Blindfold by Sophia D., 9-11 category, from the Maple Valley Library.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
It was Mary Shelley now that she’d married, but I’d grown so accustomed to her name that I sometimes wrote it instead of my own. Besides, Hester sounded ugly.
Mary, my favorite sister, was sharp as steel, and excelled in every subject her eyes laid upon. Claire was charming and sweet, as elegant as a lady could possibly be. Even Fanny, who’d died a few months back, was beautiful, I’d heard.
I could only hear of her beauty. It was a darkness I had to bear, and for a family like the Godwins, it was a horrible disgrace. I was blind.
“Hester, it’s a shame you cannot see this scenery,” Claire said, a
hinge of mockery in her voice. “Geneva is beautiful, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
I smoothed out my dress, but my hands shivered. “Yes, I imagine so.”
Mary started to describe the landscape to me, inch by inch. A newly-wed bride, Mary was especially cheerful, and I was truly happy for her. If not for that nincompoop Percy, I might’ve thoroughly enjoyed their marriage.
“Oh Mary, how kind of you,” Percy mused. He was a witty man, with a strange air of secrecy and a honed tongue. “What are you reading, dear wife?”
My sister shrugged it off. “Nothing substantial.” She placed the book next to my seat.
I placed my finger on the book cover and traced out the embossed letters.
A N-O-V-I-C-E-’S G-U-I-D-E T-O M-E-D-I-U-M-S-H-I-P
“Here we are!” Claire cried, interrupting my thoughts. “The Villa Diodati.”
2 nights later . . .
The bad weather kept us inside for days, though Lord Byron informed us that it would not last long. Everyone left me alone, and the house rang with a dull emptiness.
But there was hope for today. Lord Byron had forced everyone out of their rooms and announced that he had something special to share. It was late though, so Mary sent me off to bed and hurried to the discussion curiously.
The first few minutes were seldom worth listening to. It was mostly jokes and some friendly exchange. But then Claire inquired what Lord Byron had to share, and I could no longer hear his hushed voice from my bedroom.
I peeked out from behind a vase. It was best to stay beneath the sconces, where the light shown upward and I couldn’t be seen in the darkness.
“I have a proposition,” Lord Byron said. “And I’m sure it shall interest you.”
“Whatever it is, please tell us, my lord,” Claire cooed.
Lord Byron grinned. “We are each to write a ghost story. It is a
competition, and the most daunting, blood-curdling story shall win.”
The adults oohed and aahed. Lord Byron continued. “It must be of your original work, and shall be submitted by the end of your stay.”
“This shall certainly uplift my spirits, my lord,” Mary laughed. “What an idea. I’ll get to working right away.”
And so they prattled on and on, until the subject of discussion stranded far from ghosts and stories. I groped my way back to my room, closed the door as silently as I could, and drifted to sleep, excited to witness this new competition.
In the morning, I pretended to not be aware of the contest, but it didn’t take long for the news to spill.
After that, days went by ordinarily, and nothing particularly important happened. Mary had shut herself off from the rest of the world, and the writing competition became her life force. I knew my sister well, and I knew she was determined to win. No doubt she would.
As if he had any care for Mary, Percy instructed that I deliver biscuits to her room. She can be so obsessive, he insisted.
I was no serving girl, but the favor was hard to refuse. He placed the saucer in my palm, and left to me to fumble up the stairs.
Mary’s room was easily recognizable, with an elaborate knob and floral etchings on her door.
I pressed my ear to the keyhole, but the noise was not what I had expected.
It sounded like some form of ringing, but the kind of ringing that your brain conjures and is not actually real. Except the sound I was hearing felt as if it was crossing into reality.
“Sister,” a voice quaked weakly. My hands shook in surprise. The sound was barely recognizable, but it was Mary.
“It’s great to have you back,” she continued. “Tell me, is death getting boring?”
