EXCERPT FROM 'LOVE NEVER DIES'

Rowan Hill

Rain beat upon the hatches of the cottage with a force that nearly overwhelmed Clarissa to the point of exhaustion. She curled up tighter into a ball on the single bed in the corner of the one-room where she lived. It was a small cottage on the edge of the grand estate in the island county of Angelsey, Wales, provided to her through her employer. Clarissa’s new job had landed her in the wilds. She didn’t understand how ‘wild’ it was until tonight when the tempest moved over the isolated estate and took its vengeance on the land.  


The fire across the room gave little comfort as it too was subject to the raging wind coming down the chimney, the shadows of its flickering light casting fear into the young woman’s heart. She glanced at the candle, eyeing the length it had burned and guessed it was roughly only half through the night. Clarissa buried her head into her pillow, wishing against all hope the violent storm would expend its energy and leave her be. 


An abrupt bang sounded on the far window next to the door and the new school teacher shot up in her bed, wild red hair falling out of her loose bun. Was someone outside, banging on her window? There were many trees surrounding her house, on the precipice of the great Anglesey forest that took up much of the island but none that could sporadically hit her window. Hesitantly, Clarissa removed her cover and left the bed, walking across the room. The floor was freezing against her bare feet, and her nightclothes was so threadbare she felt it in her bones.  


With trembling fingers, she gently pulled aside the dark curtain and looked out. The shutters’ large gaps afforded her enough of a view outside. Pitch black surrounded her cottage, occasionally illumined with the blinding light of lightning and she forced herself to peer out. Nothing but swaying trees presented itself to her eyes. The great home of the Colonel in the distance peeked through the trees but the flashes of lightning lit up the ancestral home enough for Clarissa to see the torches placed around the outside were still lit and dancing wildly in the chaotic wind. 


She wondered if they needed help. Clarissa immediately shook her head. She strangely hadn’t yet been invited to the house in good weather, let alone this maelstrom, and the Colonel had an army of man servants to take care of the house. The wind howled like a wolf trying to enter her house and she shuddered with the sinister quality it held, letting the curtain drop and moving to the small fire for warmth. Her mind turned to Colonel Fitzwilliam. Such a commanding leader of men, this storm probably did nothing to him. Indeed, he was probably sleeping peacefully in his bed, unaware of the chaos churning the land outside his stone walls. 


It gave her a small amount of comfort to know he was probably sleeping, warm, healthy, and safe. She rubbed her hands together again and let her palms rest near the fire as she envisioned the sleeping man. 


Another loud knock against the window opposite the fireplace sounded out again, procuring a small shriek from Clarissa’s lips in surprise. Surely if someone was outside and needed shelter they would simply knock on her door? She left the false safety of the hearth and moved to the offending window with a little more confidence. Pulling the curtain back however, only showed more of the same dark night, the firelight from behind her illuminating the ground in front of the window, her own shadow flickering on the dirt. 


Again, she let the curtain drop and resumed her stance by the fire, rubbing her arms. Where had this cold come from? It was the height of summer. Rain and storms were to be expected but this cold felt unnatural. Even in her house, it was biting, almost malicious. Clarissa wrapped the throw-over blanket sitting on her chair around her shoulders and shuffled as close as the fire would allow. 


Wind from the chimney hollered down, a soft voice hidden in its cacophony, and the young woman paused with the unusual sound. Hearing a voice in the wind as it played havoc with the flames, she hugged the blanket tighter to her slender body and closed her eyes. Clarissa reminded herself she was a woman of science and logic. She was a teacher to the young minds of the local village, she would help them bring in a new century, full of wonderful new discoveries. And she absolutely did not believe in anything she could not see.