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The Woman In White

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She was six years old when she first saw the banshee.

 

It was summer and her family had taken a vacation up to the lake house. She and Kelly had squabbled the whole drive up, fighting over who got time with the gameboy. It wasn’t long before her mother, sick of their nonsense, had snatched it from her hands and swore they wouldn’t see it until the drive back. She remembered flopping back into her seat, with crossed arms, glaring at her sister from the corner of her eye. If only she’d known what was going to happen on that trip… perhaps she wouldn’t have been so determined to be angry.

 

When they pulled up to the lake house, she was surprised by how wilted it appeared. Moss grew on the shingles of the roof and wood rotted on the porch below. In her father’s family for generations, the lake house looked sad and old. She couldn’t understand why they were staying there. At least the lake looked beautiful, clear and blue with lily pads the size of frying pans. She couldn’t wait to go swimming.

 

As her parents and sister unloaded the suitcases, her eyes drifted up to the window on the second level. She saw the outline of a woman in a white gown with dark hair. Her hand was pressed against the glass and Regina called for her father. By the time she’d pointed back to the window the woman had disappeared. Her father had spent the rest of the night assuring her there was no one else in the house. There hadn’t been for years.

 

The next few weeks were the last time her family was actually happy. Over time she forgot about the woman in the window and enjoyed her time at the lake house. It was old and creaky but filled with history and secret passageways she and Kelly explored. Her father took them on hikes through the woods and her mother sunbathed next to the lake as they took afternoon swims. Things were good and bright. Oh, how she longed to go back to those days.

 

It was near the end of her trip when Kelly asked her to sneak out at night while their parents slept. She’d found an old book hidden in the floorboards of the bedroom while they slept. Inside were tales of witchcraft and spells written by one of their long-dead ancestors. Her mother had said it was nonsense but her sister had quickly become obsessed. Pointing out special flowers and herbs along their walks, mixing them in a jar and claiming they had special properties. Whispering rhymes to summon spiders. Regina hadn’t wanted say - didn’t want to be called a baby - but it all unnerved her. Deep in her gut she knew her older sister was making trouble; she just didn’t know how much.

 

Earlier that day Kelly had made it to the final page of the book, a ritual that she said would give her actual powers. All she needed to do was bathe in the lake under moonlight. She wanted her sister to keep watch. Regina hadn’t wanted to say yes. Her father had said they should never go out to the lake without their parents to keep watch. It was too dangerous. Still her sister prodded and pushed and teased. Don’t be a baby. What are you, scared? Their father had spent all summer teaching them both to swim. She could do it on her own now. She only needed her little sister’s help.

 

Regina sat at the edge of the lake, with the book in her hands, while Kelly slipped in the water. She was only supposed to swim towards the center of the lake and grab a lily from one of the pads. Once back on shore she’d eat it and that would be that. Regina watched her as she swam, the water sloshing around her sisters hands as she started her swim. She was supposed to be keeping watch but it was late and she was tired. Her eyes drifted to the fog over the lake and she tried to fight but felt herself fall asleep.

 

In her dream she was still on the edge of the lake but the sky had gone pale, like the sun was hiding behind clouds. Everything was silent, there wasn’t a call of a bird or the whistle of the wind. Not a sound to be heard. Her heart pounded as she looked out at the lake. Standing in the center was a woman, the same women she saw on her first day here. Her dark hair fell against her frail form, the hem of her white dress wet and gray from the lake she stood on. Her weeping, desperate eyes locked onto Regina’s. Tears streaming down her cheeks she unhinged her jaw revealing a row of razor sharp teeth. From the depths of her soul she released a head splitting, vicious scream. Regina’s hands flew to the side of her head, covering her ears as she fell to her knees, the force of the woman’s scream cracking her very bones. When it seemed she’d crumble from the sheer sound of it… it stopped. Breathless, Regina pulled her hands from her ears and found blood running down her arms.

 

When she opened her eyes again, she was laid out on the edge of the lake, the book still clutched in her hands. She sat up, panting in fright, her chest rising and falling with fear. Shakily she stood to her feet, searching the lake for a glimpse of her sister. She saw none. The waters had gone still, the air as well. Her breath fell in puffs mists as she whispered for her. “Kelly? Kelly? Kelly this isn’t funny!”

 

She walked closer to the edge of the water, the book falling from her hands when she finally found her sister.

 

Kelly was washed up against the shore, her shock red hair hanging limply against her forehead and wet nightgown clinging to her lifeless body. Regina would always remember the way her sharp blue eyes - normally so lively and expressive - stared blankly into the night sky.

 

Her scream woke her parents in their bed.

 

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She never told anyone about the woman in white. No one would’ve believed her; even as a child she knew that.

 

Ten years later, she’d see the woman again.

