepared, but none ever stayed long enough to enjoy a polite cup of
tea.  The atmosphere around them made them too uneasy.

Among some of
the more unmentionable things in Virginia in the year 1852,
Madison’s
rested squarely at number one in its own part of the world.  It was a known
obscenity in the miniscule town it rested in, only leaving small room for the
few hidden burlesque houses, wild taverns, and whatever lied waiting in the
woods.  The mortuary was out in the open for dark pondering. 

The people of
Greenhaven liked to pretend that it didn’t exist there on that hill. 
Mutilating a corpse was quite a scandalous affair.  Then again, most had to
admit that it was better than dealing with their own dead.

The owner of
the house and business, Charles Madison, was a well-liked man – for those who
cared to know him.  He had managed to have friendships outside his home and he
never spoke of his work when he was away from it.  For good reason.  Charles
had come from money, and though he made little with what he now was, there was
still plenty in savings for him so that he could carry out his work and not
worry about finances.  The truth was that he was simply fascinated by the
dead. 

What might
be learned from the dead that could, in turn, help the living?
  After he
was gone, these were words that only his daughter would remember. 

Five years
ago, Charles’s wife, Amelia, had been taken by tuberculosis.  Left all alone
with his daughter of ten, Cindy, Charles could do nothing but be sorrowful in
the large family house, physically empty, but with rooms filled with old
memories.  Finally, he grew tired of being alone.  He wanted his daughter to
have a female influence in her life as she grew into a woman herself.  With
that in mind, he set out to find a new wife.

The woman he chose
was pleasing to look upon.  Her appearance and presentation were appealing, but
not only that, she could carry on decent conversation.  She was interesting. 
Independent. 
Proud…
Charles failed to see that there could be a problem
in her ego, blinded by he was by her outward appearance.  He married the
woman.  Her name was Anna.

Anna had been
married previously, to a husband who had fallen in a duel, and when she joined
with Charles, she brought two daughters with her.  The eldest was called
Isabella; the younger called Charlotte.  Both girls were very much like their
mother, for they were also proud.

Charles had
thought he had done a wonderful thing for his daughter Cindy.  He had given her
a mother and two sisters who were near her same age.  Unknown to him was the
fact that Cindy was not happy with these new additions to the household.  He
had never thought to ask her how she felt.  Desperate to please him, she tried
to smile when he would glance her way, but inside she was in turmoil with the
idea that her mother had been replaced. 

As she grew, the
sweet smile from childhood fell from her lips and depression set into her
heart.  Anna treated her as a ghost - dismissing her as invisible - and she
became the immediate target of humiliation and torture from her new siblings. 
Cindy longed for freedom with her father, who failed to recognize her trouble,
but she didn’t believe she could ever have that thing she desired.

As time
passed, the mortuary became an interest of Cindy’s.  Within the house, it
became her only realm of escape.  Though her stepsisters and mother would never
venture there, the dark-haired girl never had trouble carrying about her normal
childish business in the atmosphere, sometimes even playing with dolls across
the bloodless corpses.  When she reached the age of thirteen, she asked her
father to teach her his trade – the dead were much more interesting than the
living.

Anna had
protested to the thought in an extreme way at first.  The idea was scandalous
and shameful all at once.  Charles was at risk of ridicule by doing it himself,
but to let a girl child participate was preposterous!  Charles had explained
calmly that Cindy had plenty of time to grow into a proper lady.  Perhaps it
was simply a phase the young one was going through; she simply wanted to be
with her father. 

His new wife
had still been uneasy with the thought, but finally seeing the opportunity to
give her own daughters more growing room and the chance to step ahead, she
consented to Cindy’s wishes.

Charles was
happy to have his daughter beside him, though it still did nothing but repulse
his wife.  Cindy could not have cared less.  She took advantage of the only
time she had with her father when he was not being hogged by the family
additions.  Bloody as it was, she wouldn’t trade that time for anything else in
the world.

