Prologue: That Day in November
I always knew she could not be trusted, she was after all a faceless phantom who hovered around undetected with only a false name to boast. Some told me I was merely enraged by the fact that she was smarter than me but I knew that wasn't the case. She took everything from me. I could not forgive her for what she did to me, and so I had to deprive her of the things she held dear most.
At first, I thought exposing her identity to the world would make me happy. I could finally reveal her darkest secrets and noisome stories about she created to fool all of those people. But it wasn't enough. So I decided I wanted to kill her. I had to make sure she would never haunt me again. Besides, no one ever comes back to the grave, right?
If you knew Ann Braden, I have news for you. She's never coming back any time soon. I made sure of that.
You might think that I am a horrible person for doing that to Ms Ann Braden. I have every reason to regret what I did because she was my friend. I am not a heartless person but I do not regret killing her at all. Before you try to judge me let me tell you my story. Maybe then you'd understand that I had no other options but to bury her memory into the deep, dark depths of the earth.
It all began in mid-November when the green grass had languidly turned peachy orange and the golden rays of the sun were surprisingly delightful to the eyes. The fresh warmth of the soon disappearing autumn breeze made me think of finding the best way to spend one the most tedious season of the year. I was there patiently observing the old fire glittering hearth as an intimidating expression revealed and concealed my eyes from my face as my usual fashion of hate increased a bit.
A lot of people said that my eyes resembled the ashes that glowed against the sea of sparks in the fireplace. I couldn't comprehend why they kept on saying that but I didn't care. My only focus now was the freezing temperature of the room more than usual due to the ardent gloom of my spirit. I felt as if I was being cheated by a certain woman who had nothing, not even a name to boast. Ann Braden was no more than a faceless creature that hid away from prying eyes, yet the town of Seagrave Pyne adores her. No one knows who she is or if she was even a female or a male for that matter. The only thing we know about her is her pseudonym: Ms Aneurin Braden. She was the perfect object of an enigma that captivated the little minds of the villagers. Her mystery made the people love her even more.
“I don’t think you understand. Ann Braden is just another writer who conceals her identity by using a false name. To be honest with you, she might not even exist at all,” a young woman of my age smiled at my words. It would seem that she's mocking me but I know she wouldn't dare. Eithne Morven is much too arrogant to disclose any of her disciplined emotions. I cannot believe she fashioned herself a veneer so unreadable, it can make you ask yourself whether she pretends to feel anything or she is totally devoid of having one.
Perhaps it is my imagination that clouds my rational mind. I just don't know why I was bothered by the idea that I am competing against a shadow: a ludicrous and worthless mist that blinds my eyes. I am a brilliant writer, but I never received even a modicum of appreciation from my readers, least of all my mother. I can proudly say that I am not envious of this anonymous writer’s success. I am only angered by how the people reacted to her pointless, empty works.
I briefly ignored her questionable expressions, for they were purely rhetorical and simulated. I have known Eithne for almost all my life. We grew up together in the same neighborhood, but existed in two different worlds. Eithne and her mother have been working for my family for as long as I can remember. I was nine years old when she first set foot in Crimson Wood House. Now we're both seventeen, and we still haven’t known each other. She wasn’t allowed to talk to me for she might cause great trouble to my family. My mother is obsessed in keeping her reputation perfectly perfect. I however, would not let her control my life completely, and so I spoke to Eithne whenever I could. There isn't even any point to keep us away from each toher because she also happened to my classmate.
“Ann Braden receives the grandest acknowledgement from everyone that she doesn’t deserve. She is nothing but a fraud. If she has nothing to hide, why can’t she reveal her identity? For all I know, she might be a plagiarist. She’s a coward” I could tell Eithne was perturbed with my contumelies towards the author. She couldn’t figure out the source of my unnecessary rage that stirred inside me and neither could I.
“Why do you hate her so?” I turned away from Eithne before I could answer her question properly. I soon realized my sudden outburst and horrendous accusations to someone who could never defend herself to anyone. For a moment I lost control of myself, and she resented myself for it.
“I... I don't know" she sighed. “She and I are not so different. I am as talented as she is, but nobody pays attention to me. Even Mr Harrington speaks so highly of her. I am a real person, but I am the one who's been treated like an invisible phantom.”
I tried my best to look calm and collected, I don't want her to think I was jealous of Ann Braden because I wasn't. No one can understand me but myself. I tried to distract myself by humming a short tune but the look on her face made me feel guilty. Oh great, now she thinks I am jealous. Maybe I sounded like I was but I promise I wasn't.
For a long time, I thought I was better than Ann Braden. I cannot tell Eithne or anyone else why I hate her so much. I know the answer to her question, but I simply responded the classic reply people use when they're trying to avoid from being interrogated further. I don't want to give myself away by sharing my innermost thoughts about Ann Braden. There is nothing to explain.
It had to be five minutes or so before I realized Eithne left the room and took her bag to head home. She must've said goodbye only I didn't hear her. I was a little relieved now that she's gone because now I wouldn't have to lie to myself anymore. I silently listened to the ticking sound of the clock. I touched myself to check if I was still there, alive and well. It could be only a matter of time before I am replaced by Ann Braden. If I only I could freeze the time and change everything that is needed to be altered. I would definitely remove that day in November when all of my troubles began.
I shouldn't be bothered by that any more for I can only feel its lingering effects now that a year had passed since then. The only thing that was left was the whole town falling in love with a ghost, my mother thinking I'm delusional for convincing her that her favourite author was an impostor, and my best friend Eithne believing I am compelled by her filthy existence.
But most of all, she took possession of the one thing I ever wanted. I wasn't the type of person who asks for anything until the day that I met him. He was my greatest wish, my one true love. For years I had hoped to speak to him about how I felt about him. I waited for that day and then there I was ready to pour out my heart full of love when he introduced me to her.
It was his birthday, you see. He asked me to meet him because he wanted to tell me something important. My eyes were blurring when I received his message because I thought he was going to tell me that he's loved me all along. I thought I was going to remember that month as the starting point of our love story, but I was wrong.
He could never love me, let alone see me because of her. All those years of madness and subtle declarations of love that were never reciprocated made me feel so foolish. I knew since the beginning that he only saw me as a mere stone. She took my chance and turned me into her shadow.
He even told me how he greatly desired to meet her. Her written words had resonated with him. He asked me if I know you, Ann Braden.
Of course, I know you. I've known you all your life, but I could never tell him that. I could never tell anyone about you. I will never be the bridge that will connect you to your dearest fans. You can never use me.
Not now, not ever.