 

A decade had passed since her sister’s drowning and she still wasn’t sure if her parents had forgiven her. She was certain her mother hadn’t. Cora was never the same after the death of her oldest daughter. Neither was their family. Joy was tempered, feelings were discouraged and emotions were locked away. No one spoke of Kelly. Her pictures were taken off walls, her name never uttered, her father took a new job in a neighboring state where no one knew of her. It was like they’d tried to forget about her, even though they knew it wasn’t possible. Regina never forgot her sister though.

 

Every night she lay in bed going over the last time she spoke to Kelly, how she’d failed her on the lake. She thought of the woman in white as well. Was she real? A figment of her imagination, an oment? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. She was almost certain she never would.

 

Her father did his best to keep the family together. He encouraged her to go to school, make friends and move on from what she’d lost. Desperate to please her parents she tried. She became a model student, joined clubs and teams. Everyday she plastered a smile on her face, trying to hide the grief that rotted inside of her. Pretending became her reality and some days she could almost believe her happiness was real.

 

It was the day of homecoming when she finally saw the woman again.

 

The school was abuzz with excitements, girls showing pictures of their dresses, boys lamenting over ties and overpriced dinners. No one was exempt from this annual tradition. Even Regina was going. She lamented the opportunity to be groped by her sweaty lab partner in a poorly decorated gym but her father had been eager for the chance to see her off. Her mother had even stayed sober long enough to take her dress shopping for the occasion. If this dance could give them even a speck of happiness then she wanted them to have it. She’d already given them enough sadness to last a lifetime.

 

She was walking home from school alone, crunching fallen dry leaves beneath her feet, when she saw a flicker of white from the corner of her eye. Stopping in her tracks, her feet glued to the ground, she let out a shuddering breath as she turned to look. There on her neighbor’s porch was the woman in white. Water dripped from the ends of her hair as the gossamer threads of her dress blew in the wind. Her eyes were just as dark as Regina remembered staring deep into her soul. Her bottom lip quivered as the woman in white pulled back hers to reveal her pointed teeth.

 

A car honked in the distance and Regina turned to look. A puff of breath fell from her lips as an old cadillac sped down the street. When she looked back at her neighbor’s porch the woman was gone but she could still feel her presence beneath her skin.

 

She ran the rest of the way home.

 

Slamming the door behind her, she locked it in a rush, deep down knowing it would make no difference. When her mother appeared in the foyer, summoned by all the commotion she’d made, she remarked on how pale she looked, pressing a hand to her forehead. She grumbled something about needing an aspirin before rushing off to her room.

 

Collapsing on her bed, she tried to take deep breaths. It wasn’t real , she told herself. She wasn’t real. It was just… a momentary lapse in sanity. That’s all it was.

 

Swallowing hard, she glanced at the homecoming dress that hung from her closet door - a dark blue, off-the-shoulder piece. She had to let this go. It was homecoming she had to be good, she had to be happy, for her parents sake. She had to let Kelly go.

 

Laying her head back against her pillow she closed her eyes and tried to dispel all thoughts of the woman in white. Soon she drifted away to sleep.

 

In her dream, she stood on a corner in town. Looking down the sidewalk, her throat closed up when she saw no one. The streets were deserted, not a single soul passed by. She felt the woman before she appeared. The icy sharpness of her presence stabbed at her skin, freezing her in place.

 

She lifted her gaze and saw her in the middle of the street. Her eyes were angry now, raging at Regina where she stood, wanting to punish her for not heeding her previous warning. Just like before she opened her mouth, the hinges of her jaw cracking as she dropped her chin further than humanly possible and unleashed a terrifying scream.

 

Regina couldn’t find her own voice as the woman’s tore through her body, ripping the skin from her bones.

 

She woke up in a cold sweat back in her room, just as the sunset. Seconds later, her mother knocked on the door, warning her that it was time to get ready.

 

With nothing else to do, she put on her dress. Allowed her mother to paint on her lipstick and color her cheeks with rouge. With the final touch of a warm smile, she made herself perfect on the outside, hiding the terror that brewed in her stomach. Her mother was removing the final roller from her, complaining about her father’s tardiness when the doorbell rang.

 

Unfortunately, it was not her shy homecoming date who stood on the other side of the door.

 

Two policemen were there instead.

 

The wail that escaped her mother when she heard of her husband’s death would ring in Regina’s ears for the rest of her life. A drunken driver in the cadillac had mowed him down in the middle of the street. No one in town had seen a thing.

 

Later that night when her body had cried all its tears and her mother was safely sedated in her bed, Regina would sneak out to her backyard. Shovel in hand, she’d approach the garden her father had encouraged her to plant, stopping to admire the the tulips. Even in the crisp fall weather, they were in bloom. She dug them up as quickly as she could, letting the dirt fall over her feet and stain her hands. Once the shovel hit what she was looking for she fell to her knees and sifted through the earth with her hands.

