I WILL BE POSTING MY POPULAR BLOG SERIAL HERE FOR YOU ALL UNTIL IT IS FINISHED. Of note: all chapters will be posted here 1 day after it's posted on my blog. Full transparency for you all! And now on with the show!
So, I have a lot of skeletons in my closet.
Like, real ones.
And sure, I COULD animate them and make them move to the cupboard, but that would make aunt Wentle mad. And I can’t have her turning me into a bat.
The worst part about animating skeletons is how much they talk. And by talk I mean complain. A LOT. How their bones hurt, how it’s bone cold in the cupboard. how it rattles their bones when we push them out of the way when we’re in a hurry. They really love making their puns. Which is fine, except it’s the same ones. Every. Single. TIME.
I sighed and quickly shut my closet. Only one person in the whole cottage screeched my name in that gritty, ear curling way.
"AGATE WHERE ARE YOU?!”
And only one other person could sound like she was drowning in a bucket of sadness when she talked.
“I’m up here.” I mumbled the words, but I knew they could hear me. It’s a shame, because you’d think if they had such awful, loud voices, they’d have bad hearing to compensate. Sadly, they could hear a pin drop even if trolls were dancing up a storm.
“Why are you up here, you selfish thing!?” Aunt Wentle sneered. Not said. Sneered. She sneered all of her words. “You’re supposed to be adding lace to Snowflake’s dress!”
Snowflake was my cousin. My aunt Wentle named her that in hopes that she’d be as delicate as that horrible stuff that falls from the sky. Snowflake more or less looked like a stone with moss growing on top of it. She walked like it too.
“Yeah!” Snowflake said in a wet-rag sob. “How will I make the Dark Prince notice m-me if you don’t ma-make my dreeeesss?!”
I winced as she ended on a high pitched wail. Aunt Wentle was giving me such an evil glare I would have sworn she was the rightful ruler of the Dark Forest. Which, consequently, she was.
“I’m sorry Snowflake. I’ll add cobweb lace from the blackwidow stash in my closet, alright?”
“Really? Y-you’re special lace that sparkles with poison?”
“Yes.” I tried not to sound bitter. “I’ll add it to the cuffs of your dress.”
“OH Aggie, you’re the best!"
Before I could stop her, my cousin hugged me with her cold, clammy, rock-like arms. I hated when she hugged me, because if she was a rock, I was a twig. And rocks crushed twigs. She thudded out of my room in her version of a waltz and aunt Wentle sniffed her long crooked nose at me. Her dark eyes were massive due to her thick glasses, but it didn’t do any good. She was mainly blind, and no glasses or magic had been able to fix it yet.
“Agate, when your mother and father died in that horrible fire five months ago, I took you in, and I certainly didn’t have to!”
“AUNT WENTLE.” She boomed. “You’re not a baby, young man, so stop using that insufferable word! I could have turned you into a newt and been done with you, you know.”
“I understand that Aunt Wentle.”
“I hope you do. Your parents left you nothing. Not a poisoned apple, not a magic wand, not even seven league boots! It’s a disgrace to our name! Now hurry with that lace, we leave for the ball in three hours!”
What Aunt Wentle wasn’t saying was that she wanted to throw me out but couldn’t because, unlike Snowflake, I could cast spells. Real ones. And it made her black heart even blacker. Which is what happens when all you do is black magic. I believe in diversifying. But aunt Wentle doesn’t know what that word means.
After she left my room I waited until I heard her footsteps hit the last creaky step before I dared to make a face at the door she closed. I hated it here. I hated having to be subservient to a wet rock like Snowflake. The only good thing that had come out of it all was that I had access to Aunt Wentle’s spell book, and could sneak into it to learn new spells. One spell taught you how to reanimate a person’s limb. They couldn’t feel anything with it, and it’d rot eventually, but they got it back for a little bit. I used that spell and tinkered with it to make clothes instead.
Because if Aunt Wentle and Snowflake thought I’d sew any of her dressses by hand, they were crazier than a bat in a giant’s ear.
Snowflake’s dress was lying on the one chair I was allowed to have. It also doubled as my bed when the floor got too cold. The dress was pretty, if I did say so myself. Not that I knew much about fashion. But Snowflake seemed to like it, so I guess I had some sort of talent. It was made of silk, dyed with dark green swamp slime that added a nice sheen to it. It had puffed sleeves--that I now had to add my precious poison lace to--and the gown billowed out.
On any other person it would have looked wonderful. On Snowflake it looked like she was drowning. And believe me, I tried everything. But like I said, she’s rock.
I could hear the front door slam, signaling Aunt Wentle had gone to wander the woods to hand out poison apples to children and I breathed a sigh of relief. now I could say the spell and she wouldn’t hear. Taking the black lace from dresser I laid it on the dress and pointed to the puffed sleeves.
