Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
The cold wet cement gritted beneath Leila’s black polished dress shoes. Her small countenance crossed the street as her silken green dress flounced along with her. Her black stockings and small grey overcoat had been added to her as the final touch with pride by her teary eyed mother hours ago. “Now remember Leila, your father and I have saved for years to afford this. You have the opportunity to bring honor to our family; to bring rest amongst our kind,” her mother had said. Mrs. Pocket had been smiling with mingled tears of joy and sorrow, as she had finished securing the last black button upon Leila’s coat.
“But mama, when will I see you again?” “Once you have completed the task you are being sent to carry out, then we can unite once more. You are the only one properly qualified for this task amongst us, so make us proud sweetheart. The creature has been given numerous warnings to remove itself from this land. This entire territory has always belonged to our kind. It is overstepping its boundaries. You need to eliminate it, so do your best and you will succeed.”
Leila clung desperately to her mother. “But mama! No! I can’t leave you and father.” Her mother had dabbed at her nose with a handkerchief as she sniffled. Mrs. Pocket stooped down to Leila’s height and held her hands tightly. “My dear, you must. This is for your own good, and more importantly, for the greater good of our kind. This is a rare opportunity that many could never even dream of having within their grasp. Your whole life will change for the better after this Leila. You must kill it.”
Her mother adjusted the bow amongst Leila’s mahogany curls and then stood up sharply. “Now, enough of this dreary farewell. The weather looks quite overcast and it’s time you be along your way my love. Write to us!” Her mother had blown a kiss to Leila as the stagecoach door had closed firmly behind the girl. After a few hours of traveling throughout the countryside, the footman had finally helped Leila down from the coach.
They crossed the street to Ms. Terri’s School for Girls. The finishing school was renowned around all of England. It was extremely expensive, impossible for most to gain admittance, and only a few students were permitted to attend the program at a time. All potential pupils were cross examined by the mistress of the institute herself for consideration. Only those which Ms. Terri deemed suitable and possessing the proper attributes, were even considered for enrollment. And now little Leila would have to take down some gruesome and monstrous creature, perhaps destroying the whole school along with it. The task before her was a daunting one, yet one she had no choice but to undertake.
It was here now at Ms. Terri’s front door that Leila anxiously awaited her new instructor as the footman rang the doorbell. Clouds swirled above them alluding to heavy rains to come. A bolt from the other side of the door came undone as the door swung open to reveal Ms. Terri. She was tall, slender, and clearly gorgeous. Rumors always abounded as to why such a pretty young woman remained unmarried. People supposed that she simply had no time for such frivolities. She had instead chosen to focus entirely on the noble task of improving the future ladies of England.
Her delicate nose rested between high cheekbones of blushing pink. Her unblemished pale skin stood out in contrast against her midnight black hair. She had allowed it to flow in a neat braid half way down her back, its healthy sheen visible in the street lights on that chill evening. Her mauve lips parted in a gentle smile to reveal dazzling white teeth. She thanked the footman for his services and paid him promptly with a few gold coins. Now all alone on the steps, Leila stood silently with her eyes down cast as she awaited instruction.
“So, Miss Leila Pocket,” Ms. Terri stated flatly. “Yes ma’am. I am Miss Leila Pocket. Delighted to meet you,” said Leila with a polite curtsy. Putting a hand to her hip, Ms. Terri intensely stared at Leila with her smoky eyes, eyeballing the girl from head to toe. They stood in an awkward silence for a few seconds longer. The black and red laced corset on the instructor clasped so tightly to the woman’s torso, that it was a wonder to Leila as to how the woman could breathe. Her black skirts swooshed about her as she turned her back to the girl.
“The footman will bring your belongings to your room. One of your fellow pupils will show you how your room is to be kept. Tidiness will be observed at all times here at this school. I do not need to mention standards of cleanliness, as you were already briefed upon the subject at our last interview.” “Yes ma’am,” replied Leila absentmindedly as she followed the fast pace of the woman up the staircase. Leila turned over different methods of how to complete her mission in her head. The question ‘how?’ ran through her mind again and again.
