Read Part 1 – Calla
Read Part 2 – Tower
Read Part 3 – Beast
Read Part 4 – Rose
Read Part 5 – Quest
Read Part 6 – Banished
Read Part 7 – Transformation
Calla hated hospitals. She’d spent a good part of her childhood in them during the years her father was ill. He died when she was thirteen. A week after the funeral, when the phone had stopped ringing, when the neighbors had stopped coming by, when the house was closed-in and empty, stinking of days-0ld casseroles and wilting flowers, she poured herself a drink. A whiskey. Her mother was distracted by her grief, inconsolable, locked in her bedroom. The alcohol was like fire going down Calla’s throat, but she drank every drop. When the glass was empty, she poured another. And another. After she finished the bottle, she felt this delicious oblivion, like nothing could ever hurt her again. She fell in love with the feeling, chasing it desperately for the next decade. Her mother had tried, for years, to drag her back from it, to save her, but the pull was too strong.
Now Calla sat in another hospital, waiting for news of Edgar. Catherine was beside her, her legs jittering nervously, her steely eyes facing the doorway of the waiting room. She’d advised Edgar against having the surgery. She’d spent the past few months trying to talk him out of it, but he was determined. Even with the growth removed his face still wouldn’t look normal. There was much work to do. But this was the biggest hurdle.
Ash snoozed away in the baby seat at her feet. All of their things, the ones she wanted to take with her anyway, were packed away in the trunk of her car in the parking lot. Edgar had gifted her with a shiny new BMW a month before, thinking she was so far under his control that she’d never dare drive beyond the town’s limits. How wrong he’d been. She said her goodbyes him earlier as he laid in his hospital bed, right before they’d taken him into surgery. Catherine had just left the room, leaving Edgar and Calla to sit in silence, the only sound being Ash happily gurgling in Calla’s arms.
“I would have helped you, you know,” Calla blurted out. Edgar’s head whipped around. He looked at her, startled.
“What do you mean?”
“I would have been a friend to you. I would have agreed to help you.” She wiped away a tear. “I was so lonely then. That’s what I was thinking about that day, at the exact moment you grabbed me, how lonely I was. How sick I was of being alone. I would have killed for anyone, a stranger, to just…notice me.” She sniffed, shifting Ash on her lap. “You didn’t have to do what you did. You didn’t have to hurt me…”
“You would have taken one look at me and laughed…”
“I wouldn’t have. I know what it’s like to be trapped. I was trapped long before we ever crossed paths.”
She looked at his face, one of the few times she’d been able to see him without his mask. Whether he’d ever admit it out loud, she knew he believed her.
“What about Rose?” Calla continued. “Why did you have to kill her? You got what you wanted. Me. A marriage. An heir…”
“She humiliated me. Stole from me. No one does that.” He snarled, turning to face the wall.
“She meant you no harm. She just wanted to start over. You hurt her over and over again but she refused to turn you in, even when I begged her to come to the authorities with me. That’s the kind of person she was…”
“She was nobody. Just like you.”
No one is looking for you. His first words to her came back in a flash.
“When you come home, I won’t be there.” She rose from the chair as Edgar turned toward her again, his bulging eyes filling with tears. Calla was unmoved. She was afraid, more afraid than she was the day she’d been taken even, but she had to try. Ash couldn’t be raised in that house.
Dr. Knight, Edgar’s surgeon, entered the waiting room, a grave expression on her face that told Calla and Catherine all they needed to know. Catherine began to wail, a horrible, keening sound that filled the room. Calla felt nothing. Just the anchor that had burrowed in the pit of her stomach long ago finally lifting.
Dr. Knight pulled Catherine to her feet and embraced her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “We knew the risks…” Catherine nodded and sobbed into the doctor’s shoulder, muttering words Calla couldn’t understand. Calla couldn’t bring herself to comfort her.
Once Catherine had calmed a bit, Dr. Knight moved to Calla, hugging her as well. Calla found it all a bit strange. The doctors that had all treated her father seemed detached when they delivered this news, like they couldn’t wait to get away from that room, the sounds of grief. When Dr. Knight released her, she noticed a faint scar, pale pink, jagged, hardly noticeable unless one really looked closely, along the side of her neck, and held in a gasp.
What has she survived? Was she outside, when I spoke to Edgar? Did she hear? Did she…?
Dr. Knight’s eyes met Calla’s briefly, then she squeezed her hand and briskly left the room, disappearing into the busy corridor.
Calla turned down a road that was so familiar to her she could close her eyes and still remember every curve and bump in the asphalt. She stopped in front of a modest house, red brick with dark green shutters, one-story, a driveway stained with oil and full of potholes. She saw the blinds move, a pair of eyes peeking out. Calla scooped up Ash and made her way up the drive. The front door flew open before she even reached the porch. Her mother put her hands to her mouth, her eyes watering as she laid eyes on her grandson. She looked at her daughter. Taking in her clear eyes, her healthy appearance. Calla put her hand on her mother’s face. Her skin was so soft, like Calla remembered, and warm.
“Mom,” she said with a bright smile. “This is Ash.”