Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
A Good and Godly Maiden
Submitted by David Haire
A Good and Godly Maiden
The Diary of Agatha Hargrave
Father was cross with me today. Doubtless it is because I asked about mother again. I know I am not supposed to, as the memory of her is too painful for him to bear, but alas I have no such memory. I should have liked to know what she looked like, but Father keeps no pictures of her, for he does not tolerate idolatry, save for his own portrait over the mantle piece in the drawing room. I have been confined to my rooms and write this as I sit by the window. It is a blowy day with little sun, and the trees below the estate have begun to lose their fiery plumage. Father said we are going into town tomorrow, and I am so looking forward to it. With the last of the harvest coming in they’ll be setting up for the festival. I wish I could go out more often, but Father says that a maiden of good breeding such as myself mustn't stray far from my station in life. I suppose he is right, but I do get so painfully lonesome.
The sky was overcast when we went into town today, which is a shame because I do so love the colors of the fall leaves when the sun hits them just right, but the excursion was a welcome treat all the same. The people in town stared at us. Not boldly, but rather I could feel them staring when my eyes were downcast. I confess I must be quite striking among such common, honest people as they. I saw not a head of hair paler than mine, nor any other girls as uncommonly tall as I. When chance I caught them staring, many would whisper to one another, though I know not what. I think Father is ashamed of their whispering. Mayhaps I should be ashamed as well.
Father surprised me with a new dress this morning. I know I am not to covet material possessions, but how can I help but be delighted when he showers me with such fine things? Though he is sometimes strict with me, are these frequent gifts not testament to my father’s love? Why else would he dote upon his daughter so?
I always grew fast as a child. It would seem that I am still growing, as the dress Father gave to me not last November has already become too small. Perhaps I would not grow so much if I ate less, but I can hardly imagine fasting for even a day. Father scolds me when he thinks I’ve eaten too much, saying it’s unbecoming of a maiden such as myself, but I can scarcely help myself. Surely it is not my fault that I am hungry so often.
Father sent the last of the servants away. When I asked why, he said that they were thieves, though I can scarcely imagine Hilde stealing so much as a handkerchief. For as long as I can remember she and her husband have shown unfailing devotion and loyalty to my father and nothing but kindness to me, yet all the same if my father claims them to be thieves I cannot very well argue with him. Father would never lie to me. Still, the house does feel so very empty without them, so vast and hollow. It really was meant for more than just two people. Sometimes I sing to myself to stave off the terrible boredom that has settled on my life, but it always finds me eventually. I have not been into town in many months, and part of me fears that if I remain in solitude much longer I will forget how to speak to other people entirely. Sometimes I sit by the parlor window and look out over the hills towards the town. I pretend I can see them going about their day, living their lives, blessed with one another. But of course it is all fantasy scattered amongst the budding flowers of those spring fields. I raided the pantry earlier this evening. I know I am not supposed to, but I really couldn’t help myself. I do hope Father doesn’t notice.
Father beat me today. The pain in my arms and legs has not yet faded, and I shudder to picture his fury when his discovered the chicken bones beneath my bed. He scorned me as if I were a beast or some godless savage. I begged him to stop. I cried that it was not my fault, that I could not help myself, but he would not listen. How can I possibly make him understand? I hate myself for disobeying him, but I am so hungry all the time, and I have nowhere else to put the scraps of my indecent meals as the windows of our house are barred. Even now the hunger cuts through the stings and aches of my bruises and keeps me from sleep. If I am forced to endure this torment much longer, I fear I may go mad.
Father let me eat as much as I wanted at dinner this evening. It brings me great joy to know that he understands what I have suffered over the past months and to make up for it with such a fine gesture. What a marvelous feast it was, surely enough to have fed twenty people, and yet when I asked him he insisted it was all for me. I can scarcely recall how much I ate, but I write this with a full belly for the first time in what seems like a lifetime. Truly, my father loves me.
Father has stopped having new clothes made for me. What garments I have are fast becoming too small for me, and I fear to think what will happen when I outgrow them completely. Would he have his own daughter wear the tattered rags of once fine dresses, needled together into patchwork motley for want of proper garments? Or would he have me wander naked in the halls of my own home, confined to darkened rooms and corridors lest some passerby catch a fleeting glimpse of my rude state. At least he still sees that I get enough to eat.
Father has taken the down the mirrors from every room in the house. When I asked him why, he said it was because mirrors were frivolous tokens of idol vanity and had no place in a godly house. As strict as he is with me sometimes, he is wise, though he has neglected to remove his portrait from the drawing room. All the same, a pious maiden such as myself should not obsess over her own visage like Narcissus of ancient Greece. It would be lovely if I had some way to see to myself for the sake of dignity. Ever since the servants left I’ve had to do my own hair, and that shall surely be impossible without the aid of a mirror. If I could venture outside I could brush my hair by my reflection in the river. But alas, I have not been permitted outside in many weeks. I do miss it.