“If you want to become a member of civilized society, you must reassess and alter your appearance immediately. Starting tomorrow, the maids will help you dress each morning and undress each evening. Breakfast is held at 7:30 am in the dining hall with the others. Your classes begin at 8:30 am. Just follow the rest of the girls around and you will fall into your schedule along the way. Quite simple to follow, I should say.” Ms. Terri added curtly.
As Leila was led up the large winding staircase, she saw that it opened to a large hallway. Upon taking a right, they were met with another hallway of ten rooms. Five rooms to the left faced five rooms across the hall to the right. They walked onward and Ms. Terri opened the last door to the left at the end of the hall. “These shall be your quarters for the duration of your stay here. I’ll see you downstairs for dinner at 6:30 pm sharp.” The woman’s large eyes flitted over Leila one last time as she then turned from the girl and made her way around the corner and out of sight.
Leila gasped at the elegance of her new room. A chandelier hung in the center of the room above a large fluffy pink carpet. Golden candelabras sat upon every ivory table top. A large four poster bed with curtains of pink and lavender rested across a large matching ivory vanity. The vanity was bedecked in an assortment of powders, rouges, pink and red glosses, ribbons, bows, perfumes, and silver brushes. A sofa that matched the candelabras was placed against the wall facing the only window to her room. Potted pink flowers adorned the outside of the window. Leila drew the deep maroon curtains closed.
The sight was breath taking as Leila walked over to run a hand over the cool hard surface of her bedside drawers. It was too bad that she would not get much time to enjoy the peace and quiet of the place. Since Leila still had some extra time left before dinner commenced, she decided to have a look around the rest of the building. She began to wander the hallway outside of her room and found many photos of young girls lining the walls. All of them were solemn faced as they posed in front of the school. “Well that was rather odd”, Leila thought to herself.
A photo of Ms. Terri was centered at the end of the hall near to Leila’s bedroom door. It had to be at least twenty years old from the looks of it. But, not so much as one wrinkle had yet crept onto the woman’s face presently. “She’s been instructing for at least thirty years now, from what I’ve heard,” said a gentle voice from behind Leila. A blond haired girl with large blue eyes stood behind Leila.
“I’m Samantha,” introduced the girl. “Oh, I’m Leila,” she returned politely. “I’ve been here one year now. Four more left for me before I graduate. Ms. Terri tries to make us all like perfect dolls,” Samantha indicated to her dress and perfectly brushed hair. “All of these,” she pointed to the photos on the walls, “these were her star pupils; her ‘perfect dolls’ that successfully graduated from her past years of teaching here.”
“I wonder why they all look so sad. Some of them were just small children. Rather odd,” remarked Leila. Samantha went on, “Well, each year Ms. Terri selects the top of the class and awards them £50,000.00 along with a ticket to Paris to further their studies. If they have enough intellect, they graduate early. Typically, all of her students go on to wed rich gentlemen over in France and never return to England. They become such snobs that not even their own families ever hear from them again.” “Not even so much as one letter?” questioned Leila.
“No not one, not once they graduate and move on from here,” replied Samantha. “How peculiar,” thought Leila aloud. “Perhaps we will grow to learn the strange ways of the rich upper class once we become them,” ventured Samantha. Leila shrugged. “How many other students are here with us?” “Right now it is just you, myself, and two other girls.”
Here Samantha stopped speaking abruptly. “Did you hear that?” “What?” Leila asked. “Be quiet-listen,” hissed Samantha. As they stood silently in the hall, they could hear heavy footsteps on the staircase. The footsteps thudded against each squeaky step when suddenly the footsteps stopped. Suddenly, children giggling could be heard echoing down the hallway.
A small red children’s top came spinning from around the corner, and continued to spin in the center of the hallway before them. “Who did that?” Leila asked in a whisper. “The other two girls are in their rooms. No one else is here except Ms. Terri and the servants preparing dinner downstairs…” Samantha’s voice trailed off as they continued to watch on. The giggling of little children could still be heard.
As Samantha stood fixated in place, Leila walked over to the spinning stop. Stooping down, she watched it spin for a moment, then picked it up and watched the toy continue to spin in her hand. The echoes of laughter stopped as a bell rang. “Oh that’s the dinner bell,” explained Samantha. “We must go to our seats at once or Ms. Terri will be quite cross with us. Let’s go.” Leila quickly pocketed the toy and followed her new acquaintance down the stairs.
