I fall to my knees in front of her, trying to drag her out of the shock she has fallen into; “Miss March, what is wrong? Tell me! What has happened?” I take her face between my hands and stare into her flat brown eyes, now vivid with fright. Her eyes stay focused on the key, her lips move, but no sound escapes. “Miss March! You must tell me!”
“It…it…it comes!” She gurgles, “Run! It speaks!” She breaks out into a strange tongue, her eyes fixated on the key as if they cannot be removed. I look at the key, and realize that it is the source of her consternation. I try to wrestle it out of her grasp, but her hands stay locked onto it. “Miss March, you must give me the key!” I whisper hoarsely, my mothers hurried and panicked steps coming closer, “Please! It is hurting you!” Her eyes drag to me, and I drop to the floor in shock. They are turning black.
“Miss March! Evangeline, what has happened?!” My mother is almost upon us. I redouble my efforts on the key, panic seeping through my bones like ice. With one sudden wrench, I free it from her hands, and hastily pocket it.
Miss March keels over and writhes on the floor, screaming; “They come! They come!” and breaks out into the strange tongue again; a gargling, guttural, yet strangely flowing speech. Mother breaks into the room and sees her on the floor, and looks at me, the shock and fear in her eyes mirroring my own.
“Eva, fetch Charles, now!” She whispers, kneeling next to me, her hands fluttering uselessly over Miss March’s body, trying to help, yet not knowing how. I force my leaden limbs to rise, move, and suddenly I’m running. I find my voice.
“Charles!” I shout for our man servant “Charles, come now!” The burly man that is Charles rushes in and follows my eyes up the stairs. With an agility that belies his heavy set, he is up the stairs in a trice, me following behind as quickly as I can.
I stand uselessly against the wall as I watch Mother instruct Charles. Miss March has stopped speaking plain English and has moved straight onto the flowy, gargling language she was slipping into before. Her now black eyes, wide and frightening that would give me nightmares for nights to come, lock onto mine, and she strangles out “You are…the…” she gurgles, foaming, before she can finish her sentence; I find myself anxious to know what she was saying. Her eyes roll up into her head, and mother trots anxiously besides Charles as he carries her, convulsing and writhing, out. I follow them out, and stop, leaning against the wall in the gloomy hall way. What has happened? I muse. I feel the heaviness of the key in my pocket, but I am suddenly scared to take it out, the image of Miss March’s frightened eyes turning black, writhing on the floor. There is little I understand here, but there is one thing I know. It was the key. The words she spoke are still ringing in my ears; They come! Run!
Downstairs, Mother stands at the window, her shawl wrapped around her slender shoulders, staring out at the horizon; the shades of blue getting darker and darker the higher into the sky you looked, until, finally, there shine a handful of dimly twinkling stars at the very center of the sky. “Evangeline,” She says, as if there is comfort in my name, “Evangeline, you are not to speak of this. It is blight to our name.” She turns her eyes to mine, and I see a barely concealed fear clouding her eyes.
“Yes mother.” I turn and head back upstairs, walking slowly, until I finally reach my room. In a daze I slip out of my dress, pulling my hair down, and stand in the center of my room, in nothing but my chemise and corset, shivering lightly. I sit down at my window, the strange key in my hand, and stare out at the forest, my breath fogging up the class where my hot breath hits it. The relief that I no longer am being watched like a child barley registers, before a fear of the mysterious key takes root. How would something happen like that? I contemplate the possibilities, and come up with only a few, each one less logical than the last. She could always have been approaching madness, I contemplate, or maybe I’ve just grieved her to a point of breaking. After two days? I must be worse than I thought! She might have been trying for a way to escape the house…. But I think of the woman writhing on the floor and speaking in a tongue unknown and write that off; not even a world famous actress could put on such a horribly persuading show as that.
The options continue to circle; everything to a bout of painful wind (I snigger at this) to appendicitis circle in my head. I look at the key, so innocent looking in my large, boyish, hands. She had looked at it with such fear, yet she couldn’t tear her eyes away. I suddenly know it has something to do with the key. As I crawl into my bed, the sheets even colder than the seat by the window, I think of two more possibilities; either the key is dangerous and to be avoided, or it is trying to tell me something. Either way, I have greatly underestimated its power and significance.
The next morning, bright and early, I join both of my parents. My mother is primly drinking her tea, and my father is eating his toast. He puts down his morning paper when I enter the room, and smiles at me, wrinkles forming around his merry blue eyes. I take my seat and fold my hands on the table, sensing that they have something to tell me. Mother clears her throat, placing her teacup on the table and angling her body towards me.
“Dear,” she starts, “after her display yesterday, Miss March will no longer be working for us. As…shocking…as it is for you not to have a chaperone, I am afraid we will have to wait until I can employ someone more suitable. Until this time, you must be careful, dear.” I glance at father, whose eyes are stern, nodding slowly. I try act demure at the news, although the relief that spreads through me makes me want to giggle in delight. Freedom. Finally I can be at ease! “Might I ask what has happened to Miss March?” I ask politely, my hands shaking slightly as I pour myself some tea.
“The doctor decided that she needed to be moved to an asylum immediately,” Father says pointedly, “she was set upon by madness, and there is nothing we can do.” I nod sullenly, but I feel far from sorry. My joy is cruel, I know, but I am too happy to feel sorry.
