Evelyn never knew what lay ahead of her as she walked down the aisle in her beautiful white wedding gown, a young girl and the epitome of a blushing bride. How could she? All she knew was that today was a special day, and in more ways than one. Today, her marriage to Louis Von Yelchin, the finest blacksmith in town, would put an end to the financial troubles and poverty that had plagued her family for so long. Today, she would finally have a permanent roof over her head, and a perpetual fire burning in the fireplace.
Today, she would finally meet the love of her life, and spend the rest of eternity in his arms.
Even in those days, Evelyn’s mind had a tendency to be where it ought not, but back then it was only considered natural. She was a girl, wasn’t she? A pretty young thing, known for being quiet and distant at times. Perhaps she wasn’t the brightest of all the maidens that Louis Von Yelchin could have chosen, but she certainly was the most beautiful.
The most beautiful – and the most foolish.
Evelyn almost screamed when she reached the altar of the church and turned to look at the man beside her. There must have been some sort of mistake, she thought. This could not be Louis Von Yelchin. True, she had never met the man, but certainly this was not he. Louis Von Yelchin was her savior, a sprightly young man of about twenty or twenty-five, with dashing looks and enough charm to fill a room. He was not toady, pudgy, or even in the least bit greasy, as the man standing next to her was. There had to be some explanation. Perhaps this was Louis’ father.
Yet as the service went on, the stout man stayed where he was, hands clasped behind his back, rocking back and forth on his heels impatiently. Evelyn could smell the sweat gathering on his forehead, but kept her gaze fixed determinedly on the priest even as the man’s beady little eyes glanced over at her again and again, appraising her beauty and coming away satisfied each time.
Had it not been for the sake of her family’s well-being, Evelyn would never have been able to work up the voice necessary to mutter her “I do,” nor endure the marital kiss without vomiting all over her lacy white dress. It was an awful thing, and even after Louis had released her, she could still feel the residue from his grimy lips and slimy tongue on her mouth.
“What a wonderful ceremony,” the townsfolk sighed as they watched Louis and Evelyn’s wedding carriage disappear down the road. Evelyn could see them in her mind’s eye, the peacock-like mothers with feathers in their hats wiping away a single tear with embroidered handkerchiefs, the grandfathers leaning on their canes nodding approvingly, and the children dancing gaily to the band’s music. She could see them and hear them even as the carriage vanished to the far side of town, but though she desperately wanted to call out to them that no, this was a mistake, a mistake with nothing wonderful about it, she could do nothing but sit and stare at her white slippers in shock.
Stare at her feet, that’s all she did through the entire ride, and as Louis took her delicate hand in his meaty one and led her through the front door of his house and upstairs to the bedroom. She saw nothing but her feet walking in front of her, and concentrated on keeping them moving. She did not take in the high stone walls around the residence, nor the magnificent marble fountain in the courtyard, nor the large dining hall, nor the gilding on the banister. She just kept walking.
A door slamming brought Evelyn slightly back to her senses, and she looked up, startled, to see Louis locking the door to the bedroom. Had she not already been seated at the foot of the four-poster bed, Evelyn probably would have sunk to her knees in exhaustion and terror.
Louis turned to face her, the sickening grin on his face making Evelyn’s stomach drop through the floor.
“Hello, darling,” he said in his raspy voice. Evelyn’s eyes stayed wide open, following him as he strolled forward and knelt before her.
“I don’t believe we’ve met before, have we?” he purred, reaching out to stroke her face. She shivered as his stout fingers touched her cheek, and his grin widened to frightening heights. “At least, you probably don’t remember meeting me. We haven’t, really – but I came into your parents’ grocery on the Tuesdays that you worked. You always had your hair down,” he said as his fingers traced up her jawbone and wound themselves in her dark curls. “Such a beauty…”
Evelyn shut her eyes, wishing for something, anything to spirit her away. This had to be a dream. It couldn’t be real.
“I’m Louis,” his voice continued. “And you are?”
She clenched her jaw, refusing to speak. He laughed, a throaty sound that resembled a toad croaking. “It’s all right to be frightened, poppet. But you don’t need to be.”
She stayed as she was, shut in and quiet. His voice sharpened. “Look at me, Evelyn.”
Startled, she opened her violet eyes to find herself staring directly into his powerful black ones.
“I am your husband,” he growled. “And that means when I ask you a question, you answer. Do you understand me?”
Evelyn remained unable to move, her eyes frozen on his face.
“I said, do you understand me?” he barked. She jumped at the volume of his voice, and managed a small nod with what courage she still had.
