Edme Nashton was six years old when she discovered riddles. She was a smart girl, well behaved, always quiet. But her smile was too bright, or her gaze too intense, or perhaps she was simply too smart. Because, no matter what she tried, no one ever wanted to be her friend. She was six when she first read the definition of loneliness. She was six when she understood that it was the ache in her chest. She was lonely, she wanted more in her life. But, if she couldn't speak a word of it. Not without scolding from her mother. With words that tore into her more than the punches or kicks dealt by her father. So, she kept quiet. She quickly read through the family library. Her hungry mind absorbing information as if it would give her the attention she craved. If she had to be lonely she was going to be lonely and educated. Then at least her mind could keep her company. Puzzles, riddles and questions were her only distraction from that ache. If she kept her mind occupied she wouldn’t feel so alone.
I can fill a room or just one heart. Others can have me but I cannot be shared. What am I?
Tom Dougherty was bigger than her, with a broader frame and stronger arms. At first she had thought she had finally made a friend. He politely asked if she was the one who liked riddles. She was ten years old, no one had ever asked about her interests before. So, she smiled and nodded, not trusting herself with words. His riddles were elementary, she could answer every one in seconds if she wished. But, if she pretended to think longer, pondering over the answer she knew for a minute or two he would be there longer. The gaze of his eyes would stay longer, she'd feel human longer. Human with a friend. The laugh he gave when she finally answered would be sweeter if she guessed first. Every day he’d clap her shoulder and promise to stump her the next time. He never did, but she'd never tell him that. She was thirteen when he kissed her. He had been rough, his nails digging into her wrists and his lips smashing against hers.
“Stop it! Let go!” she didn’t want this. The face that had shown her kindness now sneered. Twisting from a friendly beacon of hope into a filthy monster like the rest of her school mates. Only it was worse because it was him, the only person she thought she could trust.
“Come on, Eddie, it’s not like anyone else would ever want to kiss you. I’m doing you a favour.” The words burned worse than acid, the cruelty in his breath was like smoke that stung her eyes and throat. She couldn’t find words. So she shoved and kicked free, running away from the twisted thing she thought had been her friend.
I can sneak up on you or be right in front of you without you knowing. But when I reveal myself, you will never be the same. What am I?
Edme was fourteen, once again alone in the world. The world where people spoke with smoking lips and filthy tongues, all the while ogling with cruel eyes. She was lonely, more than she had ever been before. After having a taste of companionship, the ache of her isolation only increased. Sometimes she regretted pushing him away. That perhaps Tom was right, that she should have let him has his way with her, that no one would ever want to kiss her, or to be with her. That no one would ever love her. So, she was fourteen and drawing a pentagram on the floor of her bed chamber. In the weeks previous she read through at least seven volumes on demonology and the summoning of demons, taking the commonalities and devising a method that should prove to be most exact. She didn't care if she had to sign her soul away, anything would be better than the suffocating pressure of her isolation. So she bit the knife into her palm and let the red cascade down into a china bowl. She carefully stemmed the blood flow with a roll of gauze and stepped out of the ring of candles. With the gauze secured and standing a safe distance away, she picked up her book and started the chant. The Latin syllables otherworldly as they left her tongue, a breeze swirled to life around her. It tugged at the hem of her skirt and whisked the flames right off the candles. The smoke curled. Edme turned to her window, locked shut. As was her door.
“Turn around, little maid,” the voice spoke from behind her. Edme turned back to the pentagram. Inside it stood a woman with her dark hair, cut just at her chin in a soft wavy bob. She had a hooked and pointed nose. Her skin was a pale with hints of purple, like a bruised corpse. She was wearing a deep purple dress, she had huge cattle-like horns growing from the sides of her head, they were a dark umber with purple silken cords draped over them. But it wasn’t any of those that had caught Edme’s attention, it wasn’t the pointed claw-like nature of her manicure either. It was her eyes. They were piercing, like and icy ocean, not quite blue and not quite green.
“It worked?” the whispered thought slipped out of her mouth.
“Yes, little maid, unless you were trying to get an angel, it worked.” Edme bit her lip as the woman chuckled at her. “Is this your blood?” the woman asked as she stooped down to pick up the China bowl.
“I like you already. Most idiotic children try to substitute animal blood, as if any self-respecting demon would want to drink that!” the woman let out a guffaw before tipping the bowl to her lips and drinking. Not a drop spilled. It was almost hypnotic, watching the woman swallow down her blood. Like watching a beauteous queen drink wine. The woman held herself like a queen, chin raised, straight back, perfect posture. “Now, little maid, what is it you wanted, riches, power-?”
