A Coven in Essex County | Mildred

Below is Part 11 of 18 monthly installments for Visitant.

◄◄  Read the first installment / prologue
◄ Read the previous installment, VERNA


Avoiding the cruel gaze of the looking glass, Mildred rooted through the mess strewn across the bureau for the little bottle of white pills. Unsuccessful, she limped back to her bed. As it turned out, they had been sitting on the bedside table the entire time.

She gently rubbed her painful and aching legs . Mildred willed them to stop ailing so that she did not have to suffer through the digestive distress that came with Paregoric. Perhaps this time, there would not be things to see. At least, she hoped not.

The light from her window boiled over the blanket she had fashioned into a drape, half-mindedly instructing a relative to nail it to the top of the window frame. A drooping semicircle of light dripped in from the uppermost quadrant of the window. A scalene triangle opened up when she clutched the makeshift curtain to steady herself on the way back to bed. Atop the bureau, a valet glinted with her family’s jewelry and a couple of books she read as a child, riddled with words she could no longer make out.

She hated her room and the things in it. It was a dull hatred that ached when she did not think she was thinking of it, and burned when she was left too long undistracted. Mildred was often without occupation.

Worse than familial furniture and childhood objects, was the reflection in the looking glass. Its surface was smooth and silvered as the placid, alien lakes she dreamed about on nights without the moon, when her blood was coursing. Beneath the perfect surface of the mirror was a mimicry of the room she sat in, now. In the glass, it was almost too dull to make out, though not far away enough for her to miss the monster within the scene.

Thick black curling hair, with premature wisps of gray, was sloppily pinned at the nape of the neck. The eyes were not on a level. They were dull and dark in the shadowed position the thing took behind the sheath of light from the window. The nose was flat and lips thin. Its legs could not be seen from this vantage, but the view did not cut off before the full hump of its back could be observed in its stooped shoulders and the odd way its disturbing face stared from the twisting neck. It was too dark to see, but below this, Mildred knew its breasts hung limp and sagging under the gauzy material of its dressing gown.

Mildred looked away, reaching for a glass of water beside the bottle of pills. She took her medicine and laid back on the bed. The light was much too bright, but she was too exhausted to do anything about it.

Closing her eyes did little to relieve her. The space behind her lids became spotted and her brain seemed to spin around in its headspace. She opened her eyes and tried to think of things other than this room until the effects of the pills could be felt.

She tried to take comfort in the dullness of the New England sunlight. There was something not unpleasant in knowing others suffered in sun much hotter than in Innsmouth. The attempt backfired: the thought made Mildred sweat and pant in pain.

Cora had told her once that the sun shone leagues brighter where she was from, and for hours longer. Mildred scarcely believed that was possible, but she had not told Cora so. No one told Cora anything, it seemed. Though Cora had a good deal of advice, some of it good. She wished she could see more of the woman, but her grandfather did not like them talking, and it was difficult for Mildred to be clandestine.

Now, in her room, the sun became too much. Mildred imagined the water she had swum in as a younger girl. The same water now lapped away at the shores of Innsmouth, but Mildred had been unable to enjoy it since breaking her leg. For her, the water was a thing of the past.

Still, she recalled and imagined the days when she was able to swim freely at the mouth of the Manuxet. Cora had suggested it. The cool water did not sting the rashes on her battered legs and shoulders. Gone were the scars on her back and the banded striations where her skin had stretched in recent years on breasts and hips and thighs. Her skin was dewy and smooth and the water spread over it, washing away the sweat and dirt of the stony shore.

The water had covered her flat chest and the tight muscles of her stomach. Her hair spread and became like kelp, shielding her face from the diffuse light above. She sank slowly, floating to the silty bottom of the discarded river bed.

She was nestled into the river bottom, letting the silt suck her down further when tearing digits suddenly gripped her. They pulled her through the river and back out of the past. She opened her eyes to bleary light and ragged sound: someone with an unpleasant voice was speaking.

The croaking continued and she realized her father had come, making yet another request of her. He barked a command and she sat up. There was no way to know what he desired of her, but she guessed it was better than appearing to be lounging in front of him.

“You have the dress fitting in minutes,” he informed her.

