Monday, 31 October 2016

Around The Cauldron - Fallen Angel

Sometimes, the things we fear the most are all too human...

Fallen Angel
by AJ Millen

Grace Bellamy stared at the bundle the midwife thrust into her arms. It was the moment she had so yearned for, and now she felt nothing but dread. 

The newborn infant would have been a thing of beauty and pride for any mother - but all she saw was a monster. An abomination she’d brought into the world as a result of the unholy pact she’d made. Its blue-eyed blink glinted with the promise of a thousand evils it would unleash upon the world, and when it opened its mouth to yawn, she saw a black abyss lined with sharp, teeth-like rocks.

“Well done, my dear. It’s a boy,” said Mrs Duffy, gently wiping a stray strand of sweat-soaked hair from Grace’s forehead. “Now, don’t you worry. This one is a fine young thing, as hale and hearty a bairn as I’ve ever seen.”

Grace stared at the kindly midwife, eyes wide with terror.

“Aye, my dear,” continued the soothing Aberdeenshire lilt. “Mark my words. No only will this one live, he will do great things.”

Eugenia Duffy thought she was reassuring the mother. She’d been at Grace’s side throughout the four births that had produced nothing but limp, lifeless corpses - waxen dolls never destined to live a day. Another two had lived a day, but no more.

She believed she knew Grace Bellamy’s greatest fear.
She was wrong.

In truth, Grace was facing her worst nightmare in the tightly swaddled bundle that Sarah, her trusted maid, gently took and placed in the cradle next to her bed. Mrs Duffy set about cleaning up and straightening the bed covers in preparation for the proud father to meet his son.

Grace let out a scream more piercing that any that had accompanied the agony of her labour. The midwife looked up in shock. Sarah rushed to her mistress. But Grace didn’t see them. She saw sinister horned demons, flashing blood-stained grins at her through a black cloud rising out of the cradle.
She knew what they were and why they were there.
It was all her doing.

When she’d realised she was with child again, her worst fear had been that she’d be planting yet another small, sad coffin in the family plot at St Wilfred’s. She’d grasped at every straw. Endless prayers and promises to the heavens. Countless doctors, both in Harley Street and in the London’s less reputable side-streets, whose patent cures and potions she took religiously. She even visited clairvoyants who claimed to speak to the world beyond this one.

One convinced her she was cursed. But, for a fee, that curse could be broken. They’d visited Highgate Cemetery and stood before the gothic headstone of Maximillian Colbert, illustrious businessman and – according to Madame Petrovna – a devoted follower of the Spiritist Allan Kordec. It was All Saints’ Eve, when the medium claimed the veil dividing the temporal and spiritual worlds could open to those wishing to connect with the ‘Other Side’.

Colbert had been a strong spirit, she had said, and would be able to help Grace produce a son and heir that would not only live, but would “do great things”. She had thrown herself at the headstone and offered her very soul – and that of her unborn child.

It was only when he heard his new born cries that she realised the price to be paid.

Through the dark smoke filling her bed chamber, a figure appeared. At least seven feet tall, black as pitch and with eyes that glowed red through the gloom. “You have done well,” it rasped. “My son is born and now it has begun. My kingdom will come.”

“No, no, no, no.” Grace wailed, thrashing about her bed. “You can’t have him. He’s not yours. I won’t let you.”

Another face emerged from the gloom. Ernest, her loving and long-suffering husband. But somehow, not Ernest.

“Calm yourself, sweet Grace,” he said, gently stroking her cheek. “You’re hysterical, my angel. Everything is as it should be. You’ve done your part. Now sleep.”

He bent to kiss her forehead and tenderly but firmly pressed a sponge dipped in something sweet-smelling against her mouth. The fight left her and she fell into a sleep haunted by visions of pagan monstrosities, apocalyptic battles and a black cloud eating the sun.

The sun was streaming through a chink in the curtains when she awoke the next morning. Sarah was slumped, snoring, in the armchair next to the crib. A blackbird sang in the plum tree outside her window. All that was left of the previous day’s horror was the tinny taste of blood in her mouth. Touching her tongue to her lower lip, she winced in pain. She’d bitten it raw in her hysteria.

A hungry cry rose from the cradle. Sarah grunted, shifted in her chair, and continued snoring. Grace rose from her bed, and walked to the crib.

Calm now. she knew what she had to do. Looking down at the newborn, she wondered at her terror the night before. Now, she was serene, certain. She had a sacred duty to perform. She would not fail.

Gazing into the blue eyes of the child in the cradle, she whispered “He will not take us” and took from the dressing table a long jeweled hairpin she used to hold her heavy locks in place.

“This won’t take long,” she soothed the crying infant - before plunging the hairpin through the lace gown into its tiny cursed heart.

FOOTNOTE: Post-natal psychosis is not a supernatural phenomenon. It is a very real psychiatric emergency and the quicker it is treated, the better. 
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering from it, seek immediate medical assistance. The risk is higher for women who have (or who have a first-degree relative with) a history of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective, and for those who have previously suffered from psychosis. If you fall into the above categories and are planning a pregnancy, do NOT stop taking your prescribed medication. Take folic acid on your obstetrician’s advice and seek a referral to a Preconception Care Clinic. For more, see My Story of Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Pregnancy 

(Photo credit: LensMan Nick, a.k.a. Nikos Paraskevas)

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