Home > Neferet's Curse (House of Night Novellas #3)

Neferet's Curse (House of Night Novellas #3)
Author: P. C. Cast


 

January 15th, 1893

Emily Wheiler’s Journal

Entry: the first

This is not a diary. I loathe the very thought of compiling my thoughts and actions in a locked book, secreted away as if they were precious jewels.

I know my thoughts are not precious jewels.

I have begun to suspect my thoughts are quite mad.

That is why I feel compelled to record them. It could be that in the re-reading, sometime in the future, I will discover why these horrible things have befallen me.

Or, I will discover that I have, indeed, lost my mind.

If that be the case, then this will serve as a record of the onset of my paranoia and madness so as to lay the foundation to discover a cure.

Do I want to be cured?

Perhaps that is a question that would be best set aside for now.

First, let me begin when everything changed. It was not on this, the first date of my journal. It was two and one half months ago, on the first day of November, in the year eighteen ninety-two. That was the morning my mother died.

Even here in the silent pages of this journal I hesitate to recall that terrible morning. My mother died in a tide of blood, which surged from within her following the birth of the small, lifeless body of my brother, Barrett, named after Father. It seemed to me then, as it does today, that Mother simply gave up when she saw that Barrett would not draw breath. It was as if even the life force that sustained her could not bear the loss of her precious only son.

Or was the full truth that she could not bear to face Father after the loss of his precious, only son?

That question would not have entered my mind before that morning. Until the morning my mother died, the questions that most often entered my mind were focused on how I might persuade Mother to allow me to purchase another one of the new cycling costumes that were all the rage, or how I could make my hair look exactly like a Gibson girl.

If I had thought of Father before the morning Mother died, it was as most of my girlfriends thought of their fathers—as a distant and somewhat intimidating patriarch. In my particular case, Father only praised me through Mother’s comments. Actually, before Mother’s death, he seemed to rarely notice me at all.

Father was not in the room when Mother died. The doctor had proclaimed the birthing process too vulgar for a man to witness, especially not a man of the import of Barrett H. Wheiler, president of the First National Bank of Chicago.

And me? Barrett and Alice Wheiler’s daughter? The doctor did not mention the vulgarity of childbirth to me. Actually, the doctor did not even notice me until after Mother was dead and Father had brought me to his attention.

“Emily, you will not leave me. You will wait with me until the doctor arrives and then remain there, in the window seat. You should know what it is to be a wife and mother. You should not go blindly into it as did I.” Mother had commanded me in that soft voice of hers, which made everyone who did not truly know her believe she was softheaded and no more than a beautiful, compliant bobble on Father’s arm.

“Yes, Mother,” I had said with a nod, and done as she had ordered.

I remember sitting, still as shadow, in the unlit window seat across from the bed in Mother’s opulent bedchamber. I saw everything. It did not take her long to die.

There was so much blood. Barrett had been born in blood—a small, still, gore-covered creature. He had looked like a grotesque broken doll. After the spasm that had expelled him from between Mother’s legs, the blood did not stop. It kept surging and surging while my mother wept tears as silent as her son. I knew she wept because she had turned her head away from the sight of the doctor wrapping the dead baby in linens. Mother’s gaze met mine then.

I could not remain in the window seat. I rushed to the side of her bed and, while the doctor and his nurse futilely attempted to staunch the scarlet river that gushed from her, I gripped her hand and brushed the damp hair back from her forehead. Through my tears and my fear, I tried to murmur reassurance to her, and tell her that everything would be well once she rested.

Mother had squeezed my hand and whispered, “I am glad you are here with me at the end.”

“No! You’ll get better, Mother!” I’d protested.

“Sssh,” she’d soothed. “Just hold my hand.” Her voice had faded away then, but Mother’s emerald eyes, which everyone said were so like mine, did not look away from me all the while her flushed face went shockingly white and her breath softened, caught, and then on a sigh, ceased altogether.

I’d kissed her hand then, and staggered back to my window seat, where I’d wept, unnoticed as the nurse performed the daunting job of disposing of the soaked linens and making Mother presentable for Father’s viewing. But Father hadn’t waited until Mother had been prepared for him. He’d pushed into the room, ignoring the protestations of the doctor.

“It is a son, you say?” Father had not so much as glanced at the bed. Instead he had hurried to the bassinette, wherein lay the shrouded body of Barrett.

“It was, indeed, a boy child,” the doctor said somberly. “Born too soon, as I told you, sir. There was nothing to be done. His lungs were too weak. He never drew breath. He did not utter one cry.”

“Dead … silent.” Father had wiped a hand wearily across his face. “Do you know when Emily was born she cried so lustily I heard her in the drawing room downstairs and believed her to be a son?”

“Well, Mr. Wheiler, I know it is of little consolation after losing a son and a wife, but you do have a daughter, and through her the promise of heirs.”

“She promised me heirs!” Father shouted, finally turning to look at Mother.

I must have made some small, wounded sound because Father’s eyes instantly flicked to my window seat. They narrowed, and for a moment it didn’t seem he recognized me. And then he shook himself, as if trying to shiver something uncomfortable from his skin.

“Emily, why are you here?” Father’s voice had sounded so angry that it seemed the question he’d meant to ask was much more than why I was in that room at that particular time.

“M-mother bade me s-stay,” I had stuttered.

“Your mother is dead,” he’d said, anger flattened to hard-edged truth.

“And this is no place for a young lady.” The doctor’s face had been flushed when he faced my father. “Beg pardon, Mr. Wheiler. I was too occupied with the birth to notice the girl there.”

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