The Birthmark that Mapped Her Future

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Em. 

She lived in a castle along with her six other brothers and sisters. Everyone got along with each other except with her because she was different. She was born with a birthmark, big and pale, that mapped itself from her neck down to her shoulder. “It’s the devil’s child,” they’d call her. “She’s been marked by the devil!” 

The only time they ever played with her was at Em’s expense. They would lunge at her and reel back just as fast, to see who got closest without touching her. Once, Em tried to grab them back, but when she did, they screamed and stared at her as if she was a monster. She never played with them again and avoided them altogether. Many years went by and her oldest brother was eighteen and he was sent off to another kingdom. “He’s such a good son,” her parents would say. “He’ll do great things for the country.” Em didn’t know there were other countries in the world and listened intently whenever she could. As long as she was quiet, and stayed out of their way, she could listen for as long as she liked because her parents didn’t care for her anyway.

Then there was her fifth sibling, who was married to a prince at sixteen and she was sent off to live in his castle. Em wondered if she’d be married off too someday… And so, one after the other, her siblings left the castle until she was the only one left. She thought, maybe now mum and dad will pay attention to me, sense I’m all they got? She tried getting their attention by singing and playing the piano but they would just send one of the maids and drag her away. “They are very busy,” the maid would say.

Soon, Em stopped trying to make them notice her and stayed in her room, where everyone preferred her anyway. All day she’d read or sing or play the piano. Other days she’d just sit by the window and look as the world moved on without her, dreaming of being sent away one day. The only time she ever left her room was when everyone was asleep and she had the whole castle to herself. Unfortunately, the castle was very dark at night and she would jump at every suspicious sound, or shadow. She was especially frightened near the kitchen where she heard strange moans at night. She asked her father for a lantern but he wouldn’t give it to her. “What would you need a lantern for anyway? He asked. But Em wouldn’t say, fearing he’d lock her up if he knew what she was up to. Then one night, she saw something glowing in the dark. It was a lit lantern that was resting outside the kitchen door. Pleased with her find, she snatched it and ran back to her room, never considering it might belong to somebody esle. The next morning, two servants were fired and the noise from the kitchen went away. 

Many years later (when she was twelve) after coming home from one of her nightly adventures, there was an old lady waiting in her room. Em almost dropped the lantern because she thought it was some sort of goblin that had followed her. But as the creature turned, Em could see it was a person smiling. Her name was Emma, which was funny because that’s what Em always thought her own name would be if her parents had bothered finishing it. 

As it turned out, Emma was very kind and she’d stay with Em all day long telling stories or brushing her hair. “I’m so glad you are here,” Em said. “I don’t ever have to leave my room and feel lonely again.” 

“Oh? Why wouldn’t you want to leave? The night is yours, nobody is gonna hurt you.”

Em scratched her neck. “I don’t really like the dark,” she said.

Emma put down the brush and said. “Have you ever heard about Vampires?”

Em shook her head. 

“They are tall and handsome creatures of the night and they got their eyes on you. They’ll come for you, one day, when you are ready.”

Em jittered out of her chair. “Me? Why?!”

Emma caressed Em’s neck which didn’t help to sooth her because nobody had dared touch her there before. “They’ll protect you because they know you’ll do great things. That’s why everyone is afraid of you,” she said.

Em thought about it. “Everyone? Even monsters?”

Emma smiled. “Even monsters.”

“But then… Why aren’t you afraid of me?”

The old woman quirked her mouth. “I’m too old to be scared of death.” 

When Em was left alone, she thought about what had been said. If everyone was afraid of her she could do whatever she wanted! That very same night she went without her lantern. She knew the castle by heart and at first, she was scared without it but as her eyes got used to the darkness she became more confident. She even went to the tower at the abandoned part of the castle, where the Wraith is said to wander up and down the stairs. And lo and behold, she came back without being hurt! Ever since then, the night became hers and she would sometimes frighten others that walked the dark. Sometimes she would even eves-drop on her father’s meetings which she wasn’t supposed to hear: apparently, things weren’t going well for her oldest brother in the other kingdom and rumour had it he’d been captured and locked in a prison somewhere. For some reason, this amused Em, thinking of her siblings being locked away in a dark cell with nobody to talk to and she secretly wished all her siblings shared the same fate. 