“No! I- just want someone to talk to,” her eyes were cast downward, a little embarrassed that she’d needed to resort to summoning a demon to get a friend. Fingers cradled her chin and gently pulled it up.
“Little maid, being lonely is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“What will I owe you?” Edme asked cautiously, knowing that the exchange couldn't possibly come from the kindness of the woman's heart. She knew from experience that humans were incapable of such feats, so a demon would definitely want something in return.
“Well, if I lend you my ear, I expect you to lend yours as well.”
“What would I want an ear for!? What would you?” A hand shot up, clenching over her own ear to guard it from being taken.
“Not your literal ear, little maid, what I mean is that I expect you to listen to my troubles as I listen to yours.”
“That-. . .makes more sense.” The girl admitted softly. The woman chuckled, her hand leaving the girl's chin. She turned sauntering to the bed before perching atop it and patting a spot beside her.
“Now, little maid, what is it you want to talk about?” Edme followed the steps of the woman, sitting beside her before taking a deep breath. Then, she spoke. She spoke of little tidbits she found in the numerous books she read, how people ignored and disliked her, about Tom. After a few hours her voice was gone and her eyes were red and swollen from crying and she quietly listened to the woman--Osvalda’s stories. She felt good. She felt heard, she felt human. Valued. Trusted.
In the early hours before the sun had peeked above the horizon the woman stood. She brushed off her dress and pulled a small card out of some hidden pocket. It had her name and a short verse.
“This is for you, little maid, if you ever wish to speak again, just recite these words and be there.”
“Thank you.” the woman smiled, then she was gone.
I cost nothing but am worth everything, weigh nothing, I can last a lifetime, I cannot be owned by one person, but two or more can share me. What am I?
As the years past Edme kept calling, and Osvalda kept coming. They would talk hours into the night. Sometimes they wouldn't speak, just hold each other. Edme couldn't tell which she liked better, hearing her dear friend ramble about whatever she cared for, or the way Oz would hold her. With arms around her, fingers gently combing through her hair as she hummed a lullaby. Being with Osvalda was blissful, the cruel world seemed to melt away. She wasn't lonely anymore, she felt . . . loved. And just that thought made her giddy enough to giggle. Her life was amazing in those late hours. Until the sun came up and she was in the cruel world of humans again. She was twenty-four when her parents told her that she was betrothed, and that she was to meet her betrothed for tea.
“Hello Eddie,” No. Not him. Why him?
“You?” Tom Daugherty was sitting on the chaise, with a small cup of tea balanced in his hands. He smiled, like a cat would smile at a little mouse. She couldn't help but tense up, feeling as if he would pounce at any minute and tear her apart. She knew he could. In the years since she'd last seen him --in close range-- he'd filled out. His body was more solid, he'd lost the softness that gave him his boyish charm. He was a man now, one that was made of stone or some harder, crueler material.
“You've grown to be a beautiful woman,” Tom said with his cat-like predatory smile. The words themselves seemed kind but they felt wrong, they felt dirty. They made Edme feel dirty. Being around him made her feel dirty and cheap, the way he treated her made her feel like a used handkerchief. He may have been polite but there was a smug, dangerous edge to everything he said and did. She couldn't believe that she'd ever felt safe around him. Not when now just being in his presence made her stomach twist and turn and make her feel as if she was teetering over the edge of a precipice. Every instinct was screeching at her to run far far away from the monster. “I said , you've grown into a beautiful woman.” She could almost see the flight smoke curl past his lips with each forceful word.
“Thank you,” tears pricked at the corners of her eyes, she was shaking. This wasn't right. This wasn't what it was supposed to be.
“That's better,” he smiled, and she could see his teeth multiplying and sharpening like the sharks she'd read about. A smile that wanted blood. She felt sick. “How have you been?”
“Good.” She had to swallow the lump down in her throat before continuing, “And you?” his shark-toothed smile was back.
“I am just so excited to make an honest woman of you, after all, no one else would ever want you.” the tea cup was shaking in her hands, tears had started to fall. How could he hurt her so much in a few short phrases? Why was she letting him hurt her? She should be stronger than this, stronger than to let an ignoramus like Tom hurt her. But he still did.
“That won't be for awhile, surely?”
“Only a week, dearest ” the teacup shattered as it hit the floor. The hot liquid splashed and spilled across the floor. She couldn't breath. A week? A week?
“I can see that you're as eager as I.” Tom was closer, he had gotten up, and had a hand firmly under her chin. He seemed to be wholly enjoying her suffering and panic. She shuddered when he kissed her. The most impossibly cruel part of it all was how soft it was. If one hadn't have known him they would have called it sweet. But she knew him. He was cruel, vile, like the rest of the world, but the cruelest thing about him was that he made her think that he cared once.