Some are inherently blessed with the ability to spin words into tales, as a glass spinner creates iridescent globes and faerie wings from the thinnest strands of molten sand. They can take the small components and, with ease and finesse, lay them over one another time and time again until the moment that the masterpiece is complete. At this point the light catches on a single aspect, and sets the whole thing shining and sparkling to all who receive it. All in all, it is a beautiful thing.
I myself am not equipped with such a gift, but one of my acquaintances some time back invariably was. The subject was of no matter to him: He could make even the dullest topics become a whirl of mystery and intrigue, exciting the mind and awakening the inner eye to explore. Any dinner party at which he was in attendance ended with all ears and eyes fixated on him as he described the plain, grimy world around us in a new light. He made it richer than any of us could have previously imagined, turning watercress sellers and hansom cabs into princesses and chariots of gold. Leaving the musty rooms we had been crammed into and entering the polluted air afterwards was always a treat, for for one moment the rot of the Thames spread the scent of lavender thrilling across the city, and the mist swirling around our ankles was cool and sparkling, a Queen Mab’s tool. Each morning waking up, however, we found the magic of the previous night much faded; indeed, the lavender smell was barely more than a trace of memory in our nostrils, and the dreams we had found slinking across the pavement were now dense fogs which we cursed as they obstructed our vision. We could not peel back the layer of filth our world was wrapped in on our own: We needed his tongue to cut a small hole in the seal and let us truly see.
One night, after everyone else had left to glimpse the world beyond our own, us two sat in front of a blazing fire. In it I could see visions of knights battling dragons and heiresses fighting desperately for their inheritance. The gold and blue stories in front of me were so enthralling that I barely noticed his cough. However, I did notice, and so looked up to find him staring intently into my eyes, into my very soul. A slight ripple of discomfort slid down my spine and I sat a bit straighter, intending to address him. However, my tongue was leaden in my mouth, and my vocal chords paralyzed. The most I could do was part my lips slightly and wait for him to speak and spread his enchantment over the dull. When he did speak, it was slowly, and after several minutes of my attempting to make a sound. His dark gaze remaining steady upon mine, he parted his own lips and let the velvet of his voice roll through the room.
“There is one story I have told none of you yet,” he said quietly. “It is not one I relish, nor one that you will, but indeed, it is a story, and no story bears not telling.” I remained unable to speak, and, taking my silence as an affirmation of my willingness to listen, he sat back and began.
“Years ago, I was met with a woman by the name of Rowena. She was a misplaced goddess in our world: She glided rather than walked, and sang rather than spoke. She had the beauty of spring and the cold of a winter moon in her eye, and spoke to none but me.
“When we met outside her chambers late at night, she would weave new meanings for all things into my consciousness: I would leave at first light to return to my boarding-house, only to discover that the epoch of my life had taken on a grey tinge that I never could dispel. While it was Rowena’s words that cast the shadow, for brief interludes they also banished them, and so I visited her with increasing frequency.
“One night, when I had ridden, desperate and feverish, to our usual meeting place, I saw something peculiar through the windows of her home. It was an odd, silvery glow, which also bore a vague hint of sickly green, and it shone from every crack in every curtain. Disturbed, I approached the door and found it ajar. Without hesitation, for I urgently required the life her words breathed into me, I stepped over the doorjamb and into her abode for the first and last time.”
Here my friend paused, and drew deeply from a large glass of brandy perched on his armchair. I watched intently, as if his every move would have some bearing on the tale he told. After drinking, he sighed deeply and plunged us once again into the storyscape.
“My first impression was of the uncanny cold: It was mid-July, and sweltering outside. At this moment, with my face bathed in the strange glow and goosebumps puckering my arms, I had a thought of returning, but it was an unbearable future that awaited me if I did so: The drawn faces of all I knew and the gloomy grey of each object I touched were enough to make me push forward into the light.
“As I drew nearer the lady’s bedchambers, I noticed that the light began to pulse slightly with each step I took, and that a darker mist was curling around the silver beams. Again, I thought to turn around, and again her words nudged me onward.
“At last, I was at Rowena’s door. It was of dark ebony, with a doorknob, it seemed, of bone. I looked straight ahead, seeing the lady in my mind’s eye, and reached out to grip and turn it automatically. The door swung open at once, and I was confronted with a ghastly sight.
“There was the lady Rowena, standing in the middle of the room, her arms extended and hair swirling about her upturned face. Her cruel mouth was open in a silent scream, and from it shone the light and from it poured the mist. It wove around her ivory fingers and formed nightmares at her feet. I had frozen with fear and could not run when she began to turn towards me and tip her head down. Her mouth remained open as she turned soulless eyes to meet mine, and raised a hand to let the mist cascade towards me. The first chilling brush of the black against my skin returned me to my senses, and I bolted from the room. As I rushed through the corridors an awful laugh followed me, standing my hair on end and moving my legs to pump faster. I reached the yard and tore to the place where my horse was tethered. I sliced the rope holding the straining creature to a fencepost with my penknife then leaped upon his back and urged him faster, faster until we were well away. The next day, riding cautiously by, I viewed a blackened shell of a home where Rowena had once dwelt, with no evidence of life anywhere around it.”
The man sat back wearily in his chair. His eyes sagged and a tear slid down one cheek. Regardless of his exhaustion, he continued his story promptly.
“It was a night of horrors that has stayed with me: It is only by convincing myself as well as others of the world’s grace, if only temporarily, that I keep myself from the blackness of despair.”
I reached out to rest a hand upon his arm, but he was suddenly invigorated, and shook it away.
“Leave me now: There is none more to tell, no words left to give. On the morrow, you shall see why. For now, let me rest as I am able, without interruption.”
I nodded and left the room, giving word to his servants not to permit any to disturb him. I slept uneasily that night, visions of mist and screams invading my dreams, and woke early to hurriedly dress and head over to his house. Upon arriving, I was stopped by multiple policemen from approaching. My query as to what had occurred received a perplexing answer.
“Seems the old bloke killed ‘is’self: Found a pistol by ‘is side and all. The window was open, too, like ‘e thought of jumpin’. Guess ‘e figured the bullet’d be quicker. Odd thing, though.” The policeman took a draw from his pipe. ” ‘E looked sort of sunken, you know, like all the life ‘ad been sucked out of ‘im rather than blown out.” Here he was called into the house by another officer, and tipped his hat to me.
“Good day, chap,” and he was gone.
As his back disappeared into the house, I caught sight of a creeping black mist out of the corner of my eye, and a strange, silvery light shone from an alleyway nearby…
I left London, never to look upon the house again. Sometimes, though, I find myself speaking like the man I once knew, see a creeping mist out of the corner of my eye. The awful truth is that he conferred a curse upon my soul, a curse gained from words and death which can only be passed in the same way.
A curse which chall be borne by my confidant, and his after him, until the world is cleared of any form of life and the words truly, beautifully die.
Carry it well.