Kissing was so romanticized. Growing up, I’d constantly hear the maids whisper about what dashing man they had kissed. I’d read in several books how precious a first kiss was. Kissing was even a big part of weddings, as if that meant something.
For me, kissing wasn’t so sacred. It wasn’t even something that I could partake in. For many girls it was a matter of great importance. For me it carried death.
* * *
Was out farmin’ t’day when I saw a lass fainted near the corn crops. She was a beauty. All fairy-like with the prettiest hair and rosy cheeks. But she had ‘em scars and ‘er face was covered in dirt. I did the best thing I could and lifted ‘er up and took ‘er inside our house.
* * *
I certainly was pretty enough to be kissed, or so I was told. The people who actually saw me praised my light skin and the gentle curve of my lips, my thin waist, my wavy brown hair. Some even went so far to say that I was a child of a minor goddess, and heaven blessed me with not only beauty, but intelligence and a rich, noble family as well.
These things were so trivial in the grand scheme of things. The angels themselves probably found it laughable that humans found wealth and beauty to be of virtue. And while intelligence wasn’t without its merits, I would trade it all to be in another girl’s shoes. A girl who could easily kiss anyone she wanted.
Sadly, I was born with this illness, though I came out like a normal child. I was a wrinkly ball of flesh, but still resulted in a cry of delight from the midwife and happy sobs from my father. All looked well. Father had gone to his study for ‘important matters’ and, after I had been cleaned, I was left in the care of my mother under the watchful eye of the midwife.
Then my mother, bless her, tried suckling me. Right after she watched her nipple wither and crumble in my tiny pink mouth. A second after that she cried out and nearly dropped me to the floor.
Our midwife had to dash forward and grab me before I hit the ground, staring at my mother’s deformity with shock and the baby cradled in her arms with terror.
It was speculated that a witch had done this. A witch had a bone to pick with my parents (who, I will not lie, have a very mysterious background) and decided to give deformed me in its anger. Perhaps it was gazing from outside one of the small windows at the scene, cackling maniacally as it watched my mother scream and sob. Perhaps it even predicted my father storming into the room minutes later, expecting some great tragedy. Not expecting that tragedy to be his own daughter.
Yet I was allowed to live.
It’s miraculous how things work out, isn’t it? Some would have considered me lucky. I considered myself to be misfortunate.
* * *
Mam thought she was gorgeous too. I was grinning like an ol’ school boy from ear t’ear. Perhaps I was gonna get me a wife, after she woke up. Maybe she’d fall in love just like all of them stories.
* * *
They raised me the best way they could.
They were religious, and made variations to our religion as a means to avoid any errors on my part. “To touch is to sin,” they had said. They made sure to put up fake biblical verses, saying that it was fine for me to play with the other children. I could even talk to them, if I so desired. But getting too close and kissing them was bad. My touch never killed, not once. But they didn’t want to take too many chances.
They already took such a big chance by letting me live. What they should have done is let me drown, even if it meant my breath would poison the surrounding fish and cause them to wither away. Intoxicating the water for all future generations. But surely, surely that would have been better.
Listen to me, wallowing in pity for the kindness of my parents. But things would have turned out so differently, so much peacefully if I had died.
* * *
We noticed somethin’ strange ‘bout ‘er later that day. Whenever I tried spoon feedin’ ‘er some food it turned to gray mush in ‘er pretty little mouth. So would the spoon. She could still swallow, aye. So she wasn’t in any great trouble. But Mam watched all worried-like an’ said we should call the inspectors and let ‘em watch over ‘er. Said somethin’ ‘bout witchcraft.
* * *
At the tender age of five, I had found a rabbit wandering our yard. I was immediately taken by it, drawn by its soft fur and the way its ears would twitch at random intervals. I had caught it and held it in my arms. And my young mind decided that God wouldn’t mind a little affection shown towards animals. Surely not!
Needless to say, in a short while all that was left was a headless rabbit, its fur flecked with gore, and a sobbing five year old girl.
I was forced to stay in our manor after that. Instead of attending regular school with some of the girls I had befriended, I had a tutor teaching me, and trusted maids attending to my every desire. I still got beaten when I failed to pay attention to my lessons by my tutor who I could swear was staring at me when I wasn’t looking, and the maids were suspicious of me and treated me with scorn.
At the same time, my parents were getting even more frightened. They rarely let me outside anymore. They acknowledged that, yes, I was their daughter. But I was also a walking calamity, a disease that killed worse than the plague itself did. And they had a reputation, and would rather not let the whole world know that their only daughter had breath that could kill.
