[WIP] The Isolation Of Lady Changeling

Written by Eilidhan on 04 Feb 2019 20:28.

Written for the Prose and Poetry module on my English degree.

The scent of vanilla-infused wax hung faint in the air, even though the candles weren’t lit and hadn’t been all day. Spent matches lay cold in the dusty fireplace, splintered and damp. Lady Changeling opened an eye halfway, watched the shadow of the window grill fade across the carpet with the setting sun and muttered aloud:
“I do wish you’d draw the curtains.” Her voice was cold and stiff, crackling from age and disuse as the breath dragged itself across her throat with a sound like splintering steel.
“But the sunset is beautiful. It’d do you good to come and watch it,” replied the only person who had willingly visited this dilapidated house in three and a half years. They sat in the armchair by the open window, silhouetted by the glow of the evening sky. A breeze carried the sweet perfume of the blossom orchards up from the valley below. It was a sharp and unpleasant contrast to the stale air that filled the library. Lady Changeling scowled and buried her face back in the sofa cushions, the familiar smell of mildew and moths like an old, unwelcome friend.
As the peach-golden light faded to grey and the shadows of the mountains crept back over the world, the armchair-dweller sighed and heaved themself to their feet, with a perfunctory groan that was born entirely of habit and not from exertion. They turned and addressed the ancient sofa in the corner of the room:
“I’m lighting the candles.”
“Don’t,” snapped Lady Changeling. The figure ignored her, pulled a battered silver lighter from their pocket and found the nearest lantern by its small flame. Lady Changeling’s eyes were better used to the gloom, and she squinted silently from her nest of cushions.
The visitor slowly coaxed dust-choked candles into life all around the room. The guttering flames revealed snapshots of the life that Lady Changeling had chosen half a decade before, and what that life had slowly become. The wallpaper lurked unfaded behind tall shelves full of books in dead languages, and glass-fronted cupboards full of bones that had never played puppet to flesh and blood. A steamer trunk sat in the corner, brass-bound wood lined with blue paper. The lock was jammed, so the lid never quite closed properly. The whole thing stank so fiercely of verdigris and rot that you could taste it in your throat for hours.
At the other end of the room, long tables crowded in front of the alcove where the sofa lived, their surfaces cluttered with the instruments of a chemist’s and a surgeon’s trades, while the shadows of cruder, crueler tools lurked with among rusting propane canisters underneath. Unidentifiable apparatus glinted in the flickering light, some discoloured, some blackened by smoke. Shards of glass and mercury glittered in the carpet.
“Shut the curtains,” groaned Lady Changeling, “the moon will be up soon.”
The visitor clicked their tongue in marked disapproval, but did draw the curtains. The candles had settled, and now burned bright and clear, though the glass in the lanterns desperately wanted cleaning.
“How long,” asked the visitor, peering uncertainly into the gloom, “has it been since you last saw the sun?”
“Five minutes,” came the curt reply.
“Before that, I mean.”
Lady Changeling closed her eyes and genuinely thought about that as she dragged herself from the sofa. “A year, maybe two. Does it matter?”
“You shouldn’t shut yourself up like this.”
“I didn’t ask you here to tell me what to do.”
“But you did invite me.”
There was a pause. “A whim. I didn’t expect you to come. Everyone around here is terrified of this house.”
“You’re a dear friend. Of course I came. You’re going to make yourself ill living like this.”
Lady Changeling laughed aloud at that, and lurched forward into the light. The visitor winced visibly. The memory of their estranged friend from five years prior barely helped recognise her now. Only the eyes sunk deep into a face that was aged and warped beyond belief or reason looked right, and even the layers of loose clothing couldn’t disguise the form beneath as human.
“ ‘If thou beest he; but O! how fall’n! how chang’d’?” she quoted.
“Don’t make jokes,” breathed the visitor. “What in heaven’s name happened to you? Who did this?”
“I grew ill long before I came here. You remember. The cure turned out to be… worse, much worse, than the disease,” she said, sinking into the armchair. The way her joints creaked and clicked into place had unsettled her once, but she could barely remember life without it now. Something was always shifting now, as if her body had forgotten what shape it was supposed to be and was trying to find out through trial and error. The dull ache of her bones misaligning had become as normal as breathing.
The visitor pulled over another chair and sat down straight-backed, transfixed by the misshapen thing that spoke like she always had. They could remember her smile, the way it creased up her nose on one side but not the other, as it did now – but to see it in a face gaunt and swollen in equal measure was horrible.
“I-” the visitor began and abandoned. Of all the languages they spoke, none of them had anything approaching the words to try articulating their thoughts. They dug around in the deeper pockets of their coat and pulled out a battered envelope. It was sealed in pale green wax over the sellotape.

[unfinished]

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