Here’s a sneak peek at Jabberwocky 3:
“The third volume in Prime Books’ Jabberwocky series is definitely fantasy and tends toward the dark and literary. Bookended by epigraphs from Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Jabberwocky 3 has the air of inevitable tragedy, of a slow encroachment of vines that swallow up the white palace, piercing it with blood-red thorns . . . Jabberwocky 3 offers beautifully told dark fantasy, sure to be enjoyed by those with a penchant for a bit of the deliciously morose.”—The Fix
Catherine L. Hellisen
I live in a bone house.
The last room—that’s mine. You can tell because the brass handle is still shiny, polished by my master’s palms. At night I walk down passageways tarry with decay, with the years’ grime. I pass the other doors. Their silent wooden faces.
All rooms in my house are quiet.
The master is away in his black-rigged ship, held aloft with hands grey and green in the dawn. In my mind, I see the waves’ fingers turn white as they clutch at the decks, perhaps pulling a man overboard.
I close the dream, and step out into the hallway. The floor is old, the boards worn thin at the edges, not meeting. If you drop something small, it will be lost to the people that live beneath.
The others up here are all dead. Seven girls brought to me, their dowries gather dust next to their bones.
Sometimes, I go to look upon them, to glean what I can from their faces, from the way their screams have solidified in the dusty flesh. The door to their burial room is never locked, for he knows how I like to sit in their silence. I’m happiest when it is quiet, when I can lean into them, nestled close, and hear only the muted call of nightjars or owls. I curl up to my favourite, lean into the length of her body, and pull her arms carefully around me. Ivory clacks, and dust falls. I must move with painstaking sloth, for fear I break this delicate embrace. Ah, love is such a brittle thing.
Outside, far below me, the streets are quiet. No-one walks along the cobbles. Only the wind comes salt-laden to the window, and whispers in my ears. I nod, and leave my plaything, my sweet girl, to go and see out the narrow window. Grime has shuttered the glass, and it takes all my thin-armed strength to push the window free. I lean over the ledge, gazing down to the distant water.
Moonlight silvers the city, edging her spires and turrets with halos. The sea speaks again, the wind carrying her message to me. And there! I see the sails in the harbour, silhouettes against the streaked horizon.
The master is home.
“She’s a pretty one,” he says. He knows I saw him bring her in. I always watch.
I see her only briefly, shining under her cloud of dark hair. The others were so pale, so gentle, I could not help but be drawn to their cleanness; the soft golden edges of them. I do not answer him, instead I look in the mirror, and comb out my hair with the new ivory-handled brush he has brought me. I like this gift better than the other. Under the moonlight, my hair shines with a black so rich that it seems almost blue.
The girl is an intrusion. She breaks the quiet with her childish noise, flittering as she does from room to room, like a black dove trapped in a locked house. All thundering heart beat and the clatterclap of wings.
At night, when he should be with me, my master ruts in her bed, his pale arse like flyblown fruit between the dusk of her thighs. I stop watching through the rotted boards. The ivory handle breaks when I fling my brush across the room and into the scowling face I see reflected at me from the unmarked mirror. The swarthy face glares back and then she is gone. I press my ear to the boards.
“What sound was that?” Her voice is high and cool.
“Ah, nothing, nothing, my sweet. A bat maybe, or the baker’s cat running from roof to roof.”
“If there are rats in the attic, my love, I’ll instruct the servants to set traps.”
“Not rats, my sweet. I told you it was but the baker’s cat. We’ll hear no more sounds, see?”
I listen from the walls, from the cracks. The dove coos, trying to keep him to her bed.
“Must you go?”
“If you like the finery I bring you, then I must,” he says. “No seas give up their treasures without a fight.”
“You said you were a merchant.”
“And so I am.”
My black prince merchant, with his ship of darkness, has set sail once more. He’s left her alone in the house, the servants instructed to obey her.
The first night he is gone, I see her rummaging through my master’s things, her fingers quick as darting fish. She reminds me of a dove no longer—the frantic wings have given way to furtive glances. She is a ship’s rat, scratching through treasure.
“Do you have the key for the attic?”
The servant shakes her head, mute with fear. All these are loyal to me, they will not speak to her.
She has found it while I sleep. My master’s key.
I hear the tread of her slippered feet on the stairs that lead to my house of bones, and I am instantly awake, curled and ready as a cat.
The key slides into the oiled lock; just the faintest snick of sound, the barest tumble of gears, and the door is opened. She carries a candle, or perhaps an oil lamp. The light spreads disease into my muffled gloom, infecting with its flicker.
The shadows pull around me, cloaking me with their soft quick fingers, and I pad after her as she makes her way with halting steps down the passage of my home.
Tonight her arms are too stiff for love. I lay the girl down, ease off the embroidered slippers my master gave her, unbutton her chemise. I stretch out against her, pressing my chest against the soft swell of her, against the ripeness of her body, before I pull a silken blanket over us and fall asleep with my breath fluttering her lashes.
Light comes stealing into my house. Even the morning bird-song can not break my mood. Looking down at the girl’s face, so peaceful in repose, I can see now the beauty that my master saw. She is prettier than all the others, this reflection of me.
* * *
Trade paperback / $10.00 / 108 pp. / ISBN 978-0-8095-7295-3
Catherine L. Hellisen lives in South Africa and she likes her music loud and her stories dark and fragile. She studied graphic design before she realised how much she hated it, and took to writing instead. In her spare time she belly dances, spins poi, and watches far too much British comedy.