Since her
mother’s death, Cindy’s only happiness rested with her father.  She prayed that
he would never leave her.

Chapter
One

1

Christian smirked
with interest as the house came closer into view through the carriage window. 
Though seventeen and well on his way to manhood, he couldn’t help but feel much
curiosity pouring to him at the sight of the large house, seeping through the
cracks in the carriage like ghostly fingers.  He’d been anxious to have a look
inside the Madison house for quite a while, but he hadn’t been fortunate enough
to have anyone close to him die. 

For years, he
had been waiting, and finally the day had come.

There was
another wagon trailing along behind them that also belonged to Christian’s
father.  In the back of that wagon rested the body of his aunt, covered neatly
in white sheets.  She had died in the night – a woman only in her forties that
had been growing sicker over the past months.  The deal with death done, her
body was to be prepared for a funeral.  Christian couldn’t help but wonder what
they’d do to her corpse.  What would they stuff her body full of for
preservation?  What would they do with all the fluids they drained?  Would they
gouge out the woman’s eyes or leave them within to settle as pools of mush?

“Are you
alright, Christian?”

He tilted his
head from the window, looking across at his father on the other side of the
carriage, but did not completely withdraw from the light of the gray day that
shown in on him.  It looked like it might rain, but it was pleasant to
Christian.

Anthony Charming
was a thin, sickly-looking man, paler today than usual.  He was meek, the sort
that might jump at the slightest, unexpected sound.  Christian observed him
now, wondering how he could possibly have come from this man's seed.

We are not
alike at all
, he thought, not for the first time.  Yet he couldn't quite
choose a member of his immediate family that he resembled.  Even his brothers
were very different from him.      

“Perfectly
fine, father,” he assured the man flatly.

“I want to
thank you for accompanying me today," he went on, overlooking his son's
tone.  "With the death of your aunt, I’m just not feeling like myself.”

“I realize it’s
hard for you,” Christian forced himself to say. “You and Aunt Kate were very
close.”

Christian
wasn’t sure what to say to his father.  The two of them had never been very
warm in conversation and neither was Christian used to giving out any type of
sympathy.  The men of the family were taught to be silently strong, not showing
their emotions.  That had been their mother’s insistence, for their father was
quite a passive fellow.  Christian had personally never had a problem with
those things – his emotions were few.  He couldn’t say that he had ever known
true happiness or love, but on the other hand, neither had he known true hate.

Mr. Charming
took a deep breath then, unsettling the silence in the carriage that had been
accompanied only by the clomping of horse feet up the path.

“I’ll do all
the talking in there,” he said, a shudder rolling through him.  “I don’t want
to stay any longer than we have to.  The place has a bad feeling about it.”

Christian held
in a laugh through clenched teeth.  Why were people so afraid of this place? 
It was a perfectly respectable business.  It was better than having to simply
dump the bodies into the ground before the smell set in like they used to do
not too many years ago.  At least now the bodies could have a proper sending as
they were committed to the earth.  

The carriage
slowed and halted in front of the house.  Christian waited for his father to
get from the carriage before stepping out onto the hill himself. 

The wind
still feels the same here
, he mused. 
No different than down there.

The horses
pulled the second wagon onward toward the
drop-off
, where the body could
be taken in by Madison.  Christian watched it until it halted there,
entranced.  Wicked whispers of curiosity urged him, wanting him to go forward and
explore.  What was really back there?  What horrific and entertaining things
was he missing? 

Somewhere up
above, the loud caw of a crow jerked him out of his thoughts.  He looked up to
see the large black bird fly from an eave of the house, shedding a feather as
it flew.  He watched it flap off alone into the distance, and the sound of the
thick silence on this hill settled back into his ears.  He realized then how
far it was from everything else.

He looked out
over the town below, seeing that all the other grand houses looked like toys
from here.  He knew why the crow had chosen this place to roost.  Every other
spot paled in comparison.  A gentle wind teased his hair beneath the dreary sky
and in that moment, Christian felt he knew what it was like to be God.  He
smiled shortly, satisfied with that, and he moved toward the house.

