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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Moonfall

The frozen night was filled with menace. An owl hooted, its call eerie and desolate. Icicles hung from the skeletal trees like the bared fangs and talons of some fantastical creature. All at once the silence was shattered by the thundering of horses’ hooves on the cold ground as a carriage hurtled along the road. Overhanging branches clutched at the vehicle as it made its way through the forest but nothing could impede its passage. The driver whipped the horses and they galloped on, drawing ever nearer to their destination.


       Black spires clawed at the sky as an imposing fa├žade hove into view. The carriage rounded a turn and headed up a long and winding drive towards the dark stone manor house where a guard was waiting to unlock the heavy iron gate. Like the arms of a metal giant, the gate swung open, shrieking on its rusty hinges. A pale face peered out from within the carriage as it drove past the carved plaque on the gatepost. THORNCROFT ASYLUM FOR THE INCURABLY INSANE.


       When they reached the front door the driver reined the horses in. They stamped and snorted like captured dragons, their breath steaming. A tall gentleman stood in the shadows of the arched doorway. He gave a single nod and the coachman opened the door of the carriage. Two other men hastened to assist the occupant out.
       

The young woman blinked in confusion, feeling as though she had just woken from a strange dream. She had only a vague memory of the journey and it took her a moment to register where she was. She struggled at first, but the men were strong and she knew she had no hope of resisting their firm grip.
       

“Come along, miss,” one of them said, not unkindly. “You’ll be quite safe inside.”


       Madeleine Chancery allowed herself to be lifted from the carriage and she puzzled at the strange sensation as her bare feet touched the snowy ground. Where were her shoes? A glance down at herself showed that her dress was in tatters. She caught her reflection in the gleaming shell of the carriage and gave a startled little cry. She looked a fright. Her hair fell in wild blond tangles about her face, which was smeared with mud.
       

“Mrs Chancery.”


       The tall man descended the steps and Madeleine peered up at him. She knew him, of course. Dr Charles Thorncroft. James’s brother. Panic leapt in her chest. Had he seen them together? Did he know of their trysts? Worse: had he told her husband?
       

But instead of accusing her, he extended his hand as though she were alighting at the home of someone hosting a midnight ball. “Welcome, my dear,” he said. “You will be very comfortable here. Of that I can assure you.”


       Dazed, she offered her own hand without thinking and he took it, frowning slightly at the sight. It wasn’t just dirty; it was streaked with what looked like dried blood.


from "Moonfall" by Rose de Fer


Available in Darker Edge of Desire, edited by Mitzi Szereto