A gentleman from town called on my father asking about me. Though I knew it would mean a beating, I listened from the second story balcony. The man seemed angry and suspicious. Suspicious that I had not been seen in months. Father tried to placate him. He said I was visiting relatives in the country. It is not like him to lie, but I know he did so to spare me the shame of being seen as I am. Unwashed, hair a-tangle, and clad in ill fitting rags, I must strike a pathetic figure. The man didn’t believe Father’s lies. He seemed to think that something had happened to me. That something had been done to me. Despite the punishment it would mean, I called down to them that I was fine and not to worry. The man did not answer me, and left shortly after. Father used his cane this time, and I can still hardly sleep for the welts across my legs. I know it is a terrible thing to think, but sometimes I wonder if he really loves me.
Father won’t even look me in the eye anymore. He refuses to look at me, and often when I address him he refuses to answer. I know he is ashamed of me. I am ashamed of myself. The pitiful rags I’ve managed to lace together stink for having not been washed in months, and they drape and stretch across my gaunt form like spiderwebs over deadfall. I have grown such that I am forced to stoop through the halls of my own home, and must crawl through many of the doors. The only place where I can stand straight is the entry hall beneath the balcony, though if I wished I could pluck the chandelier from the ceiling. Sometimes I catch my reflection in the window glass and don’t recognize the face staring back at me. I know he is ashamed of me, and I hate him for it. God help me, I hate him for it.
I could smell the absinthe on his breath when he came into my room. I had been huddled in the corner, sound asleep, with the bones of past meals strewn across the floor. It was the first time he’d met my gaze since the last time he beat me, and the revulsion on his face could not have been plainer if he had spat on me. A month ago the venom in that look might have killed me. He was gripping his cane so hard his knuckles were white. He ordered me to come to him, but I didn’t move. As much as I would like to say it was out of defiance, I must confess it was fear that kept me seated in a tangle against the wall. He ordered me again, and I crawled forward on my hands and knees, eyes downcast and hair trailing through the rubbish of my sorry nest. He struck me. Again and again, he rained blows from his cane about my arms and shoulders. The cane hurt, but his words hurt more. He said that I was a monster, that I was not his daughter. He called me and unclean, rancid cow who blasphemes God’s work with my mere breath. He said such cruel things, such hateful things. I begged him to stop. Then I made him stop. I didn’t mean to, but in that moment I hated him so much and just wanted him to stop screaming those ugly things. It was only afterwards that I realized how small he was in my arms, how frail he had become. I took the keys from his breast pocket and buried him in the field behind our house as best I could. I cried myself to sleep that night. And the night after that.
I have not eaten in two days. I am delirious with hunger. I will go into town tonight after it gets dark. I am so hungry.
I ventured into town last night. As I had not been since nearly a year past, I dared not go during daylight hours. I briefly considered begging door to door, hoping that the dark of night would keep the worst of my visage hidden. I approached a farmhouse at the edge of town but couldn’t bring myself to knock. What if they took me for a vagabond and had me arrested. What if they recognized me and asked about my father? What if they treated me the same way he did? There was too much at risk for anyone to see me like this. I stole three sheep from their pens and ate them at home, may God forgive me. As loathsome as it is to commit such sin, I sleep with a full belly tonight, and as such for the first time in what feels like an eternity I feel some semblance of happiness. I shall make it up to them somehow.
I have made many trips into town over the past month. The third time my dress caught on the brier I cross through to avoid the road and tore itself to ribbons. Of the few sad garments that I have, it was the best. Well, least pathetic would be more appropriate. Since then, I have left them off during my excursions. I suppose it is just as well, as my amateur patchwork can hardly cover frightful state of my hair nor my skin. I must confess that I find the cool night air quite soothing, and with how tall and lank I’ve become, should someone perchance see me like this they might mistake me for a hallucination, a mere trick of the light, no more than a lone, dead tree. But no one has seen me yet. During the day I remain in the house and sing to myself to pass the time, but when night falls I steal down into town, loping over hilltops and through shadows like some fairy tale apparition to steal fowl and sheep. On more than one occasion, while running back to the house, I had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Sometimes when I go to fetch my dinner I’ll pause and look in the windows of the people I’m robbing. Usually they'll have gone to bed, but once in a while I’ll find a family huddled together by the fire, content only to be near one another. I miss my family. As much as I hated him at the end, I miss my father. And I miss my mother. I never even knew her, not have any memory of her, but I miss her all the same. I still cry for them sometimes, in the early morning after I’ve eaten and have nothing but my thoughts for company. This house, as narrow as its halls have become, is so vast and empty with none but myself to share it with.