Which was why, at the age of 18, I was still trapped inside our manor, left to mournfully gaze out at the outside world that I could never explore. After so many years I managed to memorize every crevice and nook and even all the small, dusty areas the maids had failed to clean (and refused to clean, for whatever reason). I had read all the books in my father’s personal library. I had almost become friends with my tutor, who could not for the life of him understand why my parents had been so strict, but brought me artefacts from the outside world for my hands to tentatively grope, eyeing me the whole time. On this particular day, it had been a newspaper—‘The Phoenix’. On the front was an article about slave traders.
“There are some interesting stories there that you may like,” he said. I only nodded in reply, gazing at a picture of a giant ship and sailor moving about. I wonder what it felt like being a sailor. Feeling the salty sea wind and fishing on clear sunny days.
The outside world must have been beautiful, I had thought. Filled with so many opportunities and adventures. If only I could go outside, too.
As if he read my mind, my tutor said, “Don’t you want to go outside, Racheal?”
I looked up and stared. Usually I talked as little as possible, as there was always a chance that my breath may somehow infect even those sitting a distance away from me. But my tutor was, as usual, staring at me intently with an odd look in his eyes. I found compelled to answer.
“I… I suppose I do, Sir.”
“Why don’t we go outside today?”
I was confused. How would that even be possible? “I’m… not allowed to. Sir.”
He chuckled. “I discussed with your father the previous night. He was fine with us going for a quick outing for a special lesson I had planned.”
I could hardly believe my ears. Here, right in front of me, was a chance to go out! To breathe fresh air and see human beings other than our maids! I could barely control my excitement, but, with a calm exterior, I said, “If father insisted, then so be it.”
And so, with my pale hand in his (at his insistence), he led me out of the house and down the small path that led to the dirt road that passed the manor. Smiling and commentating on the various fauna we passed, he gave my hand a reassuring squeeze whenever he saw that I was entranced by everything I saw. It all felt so different, being out here in the wilderness. The grass was soft and the sun shone down in a way I was not accustomed to.
The world really did seem to be full to bursting with opportunities to lead a better life. And, if my parents had allowed me to go out on this excursion, then that must meant that they would allow me to go out more often, wouldn’t it? Perhaps before long I’d be attending church and tea parties. I got excited all over again, even allowing a small smile to cross my face.
My legs grew sore before long. But I kept on following my tutor. Believing that we were going to soon come upon some rare discovery for my tutor to show me. Yet, we walked and walked, and he led me down a winding path that cut into a forest, and walked some more, and, before long, I grew tense.
“Where are we going?”
“Hush, we’re nearly there.”
“There’s no one else around. That’s not normal, is it?” He said nothing. With sudden realization, I said, “Why hasn’t my father brought an escort or come himself?” The first time we got my tutor, there was always someone around until they were confident that I was fine. Doing something this drastic without having an escort was strange.
“He’s waiting for you at the spot we’re going to.”
Something wasn’t right. Perhaps, had I been a normal girl who grew up surrounded by humans of various nature, I could have realized that. But I wasn’t, and I hadn’t.
Eventually we came upon a small shack that looked like it had not been used in years. I stared at it quizzically, sure that something was wrong. For one thing, my father was nowhere in sight. For another, I saw—
And my world went black.
* * *
When I woke up, I was tied to a wooden stake inside of the shack. I wasn’t used to being tied down or any sort of force used upon me, so no matter how much I struggled, I couldn’t break free.
“Stupid girl,” a voice mumbled from nearby. Swivelling my head around in a panic, I noticed my tutor leaning against a wall behind me.
“W-what… what is this?!”
He walked over to where I was and leaned down close to my face, our noses just inches apart. I fidgeted, but he gazed straight into my eyes, and eventually caressed my cheek with a long, pale finger.
My eyes widened. My reaction gave him a smirk, and he said, “I’m selling you off.”
I barely processed what he said. “Selling… me off?”
He ignored me. “You’re a beautiful girl. It pains me to see you looked inside your house, lonely and alone, and even more so when I remember who your parents are. The thought of you being a maiden forever chagrins me. So I’m finding a suitor for you.”
He continued on. “You’ll live a much better life with your new master. And I, in turn, will get some money. I have zero inclination of serving your family any longer.”
It dawned on me, then. “Slave traders! Y-you’re selling me off!”