Louis glared at her. “That’s not acceptable.” Then, loosening his tie, he said “Well, we shall teach you what is and isn’t acceptable,” and lunged at her.
If Evelyn had been able to scream at that point, she would have. However, she had never been one to speak much, and for the next nine years she was practically mute – a fact that angered her temperamental husband, if that’s what he really was. A husband. He felt more like a prison guard.
What had she ever done to deserve such a punishment, Evelyn wondered every day as she slaved over her chores, and as every night when she wasn’t able to sleep. She could never sleep, not after he touched her like that. It never got any better, either: afterward, she always felt the slime of his skin enveloping her, and she wanted to bathe, burn, throw up, do anything to get the sensation to go away.
Endlessly, her mind searched for an answer. Was it because she was different? Was that why her father had been so eager to send her off? Had her stepmother encouraged him? After all, she was the oldest of all their children, and the only one with a different mother, at that.
Evelyn never knew her mother, not very well. The one memory she had of her was of when she was three, just a short time before her mother died. They were in the forest, and came to a clearing with a lake that shone as brightly as a looking glass. Evelyn could see the clouds reflected on the surface, making it look like the fish were swimming through a piece of sky that had fallen into the ground.
“Come closer,” Evelyn’s mother said, standing and beckoning her from the shore. What was her name? Evelyn tried to remember. Yvaine. She was from somewhere far off, somewhere foreign, and that place was the source of the dark brown curls and large violet eyes that Evelyn had inherited. “Come, look beneath the water.”
Evelyn ran over, nearly tripping over the large crimson and yellow flowers that covered the meadow. They were larger than her head, otherworldly, but at the time Evelyn didn’t think of wondering at such things. She merely took her mother’s hand, gazing at the fish that swirled and spun in the depths of the pond. They danced a foreign number with each other, spinning and twirling amongst the reeds, flashing their flowing fins and tails like the ruffles and skirts of Spanish dancers.
“These are the cousins of the naiads,” Yvaine said, lifting Evelyn up into her arms. “Our friends of the deep.”
“They’re wonderful,” Evelyn whispered, shy in the presence of such overpowering beauty. Her eyes stayed fixated on the deep, on the turquoise and copper fish that frolicked there.
“Yes,” Yvaine agreed, smiling at her daughter. “These are the secrets of our world. A world of splendors, things you could not even dream of. Someday I shall tell you all about them.”
But that day never came. Yvaine died of consumption a month later, and the afternoon in the meadow was forgotten in the following years.
At fifteen, Evelyn dismissed such ideas. Naiads, or their cousins, did not exist, and everyone knew that. Such pagan things were unholy to consider, or even think of. What she “remembered” was merely a dream from long ago, and when you’re young, dreams and reality have a tendency to mix.
Had Evelyn known the truth about her mother’s death, she probably would not have dismissed such memories as mere fantasies. But young Evelyn had been sleeping on the night that the angry townsfolk came to claim her mother from her frightened father, threatening to take him as well if he tried to protect his gypsy of a bride. It was an abomination, they said, that he had brought this foreign maiden home as a wife when he returned from his youthful travels. She was a temptress, a seductress, a witch that toyed with the minds of other men and brought evil spirits into the village. He cried, begged, and pleaded with them, but it was to no avail. All Evelyn ever saw, in the end, was a tombstone with her mother’s name on it. She knew nothing of the empty coffin lying beneath the ground, nor the ashes that were thrown into the river without even a prayer of farewell.
Knowing that truth, too, would have also explained a lot about Evelyn’s childhood. Why the others always avoided her on the fields where they played, why they always turned their gingery blonde heads and grey-blue eyes away when she walked by, and why, when they got older, the lusty young bucks seemed irresistibly attracted to her, while the blossoming girls regarded her with cold jealousy.
But Evelyn knew no such things, and day after day no answer was presented as to why she was made to suffer through the monstrous blacksmith that was Louis Von Yelchin.
There was no escape from him, no way to leave the life she was forced to have. Every morning when Louis left for work, the front gate to the estate was locked. Every evening when he returned, it was locked again. It was so easy for him to keep her hidden away behind those tall bare walls; all it took was the click of a lock. The walls, the walls, the walls, they were the life and the death of her. They enclosed her, suffocated her, they defined the borders of her world. Even the little patch of bright blue sky that Evelyn treasured was trapped by the walls, and seeing the clouds pass through her tiny world on the currents of the wind between every sunrise and sunset sent a piercing through her heart that no medicine could heal.
