Samantha Manson looked gloomily out the window of the carriage at the foggy morning. Samantha, or as she preferred, Sam, was considered by many of her peers to be strange, and they would be right. Her quirks simply drove her mother to madness on some occasions. For example, she preferred the shortening of her name mostly because her mother hated it, though originally it was because 'Samantha' sounded too stuffy to her. Unfortunately just about the only person who would call her Sam was her grandmother and the few people she knew that lived outside of her world of high society. She envied them to a degree. It must be nice not to be forced into garments intent on strangling you or being dragged around to stuffy events such as the one she was headed to at the moment.
The girl's mother, Pamela Manson, noticed her daughter's brooding. In an attempt to comfort her, she reached a hand out and patted Sam's knee. "It'll be all right, Samantha dear. You'll see."
"Easy for you to say. You're not marrying that cad," Ida Manson, Sam's grandmother from her father's side said without looking up from her knitting.
"Oh, hush, mother, it's not as if we have a choice. Our company is dying," Pamela defended.
"It's hardly fair to let the weight of our family's finances on the shoulders of a fourteen year old girl," Ida retorted.
Sam looked away from the window only to send an glare to her mother and grandmother. "Would you two stop talking about me as if I'm not even here?"
"Sorry Sammy," her grandmother said. "I was just trying to defend you from this horrible thing your mother is putting you through."
Pamela huffed. "You two act as if it's the end of the world. I was in an arranged marriage, and I loved Thurston. It's not as if I asked for any of this to happen," she said, a bitter tone entering her voice.
The matter was immediately dropped after that. Ida went back to her knitting and Sam continued to stare out the window. It was as if by the mention of Thurston's death, even indirectly, crushed down both Sam's and her grandmother's will to fight.
The carriage was deathly silent all the way to the party.
Soon, the mansion of her betrothed came into view, and Sam's stomach clenched at the sight of it. It looked more like a moselium than a place to live, with its gray stone walls and large yawning arches that looked as if they could be mouths ready to swallow you up.
When the carriage stopped, Sam stepped out with shaking knees, followed by her mother then her grandmother.
It wasn't her wedding at least, but she knew the person she would have to marry would propose to her at this event. Of course even the proposal had to be public, everything in high society had to be publicized and spectacular.
As she walked through the gates into the party, smiling faces greeted her, some faked, some mischievous and knowing. No doubt there were rumors swirling around of Dashiell's proposal at this very party.
Sam's stomach clenched at the though of that damnable boy. She had only known him for a month, yet she already hated him more than she had ever hated anyone. He was pompous, spoilt, and egotistical. What was not to hate? The only reason her mother (because Sam didn't believe that her mother completely hated her) even thought of him as a suitor was because his family was more wealthy than their family ever had been.
An accented voice called out from the crowd, pulling Sam from her venomous thoughts. She turned around to see bright sea green eyes. They belonged to a very beautiful face, one much more beautiful than hers, in her own opinion, but then again, Sam didn't particularly care about her appearance. The beautiful green eyes and face belonged to none other than Paulina Sanchez. Her father was a wealthy merchant from Spain that had moved with his daughter to England only a few years ago. Her parents had introduced Sam to the Spanish girl shortly after her arrival to Great Britain. The Sanchez family visited often and Paulina and Sam often chatted. And yet Sam hated her almost as much as Dashiell.
"Samantha! Have you heard?" the Spanish girl whispered conspiratorially.
"Heard what?" she said in a board tone.
There was a twinkle in Paulina's eye that told Sam that it had something to do with Dashiell's proposal, not that she didn't already know. "I heard Dash was going to propose to you!"
Yes, and there it was. Sam held back a sigh as she said, "That's just wonderful." She really did try to make it sound genuine but it was simply impossible. No matter, Paulina, ever the air head, didn't notice anyway.
Paulina apparently grew tired of standing around, so she pulled Sam into the pavilion where couples danced or simply chatted. As soon as Paulina let go of her, Sam tried to wiggle back out of the crowd. Just when she was on the edge of the throng and about to reach freedom, she heard a voice that made her stop dead in her tracks.
She turned around, suppressing a scowl, and saw a handsome young man in a tailored black suit. His blond locks were perfectly coiffed and Sam didn't think she saw a speck of dust on him. Her stomach soured at the sight of him.
"Samantha dear! There you are!" he said pleasantly.
Sam debated on whether she should turn and run as he approached her. In stead she simply waited, hating her decision with every step he made towards her. He came up to her and grabbed her had. She almost snatched it back.
"Samantha, why don't you come dance with me?" he asked with a false smile. She knew he hated this arrangement just as much as she did.
"Of course," she said letting him lead her to back into the pavilion.
After a while of Sam letting herself be dragged around like a dead weight, Dashiell whispered in her ear, "Do you remember what we discussed?"
For the thousandth time that evening, Sam had to repress a sigh. "Yes, I have excellent memory," she snipped.
"I hear your tone. Don't pretend like we aren't both victims. I want no part in this marriage either," Dashiell said.
"Oh, you poor thing. It won't be as if you won't lay with every woman in the village after our wedding," Sam said, instantly regretting her words once they passed her lips.
Dashiell tightened his grip on her hand and waist to the point it hurt her. "Say something like that again, and I just might have to punish you like a good husband," he whispered dangerously.
Sam wrenched herself out of his hold. "You are not my husband yet," she spat and left the pavilion in a flurry of skirts.
Despite their falling out earlier, Sam obediently met Dashiell at the gazebo in the garden, just like planned. And just like planned Dashiell dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him.