At the dinner table as the first course was served, Ms. Terri pointed out that polite dinner conversation was appropriate at this time. “To start, I’ll introduce our newest member Miss Leila Pocket. She will be here with us for the next five years. These are Miss Samantha, Miss Carey, and Miss Abigail,” indicated their mistress. “Miss Abigail here has done exceedingly well at this institute. She already celebrated her graduation this Saturday-two years ahead of schedule!”
Abigail wore a smug smile as she tossed her long red hair over her shoulder. “Miss Abigail shall be leaving us early tomorrow morning and will go on to travel Europe. I know she will excel at her new school abroad. Very exciting,” finished Ms. Terri with a smile as she patted Abigail’s hand. “Ms. Terri,” interjected Leila. “I have a question.” “And what would that be?” responded the woman as she smoothed a cheesy spread across a crisp slice of bread.
“What other children are here with us in this building?” “What do you mean?” “There were children laughing and playing in the hallway upstairs.” “Oh, you are mistaken,” she responded coolly, not bothering to look up at Leila as she went on. “Everyone in this house is here at the dinner table before you. And the servants would never be so foolish as to venture upstairs playing children’s games.”
“Well then, who was playing with this upstairs?” questioned Leila as she produced the toy top for all to see at the dining table. At this, the woman stood up violently knocking her chair to the floor. “Where did you get that?” their instructor snapped. “As I told you ma’am, i-in the hallway upstairs.” Flinging herself across the table, their mistress snatched up the object, a glint of wildness in her eyes now. Clasping it close to her bosom, she glared around the dinner table. “There are no other children here at the moment save for you four. No toys are permitted at the table. And filthy lies of phantom children will not be tolerated here at this school! To your room!” shouted Ms. Terri. “At once!”
Fearfully, Leila made for her room. Once locked inside, she hugged a throw pillow to herself as she sat atop her golden yellow sofa. Candles flickered on her bedside table as the chandelier above twinkled dimly. A hand suddenly wrapped around Leila’s ankle from beneath the sofa and began to pull her down to her knees. Leila screamed in utter panic as she tried to undo the grip of the gray hand. A second gnarled hand protruded from beneath the sofa and began to claw at the wooden floorboards, dragging itself forward into the light.
“It will get you just like it got us,” the creature wheezed. It had the shape of a human but dark wrinkled skin covered it; its bulbous yellow eyes peered up at Leila as it held on firmly to the girl. As Leila glanced up, she saw dozens of handprints forming on the foggy window. “Run,” the creature cried coarsely. “Knock! Knock!” It was Samantha at the door. “May I come in?” Leila looked about the room but the creature had vanished altogether along with the handprints. Leila ran to the door and swung it open breathing heavily.
“Oh Leila, come now. It’s not that bad here. Like I said, you will get accustomed to life here.” Samantha comforted. “No, you don’t understand,” said Leila. “It’s different here, but it is nothing you can’t handle.” Responded Samantha as she squeezed Leila’s shoulder supportively. “What about the toy?” questioned Leila. Samantha shrugged, “Maybe the wind blew it into the hallway. Who knows? I just wanted to make sure you are okay. Here, I saved you this cookie.”
Samantha produced a large chocolate cookie from one of her skirt pockets and set it atop the vanity. “Try to get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning,” smiled Samantha as she closed the door behind her. “I’ve got to figure this out and complete my mission already so I can get out of here,” thought Leila aloud. But how? As night fell over the city, Leila waited in her room for all to fall asleep. It was at this point that she planned to make her move.
Hurriedly, she donned her gloves, buttoned her jacket, and buckled her shoes into place. At the stroke of midnight, she grabbed a lit candle from her dresser and opened her door slightly to peer through the small crack. A streetlamp close by shed a soft white light into the hall. All else was dark and silent throughout the building. This was her chance and she had to take it now. The skeleton key to the building hung on a hook in the front hall; she would use it to quietly search the building unnoticed in the black of night to look for the dreaded creature.
As she tiptoed down the dark hall, a certain picture hanging near her caught her eye. Holding the candle to it, Leila could see the photo contained a young girl of about 10 years. The little girl was holding the red spinning toy top in her hand. The girl in the picture blinked. No, it could not be Leila thought as she stared more intently at the photo. But this time the little girl’s eyes widened as she raised a hand and pointed it toward the opening to the hallway.