 

2

 

From above,
through one of the large windows, two sets of sharp green eyes watched their
prey approach.  They watched the young Charming as if they were vultures,
anxiously awaiting the moment he would drop so that they could snatch out his
eyes.  If he
had
dropped, however, it wouldn’t have been his eyes that
they would have gone snatching about. 

After the boy
had stopped looking off into the distance, the eyes watched him pass under the
stoop to enter the house.  The prey was in their den now.  He would not evade
them.

 

3

 

The house was
clean and well-decorated on the inside, but it was not interesting enough for
Christian.  He’d wanted some dark elegance, like the decorum of a horror
novel.  Everything, colors and style, were the same as every other house in
this town.  He became bored quickly. 

He amused
himself by pretending to look at the drab paintings on the walls of the front
parlor, while actually he was listening to his father work out the details with
Charles Madison who had just come back from bringing the body inside.  They
were in the front hall, but he could hear them well.

“You will make
her look
normal
, won’t you?” Anthony asked, seeming a bit unsure about
the whole situation.

Charles
chuckled politely at the thought.  Christian pulled in his lips to stifle his
own laugh.

“Of course!”
replied the mortician.  Then his tone changed to be more businesslike.  “The
body will not keep long for public view, even with preparation.  The funeral
should probably be arranged for tomorrow."

“Yes,” Mr. Charming
said hurriedly, ready to be done with it. “Tomorrow will be fine.  I'll talk
with the reverend.”

Christian
peered around the corner to look at him.  Christian had met the man before, but
never at work.  To his dislike, not only was the house normal, but Mr. Madison
was not nearly the spectacle he had hoped for.  What fun it would have been to
taunt everyone with how he had looked.  He could have perhaps been dressed all
in black with blood-covered hands or such, but Charles Madison looked as normal
as usual.  Not many of Christian’s age had seen the man in his home.  He was a
dark legend to them.  If nothing else had come from it, Christian quite liked
seeing his father shift uneasily through it all, refusing tea and a seat.   It
was quite amusing.

“Christian Charming! 
What a pleasant surprise!"

Turning his
frosty eyes, Christian cast his gaze upon a girl near his own age.  Her long
blond hair was tied up carefully and a few loose strands hung in ringlets along
her round face.  Her dress was of the finest materials, though she seemed a bit
overdressed to be walking about at home, but he said nothing of the sort.  She
had a majestic form and was pleasing to his eyes.  He would humor her – for
now.

“Isabella Van
Burren,” he said with exaggerated tolerance. “I would never have expected to
see you in a place like this.  You live here?  By God…  I never would have
guessed it!”

He hardly
associated the girl with this place, for she and her sister were always about
town with their mother, visiting the homes of others rather than being at their
own, but the young man had known somewhere in his mind that she’d lived her. 
Her mother had married Madison years ago.  Perhaps he’d forgotten – or it was
not important enough to remember. 

“It’s quite
the prestigious household I assure you,” the girl pushed insistently, stepping
across the room with measured movements. “I have nothing to do with what my
step-father has interest in.”

“Yes,” he
agreed, eyeing her displayed cleavage briefly. “You’re much too good for work,
aren’t you?”

“Of course,”
the girl said with a laugh. “I need someone who can take care of me.” She came
closer. “Still, it would not be as though they were getting nothing in return.”

She looked at
him sensuously, peering into his eyes from just a few inches beneath his
height.  She smelled wonderful, but he was not fooled by her.  He held in his
laugh and simply smiled back at her with counterfeit affection.  He allowed her
to be close, looking up to him and wanting his lips, but he took care to keep
them just out of her reach.

“Yes, I
suppose you wouldn’t be such an unwise investment for a man,” he mused.

The girl
laughed genuinely, though Christian was sure she had practiced the tone and
pitch of it. 