The labor was never-ending, and the pain in her chest just managed to grow and grow. Perhaps if Louis had been a placid man, she would not have wished so badly for a way out, but he was never satisfied. The meal was too hot. Too cold. The bathwater was dirty. The sheets were wrinkled. On and on and on and on he ranted and raved over every tiny detail. She was a failure, he reminded her. A terrible cook. A lousy wife. Did he love her? How could he – she was a failure.
Evelyn had endured such an abuse all her life from her stepmother and siblings, but back then things had been different, she had been different. In those days, dreams had still been alive, and hope was a constant visitor. In those days, she had believed in love, and was certain that someday a wonderful someone would show up and whisk her away from this hellhole. Pensive Evelyn was teased by her step-siblings for her quiet mind, but what they didn’t know was that her soul raged with a fire of passion and a longing for a way out.
Louis had been her way out. But he had lied. They all lied. Everyone lied to her because nobody loved her, because love was a lie. It was all a lie. Life, love, laughter, happiness. They were all lies. Everyone lied to her.
Everyone but the man who introduced real magic into her life.
He was a traveler, he said, when he knocked on the front gate one afternoon. She could tell immediately that he was from out of town, with his messy chocolate hair and emerald eyes that differed so from anyone she had ever seen. His skin was tanned too, just like hers, a stark contrast from the pale tones of those who lived in the village and never got any darker despite all the time they spent laboring in the hot sun. They rejected the fiery warmth. He emanated it.
“I am thirsty. Could you let me in for a drink?” he asked, but she shook her head sadly. In his presence, she found the ability to speak for the first time in what had been months. “The gate is locked.”
“Well that is just inconvenient,” the stranger said, taking out a knife and fiddling with the lock for a few seconds. Somehow, magically, he got it open, and stepped through the gate toward Evelyn.
“Now how about that glass of water?” he repeated. She nodded, her eyes wide with amazement and wonder, and led him to the well in the garden.
“Your garden is beautiful,” he noted as they walked. Evelyn smiled shyly. She had always felt connected to the earth and the things that grow there, ever since her mother took her with her to tend the flower garden, ever since she had been old enough to work on her father’s small plantation. It was the one place she felt free, the one thing that kept her going throughout her endless days. She took Louis’ garden and made it her own, cultivating it for hours each day, letting it grow large, green, and tall. Keeping the garden alive was the only way of keeping herself alive. Louis never understood the love she held for the garden – but this stranger, it seemed that he did.
She could sense the stranger’s eyes on her as she lowered the wooden bucket down into the depths of the well, as she strained herself to bring it back up to the top, filled to the brim with sweet and clean water. She grabbed one of the glasses that resided by the well and filled it completely, handing it to the traveler without a word. For some reason, she felt shy in his presence.
“Thank you,” he said, and downed the glass in one gulp. “Any chance of getting more?” He held the cup out for her to refill.
Evelyn nodded, tipping the bucket over his glass again, and again, and again, until he had drank every drop from the bucket. He sighed gratefully as he handed the cup back to her, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Evelyn blushed, lowering her eyes to the ground. It was hard to look at him for long.
She grew uncomfortable as he stood in front of her, seeming to have no intention of leaving any time soon. She opened her mouth to utter a farewell and escort him out through the gate, but in an instant he was standing with his chest pressed against hers, a finger held up to her lips.
“I know thee,” he whispered, his finger tracing the edge of her mouth. Evelyn’s breath was ragged, uneven, and she felt dizzy from his warmth and the heat of the midday sun. Her back rubbed against the stones in the well’s wall, and she gripped them for support, trying not to let her knees grow weak.
“You do?” she stuttered, suspicious that he was playing a game with her, and certain that she did not know the rules.
“Yes,” he breathed, his face drawing ever closer to her. “You are not of this place. I can tell. You are from our land, are you not?”
Evelyn’s breath came in gasps and she struggled to reply to him, finding that she could not.
“How did you end up here?” His hands entangled themselves in her hair. “How could you leave our lush home and come to this wasteland, this desert?”
“I didn’t,” Evelyn gasped. Her breast heaved and her heart thumped, eager for him to move away, eager for him to move even closer.
He smiled sadly. “I know that it wasn’t really you,” he allowed. “You never knew our home. You never knew me. But I knew your family.”
Evelyn froze, her heart beating faster than ever. Her family?
“Your aunts, your uncles, your cousins,” he continued. “They fill my village, back home. And everyone tells stories of the day that the yellow-haired merchant came and stole violet-eyed Yvaine away from them.”
His arms gripped her waist tightly as she swooned. Yvaine. He wasn’t lying to her.
“They told her not to go, especially my father, who loved her even more than that wily merchant could. But she did not listen. She did not believe that our kind are destroyed in villages such as these.” His green eyes searched hers desperately. “My father was never able to leave and to bring her back from her misery.”
