That her smile was like her mother's I could bear; but then I shuddered at its too perfect identity. That her eyes were like Morella's I could endure; but then they, too, often looked down into the depths of my soul with Morella's own intense and bewildering meaning. And in the contour of the high forehead, and in the ringlets of the silken hair, and in the wan fingers which buried themselves therein, and in the sad musical tones of her speech, and above all-oh, above all, in the phrases and expressions of the dead on the lips of the loved and the living, I found food for consuming thought and horror, for a worm that would not die.
Doctor Nathan Wallace's wife was possessed by a demon. He even knew the demon by name, Histrionic Personality Disorder; but being only a surgeon, albeit a first-rate one, he could do nothing about it. One moment Marni was tranquil, smiling somnolently, her head with the elaborate coiffure tilted slightly to the side and her chiselled elbows resting on the balustrade; then she was suddenly screaming at the top of her operatic voice, hurling insults and bitter rebukes, barraging him with chaotic punches. Tall and stalwart as he was, he didn't mind the dainty fisticuffs – but the hysterical wailing never failed to set his teeth on edge, and he slapped her across the beautiful doll-like face, always a bit more forcefully than intended. She fell down to the polished parquet floor, ever so slim and graceful; and then she struggled to get up, propping herself up on one elbow, and pressed her palm dazedly against the burning cheek, as though to say "Did it have to happen again?" – and her cherry-red lips curved into a guilty smile. The demon retreated, but never left; the next moment it lit up her dark eyes with come-hither sparks, and Marni got on her knees awkwardly, constricted by the tight long dress, and her hands were shaking with tenderness, and she made love to him earnestly and ardently, despite the faintness and the ringing in her ears.
Morella would place her cold hand upon my own, and rake up from the ashes of a dead philosophy some low, singular words, whose strange meaning burned themselves in upon my memory. And then, hour after hour, would I linger by her side, and dwell upon the music of her voice, until at length its melody was tainted with terror, and there fell a shadow upon my soul, and I grew pale, and shuddered inwardly at those too unearthly tones.
And then she died. With the unfaltering hand of a surgeon Nathan separated from her impeccable dead flesh, the flesh that was alive – a newborn daughter – but his world ended there. For him, there was no woman other than Marni; Marni was what he called their daughter. Many months had passed before he came to senses and, with a heavy heart, finally reconsidered. She needed a different name, any other name; he named her Shilo.
Yet, as she had foretold, her child, to which in dying she had given birth, which breathed not until the mother breathed no more, her child, a daughter, lived. And she grew strangely in stature and intellect, and was the perfect resemblance of her who had departed, and I loved her with a love more fervent than I had believed it possible to feel for any denizen of earth.
I snatched from the scrutiny of the world a being whom destiny compelled me to adore, and in the rigorous seclusion of my home, watched with an agonizing anxiety over all which concerned the beloved. And as years rolled away, and I gazed day after day upon her holy, and mild, and eloquent face, and poured over her maturing form, day after day did I discover new points of resemblance in the child to her mother, the melancholy and the dead.
"My child," and "my love," were the designations usually prompted by a father's affection, and the rigid seclusion of her days precluded all other intercourse. Morella's name died with her at her death. Of the mother I had never spoken to the daughter, it was impossible to speak. Indeed, during the brief period of her existence, the latter had received no impressions from the outward world, save such as might have been afforded by the narrow limits of her privacy.
For better or worse, she inherited none of her father's strong facial features, nor the resolute and forceful unkindness emanating from his visage. Exquisitely pale, delicate and fragile like a porcelain figurine, she grew up in seclusion; and yet the resemblance manifested itself clearer with each passing year. One moment there was a little girl crooning softly to herself as she played scattered notes on the piano – and then she suddenly struck a daring chord, and her mother's powerful voice resounded through the silent house. Nathan was terrified of these changes, yet savoured them. The chemotherapy he prescribed caused her to lose a third of her weight and all the hair, and the resemblance faded like a scratched holographic card. Then he gave her permanent makeup and put a black wig on her head, and Marni came alive in front of him, young again, with the same lovely lips and wryly arched brows – but without the jaded secrecy in her eyes. Shilo perceived the world, confined by her father's will to the walls of their house, with eyes wide open and clear; and in his wildest hopes Doctor Wallace desperately wanted to believe that she didn't inherit the queenly reticence – or the capricious demon.