“Black of heart
Cold as stone
To be reborn”
It wasn’t my most rhymiest of spells, but it did the trick. The two pieces of lace gave a little shiver and then wriggled like worms towards the sleeves, attaching themselves neatly around each one. For good measure I added some at the bottom of the dress to make a pretty rose. For some reason Snowflake really liked roses. I don’t know where she’d seen one though, nothing like that grew in the Dark Forest.
But I don’t question things like that. Knowledge is a dangerous thing, and you’ve got to be careful about what kind of knowledge you acquire. Spells and hexes are one thing. Knowing peoples deepest, darkest, thoughts and secrets can often leave you dead. And I liked living. Well, usually.
With the dress completed I got my own clothing ready. It might not seem like it, but clothes for men are tricky. First you have to make sure your breeches are padded just right. And when you’re thin like me, it’s important to know what does and doesn’t work for you. Tight fitting shirts make you look like a skeleton and peasant shirts are too baggy and make your arms look like toothpicks. I had managed to make a black poet’s shirt with billowing sleeves and tightly buttoned cuffs that I tucked into my black leather gloves carefully, otherwise it would pucker. My black boots were shined and I’d even managed to magic in a wonderful black coat.
In the cracked and mostly dusty glass window I could just make out my dim reflection. If I bent to the left, I wasn’t as warped looking. In fact, I looked....almost normal again.
“Agate, is the dress--oh. Oh my!"
I spun around. Snowflake stood in the doorway, staring at me as if I’d sprouted three heads. I couldn’t look that terrible. I glanced down at my shoes. No, they weren’t crooked, and nothing was out of place. I definitely looked ready.
“Am I missing something?”
“Oh, well...” Whatever Snowflake was going to say she stopped, because she saw her dress waiting for her. “It’s beautiful! Just what I’d imagined in my mind!”
Without even stopping to think that I might be offended--or embarrassed--she was out of her clothes and into the dress faster than I could think of a spell to make my eyes not remember what I’d just seen.
“Aggie, it’s beautiful!”
Well...it was. But Snowflake, poor, poor cousin Snowflake, looked like a rock with more moss than it knew what to do with. If I told her the truth she’d burst into tears and make my life miserable. If I didn’t, I’d make all the people in court miserable. I was going to break the news to her gently, because I actually did feel bad for her, except Aunt Wentle came in then.
I held my breath. Maybe she’d tell her daughter. I might get turned into a bat again, but at least I wouldn’t be the bearer of bad news.
“You look gorgeous, my little snow pile!”
“Why, the Dark Prince will be a puddle at your feet!”
I was at a loss for words, but I wasn’t given a chance to try to find some, because Aunt Wentle turned to me and stepped close. So close that I could smell hints of the Dark Forest on her clothes and a strange, sickly sweet scent. Probably from the poisoned apples.
“Why do you have on such fancy clothes, boy?”
“Well, I figured I was going too.”
“When did you ever hear me include you?"
I thought quickly. She was right. She’d never once asked me if I wanted to go--or told me I was. I tried not to blush. My face often turns red when I’m mad, but I’ve been working on that. I pressed my lips tightly together and counted to ten. Then I counted to ten again .And all the while aunt Wentle had her dark gaze fixed on mine, daring me to say something.
“You can’t go.” Said Snowflake.
“That’s right.” Aunt Wentle sniffed, and stepped back. “You’re name never came on an invitation.”
“Because I wasn’t living here when they did.”
“So?” Taking Snowflakes hand aunt Wentle tugged her out of the room. “You weren’t invited and that’s that. Watch the house and make sure that you keep those godawful scorch-slugs off our porch.”
With a swish of her dark cape and purple dress--that was a really bad color for her skin--Aunt Wentle dragged Snowflake out of my room, down the stairs, and into the carriage pulled by the charred skeletal remains of once living horses. Aunt Wentle told me they’d belonged to a princess who had been foolish enough to try and take a shortcut through her woods. As I watched the black carriage roll away I tugged my coat off and threw it to the floor. The one good thing I’d had to look forward to. The one thing that my mother and father had promised they would take me to, had been snatched away again.
A strange feeling fluttered in my stomach and slowly made it’s way up my chest, spreading to my fingers. The scent of burning leather wafted to my nose and I curled my fingers. I’d almost lost control again. But I wouldn’t. Not now. Not yet.
I gazed at my reflection for a moment. Caught a glimpse of a my dark eyes and the orange light that flickered in them. I closed them and when I opened them again the light was gone. Beyond the window the blue will-o-the-wisps were bobbing deep into the forest to lure unsuspecting people into the Dark Forest.
Grabbing my coat from the floor I headed downstairs. Without my asking, the door of the cottage flung open. The reaching, clawing hands of the Dark Forest stretched towards me as I buttoned up my coat.
If aunt Wentle thought I was going to obey her, or feared her woods, she’d picked the wrong opponent.
I suppose she hadn’t heard the rumors yet.
The Dark Prince didn’t like princesses.
And, as it happened, neither did I.