Sam's stomach roiled as she looked from her would be fiancé to the crowd. She looked back at Dashiell and saw the fake smile smeared all over his face and her resolve almost faltered. She had to do this. Even though she might be throwing the rest of her life away, she had to do this for her family.
She was just about to say 'yes' when Dashiell whispered impatiently, "What are you waiting for?"
And that was it. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. That simple little thing was the final act on Dashiell's part to make her resolve crumbled into a thousand pieces. But she wouldn't go running from the gazebo like a ninny. Oh, no, that would be rude. She wanted to explain to Dashiell exactly why she couldn't marry him. That was the least he deserved.
Smiling sweetly, Sam said loud enough for everyone to hear, "I love my family, Dash," His fake smile faltered at the use of his hated nickname. "So much so that I put up with you for a month, but I can't continue this charade. I hate you."
With that she left the gazebo, the shocked crowd parting for her to get through. In the distance she could already hear her mother crying.
It was positively frigid outside, and it had every right to be, it was the middle of February. Sam's and Dashiell's wedding had been planned to fall on Valentine's Day. Sam had thought it was such a parody of what that day was supposed to mean.
Then again, she didn't have to worry about their wedding anymore. No, all she had to worry about was her family's dwindling money.
And their money was dwindling precisely because the company had fallen into shambles after her father's disappearance two years ago. Her father was an inventor and he had been traveling to China to buy schematics for some unknown machine when he had simply disappeared. By now he was thought dead, perhaps captured and killed by some savage tribe or lost out in the wilderness and died from starvation or exposure. Sam, unlike everyone else, tried to keep hope that her farther was still alive, but that hope slipped more and more every day that passed without his return.
She sighed, making a large puff of steam with her breath and focused on the little swirls of water vapor to distract her from her wondering thoughts.
Sam didn't want to be out here in the cold, but it was better than being inside listening to her mother's wails. Pamela had been listless on the carriage ride home and once there she had run up to her chambers and locked herself in, likely getting drunk. Her cries had sporadically been heard throughout the rest of the evening.
Sam's dog, Lilith, a beautiful solid black borzoi, whined. She looked to the silken hound and saw the poor animal was shivering. Sam shook her head and clicked her tongue. "How are you cold? You were bred in Russia."
Nonetheless Sam brought Lilith up on the bench and into her lap, pulling her cloak around the both of them.
She sighed again and pet her dog's silken head. "I wish my life was as simple as yours. You really don't know how good you have it because even when my family becomes completely destitute, you'll be sold to another owner who can take care of you. We'll likely have to live on the streets."
Saying that, Sam still did not feel the least bit guilty with her decision. To be completely honest, she would rather die than marry that pompous pig. Marrying him would have drained all the life out of her anyway.
She let out another steamy breath.
Sam sat like that with her hound out on the cold garden bench for perhaps an hour until Lilith's ears perked up. The dog's muscles tensed, and a growl rumbled deep in her chest. Before Sam could even wonder what was wrong, the borzoi leapt off her lap and went running into the bushes. Sam gathered up her skirts and took chase. Just barely keeping up with the hound, he saw a flash of white in the distance ahead. They got to a small meadow and suddenly, Lilith stopped dead in her tracks almost making Sam trip over her.
As soon as she steadied her self, Sam inspected her dog. Lilith's hackles were raised and she gave a deep almost fearful growl from the back of her throat. Sam noticed that the hound was staring at something and followed her gaze. As soon as she spotted what Lilith was glaring at, her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.
There, right in front of her, about five meters away, was a skeleton of some small animal. It wasn't lying on the ground still and dead as it should have. No, it was up and standing on four bony feet, looking at her with glowing greed orbs. She looked closer and thought she saw some kind of a smoky outline simulating the fur and flesh that should have been there. Due to the outline, she determined that the creature might have been a fox once.
The thing didn't look too worried about her presence or the big hound that was bred to hunt wolves, perhaps because it was already dead and had nothing to fear. However, when Lilith began to bark at the creature it flinched and took off again.
For some reason, Sam felt the need to follow it. Perhaps it was curiosity or some other force compelling her forward towards her destiny. Whatever it was, Sam took case after it with Lilith reluctantly following behind her.
She skidded to a halt when she spotted its gleaming bones paused over something. With the moon shining bright at its fullest Sam could just make out through the shadows that the specter was standing just outside of what looked like a foxhole.
Lilith barked again and the shade retreated into the hole. Sam turned to glare at her dog, but quickly directed her attention back to where the skeletal creature had disappeared. Cautiously, she trudged forward, Lilith whining uneasily behind her.
Sam went up to the hole and peered in. She saw nothing, not even a faint glow from the creature's eyes, so she leaned in a little closer. Sam yelped when she felt Lilith forcefully pull her away from the hole by her cloak. Unsteady and unbalanced, she fell back on her bottom into the snow that had blanketed the ground by the first of December.
She turned to level a glare at the dog that was usually so well mannered. "How dare you? For that go home Lilith! Now!" she commanded.
The dog stood her ground and continued to whine uneasily at her mistress.
Sam huffed and turned back to the foxhole. She started to look back down into it when she felt Lilith's pull on her cloak again. "Stop!" she said harshly and this time Lilith laid down on her belly in the snow, looking down submissively.
Sam once again turned back to the hole and peered down into it. For a second she saw something flicker in its depths and leaned down, squinting to get a better look. She gasped when she felt the earth give way underneath her hand. As Sam felt herself lurch forward into the hole, a scream tore out of her throat. In a futile attempt to save herself she twisted around midair and reached for something--anything to grab onto. The only thing she managed to do was see the outline of Lilith's head as the hound helplessly looked down the hole after her.