The Book of Love
by Clint Wastling
I turned over and kissed my lover's lips before getting out of bed to dress. Elizabeth had implored me to go to her house and keep her company, she said she was lonely and asked if I'd help?
I said yes but I wanted to wear something which showed off the gold chain my brother Michael had bought a couple of days before he went missing. I choose a white cotton shirt.
Michael had been so happy, he'd fallen in love and been invited to Elizabeth's home to meet her friends. According to her, he never got there.
That same house loomed before me. It was a surprise to find a gothic mansion loosing ground to modern executive houses. The owner had fallen on hard times, I surmised and sold off the estate. The gardens were immaculate. Pinks nodded in the breeze, their scent intoxicating and everywhere red roses bloomed, their thorns fierce and dense. These blazes of colour proclaimed the magnificence of early summer and lightened my mood. I rang the bell and Elizabeth appeared.
"I was working in the garden. It's so good of you. Come and have a drink on the terrace."
Elizabeth was a beauty, exactly as Michael described. It's as if she'd existed in 1860 and been plucked at that moment and placed in the present. She'd make a wonderful Beata Beatrix with her loose red hair and a single plaited band.
"Well Ben," she poured a glass of a green drink, "you've had no news?" She stared somewhere beyond me.
"None." I looked into the deep blue of her eyes and for a moment saw what my brother might. "Have you?"
Elizabeth hesitated then she smiled, "come inside and I'll show you." She lifted a set of keys and turned one in the lock. The large oak door twisted open and revealed a room lit by a fire. Despite this I felt cold.
The room was authentic in its decor as though she lived the life of the Pre-Raphaelites. The only diversion was a book on the oak table. I let my finger stroke the surface, the embossed letters proclaimed: The Book of Love.
I withdrew my hand.
Elizabeth placed my drink before me. "You must be thirsty," she encouraged before opening the book. "Write the name of the person you love on this piece of paper and coil it up."
I wrote Michael's name though he was not my lover. She beckoned me to place it in the base of a plant pot. "As the plant grows, so will your love." Magically a rose sprouted and bloomed as she held the pot.
"Sometimes we find love in the strangest of places," Her fingers ran around the contours of my face.
I pushed her away.
"No one can resist my charms for long. That's how I ensnared your brother."
"He found me beautiful and fell for my charms." I watched this elegant woman reach over and place a log on the fire. As it burnt the odour of apple wood pervaded the room. We sat in front of the fire for a few minutes. Elizabeth didn't speak until finally I lifted the green liquid to my lips. The smell of aniseed rolled into the back of my mouth and I waited for the effects of the absinthe to take hold, hoping my love was strong enough to endure.
Elizabeth smiled. "Now I will show you to your room so you can stay a while and keep me company."
I nodded. I felt the thrill of danger mix with the narcotic in absinthe. Elizabeth danced along the corridors which appeared to rise fully restored as we walked. She carried The Book of Love in her left hand while her right wove spells. I could barely raise the strength to resist. We descended whitewashed steps to the cellar. Embers glowed in a central grate and Elizabeth pushed a brand into these. It caught and the room flickered with dancing shadows.
"Welcome to my world, Ben. It is time to answer your questions." She took a key and pushed it into the door. The hinges creaked open and the light entered the cell.
My brother spread out his hands and beseeched. "Ben! Ben take care, she's a witch!"
"He is under my spell. Once my husband always my husband, imprisoned like all of these." She danced and laughed as she opened doors and revealed men older and older until they were not men at all but cadavers spilling maggots and skeletons rattling bones. She gave each in turn a kiss and briefly they were restored to their former glory, lithe and handsome.
Then as she moved away they sighed in turn, as though they had lost a great love. The final room was empty and Elizabeth now beckoned me to enter. I moved forward with mounting trepidation. I felt my knees tremble, but when she bent to kiss me I turned my face and plucked the book from her hand.
Elizabeth screamed and ran after me. With a quick movement I threw her book into the embers. It's pages shrivelled and ignited. She placed her hands in the flames to retrieve the pages oblivious of the pain. Her skin and bones burnt, then her body caught and her clothes lit up the room. She could be seen by all as a wizened hag. The spell was broken as her ashes piled on the floor.
The Book of Love was no more, for some like my brother there was escape, for others there was only escape from purgatory. For me there would always be another morning to turn over and kiss my lover's lips before getting out of bed to dress.
I'm a published writer of short stories in UK newspapers like The Weekly News and online with Everydayfiction.com, AmazonShorts and AmazonShorts.com.
I have stories forthcoming in anthologies on both sides of The Atlantic.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Her Nose in a Book'
'The Town's Witch'