Winter's Breath

Winter's Breath

Originally created for the Quibblo Story Contest. Finished!

Elise Parrish - Elsie for short - is just another 19th century lass. She's starved nor well-fed, very poor nor rich: in short, her existence has been boring and bleak. Out of the blue, however, her petty life is turned upside-down in ways she had previously thought impossible.

Unfortunately, only fairy tales have happy endings... and Elsie Parrish, The Average 19th Century Lass, is by no way in one.

Chapter 7

Chapter Six: Elsie's Demise (Finale)

“Florence, fetch the doctor!” cried Emma, feeling her daughter’s forehead as the latter coughed again, her face slick with sweat. “Elise is not well!”

Florence skipped into her sister’s bedroom, alarmed by the hacking, and took a startled step back upon the sight of the girl's pallid countenance. “Elsie was fine yesterday!” she objected, emotion wrapped in the high tone of her voice. Her gaze darted back to the blue eyes, which stared hazily at the cobwebbed ceiling. A faint smile played upon her sister’s lips, as if she was witnessing a thing they couldn’t.

“Go, Florence! Tell him we can pay!” ordered Emma, directing her pained gaze at the young lass. “Quickly, now!”

It was untrue that Elsie did not hear or see her family; she was well aware of her relatives’ dread. However, there was so much agony; her throat felt as if it was being constricted and therefore she could barely breathe. The sole thought of addressing Emma and explaining it was too late to fetch aid was unbearable, as it required both mental and physical prowess – both of which she did not currently possess. She had often warned Mother about the illness worsening, but the latter had not listened and dismissed her. Because of that, Elsie could now feel her demise approach. Fate already had her scissors edged around the rope of her life and now the sharp knives were cutting – oh, sawing – and she was dropping so very rapidly; sinking so very, very swiftly.

Elsie closed her eyes and sought refuge in the depths of her mind, where the light was golden and grass on the dunes rippling with the wind. The sound of waves curling into themselves and crashing onto the shore filled the summer air; the same air that tore through her light muslin dress. Everything felt pleasingly supple around her, ranging from the pale sand that crumbled under her bare feet to the fabric that brushed lightly against her every limb, embracing her as a second skin. Even her hair, normally always so greasy, now felt smooth as silk to her hands as they wandered over the strands, trying to create a map of her improved self.

The soft, trilling calls of birds joined in on the harmony of nature, and Elsie sat down, breathing a sigh of satisfaction as she realized that the sand had previously been warmed by the sun. The grass of the dunes tickled her legs and arms; the rays kissed her skin; the wind stroked her eyelids, whispering to her: “Close them, love.”

The end was near, and yet one thing was missing. It felt like a lump of her heart, but, like Death, she could sense it near. With that thought, soft arms slid around her body; warm lips roamed her yielding cheeks; a smell so sweet that it could only be love filled her nostrils. Elsie did not have to pry her lashes apart to know from whom this tenderness came, and she buried her nose in the boy’s collarbone, breathing in the scent of him, a scent that was mixed with her own.
The thudding of her heart became audible – it was still a soft pounding, only audible to her own ears, but it was there. Thump, thump it went, not unlike the sound of hooves on an uneven path. Thump, thump it went, not unlike the sound of her mother rummaging about in the kitchen. Thump, thump it went, not unlike the sound of an angel knocking upon the door of life.

The beat became louder, more rapid. Elsie was torn from her daydream by a particularly severe cough that left her gasping for air. Others followed, situated so closely to each other that she could not draw in so much as a single breath. Tears of pain glowed in her eyes, trailed down her cheeks, but still that faint smile lingered – for while there was pain, she knew there would be a reward.

“Mother!” she cried, grasping Emma’s hand.

“Oh, my baby,” the elder woman soothed, her face filled with sorrow. “Shush, now, darling – save your breath!”

“Mama, help me!” Elsie begged in a raspy voice, doubling over as yet another cough shook her, a raw cry tearing itself from her throat.

“The doctor is coming, my love.” Emma cradled Elsie’s head in her arms and placed her lips upon the child’s forehead, silent pain oozing from the wounds of her heart. “Do not fear.”

Her lungs and head felt as if they were about to burst. A series of coughs seized hold of Elsie, and any breath she’d reserved was robbed from the confines of her body – no nook or cranny was left untouched by the angel of death. Elsie beat her bed with her hands, trying to find the power to fight the coughs and inhale the cool air in her room, but all strength had fled her. The only thing she could do was twitch madly and turn her head up towards the light as a pair of lips touched hers lightly; lovingly. They took with them the soul of Elsie Parrish, a girl weak and silly; innocent and untouched; young and fair, tired before it was truly her time. A maiden torn between heart and mind, right and wrong, truth and sin.

Truly; just another ordinary girl.

*

She spread her arms and looked at the light above her. It was so very beautiful – so enticing. It drew her in like love had once done, and she stood on the balls of her feet, her longing growing stronger. The sun became brighter; the sky golden. Wind whipped at her figure and then she was flying, flying as if her body was only a husk. “Goodbye!” Elsie cried, reaching out towards the sole figure of the boy. “Goodbye, love. Goodbye, life. Goodbye, world. Goodbye, all!”

*

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