She mewled. In her current state, she could manage little else.

“I thought I told you not to take those damned pills until after the fitting,” he growled.

She looked away from him at the table with the pills on it. If he had told her not to, she had forgotten. It was so easy to forget things like when she was supposed to take the pills. Then again, she had forgotten the fitting, too. Why do I need a new dress?

Had she thought that, or said it? She had meant to say it. Out loud. Loud and strong.

Her father’s wheezing sigh came from somewhere on the other side of the room. Had he been here? Was he in the room, now?

“Has your blood come this month?”

She shook her head, ‘no,’ as best she could. At least she remembered that. She always remembered that.

“Good. Maybe this time it took.” Mildred could not decide if she hoped not or hoped it had to end her ordeals. Though in her physical condition, pregnancy seemed an insurmountable ordeal. She thought a moment about the particulars, but thoughts slipped away from her like slimy, scaled little bodies, wriggling between her webbed fingers.

Frustrated, she brought her hands up to her face and balled them into fists  Her blood was no indication of whether or not anything had taken. Except that something had been taken—from before she was born. Now, her spine twisted of its own accord, her eyes wept randomly, and her thoughts fled. The older she got, the more pronounced the minute bodily abnormalities had become. She often thought it would not be so terrible were her ideas not taken by pills and boredom and so many duties constantly demanded of her.

Her appetite had gone when the medicine started, and so from thirteen years old, she had grown slim, even athletic-looking, as she ate less and swam more. Until she was twenty years old.

They had not called her until then. Probing further into the clouded recesses of her memories, the foggy sensations of her present cleared into pure recollection. It played like a flipbook through her head: she grew from small to large, then much larger, and finally very large. For a young woman. The blood had come, much later than it was supposed to, by the way everyone muttered. Then the blood went.

It would come back randomly, splotching her dresses and sheets when she had least expected it. Sometimes it was a pinprick. Other times, it had soaked layers of cloth as if a maroon ocean had welled up and bled over within her. She thought fondly of the cold waters as the pain her body experienced from her late pubescence onward washed over her. It sprinkled like ocean spray, then dissipated into more dull aching.

Her father had not checked in monthly. He had no idea when her period had or had not gone, and she never thought of informing him. Though he seemed especially interested around the time of the festivals .

She assumed this inquiry had to do with the wedding. Maybe the thought of new babies being born to other families reminded him that his daughter had yet to fulfill her duty. The reminder brought her back into the room. She groggily looked up at her father.

He had been talking, but now he finished. Her father swept from the room, and Mildred wondered again why she needed yet another new dress. As the direct descendent of Obed Marsh, she had the supposedly honored role of bridesmaid every wedding since her own. Every time, she limped alongside the bride with the wedding party into the surf, then put away the salt-stained dress, never to be worn again.

Mildred realized she was alone, now. She stood slowly, painfully, and dragged her way to the bureau. There, she rummaged. It took minutes to remember what for, but it was good to have some purpose.

Most years, her life was a rhythm of boredom and pain in between years where her duties as bridesmaid called. Then there was a flurry of appointments in the weeks surrounding the wedding. But this year was different—his year she had more purpose. She had secrets of her own.

Now she recalled her task; in fact, she recalled she had two of them. The first would be to conceal the bride. The dressing of them would not be left to her, but Mildred would have to lead them by the arm. She would have to act as if all was as it should be. And it would be.

But beyond this, beyond her appointed extra duties as bridesmaid, Verna needed her. Mildred knew that it had to be tomorrow. It would be the thirty-first, and at midnight of the first, Verna needed her and her family’s jewelry.

So they would meet well after sundown, to protect Mildred’s eyesight and stroll together. They would wait, then. Outside the building. Until all was quiet.

Getting to the basement would be difficult. She had not set foot near the Green in years, much less within the office. It would be slow going, and if they were not each other’s cover, their progress would be obvious. Yet how could anyone find fault with Mildred for walking with her cousin? Especially with the distraction of a wedding. How could anyone, especially jemān, lo jabdewōt ph’bōd with Mildred etetal mglw’tōnal Verna? Verna aikuj ph’ἀνάθεμα, and Mildred would help her.


► Next installment: Elsewhere, It is Halloween

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