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She stared at the back of his figure as he ran away and felt a rush of figurative red shame cover my face. Of course. Of course. What was she thinking? This face, her face would never get anyone. This picture she’s looking at right now—people running away—would be her life for as long as she lived.
The boy who ran away had been a sort of friend. Or at least the closest she had ever come to one. The first time they met? Separated by a fence with my mask covering the visible parts of the other side. From the start, they had an unconventional relationship – the kind that blossoms into everlasting love in books. But Ella knew not to think that. She had some kind of protection, but obviously not enough. After months and months of talking behind a fence –behind a mask—she had finally decided that he was close enough to not get scared by me. Her face. Her horrible, horrible face.
Ella’s complexion was so horrifying that even she used to get startled by it in the mirror. She doesn’t look at mirrors now. Not anymore. For a long time, Ella used to blame herself for her ugliness. “It is God’s punishment,” she used to say to herself while pawing the scars and burns on her cheek. “I deserve this.”
But as she watched her friend—her only friend—run away in terror, she procured newfound anger and made a vow to herself. Whoever made her a freak of nature would pay. An eye for an eye, she thought to herself. It wasn’t fair that she had to live a life like this while her mother was happily living with her family. It just wasn’t fair.
When Ella returned to her cottage, the tears that were in her eyes ten minutes ago had dried against her cheek. Her eyes, which were only recently drooped down in sadness, were widened in sheer anger. Her mind was already whirling with ideas. The scary thing was, she realized, this anger wasn’t temporary. She wouldn’t break down and leave this alone. Her mother had ruined her life enough.
Carolina joined Ella at the hip as soon as she shut the rusty door behind her. Carolina was horribly sweet in the way that made Ella want to rip her hair out from time to time. But Caroline was always there – and Ella didn’t say it much, but she was grateful. “He doesn’t deserve you,” Carolina whispers quietly, as she removes the sack from Ella’s back and places it on the makeshift hook by the door. “He doesn’t know you.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Ella shrieked, finally breaking down after the long walk. She turns around in desperation and runs her hands through her knotted, unruly hair. “Don’t you see, Carolina? I’ve lived day after day in this life of misery. It hurts! And you know what? It’s her fault. That woman.”
Carolina was shaking. Oh, what a weakling. Ella mentally scoffed at her lack of sheer backbone. “Wh-what do y-you mean?” Carolina finally managed to get out.
Ella laughed. It wasn’t a jolly laugh nor positive in any way. It was solemn. Husky. Each breath poured with venom from her hatred. “Nineteen years ago, a women left her illegitimate child to die in a church fire,” she began, gears circulating inside her head. “Nineteen years ago, a woman committed a crime. A heresy.” Ella turned back around and grabbed the sack Carolina had earlier put on the hook. “Nineteen years ago, a woman should have been thrown into the dungeons for attempting to kill her child – a child that now has no future, no friends, nothing!”
“Ella, this isn’t you. You’re just upset, that’s all—”
Ella quickly cupped Carolina’s face in her hands and looked close. “Nineteen years, and no friends, Carolina.”
She pulled away from me and exclaimed, “I’m your friend! I’ve stuck by you all these years! You’ve stuck by me too. We’re more than friends, we’re—”
“Family,” Ella finished, smiling slightly. “Nineteen years later, this child needs to give this woman the revenge she deserves.” Ella opens the door of the cottage. “You’re either with me or against me, Carolina,” she finishes with soft eyes.
Carolina’s eyes darken in color and she nods. “I am with you. Always.”
. . .
Ella new exactly where her birthmother’s house was located. She’d spent countless hours there, thinking about her would-be life. Even as she walked towards the ginormous estate, she thought about these useless things. She reimagined her childhood with expensive toys and silky clothes and a loving family. She shook her head in disgust. That didn’t help one bit. In fact, it aggravated her more.
Ella ran up to the mahogany double-doors of the mansion and knocked on it rapidly. Carolina widened her eyes and stopped Ella’s hand. “Ella! How do you plan on—” Carolina’s voice was cut off by the loud screech of the door opening.
As soon as Ella noticed a stout woman dressed in cotton dress that was once blue and white, but had decayed along with the skin of the woman, she realized that Carolina could not be more right. She had no idea what she was going to say or do or kill. Kill?
“There you are!” The woman in the dress exclaimed. Ella guessed she was a housekeeper of some sorts, because Ella’s birthmother could afford that sort of ridiculous thing. Of course she ended up giving away her responsibilities, just like she gave up her child. “I was wondering why the new maids were so late! Come in, quickly!”
Ella and Carolina were ushered in, and Ella realized how perfect the situation was. As a vicious, cold-hearted plan circulated in her hand, Ella nodded at Carolina. In perfect coordination, the two girls curtsied in front of the housekeeper.