A sudden noise made Leila freeze in place. Each step on the staircase was squeaking one at a time as someone slowly made their way up the darkened stairs. Leila quickly hid herself behind a large drawer ornamented with a large vase of flowers along the wall. Blowing out the candle, she breathed quietly as she watched on. A black figure reached the top of the stairs and turned the corner, slowly entering the hallway of rooms.
The dim light just barely lit the image of the figure; she could not make out its face. Without warning, a large pair of black feathered wings spread out from behind it; the eyes were now glowing red. The winged creature looked about as it sniffed the air with a hint of suspicion. Taking a few steps forward, it entered into a room only to reemerge carrying the sleeping Abigail in its arms. The black wings wrapped around the pair as it slowly made its way down the squeaky staircase. The doors to the front parlor swung open as the fireplace within cast an eerie orange glow across the floorboards in the hall.
As the two passed through the open doors, Leila dared to follow them. She slid silently down the banister in the somber house, making sure to gently tiptoe over to peek into the room. “Youth, beauty, intellect, and grace; all shall forever be mine as your life’s blood I do taste,” proclaimed the beast. The winged creature proceeded to plunge a knife into the chest of the sleeping girl and began to devour her heart. Leila’s eyes widened in horror when suddenly, a hand from behind her firmly pressed against her mouth.
A servant woman still wearing her dirty apron was crouching quietly in the hallway with Leila as the gory scene continued in the parlor. Holding a finger to her lips, the servant indicated for Leila to follow her. They gently tiptoed back up the staircase and passed the hallway of rooms. They made their way over to a small door in a corner that led to the servant’s quarters up in the attic. Once shut up in a small shanty room the size of a closet, the servant lit a single candle and eyed Leila fearfully.
“You will have to leave here at once,” declared the woman. “Ms. Terri is the abomination that creeps across this school?!” Leila exclaimed thoroughly astounded. “Don’t let Ms. Terri know you have any idea about what just happened or you will meet the same fate. Tomorrow before breakfast, just get out and run from here.” “Why don’t you leave too?” questioned Leila incredulously.
“Us servants clean up after the blood and bodies. We know too much. If we tried to leave, she would kill us all too. If we stay and do as we’re told, then she allows us to live.” “What is she? A witch? A demon?” “Honestly, we have no idea. All we know is she stays youthful and lives forever by eating the hearts of pretty young girls like yourself.”
“She must be stopped!” cried Leila in utter disbelief. “Nothing can stop her,” continued the servant. “Not even the souls of the dead here that haunt this place can do anything. This place is a trap. Once you come here, you’re trapped.” “No,” refused Leila point blank. “I reject that there is no way to stop her. I will find a way.” The servant looked at Leila sadly as she could see the girl was determined to stay and fight. “I will find a way,” stated Leila with determination as she exited the room.
Leila lay awake in her bed with the curtains drawn until the next morning. Hours later, a knock at her door alerted her that it was time to begin her first day of lessons. Two servants entered and dressed Leila tightly into her lavender corset; the pink ribbons matched her rosy pink skirts beautifully. But Leila had only one thing on her mind, and that was to confront the monster that awaited her. Leila could not allow this creature to occupy the land of her kind; not after they had worked so long to live peacefully in the area.
Downstairs, Leila flopped unceremoniously into her chair in the dining room and stared unwaveringly at Ms. Terri. “Oh! Don’t you look like an absolute doll in that!” exclaimed the woman with a smile from across the breakfast table. With a straight face Leila did not acknowledge the woman’s compliment and bluntly asked, “Where is Abigail?” The smile Ms. Terri wore immediately fell and her eyebrows knitted into a frown. “I mentioned last night, Miss Pocket, that our Abigail had an early morning coach to catch today for her travels abroad.”
The woman stirred her tea, the spoon chinking lightly against the porcelain cup. “No slouching at the table Miss Pocket,” she snapped. “A polite ‘good morning’ to all at this table would also suffice young woman.” Leila continued to stare at her flatly in silence. “Well, I can see that we shall need to work on your social etiquette young lady,” said the woman with raised eyebrows over her tea cup. “I know what you did,” Leila stated angrily. The other two girls continued to eat their breakfast awkwardly in the midst of the unpleasant interaction.