A soft hum, only partially audible, responded eerily. “Ah, Mary. How did you find me?”
Mary chuckled, sending gooseflesh crawling up my arms. “A
Novice’s Guide to Mediumship by Olga Lyebyedyev.” My ears perked, and something clicked in my brain. The book Mary had been reading in the carriage.
“What do you want now?” the voice rasped. “Percy broke my heart, and you took him as your own.”
“I love him!” Mary said madly, then calmed down. “I need you to help me. I’m writing a story about death, and who better to consult about death than my sister, who has met death firsthand?”
My sister. I had two sisters, one of which had been laying in a coffin the last time I’d seen her. Not only was Mary speaking to a
ghost, she was speaking to her sister. My sister. O ur s ister. Fanny Imlay.
I could feel the biscuits slipping off the porcelain plate.
Fanny made her move. "Then let me in."
Mary scoffed. “I can’t do that, sister. An attempt at possession could be lethal.”
Fanny laughed hoarsely, and it sounded like a pit was swallowing her sound.
Mary inhaled sharply. The tips of my fingers were so numb I could hardly feel them shake.
The saucer slid out of my grasp and shattered on the floor, spraying shards of china around my feet.
“This body will be of use in murder,” Mary said, cracking her knuckles. Except it wasn’t Mary. It was Fanny.
Percy shambled up the stairs angrily, having heard the saucer drop.
“You graceless girl!” he shouted.
I backed away, panicked, when Mary intervened. “Oh Percy, don’t hurt her. She’s blind, after all.”
It took me a few seconds to realize what I had just witnessed. This was Fanny, not Mary. Father once told me you can only ever see appearances, but that changes when you cannot see at all.
Clever as he was, Percy didn’t suspect a thing, and I suppose he didn’t have any reason to.
“Mary, I apologize,” Percy breathed. “I only hoped that your sister would develop some . . . refinement.”
Mary, or rather, Fanny, trotted over to her husband. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her. I’m done for the day.”
She gave Percy a quick kiss and dragged him down the stairs.
I suddenly feared I was going mad.
This body will be of use in murder, F anny had said. It was an ambiguous phrase, but either interpretation meant one thing: Fanny was going to kill someone.
Her motives were clear: Fanny was in love with Percy, and jealous of Mary for being able to win his heart. Meaning that
whatever Fanny was planning, she was planning on murdering a Shelley.
So I wasn’t involved. I wasn’t supposed to be, at least. As long as I survived, there was nothing else I needed to care for.
But it was a risk not worth taking. If Fanny was discovered a murderer, she’d dispose of anyone blocking her way.
I rushed down the stairs, rain splashing on my window. “You’re late to lunch,” Percy criticized. “Sit, Hester.”
I placed my hand on the seat first, checking for anything that could be used to kill me. Nothing.
Fanny stood up. “To mark the first week of our stay, I propose a toast!”
The adults stood and clinked their glasses, followed by Lord Byron’s gracious thanks. I was not of age, so I remained seated until everyone was as well.
I raised the cup to my mouth, when my stomach seemed to lurch at me. Reminding me.
I could feel Fanny’s eyes boring into my soul, but I put the goblet down surely.
I heard Percy coughing, and my suspicions were confirmed. Poison was a woman’s weapon.
I snapped my fingers.
The spell had turned me mortal, but now, wings sprouted out of my back. It had been years since I could see.
“How--?” Fanny stuttered.
“I know what you did,” I said. “I’m not blind anymore.”
My eyes adjusted to the light, and Lord Byron looked around, stunned.
“I know why you killed yourself, Fanny. It was for this. It was for nothing.”
I placed a finger on her forehead, and she squirmed around painfully, trying to resist. But finally, her spirit fled away, dissipating into thin air.
Everything happened at once. An apothecary cared for Percy, Lord Byron apologized to everyone, and Mary’s soul returned.
All of a sudden, the grey clouds parted away, and the sky was bright again.
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