Once again, Tony Mansell leads us into his world of folklore, myth and legend with his present-day tale of Emily, a young lady who casts her spell to capture the hearts and minds of unsuspecting innocents. This story was the winner of the Gorsedh Kernow 2009…Short Story set in Cornwall.
She arrived during the first hymn, paused and glanced around. It was quite an entrance. Her three-quarter-length flared dress was pulled tight at the waist. Around her neck was a red scarf, a striking contrast to her white dress and blonde hair. Her appearance was slightly dated but it showed off her figure. She looked stunning.
It was the final service in the little Methodist chapel; it was to close and I had returned for the occasion. My fiancée was not there, this was a nostalgic visit; the place held no memories for her. It was where I had attended for so many years: the Sunday school, the services and the many social events in the schoolroom. The place had played a big part in my young life.
Her eyes fixed on me and she smiled, a look of recognition. Her dress swirled as she made the short walk up the carpeted steps. I glanced up. She smiled again and stood beside me for the completion of the hymn.
When we sat, I could feel the warmth of her leg against mine: it was deliberate, inviting. There was a mirror beside the organist, to check the progress of the service. I was sure that she was watching me, just like she did when my brother and I were misbehaving during a service.
I glanced around at the congregation; familiar faces, all aware that I was soon to be married. Would they really believe that I had never seen this girl before? Perhaps she had mistaken me for someone else. I should have moved away from her, but I did not.
The service continued its usual pattern: a prayer, a reading, a hymn. At every opportunity I exchanged glances with the girl. Perhaps she was seeking a response and I…well I was simply captivated by her. Each time we sat after singing a hymn she pressed against me, I could feel her every movement. Embarrassment was not my only emotion. I cannot deny that I enjoyed it.
It was a quarter to seven when the preacher stood to deliver his sermon. My mind went back over the years, I had heard so many, some enjoyed, most endured.
I was suddenly jolted back from my thoughts. A quick squeeze of my arm and my new friend was on her way down the steps and heading for the door. She paused and glanced back, perhaps willing me to follow. Was the touch a goodbye or an invitation? I will admit that I was tempted but how could I? The good folk already had enough to talk about. I remained in my seat.
The dreary sermon drew to a close and as we stood for the last hymn I took my leave. I could not face the pleasantries of a post service gathering or the near certainty of an inquisition.
I headed for the lane, hoping that she would be there, to my disappointment there was no sign of her.
Over the next few days every waking and sleeping thought seemed to be of her. After that first brief encounter I had become infatuated. I made up my mind to find her again and began daily visits to the lane by the old chapel. As the days and weeks passed my longing increased; finding her became an obsession. Nothing else mattered, my job, my friends…even my forthcoming marriage. I knew the risks, but her memory kept drawing me back, I could not help myself.
It was a bright sunny day when I saw her again, in the lane, dressed exactly as before. The light seemed to enhance the intensity of her blue eyes…she was every bit as beautiful as I remembered.
My mouth was dry but I managed to say hello. I was mesmerised by her loveliness, by her presence.
She smiled, “Hello Joe, how are you?” I wanted to tell her; I really did. I wanted to say that Joe was not my name but something stopped me, for that moment I wanted to be him. “Will you walk with me?” she asked.
Nothing could have stopped me and as we picked our way along the muddy lane, I took every opportunity to glance at her. She was perfect in every way.
The conversation flowed but it was never about her; all my questions were cleverly evaded. I wanted to know her name but how could I ask? I was her Joe and we knew each other so well.
We reached the chapel gate and she turned and looked at me; the intensity of her look should have prepared me, but it did not. “I’m a jealous lover Joe, please tell me if there is anyone else?”
I shook my head, but I was sure that my face betrayed me, I sensed that she had guessed the truth. I felt guilty, as guilty as any unfaithful lover.
I quickly changed the subject. “I’ve been trying to find you, ever since that day in the chapel I’ve wanted to see you again.”
A few moments later I said, “I searched for you after the service but you’d gone”.
She paused and looked at me. “I waited outside but you didn’t appear. I thought that you would have followed me.”
I nodded, “I wish I had but I thought it may have seemed suspicious”.
She looked puzzled. “I don’t understand, why would two young people in love seem suspicious?”
It was my turn to be confused. Was she playing with me or did she really believe that I was her Joe? All I managed in reply was a pathetic, “I’m sorry”.