Tears filled Evelyn’s eyes, and he wiped them away with the pads of this thumbs as they escaped down her cheeks. “Come away with me,” he whispered. “Her spirit will never rest until you are back with your people, where you belong.”
“What is your name?” Evelyn managed.
“Romique,” he said. “And what is yours, daughter of Yvaine?”
“Evelyn,” she sobbed.
“You are different here,” Romique noted. “People stare. They shun you and your kind.”
“I am trapped,” Evelyn whispered. “They’ve trapped me. They lie. All of them.”
“Come home,” was all Romique said, and the two of them kissed each other fully on the lips. It was a kiss of passion untold, of longing, of sorrow, of lust, and of love that had been held and love that had been lost. Wordlessly, simultaneously, the two dove into each other, with neither one of them leading or initiating what happened next. They entangled themselves, two bodies as one on the dusty ground in the noon sun, the sweat from their affair watering the ground and enriching the plants with nutrients of a different kind.
What is sin? Evelyn asked herself that question afterward. She could not answer. This deed, she knew it was wrong, but it was more beautiful than anything she had ever experienced in what seemed like a previous lifetime. It was more right than what Louis did to her. There was no pain. No sorrow. No regret. Well, no regret from her actions, at least.
What Evelyn regretted was not getting to say goodbye to Romique, the one beautiful chance she had had at escape.
At least he had stayed for a while, allowing her time to gather pack things slowly and steal money little by little so that Louis wouldn’t notice. At least they had their time together, a few weeks of untold bliss made even sweeter by the fact that nobody knew about it and therefore nobody could condemn them for their sin.
But the human soul is never satisfied with “at least.”
It was a mistake to refill Louis’ cup so many times that night. It was a mistake to think that the wine would make his soggy head fall onto the pillow in a deeper sleep than usual. It was a mistake to get him drunk before she left him for good.
She lay there, helpless as he clutched her tightly in his arms and snored loudly enough to wake up the entire town. She panicked as the hours ticked on and her time for meeting Romique at the gate drew nearer. She thought and thought of what she could do to get free of her husband’s grasp – and decided that breaking free was the only chance she had.
So Evelyn wrenched herself onto her other side violently, away from his sour breath and out of his deadly grip.
The snoring stopped. She lay there, heart pounding furiously. But there was nothing to worry about. After a few of the longest seconds she had ever experienced, his breathing deepened once more. She sighed, relieved, and got up out of the bed, tiptoeing over to the wardrobe. Silently, she opened it and grabbed her satchel of necessities. Slowly, she closed the door.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the voice from the bed grumbled.
“Evelyn,” he rasped. “Get back in bed.”
She closed her eyes tightly for a quick moment. No.
He grew more awake with every second that went by. “What are you holding?”
She bolted for the door wordlessly, throwing it open as fast as she could. Down the stairs she went, half running and half stumbling. There was only one chance for escape. She had to make it. She had to. She would.
He was roaring as he chased her down the steps and out into the courtyard. She had gotten a head start, but he was gaining on her surprisingly quickly for his size and age. By the time they reached the fountain he was only a yard behind her and, grunting with the effort, he lunged and managed to grab a hold of her nighttime slip. He yanked it backward forcefully, sending her tumbling to the ground. Her head slammed against the stone of the fountain’s wall as she fell, and she lay on the ground, her head fuzzy and stars flying through her eyes.
“You little bitch,” Louis snarled as he approached her. “Run away from me, will you? If you really wanted to go, all you had to do was ask.” He picked her up by the straps of her dress and closed his fingers around her throat. “All you had to do was ask.” He leaned forward, scraping her back against the stone as her back arched over the edge of the fountain ledge.
She kicked and kicked, but it was to no avail; he was stronger and heavier than she. As her head lowered below the surface of the water, she took one final breath of air and said goodbye to Romique.
Louis, seeming convinced that he was in control now that her head had disappeared into the fountain, loosened his grip on her neck ever so slightly. Taking her last chance, Evelyn grabbed onto his throat and pulled him down into the water with her.
His mouth open in a scream of shock and rage that was quickly silenced by the turbulent water. He loosened his hands from her neck altogether and attempted to claw her away, but his pudgy fingers did little to ease her grip. His arms lashed around helplessly and his eyes bulged out of their sockets as he slowly lost the little air left in him. Evelyn’s lungs screamed for her attention, but she held her breath determinedly and kept her gaze locked on him until the light in his eyes finally switched off.