I never thought that I would ever get kidnapped. I had read about young girls getting kidnapped in books, but, those were books. Those were fictitious. But this, my soaking clothes, the cold that seeped into my bones, and the ache all over my body was all real. The place my tutor touched still tingled.
“Though I suppose there’s nothing wrong with me having some enjoyment before I send you off. Despite your background, you’re a rather beautiful and intelligent girl….”
As his face got closer to mine, I had an idea. It was a horrible idea. An evil one. But one that would work, none the less. Fast as lightning, I planted my lips on his, and watched as his eyes widened. He drew back violently, his lips crumbling away, along with his tongue.
Gurgling, he did what may have been a scream. Then he fled, and I had a sinking feeling that he’d spread the news of me, somehow.
Pulsing with adrenaline, I planted my lips on the ropes binding my neck and watched as they disintegrated. I continued on, and, before I knew it, I was free.
Wasting no time, I ran off, my only cover being the canopy of trees and the twilight sky.
* * *
The witch that fled the Holmes’ manor, according to some respected tutor an’ what not, that had left ‘er parents for dead was supposed to be a beauty. Long brown ‘air. Rosy cheeks. Slender and wearin’ a blue dress when she went a runnin’. Just like the lass we had sleepin’ in our very own beds!
We didn’t know what to think. I finally thought I was getting’ a wife, but I guess I may’ve been wrong. I hope it ain’t so, but what matters is that we live, and the witch dies.
* * *
When I woke up in a small cottage later on, I was greeted with the anxious faces of an elderly lady and a young man. I was sluggish from what transpired, but I could remember the woman asking who I was. I mumbled my name, thinking that perhaps these people would help me get back home. The pair’s reaction made me think otherwise.
They were frozen for a while. Then the man, with a shaky hand, drew out a knife. My eyes widened. He intended to kill me!
Slowly I raised my arms to show that I meant no harm. But to no avail. Yet when I saw him lunge—the knife a silver blur—my mouth acted on its own.
Somehow, my lips met his wrist. I gave a kiss that turned his skin gray and made his flesh shrivel and wither. His entire hand fell off and fell on my lap! Blood sprayed the floor like shattered glass.
The woman screamed so loudly I had to cover my ears, before she fainted in a heap. Next to her fainted son.
I was shocked. What did I just do? What happened? When I finally realized, my vision turned blurry. Before I knew it I was stumbling out of bed, and ran out of the house.
* * *
I kept running and running. Not stopping to see where I was, hoping against hope that nothing else went wrong.
* * *
I knew when she raised ‘er hands she was gonna cast some devilish spell. I just wish I hadn’t gotten so close and lost a hand. I was gonna die soon. I could tell. I forced my limp, bloody arm to write the word ‘witch’ on the floor with blood. When the inspector gets ‘ere, he was sure to see that and know what was goin’ on.
* * *
I hadn’t known where anything was, from being trapped indoors for most of my life. All I remembered was running. Nearly screaming from what I had just done.
When I calmed somewhat, I was sure that we could get some help for the victim. My mother survived an injury from me, so this man should survive, too, if we got him the proper treatment. Perhaps he could get an artificial hand. I had read about them in books.
And, maybe, the people here even heard about the witch, and would help me undo the curse.
Around the same time I thought this, I spotted some men approaching a distance away. My heart leapt into my throat, and I called out to them, tripping over my own feet and knocking the wind out of me.
The men rushed towards me. One grabbed me and hauled me up to my knees, yelling something I couldn’t understand. For a minute they both stared at me, mouths gaping open, and one asked a question.
I was weary about answering. But I did eventually, saying, “I’m Rachael Holmes. I was kidnapped and was trying to find my way back home.” Home. Who would have thought I would crave something I used to be sick of so much?
They stared at each other, their expressions suddenly grim. The anxiety inside me bubbled up and I prayed that they’d lead me back to the manor, so that I could huddle up in a corner and hide. Forget this nightmare ever happened.
Instead, one of the men took out a handkerchief. And stuffed it inside my mouth.
We all watched it disintegrate.
My thoughts flew rapidly. How did these men know? Did the maids tell him? Did my tutor reach them and somehow tell them what happened? Who were they?
Before I could do anything, the man that shoved the kerchief down my throat grabbed my arms and held them firmly, while the other man wrapped something around my throat.
I can’t die! I thought, as the cloth around my neck tightened. No, such things only happen in books. Not in the real world. I can’t die!
While I saw my life flash before my eyes, I realized how truly wrong I was.