“It is going to be a lovely day, I think,” Mother says, turning the conversation to a more pleasant topic as every well-bred woman should. “I think it would be a lovely day for a walk.” She says. “Yes it is.” I remark absentmindedly, wondering what I can get away with today. I think of the forest- wild, quiet, and most importantly; abandoned of all people. I suddenly know what I want to do with my time. I sniff quietly, as distressed a look as I can manage on my face.
“Why, Eva, what ever is the matter?” my mother asks concerned. Make this good, Eva, girl, I think to myself. “I’m sorry, mother; it’s just that it is all so vexing! I hardly know what to think.” I manage to produce a tear, and wipe it away.
Mother looks genuinely concerned, and I find I almost believe it myself. “No, dear, it wasn’t your fault! Miss March was unstable- it has nothing to do with you.” She’s fallen directly into the trap.
I nod sullenly, trying my hardest not to burst out into a smile at my own dramatics. “I know, but I still feel horribly for what has happened.”
Mother’s eyes narrow in contemplation, “maybe if you were to take a walk this morning, you would feel better; the garden is exquisite.” She supplies helpfully. It is all I can do not to grin in triumph. Instead, I nod my head.
“That does sound agreeable.” I smile a little. Satisfied that she has made me feel better, Mother turns back to her tea, and father to his paper.
“There, there, poppet,” he says absentmindedly, already reabsorbed in the daily news. The day is lovely, just as mother had predicted, but with enough of a chill that I must wear my cape. I walk through the garden, my hands trailing over the rosebuds, and I lean down to smell one, its fragrance heavy and beautiful, like the velvet of my cape, clouds my mind with images of childhood- my mother’s dresses of crisp cotton, her rose water perfume, my father holding me close, smelling like cigars, then kissing my mother lightly on the cheek, her blushing in reply- all such happy images, I want to cry. I miss the simpler days of my childhood. I walk on, my blue cape swirling comfortingly around me.
At the edge of our garden, I look out onto the forest, weighing the disadvantages. My mother is no where to be seen, and I need someplace quiet- away from it all- to think. I take a few steps into the forest, the key heavy in my pocket, and stop, suddenly not sure if this is a good idea. I see a doe, the flat brown of her coat standing out against the green and dark brown of the forest. My foot, landing on a twig, brings her head up suddenly, and she leaps away, the white of her tail flashing like a beacon. I suddenly don’t care about the consequences; I want to run, and I don’t want to think about it.
Without a second thought, I’m running, the corset I wear making my breathing labored, but I keep chasing it anyway. The freedom I feel is intoxicating, and brings back a memory not quite clear, maybe of a dream. I run faster and faster, the tail of the doe always a taunting temptation just yards ahead of me. And suddenly, I don’t care about the deer; I just want to bathe in this freedom- the glory of the run, not the chase, takes over, and I am carefree. Miss March can rot for all I care, I think, The whole world can rot. I’m feeling particularly uncharitable at this moment; my freedom is not making me into the most pleasant of girls. Suddenly, I trip and stumble into a clearing.
It’s a perfect circle, the light pouring in from the gap in the trees. As suddenly as I stop, my misgivings catch up with me. A young woman left alone in the forest; shocking! Anything could happen! Who ever said that there weren’t people in the forest? There could be gypsies for all anyone knows. Gypsy men. I shudder at the thought, and refuse to think about it. Although I have lost track completely of how long I’ve been running.
I tilt my head up to the sky and drink in the sun, my chest heaving with shortness of breath. Blasted corset, I think. I take the key out of my pocket and examine it in the shade of my cloak; as if staring at it is going to unravel its mysteries. I hold it out in the sunlight to get a better look, turning it this way and that, the sunlight glinting dully off it. I lay it in my palm, and stare at it for a few seconds. Suddenly it’s hot, as if it’s on fire, burning my palm. “Ow!” I screech, my hand too paralyzed with pain to remove it. It hurts! I can smell the singing of my own flesh as I drop to my knees, tears squeezing out as the key falls to the ground.
I’m bent over double on the ground, trying to stop the burning in my hand. I cry out, but I know there is no one to hear me. I place my mouth to my hand, trying to stop the blistering burn on my palm, the pain making me feel faint. As suddenly as it started, it is gone, with nothing but a light throbbing. I stop crying and sit up a little, staring at my hand. There, in the center of my palm, is a perfect imprint of the key, light pink and slightly raised, like a scar. There aren’t any blisters or any smell, just the replica of the key on my hand. I’m suddenly burning with curiosity and confusion. I look at the key, lying on the cool, hard ground. Don’t touch it! My mind screams, but I slowly graze my fingers across it anyway, expecting it to be hot. I’m surprised to find that it’s a cool as it ever was. I pick it up hesitantly, and then lay it against my new scar, matching them up perfectly.
I’m not expecting what happens next. The key starts tingling, then pulsing light. I stare at it in shock, scrambling to my feet. My head starts pulsing and I glance around wildly in fear. What’s happening?! Panic blooms in me, starting in my stomach and working its way up. The four closest trees, standing in a perfect square across from each other, suddenly light up around the base, a golden light filtering up through the veins, and then drawing circles in the middle. The light seeps from the base in lines, connecting into a circle around me; and then it’s dark, the only things visible are the four trees and the bright, blinding light. I open my mouth, try to scream, but nothing comes out. I turn around wildly in a circle, trying to break the spell or whatever it is that is happening. The light from one of the trees suddenly goes up into a flame, spreading along the line, then up the tree, and then it has disappeared completely into black darkness.
Unexpectedly, I’m falling, the wind rushing by me wildly and making me feel ill. No! What is this! What is happening! Quite suddenly, I stop, hitting my head squarely on the ground.