 

Her mother had tried to get rid of the book. Had tossed it in the trash the night of Kelly’s death, declaring it the source of all their despair. Not quite knowing why, Regina fetched it the next day, hiding it in her suitcase. She couldn’t leave it behind. It called to her.

 

The night of her father’s death, she locked herself in the bathroom desperately flipping through its pages. Twenty pages from end she found what she was looking for.

 

An illustration of the woman in white, just as she appeared in her dreams, razor teeth and all. Holding her breath, she read the words beneath.

 

THE BANSHEE

 

To hear her scream, is to know Death is on its way.

 

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She wasn’t afraid the third time the banshee appeared.

 

Her mother had lived a hard life, fraught with tragedies and cruelties. Slowly she poisoned her body over the years, attempting to heal from all that life had taken from her. All the drinks and medication finally caught up to her in the end.

 

Regina hadn’t left her mother’s side in days. The doctors had told her the end was near. No treatment had worked and her lungs were starting to fail. Curled up in armchair next to her mother’s withering body, she waited. For nature, to take its course and more importantly for the banshee to show.

 

When she fell asleep she knew what was coming.

 

She didn’t leave the hospital in her dream. Walking down the hospital hallway, her footsteps echoing against the linoleum floors, she searched until she found her. The woman in white stood at the end of the hall, her head hung low, hiding her face behind the shadows of her hair.

 

She looked up, mouth still shut and nodded at Regina, asking permission.

 

Taking a deep breath, Regina mournfully nodded. It was time.

 

For the third time, the Banshee unleashed its hellish scream upon her, shattering windows and causing the florescent lights to spark and burst, until they were both shrouded in darkness. The banshee’s screaming face was the last thing she saw before the dream ended..

 

When she opened her eyes her mother was gone.

 

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Her wedding day was the happiest day of her life.

 

After so many years alone, with all her family gone, she found love with the most amazing man. With crystal blue eyes, a smile that could melt ice and a heart worth its weight in gold, she couldn’t have dreamed up a better man than Robin Locksely. He was charming and kind. He knew of her tragedies and never pitied her because of them. His love filled her faults, and his kisses healed her bruised heart. She gave it to him before she even knew what she was doing.

 

They were married in a church in the beginning of spring, a time of rebirth and new beginnings. She never mourned for her family more than on that day. In the few quiet moments she had, she wondered what it would be like to have her sister as her maid of honor, her father walking her down aisle and the advice of her mother on what it meant to be a wife. As she stood alone in her wedding dress, examining herself in the mirror, she let herself imagine that they were there. Reminding herself that as long as she kept them in her heart, they’d never truly be gone.

 

Life without her family was difficult but now, after today, she would never be alone again. She would have Robin and they would start a new family, together.

 

She walked herself down the aisle that day. Standing in front of all their friends and what little family they could pull together, she pledged herself to him for the rest of her life as he did the same to her. Walking up the aisle again, this time with her husband on her arm, a weight was lifted from her heart. She finally found her place in the world again, where she belonged.

 

The reception passed in a blur of cake and dancing. What she remembers most is dancing with her head against Robin’s chest, swaying to the music and listening to his soft promises of a future.

 

After all the excitement they finally retired to the honeymoon suite of a nearby hotel. The next few hours were spent with his hands on her body, his lips pressed against her neck and cries of ecstasy sure to bother the guest below them. It was minutes after the clock struck midnight when they were finally spent. Naked beneath the blankets, she laid her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, letting it lull her to sleep.

 

She knew what was happening the minute she stepped into her dream, that icy feeling beneath her skin stripping away the warmth of Robin’s arms. Her heart pounded in her chest as she realized that she was in the very church where she’d taken her vows just hours prior. It was rotted, mold rising up through the wood and ravens sitting in the rafters. No light passed through the shattered stained glass as she walked up to the altar, eyeing the coffin left at the center.

 

She rested her hand on its cool surface, jumping when the doors to the church slammed open. Her eyes widened when she saw the woman in white, dressed in her very wedding dress. Regina trembled when she saw how calm she looked. Her eyes were no longer angry and dark but happy. Her skin glowed as she approached the coffin with a single red rose in her hand. She looked nothing like the monster Regina had come to know.

 

She watched in horror as the woman walked past her and placed the rose on top of the casket. Wordlessly, the woman turned to her and gave her small smile. She nodded toward the casket. Shaking, Regina turned to look, a series of helpless gasps falling from her lips when she saw Robin dead inside.

 

“No…”

 

The woman stepped toward her, a knowing look in her eye. Raising one finger she pressed it to her lips. “Shh…”

 

She woke up to her husband shaking her awake. He caressed her cheek, whispering that she was thrashing as if she was trapped in a nightmare. If only he knew.