I was caught. I was in a barn at the edge of town stealing goats when I heard the door open. I tried to hide, but there was no place to hide. I could only press myself up against the wall of the building in horror as the man shone a lantern in before him. He dropped dead from fright the moment he saw me. I can still picture the look on his haggard face, eyes bugged out and mouth contorted in the silent scream of his last moment of terror. I ran home crying, still seeing the old man’s grotesque visage even when I screwed my eyes shut. I wish I had taken the goats.
I could see them coming from the parlor window, a bright line of torches marching up the road like fireflies on parade. I knew it was because of the old man. I had gotten careless. I let myself be seen, but it is not my fault the man died. He might’ve died of shock to find anyone in his barn he wasn’t expecting. No. That’s not true. The look on his face. It was me. He died because of me. I tried to cover myself as best I could. Better that the victims of my crimes see me as a hugely tall, ugly girl than the monstrous pale creature I’d let myself become. I hoped they would let me explain that I had done it all out of hunger. They banged on the door and called my father’s name, ordering him to come out and face justice. It was cruel of them to tug at that memory, to make me relive that terrible day. But for all the wrongs I’ve done, I am still a good and godly maiden. As foolish as it seems now, I opened the door and let them in. They likely would’ve just battered it down anyway. They screamed when they saw me. Some fainted. Some ran. Some attacked me. Attacked me, who had done them no hurt, who had done nothing but keep myself from starvation. God forgive me but I was so angry I struck back. I killed two men outright, their steaming entrails spilling onto my father’s marble floor from the ugly wounds my fingers made in their sides. I chased the rest from my house, killing three more in the process. I wish I hadn’t, but I was so angry, consumed by a fury like no other I had yet felt. God forgive me but that was not the end of the night’s horrors. I didn’t want to, but it was as if I had no control over myself. After leaving the goats where I had found them the previous night I was practically starving.
I woke to the choking stench of smoke. I was an idiot to fall asleep after the events of the previous night, but the horror and exhilaration had been so much that closing my eyes had been like diving into a deep and dreamless sea. The townsfolk had returned with the daylight and set my father’s house aflame. I stumbled through the flickering halls of my home, crying, clutching this journal as if it were a talisman. I fled to the cellar where I hoped the walls of stone and cool air would shield me from the inferno. I hid at the back, trying not to breath the smoke as my body was wracked by burning, coughing sobs. My choice of refuge proved to be a poor one when the casks of spirits ignited, trapping me in what was sure to be my grave. I scrambled and clawed a the walls and floor, hammering with my fists, desperate to escape the roaring flames. I prayed for a miracle. And a miracle came. The stones beneath me gave way and I broke through into a narrow passage, scarcely big enough to fit through. I crawled on my belly, my hair and dress smoldering, until I came out into a cool, damp cavern. My burns, though sore, are not so bad, and there is enough light to write. I will be safe here.
I cannot be sure what day it is as I know not how long I slept. The passage I had escaped through had caved in and the stones were cool to the touch, so the fire must’ve been some time ago. A day? More? I explored my underground sanctuary and found it tunneled deeper into the earth. There can’t be enough light to see by this far in, and yet I can see. My burns sting somewhat, but the bruises and scrapes I managed to give myself during my panicked escape are probably worse. Silly, really. Since I cannot very well go back, I will keep following the tunnel down, wherever it may lead.
The tunnel eventually met with a vast cavern and I have not seen a wonder like it in my life. Not only is it large enough to stand and stretch in, but the hall is so vast I could leap as high as I could and not scrape the ceiling. All around me are pillars of rippling stone, as tall and broad as trees. They look as if they fell as waterfalls of cream and froze solid. But the best thing was at the heart of the cave. A wide, deep pool of cool, clear water, its surface disturbed only by the drip-drip of droplets from above. I threw off my tattered, burnt rags and waded in, sinking gratefully beneath the pool’s mirror surface. To my tender burns and aching bruised, it was sheer heaven. I bathed for the first time in an eternity, since before Father died. For the longest time my hair had been black with filth, but after I washed it and pulled the knotted tangles out it shines once again like freshly fallen snow. In the water, I can see my face clearly for the first time since the mirrors were taken away. Though my face has changed much since last I saw it, I have decided I am not ugly. After I had bathed I thought about donning the dress again, but it seemed like such a waste to dirty my freshly scrubbed skin with the pitiful, blackened rags. And besides, What need have I to feel ashamed down here in the darkness, my own underground Olympus. I threw them away. I’d burn them if I could.
So elated was I with my escape from the fire that I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had eaten until now. I fell asleep happy and pampered as a kitten after bathing but woke with a gnawing pit of hunger in my gut. If I do not find a way out of my cave soon, I fear I may have only traded one grave for another. I wonder, is it better to burn or starve?
