This is the first part of a story I wrote straight off the back of Deadlier Than The Male getting published. I wanted to be certain I wasn't a 'one hit wonder' and I could actually write something other than one good Werewolf story.
Reading through this, I realise it's not been edited and is more a Work In Progress (WiP) so please take that into account.
The little kitchen girl was carrying a large metal pot in her arms, it was too heavy for her and she was struggling with the bulk of it. As she walked past the fireplace, as always wary in case she stumbled into the coals, she saw something in the steam of the huge cooking pot that was suspended above the fire, constantly on the boil. Fascinated, she put down the metal pot and leaned as close to the fire as she could without singeing either her tatty and ragged hem or her shins and feet.
Through the steam billowing about her face, she could see something and she concentrated. There was another girl in another place and Katherine thought that she looked familiar. Then, though she was level with Katherine, the girl looked down, as though into a pool, her hair falling forward and she stared right into Katherine’s eyes, Katherine saw her own mirror image looking back. She was holding her breath as their eyes met over the unfathomable distance. A shock of recognition that she had not expected jolted her out of her reverie and the image melted as her breath, expelled in a gasp, dissipated the vapours from the boiling water. She felt a moment of vertigo and swayed forward towards the heat of the bubbling pot. Her eyes closed without her realising as a wave of nausea took hold.
She was disoriented and stood upright but overbalanced and swayed on her feet, stepping backwards to compensate. She stepped on something softer than the floor.
“Watch what you are about, clumsy dolt!” The screech came from the cook, she was creeping up on Katherine to catch her day-dreaming but Katherine stepped onto her gout-swollen foot. The cook slapped Katherine but because they were so close together, it was more of a push and Katherine, already off-balance, fell forward. Her hands were outstretched in an instinct to save herself as she fell, but the fire was waiting.
There was a sharp and terrible sizzle, she smelled burning hair, skin and flesh and then heard a piercing scream that tore at her very soul. It was a second or so before she realised the screaming was her own.
She was still screaming as someone pulled her backwards, out of the flames. She felt cold water hit her as someone else threw the mop-bucket water onto her burning clothes and her arm was held tight and then forced down and she resisted but she felt soothing cool water as the pain in her hand was quenched.
“Stop that noise!” The cook yelled again, but it would not quieten the girl this time, she was too badly injured.
Then Katherine passed out.
It was still dark when she awoke but there was nothing unusual in that, she was always awoken before it was full light outside.
Since she had been sent away by her father to become a servant, Katherine had to be up at daybreak each day to tend her chores, which included maintaining the kitchen and scullery fires. If a fire was out, which was more often than not, she had to rake the ashes, set the kindling and relight it and all before getting on with her other tasks.
Blinking her eyes, Katherine realised that she was not in her usual bed and she also knew what had woken her. Her whole arm throbbed but the pain intensified just above the wrist where it flared out into a bright and angry agony.
She moved and a familiar scream tore itself free from her raw throat. Her bandaged hand had been weeping during her sleep. So much had it wept that it had leaked through the grimy fabric and soaked onto the filthy blanket she slept under, sticking blanket and bandage together with scabbed blood and dried, crusted pus.
As she had moved, the blanket that was caught under her body pulled at her melted hand, renewing her agonies.
A large and rough hand was clamped to her mouth.
“Shut up!” A voice she did not recognise hissed at her.
She could not stop the tortuous sobs and the man yanked her to her feet and pushed back the fabric that was draped in front of the door, opened it and forced her outside into the damp morning air.
Dizzy from the pain tearing through her hand in nauseating waves, she wandered away from the doorway. The cold morning air revived her a little and as she approached the trickle of a stream, she knelt to bathe her hand in order to loosen the encrusted fabric from it.
The cold water washed over both hands. As she worked the bandage off, pieces of debris also came away, charcoal and ashes floated from the red lump of destroyed flesh. A flap of skin wafted in the eddy then broke off and followed the other waste. At last the hand was as clean as she could manage and she withdrew her left hand, allowing the ruin of her right to succumb to the searing ecstasy of cold and then, merciful numbness. She bent her head low, her hair dipping into the stream on her left, but not on her other side. She looked to her right to see where her hair should have been and was dismayed to see the shrivelled ends where it had been scorched by the fire. Her clothes were also singed and burnt. She touched her face as though to check that it too had not been burnt. Her fingers told her that it had not been burnt but the skin on her face told her that she had been scorched. The skin was warm to the touch and felt stretched and tight, she had been lucky in that respect then.
Because her hand was by now numb, she found she was no longer distracted by pain and her thoughts could reassemble themselves into some kind of order. She realised that she did not know where she was or who the man that had pushed her outside could be. She concentrated and thought back to the previous day and realised that she had fainted, but could only guess that she had been taken to someone’s home in order that her injuries could be hidden.
“I don’t know who they are hiding me from; my father would not be interested,” she muttered to herself and droplets of salt water dripped off the end of her nose as she gave herself over to self-pity.
“Now if that is true, then it is a shame indeed, for I see you have great potential
Katherine.” The voice at once startled yet soothed her. She kept her hand in the flow of the stream, but caught her hair in her left hand to keep it from her eyes as she looked around.
Her fanciful imagination conjured an image of a handsome young man on a magnificent bay stallion, come to whisk her away.
Instead, she saw a tall, cloaked figure – silhouetted before the rising sun which dappled light through the trees surrounding them. She had to strain her neck to see him until he stepped closer. He knelt beside her and took her damaged hand from the stream.
She pulled away for fear of the pain, but the water was ice cold and she had immersed it for a long time, the lack of sensation remained.
Images from Pixabay