Ella apologized, “We are very sorry, madam. There was a horrible fire in our hometown, and we stopped by for prayers.”
The housekeeper simply nodded. “Fire or not, you’re lucky the lady of the house has not been notified of the situation! She would have you thrown out of the house immediately! Now, young, pretty little things like you shouldn’t have trouble finding work, but with etiquette like that…I don’t know!”
“We’re very sorry, madam,” Carolina repeated and hung her head in shame.
“That’s quite enough,” the housekeeper huffed. “Now, I need you both to head upstairs to clear the Lady’s house, and draw a bath for her—oh dear,” She cut off, and looked outside. There was a multitude of instruments -- drums, trumpets, bassoons— playing outside of the mansion. “The assembly is here already! There is no time for a bath. Quickly go upstairs and notify the Lady. Thank the heavens her husband is not in the house tonight. We are very behind on schedule! I’ll wake up the children!”
Ella and Carolina simply stood there, overwhelmed by the housekeeper’s words.
“Well, scram!” the housekeeper shrieked, and Ella and Carolina ran towards the large, spiraling staircase with gold trails running down the handrails. Ella made sure not touch railings with her filthy hands.
Ella whispered to Carolina when they reached the top step. “In five minutes, use one of the lanterns on the wall and throw it into the lady’s room.” Before Carolina could protest about Ella’s safety, she reassured her, “I will make it out, I promise. If not for myself, for you.” Ella quickly hugged Carolina and entered the lady’s room. She replaced the bucket of water with the oil from three lanterns and walked into the lady’s room. When Ella entered the room, the number of paintings on the wall amazed her. The beautiful, irreplaceable paintings on the wall. And then she noticed the figure standing by her mirror. Ella’s mother. No, birthmother.
For a moment, she was frozen into her spot and caught by the beauty of the woman. Age had changed some features, but nonetheless the woman was nothing short of breathtaking. Perhaps Ella would have looked somewhat like her mother if it wasn’t for the scars and burns masking her face. The lady noticed Ella standing by the entrance and spoke, with her steely cold voice. “The floors first. They’re filthy. My slippers are getting darker at the edge by the day.”
Ella hardened by the words and nodded and crouched to her feet. She almost laughed at how ironic the situation was. The woman’s daughter on her feet, serving her mother. She rubbed the towel with the oil and started to wipe the floor. Two minutes later, the lady asked, “Is the assembly here already? Did my housekeeper notify you of this?”
Ella nodded. “Yes, my lady. They arrived a while ago.”
The lady exclaimed, “Oh, you wretched maid! Why did you not tell me of this? And oh, dear. Why are you wearing a mask? Take it off this instant! Ridiculous!”
Ella smiled under her protective scarf. For the second time that day, she unwrapped the headpiece and dropped it to the floor. “Of course, my lady,” she said loudly. Loudly enough for the lady to turn around and stare at Ella. The box the lady was holding clattered to the floor and split into two with a loud crack!
She clutched her chest and backed to the other edge of the room. “Horrifying creature…Wh-what?” Ella’s mother breathed out, unable to comprehend the atrocity in front of her eyes.
“You know, my lady, you seem awfully strict about duties,” Ella smiled. “Very ironic seeing as you killed your child about twenty years ago.”
“Guards!” The lady screamed at the top of her lungs.
Ella chuckled at her mother’s helplessness. “Everyone is outside watching the assembly. Other than you, of course. You’ll be here. Burning. Screaming. Oh, I do hope you scream.”
“Who are you?!” Ella’s mother yelled. “How do you know—”
Ella mocked surprise. “Oh, dear. Did I forget to mention? I’m your daughter. Turns out that I did not end up dying inside that fire. I was saved. Of course, I did end up with these terrible scars. Do they scare you, mother? Would they give you nightmares? Oh, I hope they do. Perhaps my atrocious face would give you nightmares in your everlasting sleep. Your death.”
“Don’t!” Ella yelled at her mother. “You weakling,” she sneered. “You’re actions, and your humanity are uglier than my face. You don’t deserve to live. You don’t deserve anything!”
In that moment, Carolina burst into the room and threw the lantern towards the center of the room, which Ella had gracefully “cleaned” with oils. Carolina rushed out as soon as she came in, but Ella stayed for a moment more.
“You ruined my whole life, but you lived a fabulous one. A happy one. Even in your funeral you will be remembered as a bright, beautiful, honest woman. I will not ruin your afterlife on Earth. That is my gift towards you. That is my lenience. That is my humanity.”
“Please!” the lady yelled as she remained engulfed in flames.
Ella wiped the tears from my eyes before exiting the burning house, but it turned out to be no use. Carolina stole one look from Ella and immediately asked, “You’re crying?”
She sighed, suddenly unaware to why she was crying. “She’s my mother,” she replied.“She’s my blood.”
Cornish, New Hampshire
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