Salvation! After what must have been days wandering through the branching caverns beneath the ruin of my former home I found a passage leading to the surface. I had spent so long in the dark that the moonlight was all but blinding to me. Had it been daylight I may have well crawled back into the earth, but with the night air on my skin I wasn’t just happy. I felt alive. The passage surfaced in the woods and all around me were trees as tall as a cathedral. There was a forest like this miles north of town, and I laughed with the freedom of it. But my hunger gave me little allowance for revel. With no barns to plunder I was forced to find my own food, and I did at that. I stalked and killed a deer with my bare hands, tearing into it like a wild animal. I snapped its limbs and sucked the marrow from its bones, giving thanks to God for this divine mana. The woods are beautiful in the moonlight.
All my ink is gone and what charcoal I could salvage is almost spent. I have been living in the woods for nearly a week, even going so far to venture out before sunset. As much as I’d prefer to remain unseen, it has been so long since I’ve felt the sun that I’d quite forgotten how kind its warmth can be. Before long I must venture back to the house to find something to write with. I shudder to think of having to go without my journal as I have no one else to confide in.
I found my way back to the house under cover of night, taking utmost care to avoid being seen. It was a sorry husk, a choked out ruin blackened with fire and spite. I could still feel the hurts my escape had earned me. How I hated the place. I searched the ruin, crawling over broken walls and through blackened corridors like a silver spider until I found what I was looking for in what remained of my father’s study. Paper, ink, charcoal, and pencils clutched as tightly as gold coins, I made my way out of the hollow ruin, until I spied my father’s portrait still hanging over the mantelpiece, miraculously unharmed. I stared at it for some time, searching the my father’s oil visage for some answer to the riddle I stood in now. The painter had been generous, had given my father kind features. Kinder than they should have been. I snatched the painting from the wall and dashed the frame against the floor, tearing the canvas to shreds. Let him haunt that ruin. It is my home no longer.
Even with the woods to myself I rarely ascend from my underground cathedral in the daylight. I know I need only share the woods with the birds but I feel safer at night, and that is when the best hunting is. I killed a bear last week. It tore a nasty gash in my arm but I was fit to burst from the meat for days afterward. Perhaps I shall catch another.
I came across a road cutting through my forest tonight. I followed it west until just before dawn, curious as to where it might lead. I was about to turn back when I heard footsteps coming up the other way. I hid among the trees as the man came up the path. He had a rifle slung over his shoulder. I suspect he was a hunter, or perhaps a trapper of some sort. He didn’t see me, as my shape is all but indistinguishable from the surrounding woods when I remain motionless. Had I not sneezed, he likely would’ve kept on walking. He looked right at me. Our eyes met and were locked for a moment that seemed to last an eternity. He shouldn’t have reached for his rifle. When his hand moved for the stock I said don’t. I warned him, but he didn’t listen. His boot knife made for an excellent toothpick.
I followed the road in the direction the woodsman had come from until it circled back to town. There, I left his things under a tree and, thinking for a brief moment, threw his coin purse in a nearby stream. If someone starts searching for him, it would be better that they think he was waylaid by robbers than come searching into my woods. It would be most inconvenient were someone to come across the entrance to my cave.
I went into town again tonight. Though I was scared at first, I soon found myself at ease, for the people there have far duller senses than the beasts of the woods, and I have become quite adept at remaining unseen. It is no longer hunger that draws me to the shapes of barn houses and the edges of lamplight, for I can find enough game in the woods and fields and a caged animal makes for very poor sport. That being said, two families have begun keeping pigs, and I must confess the taste is to my liking. But I digress, what draws me now is curiosity. Even with my beloved journal for company, I do get so very lonely, and sometimes when I watch them from their windows or the shadows of trees I can imagine what it would be like to sit by the fire, to have someone to hold, to have love and good cheer. Can I hope to possess such a thing, or have I wandered too far from that world?
November 19th-I see them when they think no one is looking, when they think themselves unseen. Some of what I see is painfully inviting, I will not deny that, but much of what I see is filth. At night, behind closed doors, these supposedly God fearing people indulge their basest urges. Lazy, unfaithful men who beat lazy, unfaithful women who in turn starve their hapless children. These are the godly folk who saw fit to burn me? They are swine. They’re vermin. A blight upon the earth. I could never seek companionship from such creatures as they. But their children? Pure, innocent, uncorrupted by their mothers’ and father’s rot. It would be so easy to reach into their windows and pluck them like apples from their beds. Such sweet, good, innocent things, I could protect them from all the world's ills, spare themselves from every cruelty I was forced to endure. I can show them real kindness. I can show them real love. I could make such a home for them in my hall beneath the earth, for I am a good and godly maiden. I would not eat them.