“Never mind,” she said, “come on”. She grabbed my hand and we ran down the lane like the young lovers that we were.
Turning right, she shouted, “In here,” and led me through a gateway into a small meadow. On our right was an old barn. Grass and weeds crept up the sides and the supporting timbers were rotten. Suddenly the laughter stopped and she pulled me towards the half-open door. I hesitated. The building looked gloomy; if the roof were as rotten as the walls then it could crash down around us. I looked at her eyes and suddenly my resistance was gone.
The old door creaked as we pushed it to one side. Despite the warmth of the summer day the place was cold and had an eerie feel about it. I glanced around; the building looked as though it hadn’t been used for years. Dusty cobwebs hung from every beam, many long deserted, some still occupied. Huge black spiders looked down at us before retreating to their dark corners. Movement in the piles of rubbish was unnerving; it could only be rats. I shivered.
She held me and as our lips touched my fears evaporated. We kissed, gently at first and then in an urgent passion. I wanted more and even before I had unbuttoned my shirt, she had pulled off her dress and lay there, naked except for her scarf.
I had been aware of her figure and now, without its adornment, I was not disappointed. Her breasts heaved in anticipation and she held out her arms and whispered, “Now Joe”. I was transfixed by her loveliness and she reached up to pull me to her.
I have no idea how long we were there but for that time nothing else mattered. It was the most thrilling, the most complete moment of my life; I had never known anything like it. Afterwards we slept and when we awoke, we made love again. As we dressed, I watched her and together we left the gloom of the barn. It was good to be in the warmth again; we kissed passionately and she ran off laughing. She turned and waved, ran her hands through her golden hair and was gone. “Until the next time,” I said to myself, but when?
Never a day passed without a visit to the lane but the weeks and months slipped by with no sign of her. I was desperate to find her again, nothing else mattered. She had taken over my life and my every thought was of her. My work was affected but I didn’t care. My infatuation cost me my job…and my fiancée.
It was late October and I was on one of my daily visits. I was near the chapel when I became aware that I was not alone. I heard footsteps and turned in expectation but it was not her, it was the old chap who lived nearby. The last thing I needed was a crank like him poking his nose in.
“You don’t look well lad.”
I tried to ignore him but grunted some sort of reply.
And then, in a slow, clear voice he said, “She won’t be back”.
I spun around, aware of my anger.
He spoke again, softer now, “I’m sorry lad, but she won’t be back”.
“Who won’t be back?” I snapped.
“Emily,” he said, “you won’t see her again”.
“Emily,” I mumbled, “but how…”
“I saw you, in the chapel when she sat beside you. You weren’t aware of it but no one else could see her but I knew, I knew it was Emily”.
Confused, I looked at the ground trying hard to hide the tears in my eyes, trying to understand. Eventually I managed to blurt out, “I’ll find her”.
“Believe me lad, you won’t. You’re not the first to fall to her charms. You have to let go, to sort yourself out before she destroys you. Like she did me.”
“You!” I spat back in disgust, and then, “I…I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that”.
“Don’t worry lad. I know it seems unlikely but I haven’t always looked like this. I was quite dapper in my time with a good future mapped out before me. You see I was her ‘Joe’ about forty years ago. She trapped me in the same way. Overpowering it was, all consuming. I was engaged to a lovely girl but once I had met Emily that was it. I lost interest in everything. We had one moment of passion and suddenly my life was in ruins. Over the years I’ve had time to reflect, to come to terms with it. I’ve discovered that Emily attended this chapel back in the 1850s. She and Joe were to be married but when she fell pregnant, he deserted her. She was devastated and swore revenge on any man she met.”
“But how? I mean…you said the 1850s.”
“I know it’s difficult to take in. She died long ago but still walks the lane, still stalks her prey.”
I shook my head. “But…she was so real. It was so real.”
“Oh, she’s real enough, to those she wants to trap. It’s too late for me but you can still put things right…if you can just clear her from your mind.”
“But, but…I love her.”
“I know lad, so did I. Love is a great friend but a wicked enemy.”
He turned to walk away but stopped when I spoke. “Somehow, I knew that I wouldn’t see her again, that day in the lane when she waved goodbye, I knew then. Do you know what happened to her…I mean how she died?”
He nodded, “At first I thought it was because of a broken heart but the red scarf hid the truth…the fact is she killed herself, they found her hanging from a beam in the old barn down the lane”.