Granny and Esme
(C)2014 Virginia Carraway Stark
Her skin was white as milk and pulled with youthful bounce across her wind chilled cheeks, Esme’s eyes were wild and blue like the windy sky. Granny’s eyes burned like coals.
“My dear, you must be ever so cold.” Said Granny, proffering her shawl to her.
Ellie laughed at her. The laugh of youth, the laugh of the careless, the laugh of a child who has never known the bite of the deep cold in bones that the marrow has grown weak in. Her laugh was free of malice or spite. It was innocent and it made Granny hate her all the more, or so she wished. She wished with all her heart that one callous statement could crush her love for the girl.
“Granny, you worry about me, and I’m always fine. I’ll get my cloak if I get cold.”
The old lady smiled with her wrinkled lips. She wished… She wished…
Granny didn’t dare voice what she wished as she looked at the girl she had raised from infancy with her hair bouncing and shining in the sunset’s red light. The old crone didn’t voice it even to herself. Thinking could lead to words and words lead to actions and her desire was too great. Her bitterness a well of cold and black water in her that was leaking outward and into all her perceptions. Even the fire seemed cold to her now.
She was Granny to Ellie and she would stay Granny to her until the day she died, or so she told herself that as she clutched her shawl around her. The wind was chill but the girl had been right to laugh, or so the crone thought to herself. The coldness she felt wasn’t from outside, the ground was still warm and the sun still carried life in its light.
The problem was clearing it from her mind, these ideas she had…
And the memories! She couldn’t shake the memory of her own skin as it had been, so taut and soft, like rose petals.
The thoughts raced through her head, never completely sleeping in her brain, “I had been a dewy eyed girl like Ellie was now, and what difference had there been between us? This silly girl who called me Granny, and the young girl that I had once been?”
That she had never been young… that was the difference. She had known in her heart that the bounce in her step would fail always ultimately fail her. The ease of her lithe fingers would crack with the teeth of time. She knew that her beauty was transient and it would slide from her face in puddles of skin that would rest against her neck and ankles and hips. The difference was that she had appreciated every day she had held beauty in check, while Ellie… Ellie threw her beauty to the wind with her long coltish legs, leaping and jumping like any child of the meadow. She didn’t know that it would be gone one day and all that would be left her would be her regrets. Even when the crone had been youthful, the fear had stolen over her, especially at night and during the waning moon.
Regrets. They whispered on the wind to her. They rustled in the grass. They crept up in the darkness and hid in her nightgowns. She knew the how of youth. She had the secret knowledge, all it would take was one little ‘push’, and she had done it before, after all.
Granny had already been old when she had come to the door and Ellie’s mother had been beautiful when she opened it to her. The baby had been by the fire and her Father had been out in the barn. Esme had stood in the doorway, her cheeks flushed from the fire, her hair, tied back, had fallen in becoming and untidy tumbles around her face. She had a smudge of flour on her nose.
The old lady hadn’t had a chance to knock, she had only just walked up the first step and still had a step to go when the door had been flung open and Esme had stood in the open door. Granny didn’t know what the young woman was doing, why she would have done that. Esme and Ellie were not the most practical, their hearts were what led them. Foolish, foolish hearts.
Granny had taken the father first.
She had been so old and so tired then, she didn’t feel she could explain herself to Esme and Ellie had been far too young then.
It was hard, to be so old and to find a way to overpower him. Her sexual wiles weren’t available to her anymore and she had little strength in her arms, but she needed him so badly, needed what little he could give to her that she had found a way. It was easier than with a woman, who expects to be preyed upon. His arrogance defeated him and she had pushed his ladder off the hayloft and he had fallen and broken his back. It had been easy to muffle his screams then, easy to take what she wanted of him.
Had she felt better then?
Even the invocation of the thought of how much better she had felt made her uncomfortable. His energy wasn’t what she had needed or craved, but it was enough to make her strong again. It was enough. It had looked like an accident, of course. Esme had cried and so had Ellie, even though she was too young to know that her father would never come home again.
Esme had been so scared. She was only a girl herself then, only few years older than Ellie was now. She had a baby to take care of, she had been so happy, so much in love.
She had stroked Esme’s soft hair and held her head on her lap. “Hush, hush, Granny’s here. Granny’s here.”
She murmured the words while surveying the house. This would soon be hers. She just needed a bit more time. She just needed a few more years.
No one had noticed that her step was more spry since the accident and that her hair was sprinkled with cinnamon brown where it had been grey. No one noticed that she was in charge now where Esme had once been the lady of the house. The man in the grave, Granny set about watching and waiting. It was down by the stream where she finally found her moment.