“You flatter
me, Christian!  A fine investment!  Perhaps, but I assure you, I’ll be no one’s
prize pig!”

“Perhaps a
prize
mule
then?” came a voice from behind Christian.

Leading them
both to turn, another girl stood in the doorway, this one slightly younger. 
She had long, red hair, lightened by the sun.  Powder covered her scattered
freckles, making her skin appear pure.  Her dress was of green velvet and
covered a thin, boyish figure that somehow managed to be quite alluring.  She
was also overdressed, as her sister was, but not unattractive in her own right.

“If it isn’t
the lovely Charlotte,” said Christian, pretending to forget about Isabella.

He turned to
her and stooped to kiss her hand, knowing that it would leave Isabella boiling
with anger.  He found it all quite amusing.  The two acted as no one could
separate them, yet they writhed with jealousy for each other.  Both girls were pretty
enough, yet it was no mystery that Isabella was considered to be the most
desirable young woman in the town.  Most agreed.  So, of course, in Isabella’s
presence, Christian aimed to give Charlotte the greater deal of attention.

“I thought
mother wanted to see you,” Isabella said coldly, eyeing her sister in anger.

“That was
earlier.  She wants to see
you
now.”

“Liar,” Isabella
said boldly, her eyes harsh.

“So what are
you girls planning for this evening?” Christian asked, barging into their
bickering and making himself comfortable in a chair without being asked. 

“I have no
plans,” said Charlotte quickly.

“You know very
well that we are going to the theatre in Ashton with mother!” Isabella scolded.

Charlotte
shrugged and rolled her eyes.

“I’d give that
up to be with you, Christian,” she cooed.

He smiled
adoringly at her. “I could
never
ask you to do that, fair Charlotte.  Your
mother would be quite angry with me.”

Isabella
stared with rage burning in her green eyes until she finally spoke.

“Charlotte,
could I see you in the other room, please?” she asked through clenched teeth.

“Why, of
course, dear sister,” said the red-head with a mocking curtsey.  She smiled at
Christian, and he was genuinely amused.

Charlotte
brushed past him and Isabella followed.  Christian looked over at a glass vase
that rested on the nearby table until he became bored with it.  He sighed in
deep annoyance as he thought.  He didn’t want to stick around to hear the
result of the sisters’ argument.  He had gotten enough of these two already. 
They were fun to play with – like manipulating dolls – but there were hardly
any new games. 

Standing, he
peered around to look for a place to sneak off to.  There must be somewhere in
this huge house that he could hide for a few minutes.

Perhaps an
indoor entrance into the mortuary?

Conscious of
noises nearby, his attention was drawn to a door near the stairs.  He
approached out of curiosity, letting his interest take hold of him. 

Taking the
knob in his hand, he turned it silently and pushed it open, revealing a few
steps that led down into a basement hallway.  He eased inside, closing the door
quietly behind him in hopes that no one would notice.  The steps were silent,
and at the bottom, he tilted his head to see two long objects wrapped in white,
resting on carts that lined the wall. 

Corpses?  Christian
felt excited at the thought.  Perhaps it was simply the adventure of being in
this place that no one else had even seen, or perhaps an unacknowledged
fascination with death?  Either way, he was compelled to go closer.

Lifting his
foot to take a step toward the human-sized bundles, a door at the end of the
hallway opened and a figure dressed in black emerged. 
The reaper.
  That
was his first thought before he'd gotten a good look, but his initial shock was
replaced by interest when he saw that it was a girl.  

She was small
and slender, wearing a black dress and a large white apron, splattered with
blood.  She wore thick black gloves and carried a small metal instrument that
he could not make out.  Her hair was raven black, wound in a thick bun at her
neck.  He supposed she was around his age, maybe a bit younger.  Though he was
obviously not seeing her at her best, she was strangely alluring to him.  He
ignored the bloody apron and became interested quickly.  He had never seen her
before.

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