No matter how much he tried to turn a blind eye, his wife was a woman with a past. As fate would have it, she didn't marry Rotti Largo, but still she used to belong to him – him and his family. In his heart of hearts Nathan wondered whether it was the memory of those decadent years that brought a dreamy smile upon her lips as she closed her eyes and folded her hands. He wondered if her raven locks ever graced the floors of GeneCo Tower, and if her cheeks burned with red imprints, and if her knees were bruised under the hiked-up skirts. It was too easy to imagine her with the tycoon's eldest son as well; Luigi Largo never hesitated to hit women, and he was already possessed by a demon of his own – and that demon still hungered for blood – but that was no concern of Nathan's. He looked at the cruel haggard face with discolored eyes and a crooked nose, and tried to tell himself that Marni couldn't have given herself to a man of this kind – but knew deep inside that he was precisely her kind of man. There was nothing he could have done: Rotti was rich, Luigi was young then, Marni was possessed, and Nathan barely knew any of them at the time.
But now it was all in his hands: he managed to keep Shilo away from prying eyes and lock her up securely – in a house that could feel like a prison, but was more of a vault. That was the only way he could keep his daughter pure, knowing for certain that no one crumpled her clothes with greedy hands or sullied her soft lips with wet kisses. And he almost succeeded; almost, because one temptation still seeped in through the fortified walls like a poison gas, and that temptation was Blind Mag's voice.
He thought he had banished that woman from his house forever, eighteen years ago, when he dragged her by the hair out of his wife's bed. For a moment he was a heartbeat away from killing them both – or breaking their embrace and forcing his own body, tanned and muscular, between their pale and lithe ones. Marni was laughing herself to tears, gasping and shrieking, convulsing in a hysterical fit. He dragged her too out of the bed and threw her to the floor; it always helped. She fell with a strangely dull thud, and moaned coarsely, and it took awhile for the welcoming smile to return to her face, but it didn't much matter. Marni yielded herself with utmost passion, licking up the blood from her split lip, and swore that Blind Mag would never return to his house.
But she did return, Mag the temptress, ever so youthful and wrapped in black silk, and tried to lay her clawed hands on his precious daughter. Once again Nathan showed her the door, threw her out into the darkness of the night, but now he had no sympathy for the woman who kept trying to ruin his family. He led Shilo back to her bedroom and did his best to console her – so that she wouldn't cry when he locked the door from the outside. But she refused to listen, trying to break away and run after the singer, and although her feeble attempts were no match for the Repo man's strength, her sudden passion was a bad omen.
And then it happened: his daughter screamed in his face, flung herself at him with a flurry of punches, and in her dark furious eyes he saw the frenetic demon that had finally returned to him after all these years. He raised his hand with an almost forgotten gesture and struck her in the face, only slightly harder than he meant to. The slap sent her stumbling backwards; she crashed shoulder-first into a carved bedpost and collapsed on the floor as her knees buckled awkwardly. Her eyes cleared up, the burning fury gave way to confusion, and only then did Nathan realize how much he had loved and missed his Marni – and her demon. He cradled the limp body in his hands, laid her down on the bed, pressed his mouth against the rapidly reddening bruise on her collarbone, and then sealed her parted lips with a kiss. This time she didn't respond to his caresses – only wept softly as she hid her face in her shaking hands – but he knew that Marni was happy to be with him, her beloved husband, again in this house of stone behind a wrought-iron fence.
But she died; and with my own hands I bore her to the tomb; and I laughed with a long and bitter laugh as I found no traces of the first in the channel where I laid the second Morella.