Lift not the painted veil which those who live

Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,

And it but mimic all we would believe

With colours idly spread, - behind, lurk Fear

And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave

Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.

I knew one who had lifted it - he sought,

For his lost heart was tender, things to love,

But found them not, alas! nor was there aught

The world contains, the which he could approve.

Through the unheeding many he did move,

A splendour among shadows, a bright blot

Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove

For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.


The heavens promised a storm.

Crimson eyes narrowed, (a reflex borne purely of muscle memory — it had been a hundred years since their master had needed to squint) noting the swell of dark clouds swallowing the grey expanse beyond the trees. The window superimposed the man's reflection onto the spectacle of angry skies: sharp lines and pale skin, leonine features, the grim set of a tense jaw.

The man blinked once, bringing into focus the reflection of the delicate lines of the creature in the room behind him. To the ignorant observer she could have been a doll, a porcelain mannequin positioned to recline listlessly in her chair, her beauty marred only by the dark circles beneath her dull red eyes.

"She's frightened," Jasper sighed from behind his book on the other side of the room.

Edward nodded, fighting memories from a bedroom of the past, the feel of soft hair and warm skin and the rhythm of a pulse that sounded a march beneath the music of her voice. "I know."

Jasper eyed him skeptically. "Oh?"

"Her father used to preach that storms were the wrath of God come to earth," Edward muttered, staring out at the coming storm. "It stayed with her."

Satisfied, Jasper nodded and resumed his reading.

Beside the hearth, the woman's stillness threw into sharp relief the lively jump of flames within the fireplace. Edward turned from the window, moving toward her in what had become a reflexive action, his limbs seeking the proximity of his only solace. He lifted his hand to the sleekness of her hair, stroking down to the pale curve of her neck.

"You're safe," he told her softly, the words bitter on his tongue.

Silence.

Edward moved his hand away from her skin, fingers clenching into a fist as he collapsed into the chair beside her, his gaze intent on the fire. He focused on the scent of her, the feel of the chair's fabric beneath his hands, the sound of a mongrel heartbeat coming from a room downstairs.

His first days here with her were hellish, the long hours of her transformation crawling by with slow and inexorable cruelty as she screamed, screamed, screamed until the walls trembled, the forest seeming to echo every gasp of her agony. He'd remained at her bedside, unable to tear himself away as her every beloved softness hardened, her weak body beaten, stripped and fortified until it rose from her bed, a blank and terrible fortress of silk and steel and silence — as her screams faded away, so did the rest of her.

She had been silent, blank for twenty years.

Never mind, Edward told himself at first. He could appreciate silence. After all, her thoughts had always been hidden from him, mysteries shrouded within her delicate skull and hinted at only by the soft rhythms of her voice, the steady song of her pulse. He could look at her, touch her, content himself with the knowledge that she was his at last, beautiful as ever, the silence of her mind an eternal balm to the frayed ends of his spirit. Never mind the caverns behind her crimson eyes, the blank set of her face — surely, time would soothe her and she would speak again.

But it had been twenty years; he'd moved beyond craving her voice, her thoughts, her sounds, and the furious, lashing hunger for her had long since colored his every moment. He was left with nothing more than the empty shell of his perfect match, her absent beauty a ceaseless reminder of choices that rankled him even as he hovered over her still, a dumb beast guarding the remains of prey long since decayed.

Everything gone — his Isabella was her own ghost.

And he was angry.


Author's Note:

This is me scratching an itch. Thanks for reading.