His face floated above hers, and she shoved him away as she reached for the surface and took in grateful gulps of air. Then, seemingly in the same motion, she turned over, lying with her stomach on the fountain ledge, and vomited into the cold water. Realizing there was a pain at the base of her skull, she touched it gingerly and felt a warm trickle of blood flowing down her neck with the icy water. Evelyn swooned. She fainted.
She awoke in the mid-afternoon. Who was that man beside her on the ground? She stared into his lifeless face and tried to remember, but relinquished her attempt when pain started to creep into the peripheral of her memory. Resisting the urge to faint, Evelyn grabbed the arm of the toady stranger and dragged him toward the garden. Working in a dream state, she picked up a shovel and began to dig. When her hole was large enough, she hauled the corpse over and threw it unceremoniously down into the large pit. She filled it up. Tossing the shovel aside, she promptly lay down on the warm soil and fell asleep.
Her dreams were tormented and she awoke several times sweating and shivering, but not once did she move from her spot on the damp earth for two days. At last, on the third day, her fever broke, and she rose slowly, dizzy with the rush of blood that came to her head. She stumbled to the well and hauled the bucket up, not bothering to use a glass as she drank.
Thirst quenched, she observed her surroundings curiously, and ventured inside the house. She stopped in the master bedroom, staring at the mirror with a befuddled expression on her face. The woman knew that at one point she’d had a name, but for the life of her she could not remember what it was. This pale, thin creature reflected back at her – what was she called?
She pulled a shawl around her shoulders and went down the stairs, past the fountain, and out to the gate. Her hand stopped at the handle as she stared at the lock, which had somehow been opened. She tried to remember if she had done that, but all that came to her was an image of large emerald diamonds. Shrugging the memory away, she let herself out into the world for the first time in ten years.
They recognized her at the market. In her bedraggled and unkempt state she looked a decade older than her actual age, but once the villagers saw her violet eyes and olive skin, they knew exactly who she was.
“Where’s Louis?” they asked, but all she did was stare at them. She pointed at the corn set out on the stand and they nodded, allowing her to take it without paying. “She’d hex us if we asked for money,” the owner of the stand confided in his comrades. “Did you see the wild look in her eyes?”
“How about the stains on her skirt?”
“Must be blood.”
“You know Louis has been missing?”
“I can believe it.”
“Ay, her mother was a witch, you know. Always knew she’d turn down that path someday.”
“No wonder they call her Evil-lynn,” one said. “Wonder if she’s wicked in the bedroom as well?” They all laughed nervously as they watched her walk away.
Evilynn heard their words, and her face hardened as she returned to the house with her corn cobs.
They could not be trusted. Nobody could be trusted. They all lied. They would always lie. There was no escape. Nobody could escape. Don’t trust anyone. Can’t leave.
She knelt down in the garden and turned the soil with her hands, her mind flying up in the clouds as she worked. The lettuce, which grew next to a mound of fresh dirt, seemed to be flourishing. It would be a delicious batch this year. Her mouth watered as she stared at it.
But the smell of the earth vanished as a new scent filled her nostrils. Gazing upward, she noticed a plume of smoke rising above the west wall. The aroma that accompanied the swirling air was sweet and delicious. Cinnamon. That’s what it was. She inhaled deeply, relishing it.
Evilynn climbed up to the master bedroom and peered out through the window to the little cottage that lay on the other side of the wall. A little man ran to an outside oven and pulled out a sheet of freshly-baked rolls, sprinkling sugar onto their sticky tops. A voice hailed him from above and he glanced up, throwing a kiss at the upstairs window of his cottage, where a beautiful blonde woman received it with a giggle. Evilynn crouched down so that her eyes were barely visible above the windowsill, and watched as the woman leaned her head on her arm and sighed, staring over Evilynn’s wall and into the garden.
Nobody could be trusted. They all lied.
A slow smile began to spread over Evilynn’s face. Her first smile in ten years.
She left the walls that encased her and went out into the world for the second time that day, this time into the woods with a wagon full of bricks. She stopped in the middle of the dark forest, appraising the landscape. Then she laid down a brick, and another. Soon she had created a circle of bricks twenty feet in diameter.
They would always lie. There was no escape. Nobody could escape. Don’t trust anyone. They all lie.
She stacked the bricks, one on top of the other, smearing clay on the bases to glue them in place.
Can’t leave. Can’t escape.
When Evilynn had created a wall about two feet high, she returned home in the cool evening air with her empty wagon. She sat at the bedroom window once more, not even noticing her tangled and torn hair or dirt-crusted skin. She only stared across the space, at the adjacent window where the blonde woman leaned out and gazed longingly at the lettuce.
Perhaps one could be saved.