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It's been a long time, darling.
So much time had passed. It began to wear on the house, the floorboards once polished and beautiful were now dull and croaked, weak beneath her feet. Planks on the grand staircase in the foyer rotted and disintegrated, wasting away to nothingness. Bright, bold tapestries and carpets reduced to moth-eaten, drab versions of a former self. Long since had the shingles fallen away leaving gaping holes in the roof, allowing for any manner of wildlife and weather to enter without invitation. The courtyard an overgrown thicket of dead vines and weeds. Black Thorn Manor was nothing but a shell, once a vision, the very pinnacle of loveliness and grandeur, and now a reminder of a past long since lost.
And she was a ghost.
Fingertips traced over abandoned picture frames, and furniture that housed rodents. If she listened carefully she could still hear the music flit through the air like a whisper on the wind. How long had she been there? Forever? It felt simultaneously like she’d never left, and that she’d never been there at all. The past and the present melded into one as she made her way through the home she had shared with a family long gone. Down the hall is where a child slept, whose name she could no longer remember. The room over there, a woman, a friend, with dark hair, and dark eyes. This room was where she would sit and paint for hours, her easel still standing with a canvas unfinished. She used to sew, somewhere. Clothes for the children, for the rest of her family. But that was so long ago she couldn’t trust her mind to tell her the truth anymore. All of their faces had become distant memories, memories that it seemed she may have borrowed from someone else.
Dim amethyst eyes fell shut as she stepped into her old bedroom, and the nostalgia washed over her. Moonlight streamed in silver beams through the tattered curtains hanging across a balcony door with busted windows, and the earthy musky scent of decay gave way to something familiar beneath. With a deep breath, the rot fell away, and when she opened her eyes again she was in another time. The sweet scent of vanilla and cedar filled her space, as tall, melting candles lit up the room. She sat at her vanity, running her fingers over an immaculate set of jeweled hair combs she stopped at a silver brush and hummed idly as she ran it through long raven locks. In the mirror she was youthful, pink cheeks, bright eyes, and plump flesh, a stark contrast to the lifeless skeletal face she had now, cheeks sallow, and eyes sunken in. Like everything else in the house, she was withering away.
She was unable to remember who left and who died, only that they were no longer there, living on only in her mind, and eventually, she began to forget. Sometimes she could feel them in a song, or a scent, for a brief moment in an endless time. It was like being adrift at sea as she wandered through the dying house, and through the woods around it. So long had she wandered the grounds of the manor she had to wonder if she was still alive herself, or if she had died long ago, and was merely unable to recognize it. If she had died, and still was cursed to never be reunited with them, this was assuredly what hell was. But if she was alive, well if she still was alive she didn’t know why.
For a long time, Lea held out hope that they would return someday. That her family would return home to her, and if she continued to light the candles, to play music, they would.
How long ago was that again?
Would she even recognize them anymore? There was only one face burned into her memory. His features etched into her mind until the end of time. Her eyes stung as a blood-red tear fell down her cheek at the thought of him. Tall and handsome, how could she ever forget him?
When she looked up in the mirror she saw him standing there, in the doorway behind her, eyes like the ocean watching her. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she turned in her chair, aware that she was alone, but relishing the comfort his presence in her imagination brought. Long fingers ran through wild ebony curls as he moved toward her, kneeling at her side and taking her hands in his.
“It’s been a long time, darling.” He said, his voice the most beautiful sound. Lea opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out, hardly a whisper. When was the last time she’d spoken aloud? Years? Decades? A millennium? He brought a cold hand to her cheek, and it didn’t matter. Nothing she could say to him would have mattered.
As he stood, and brought her to her feet, the music from downstairs swelled. He pressed his lips to her knuckles, and pulled her in close, taking one step, then another, and another in time with the music. How long since she had danced? How long since she had danced with him?
She waltzed through the empty dying halls, aware of her failing mind. Aware that perhaps she had finally cracked and fallen into the abyss of madness. But if this was madness, if madness meant the rest of her days dancing with him till she turned to ash, it was madness that she welcomed. The pain of being alone for so long, the pain of longing for so long had slowly ebbed to an endless nothing, a gray fog through which she walked every day. And now, looking at his beautiful face she had color again, she had music and candlelight. She had her home once more, even if it was only in her mind's eye.
He led her downstairs, before taking her by the waist again and swaying to the lilting sounds of a violin and a piano. He brought the back of her hand to his lips again, before spinning her into the center of the dank foyer. All visage of beauty washed away leaving her with the ugly reality that her home was falling apart around her. That she was dying with it.
He stood in the open arch where the foyer met the parlor, a lit candle in his hands.
“It’s been a long time, darling.” He said again. Lea slowly shook her head, in denial of what he was telling her. She didn’t care that he wasn’t there, didn’t care that this once marvelous building was turning to dust around her. If she had him there with her, even if he was only in her mind she could be happy again. She could learn to be happy again, that would be enough after being so starved for what once was. He nodded in response, he wasn’t real, he wasn’t even really him. Just an image she cooked up in her head, the best parts of him standing in front of her, the parts she chose to remember him as, leaving behind all of the bad.
Closing the space between them he placed the candle in her hands, a soft smile gracing full lips, fangs just a tad too large peeking under.
“It’s been a long time, darling. Now it’s time to say goodbye.” He laid a kiss on her forehead, and another on her lips, and when she opened her eyes again, he was gone. Her fingertips lingered over her lips as if she could savor the feeling as if she could burn it there forever, but he was mist, a specter, the mirage of a dehydrated woman.
It was time to say goodbye to the home she haunted for years. No one was returning, her family was gone. Her children… her friends… her love. It was all gone, no matter how long she waited, no matter how much she wanted, she could not undo what had been done. No amount of dusting would unshatter the windows. No amount of nails could unsplinter the banister. No matter how many times she made the children's beds she would never hear their laughter. She could fill countless glasses with tea and no one would sit at her table. And no matter how vividly she dreamed him into reality, he would not stroll through the door again to lift her off her feet. It was only her and the bones now, her and the rats. Her palace falling to pieces around her like the fractured memories in her mind slowly disappeared.
It was time to say goodbye, time to put this tomb to rest. Time to let go of what kept her there day after day, month after month, year after year. It had been such a long time…
She set the candle on a weathered end table, frayed edges of a tapestry dangling just above the flickering flame. First smoke, as the dirt and dust burned away, then it caught, fire climbing up the dingy fabric as quickly as any kindling. Lea turned and left through the front door, stopping to close it behind her, then stepped into the courtyard to sit at the edge of a marble fountain that hadn’t worked in more years than she could count. She watched the smoke pour from the broken windows and the holes in the roof. The brilliant orange lighting up the midnight sky, and for the first time in forever, she could feel the heat on her skin