Esme was hunkered down, looking at something, her feet precariously placed on the slick moss covered rocks on the stream banks. When it was time to take a life, Granny felt the world go curiously quiet and still. There wasn’t any doubt, any interruption, there was only her and the moment. Without a sound from her feet or the slightest show of hesitation she moved forward as though on dark wings. With a rock in her hand she dashed it down onto Esme’s skull and in the second between the impact ‘thwok’ and the young mother reacting in comprehension that she was being assailed, Granny’s hands pushed her onto the mossy rocks.
Blood poured out of her skull and into the clear water where minnows fled this sudden intruder. Esme moaned and tried to roll over and Granny hoisted her skirts and straddled Esme. The woman’s hands were weaker than Granny’s preternaturally strong claws, but it wasn’t her claws that she used, it was her eyes. Her eyes that opened up, irises unfolding into a hellish void and Esme started to ripple. Her whole ‘ness’ started to tremble as though it were hidden by a heat haze while Granny took her essence into her.
She didn’t leave any marks of what she had done. It looked to the villagers as though She had slipped very badly and hit her head falling in the stream. Even though Granny had only been their for nine months, everyone somehow thought that she was Esme’s mother. Perhaps it was because Esme wasn’t from around here, or perhaps it was more of Granny’s magic, but the villagers all assumed that Granny would take over the cottage and would care for the toddler, Ellie.
Granny liked to keep to herself and she enjoyed the privacy the cottage and the adjoining lands gave her. She didn’t mind taking care of Ellie, watching her grow and her energy plump up and develop into that of a young lady’s energy. She was a beautiful little girl and she was turning into a beautiful young woman.
There were a few whispers in the village, a woman went missing when she was by Granny’s lands, another fall, and was Granny actually getting younger? What could do such a thing? Nobody knew and they didn’t think much about it. The woman who had gone missing hadn’t been popular and her husband had quickly remarried, so that was for the best then was what people whispered.
Ellie was growing up and Granny tried not to look at her too much. She had gone into the girl’s room the other night. She was ripe for the plucking now, she would never be more beautiful, more glowing, more pure than she was in these days. Ellie had fallen in love and there was nothing more full of energy than a maiden in love. Granny knew that after she harvested Ellie she would have to move on. She was aging rapidly now, the years had moved on and it had been too few women over too many years. If Ellie died through another accident and Granny, swelling and beautiful with the freshly drunk nectar of young love survived her, there would be no forgetting in the village this time. The people of Nott would be talking about it up to the moment they took up arms against her. No law would suffice where the people feared the forces of magic.
Even though it was dangerous, she hesitated and waited… It wasn’t just the risk of Ellie falling out of love, or losing her maiden hood that scared her, it was the sense that she had somehow come to love the young girl she had raised. This had never happened to her before, in all her years of roaming the earth, she had never had doubts before, all the girls, all the women she had killed and she had never questioned whether sustaining her own existence was worth it.
One night, when the sky was shrouded in clouds she went into Esme’s room. It would have to be when the girl was sleeping, if she moved her hand in that way that touched Granny’s heart, it would be too much. It would be too hard and what would happen to poor Granny then?
The room was dark and she walked into Ellie’s room, stepping over the board that squeaked with easy familiarity. A shaft of moonlight lanced into the room and onto the gold of Ellie’s hair. Granny gasped at the love that shot through her, how it hurt her to feel that alien force in her heart.
Her familiar gasp woke Ellie who rolled to see what Granny was doing. Granny, with the knife outstretched in her hand. Ellie’s brow furrowed with hurt confusion and Granny plunged towards Ellie with the sharp blade. Ellie rolled away quickly and threw her pillow at Granny. The knife tangled in the pillow case and Granny struggled to untangle it. Ellie kicked her as hard as she could and Granny fell to the floor and lay panting and struggling to regain her strength. She had waited too long, she was too weak and the girl was too strong.
Ellie looked at her archly, her chin elevated, her young breasts heaving gently. She wasn’t afraid of Granny, she was angry and betrayed.
Granny felt more energy leaching out of her and she fled the house. She ran into the darkness of the woods and out into the thistles and thorns where she had started out in the world. She shrugged out of nightgown and dropped the knife behind her as though it had turned into a hot coal.
She was old. She was old. She was old.
She thought of the look in Ellie’s eyes, the wounded betrayal. The thought of the love removed from her, that she was no longer ‘Granny’ but monster… did Ellie have any memories of her parents? Did she suspect the truth of the real monster that she was?
Then it sunk in, a monster, she was the monster. It had always seemed necessary, what had to be done, it was them or her. It was rationalized, it was right, it was her so there was an exception to all the rules. She ran, her eyes were blind with the insights she had so recently attained and she didn’t see the branch sticking out in the darkness. She ran into it headfirst, it snagged on her brow ridge and rammed down into her eye.
Defeated by her own nature she fell to the ground. Her skin was floppy and her breasts sagged. Her hands were weak and her ankles ached from the ingresses of time. She collapsed and covered her wounded face with her hands and wept tears and blood.