Two years went by and she was fourteen. She was looking out the window when a mysterious carriage drove up to the door. Excited, she snuck downstairs to have a listen. It was an old man in his 40s that came through the door. He had a large beard and a dreary look about him. Her father frowned as he stepped inside and didn’t seem too pleased to see him. They went into the parlour where her father always had his secret meetings. Em climbed stealthily down the stairs, relying on the dark to hide her, but then the stranger suddenly turned and stared straight at her. Her heart froze and she shot back. He couldn’t have seen her in the dark, could he? She went back to have a look but they were gone. Em was too nervous to go closer and it didn’t feel safe sneaking into her father’s meeting. She decided to go back to bed where she lay awake, wondering who the stranger was and what he wanted.

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Curious Gaze – Very Short Story

In the woods, along the river Great, there was a cottage far from any other homes. The forest was dark, with deep chasms and gnarly roots growing in a patchwork of threads, and nobody would set foot in these parts. Yet there the cottage lay, lonely from any curious gaze; which was how they liked it. In this home, there lived three witches, and their powers were only rivalled by themselves, for they had passion in what they did – to outdo the other – and surely, there was none more passionate than they.

They knew secrets about the world (and others yet conceived by any other) and they loved to outdo one another in their spells. Puffs of green and red would spark in the night, for nighttime was the only time for magic, they often said. At day, the world was as it has always been – it is what we all see. But at night, it is different, and many secrets can be found where normal people don’t look. And normal, they were not, at least not in the eyes of one man; a straggler that had wandered poorly, taking paths he thought he knew – moving against common sense towards the witches hut.

At first, the puffs of colours had sparked his amaze! And without knowing its source and intent, all he saw was the beauty that was manifested. But as he got closer, seeing now the cottage in its dilapidated glory, shabby, and part of nature, he heard the cackles of the three witches as they congratulated one another on another successful spell. But their congrats were only half sincere, for they were proud beings and they would do better than the other and show who had the greatest powers. Though his heart new the voice only spelt trouble, he moved forward for he had not listened to his senses from the very beginning, why start now? It was not hard to get closer unnoticed, for though the witches were powerful, they were not without fault. They did not expect any strangers to brave their forest, much less approach, thus they expected none.

The man, now trembling, peeked through the glassless window, showing as little of his face as he could, and gazed only with one curious eye. The inside was as dark as the forest, but every now and again, when puffs of colours engulfed the room, he could make out what the witches looked like. At first, he had a clear picture of their countenances, resembling more that of a rat and hog than a human being. But in other moments, and between spells, their faces were different and they laughed in their cackling ways as they outdid one another.

“Good, good,” one of them said, only immediately to supersede the other by a motion of her hand and a few choice words. PUFF! The colours sparked, and their faces were different anew. Indeed, the entire inside was not as it were before, but a burning landscape of charcoal trees and panicked animals skittering! The witches laughed and peered at their making, delighted in what they saw. But the man who had seen all of it, his nerves finally broke and he sent out a shriek as if his very flesh was burning of his bones. But as he lost his grip on the wooden frame, he landed in the grass and felt the cool wind blow against his face. The cottage was again lifeless and part of nature. But it was also silent, as if though none was ever there.

Indeed it might as well be, for the man did not recall what he had seen. He tried hard to recollect but as he came out blank, he began to wander home, whichever way he thought was right. But within just a few steps, he crashed into a tree on the left part of his face. He was baffled, how had he missed the giant tree? He felt upon his left eye, the very same he had spied upon the witches, to only find a hollow where the eye should have been. A spark of pain shot through him, for though his mind was lacking, his body recalled, and he listened for once to his senses and ran as fast, and as far away as he could, leaving once more the witches to practice their craft without any curious gaze. 


© Christopher Stamfors

Artwork by ChrisCold