“Oh really?” Ms. Terri asked in a tone of mockery. “And what would that be?” Leila slowly pushed her chair away from the table and stood up. “Funny how your portrait upstairs looks exactly the same as you do now,” Leila remarked slyly. “Some age more gracefully than others I suppose,” responded Ms. Terri clasping at the arm rests of her chair with white knuckles.
“How old are you exactly?” “I hardly find that to be any of your business,” snapped their instructor now growing visibly angrier by the second. Leila walked around the table to stand near the wall behind the woman. The newest addition of photos, now of Abigail, had been hung proudly on the wall for all to see. “Quite a lovely picture,” said Leila as she traced its frame with one finger. “I advise that you recall your manners and seat yourself at once. Do not touch that,” commanded Ms. Terri through clenched teeth.
“I wonder what would happen if I were to…” Leila trailed off as she snatched the photo from the wall and smashed it to the ground. The glass loudly shattered as Ms. Terri shrieked, “You stupid girl!” Leila looked down at the broken glass and torn picture to see that a sparkling mist was floating up into the air. A gentle sigh and “thank you,” emitted from the mist in Abigail’s voice. The mist dissipated.
Samantha and Carey were quickly ushered out of the room to take cover in the cellar by a servant girl. Ms. Terri’s glossy nails had turned long and black. “Don’t do that again,” whispered the woman in a very unnaturally deep tone of voice. “Oh-you mean don’t do this?” Leila mocked as she hurled another photo smashing to the ground. Again, a sparkling mist accompanied by a young girl’s sigh emitted from the wreckage. The woman’s hair immediately turned a dull white. Now her eyes glowed neon red.
Her black wings spread out from behind her as she stood up menacingly. “You will regret that.” “Oh, I think not,” Leila responded sneering at the creature before her. Making a mad dash for the hallway, Leila ran like lightning knocking down every photo along the way. They all came crashing down amidst shards of glass showers as swirls of trapped souls broke free of their prisons. Ms. Terri’s teeth had gone yellow and her skin had become a wrinkled shade of gray.
“Ugh, you really are an ugly thing aren’t you?” teased Leila as she ran up the stairs and continued to smash photos with glee. Loose hair billowing behind her, the woman swooped through the air with her great wings, landing with a thunderous clash against a china cabinet. “You will die for this girl!” the creature screamed as Leila ran to the end of the hallway of bedrooms. Grabbing the portrait of Ms. Terri herself, Leila held it high over her head. “You will never harm another soul again!” shouted the girl.
Then with all her might, she smashed the photo into the wall. Glass rained down as the portrait tore and burst into flames. “NO!” Ms. Terri shrieked as her body was enveloped in a burning blaze of red flames. “NO!” Leila stood before her and watched on as the creature finally fell into a heap of smoldering ashes. Wiping a few beads of sweat from her brow with the back of her arm, she made her way back down the stairs. “It’s all over!” she shouted. “It’s dead now!”
The servant who had hid Leila in her room the night before emerged from a closet. “Oh dear, look at you! Come, sit. You need a rest.” The servant stood alongside Leila and walked her over to take a seat on the sofa in the parlor. “That was so brave of you. I don’t know how you did it-but thank you,” said the woman in awe.
Leila tiredly rested her head on the woman’s shoulder as the servant patted her back comfortingly. “And look, not even a scratch on you,” remarked the woman bemusedly. At this, Leila opened her mouth in a smile to produce a sharp pair of perfect white fangs. “I know,” she retorted as she sank them into the woman’s neck. A few drops of blood oozed from the sides of Leila’s mouth as she stood to smooth her skirts. “Now that’s better.” The dead body of the servant remained slumped over and lifeless as Leila wiped away traces of blood from her face.
“No old magic hell hag is going to take over this territory as long as I am around,” remarked Leila to herself as she adjusted the bow in her hair. “Ms. Terri, such an amateur,” Leila snickered to herself as she made her way into the hallway. “My kind is fully back in control of this land now.” With a sigh of relief and feelings of a job well done, Leila went to find the others still hiding in the cellar. “Everybody, it’s safe to come out now!”
Credit To – miss ivory