#fridayflash: the purple mantle

I'm taking an on-line writing workshop right now, where we write to random prompts provided by the facilitator (Cary Tennis). Two weeks ago the prompt he chose had already been used recently, so he chose a second one. I managed to work both of them into this H.P. Lovecraft-type story.

I learned from writing this that there's a reason why people often write to formula — it's easy to do!

Prompts: I wish to tell the truth but am afraid. OR We had drinks and then went up to her room.

I wish to tell the truth but am afraid no-one will believe me. In this modern age of science and reason, it is very difficult for all but the most open-minded and liberal philosophers to admit there are still secrets in this world that man was not meant to know. Still, I will put these words to paper and entrust them to my lawyer, Mr. Gibbs, in the hopes that, should this terror ever make itself or herself known again, there will be at least one other voice corroborating the experience of the next poor soul to encounter her.

I call her female, because that is how she identified herself. I do not know if these creatures have differences between the sexes as humans do.

I met her on a cloudy and moonless night on the road that leads from Arkham to Boston. She was wearing a mantle of dark purple stuff that hid her figure and her features from the carriage lamp. We were far from any human habitation. It looked like rain. Basic courtesy prompted me to halt my pony and trap and enquire if she would like a lift to the next town. She nodded acquiescence and gave me a gloved hand with which to help her climb into the trap beside me.

She settled deeper into her mantle as I lifted the reins and called to the pony. The usual innocent enquiries into her name and home town were greeted only with shrugs and nods. I received a grunt when I asked her opinion of the weather.

Finally, in exasperation as much as in a hope for a proper response, I asked her if she was mute.

“No,” she replied, in a curious rasping voice, “but I have been very ill lately. I hope my silence is not interpreted as rudeness to you.”

“Not at all,” I replied, and ceased making any attempts at conversation.

By the time we reached Bright's Peak the gusts of wind were blowing sheets of rain in our faces. I decided to stop at the inn there for the night, and when I mentioned this to my mysterious companion she agreed she would like to do the same.

The inn's kitchen was already closed, but after seeing to my pony and arranging rooms for us the innkeeper offered us some of the local ale.

We sat together in front of the fire in the sitting room. My companion removed neither her mantle nor her gloves, and sipped her ale in silence.

“May I ask, madam,” I said, “were you the victim of a smallpox epidemic? I had not heard of one passing through Arkham, but I have not been there in a long time.”

The lady shrugged and barked out “no.”

Then she said that if I wanted to know why she hid, I was welcome to follow her and find out for myself. We finished our drinks and went up to her room.

“Shut the door behind you,” she rasped when we reached her quarters. I hesitated, then closed the door until it was resting against the frame, but not latched.

I thought that she would just lift her hood, but she turned away from me with her face and head still covered. I heard the squeak of leather gripping leather, and saw her toss her gloves on the bed.

She raised her arms and tucked her hands into her hood on either side of her face. Bowing her head, she turned to face me again.

Then she straightened up, which had the effect of pushing the hood back and revealing her head and hands. She brought her arms to her sides just as I opened my mouth to scream.

My senses failed me as well as my voice. The hand-like things were greenish-grey and had a moist sheen to them, as if slimy. The fingers were more like tentacles, and writhed on their own as if they were separate organisms, captured and anchored captive.

The soft-looking, somewhat bulbous head was covered with the same greenish-grey skin. And the face... I suppose I have no choice to but call it a face, but how can one call it that if it lacks eyes, ears, or a nose, and indeed appears to have two mouths, one above the other? Even so, I had the impression...

It was smiling at me.

She took half a step forward, and with that movement some part of my brain finally discovered the will to act. I threw open the unlatched door, sprang into the corridor, and ran down the hall to the staircase. I didn't stop running until I reached the stable and harnessed my pony. The poor beast rattled out of the inn-yard as fast as his exhausted legs could carry us. I urged him on until we reached the crest of the next hill. The road curved there, and although the night sky was still pitch-black, I let the pony halt and looked behind us to check if we were being followed.

I saw and heard no-one. No shadows interrupted the glow of the lights from the inn.

After that I let the pony walk more leisurely, glad he was holding up and gladder still the rain seemed to be easing. We reached the next town a little after midnight, and I roused the landlord of the first inn I could find. He was in a rough mood after having his slumbers so interrupted, but I believe he noticed something in my face and manner which led him to take pity on me.

In the morning I wrote Bright's Peak, explaining I had urgent business in the next town and realised I could not stay the night as I had planned. I requested they let me know how much I owed for the room, since the landlord had agreed to let it to me for the night. I provided my Boston address for the reply.

The letter that eventually arrived explained that no money was owing. The lady, the inn-keeper wrote, had settled both our accounts. He winkingly indicated I had caught the lady's fancy and may expect to be called upon by her in the future.

That was two years ago. Since then I have moved six times and changed my name thrice. Somehow I believe that when the lady chooses to make my acquaintance again, it will not matter.