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The Blood Countess

Lorraine Gibbs, CA, USA
June 2004

Iam a fiction writer, and this is one of my first stories. I love this site and decided to submit this in order to become a part of it. I got the inspiration for this story from an article I read online at about Elizabeth Bathory. I hope you enjoy it.

The Blood Countess

"It is so ridiculous that you can�t be in a dark room with a mirror, Annie." My mother squawked at me from the master bathroom where she was curling her dark hair in short, tight little ringlets close to her round head. "Can�t you just grow up and get over it?" "No." I answered, lazily, a hint of sarcasm in my voice, "It?s not something you can get over." She continued trying to beautify her pudgy, marshmallow like face with gobs of cheap makeup. "It�s not like anything real ever actually happened to you. It was only your imagination. God, you?re such a baby." She was now plucking at her double chin, as if pulling at it would somehow make it disappear.

I looked down at my hands, complete with painted fingernails and class ring. I was 18 now, old enough to know that there were real things to fear, things that weren�t silly and made up, things that didn't disappear when the light went on. But though I knew that rapists and murderers existed, they could be fought. How do you fight something that might only exist in your mind? Something like what had happened to me when I was only 13.

It all began when my best friend Lara came to school one morning. "Hey Annie!" she�d cried at me, yanking my attention from the daydream I was having, staring at my current crush. She came running towards me, the picture of adolescent insecurity. Her long blonde hair was carefully arranged in two pigtails, her blue eyes were heavily lined, and her jawbone was slightly gray from too much foundation. Her entire face was covered over with a thick layer of face powder, and she wore a trendy short denim skirt with a light blue man-style shirt and a white tie. Small pink sneakers with thick white lines on the sides adorned her feet.

"Annie, guess what?" she squealed excitedly. "What?" I asked, apprehension thick in my voice. "My parents said I could have a slumber party tomorrow night when they go and visit my Aunt Beth! Isn�t that great?"
"That�s great Lara, but my parents will never let me go if your parents aren�t there, and you know as well as I do that I�d get caught if I lied." "My sister Jessica�ll be there," she said, matter- of-factly, absent-mindedly straightening her too-tight clothes.
"Oh, that�s encouraging." Lara and I both despised Jessica. She had a bad habit of screwing up our plans and telling our secrets. She acted more like Lara?s younger sister Kaylee, who was always the first to tell on us. Therefore, anytime we did anything, parents were quickly informed by the Snitch Sandwich.
"You know what that means, Lara. Our party will be competing with the kegger she�s planning to throw while your parents are gone, and she�ll blame any mess her stupid drunk friends make on us. Your parents think she?s so perfect, they?d never believe us."
"Jesse�s not gonna throw a kegger, this time, Annie. She can�t. My parents caught her the last time, remember? Their idea of her being perfect has been totally screwed up and Mr. and Mrs. Bonagel are gonna be coming over and checking up on us twice each night to make sure she�s not doing anything she?s not supposed to. Oh, come on, Annie! I�m sure your mom�ll say yes if you just ask her!"

I figured my mom would say yes too: she wasn�t the one I was worried about. It was my Dad. He�d accidentally overheard a conversation I�d had with Annie about what had happened the last time, and now he was convinced that Lara�s innocent little parties weren�t so innocent anymore. "Fine, I�ll ask, but I don�t think they�ll say yes, especially after what happened las-" The bell rang, but Lara nodded as she ran off to her first class, home ec. "I�ll see you at lunch!" she shouted, and I nodded back like a robot, waving before I scampered off to my English class.

At lunch, we talked about the usual stuff. At that age, the most important things in most girls� lives are boys, sleepovers, and make-up. I can't say that I was much different, but even as I say that, I know that I wasn't the same, either. I was always a little strange, not quite as Barbies and make-up as the other girls. I was always the last to fall asleep at a slumber party and the first to wake up, the only one that could tell a decent ghost story, and the first person my friends came to when they had a problem.

"Hey, Annie, do you think that we ought to play truth or dare this time, I mean, after what happened to Lyndsay last time?" I looked at her over my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some of the white bread undoubtedly sticking to my teeth. "Sure," I answered, "Why not?" "Well, I guess if we have rules this time it�ll be okay." she said. Even as she said it, though, I wondered if we would ever feel completely safe playing that game. Of course, truth or dare sessions when I was on the active end weren't all that interesting. I wasn't stupid enough to take the more dangerous dares given me, and I hadn't led an interesting or secretive enough life to make truth questions worthwhile. But, the truth questions and dares that I made up were always the best. No one could resist them. In fact, that�s what had happened to poor Lyndsay Saier. She had taken one of my dares; something that I never thought would have worked in a million years. But that doesn�t matter now.

We continued planning the party, discussing the amounts of chips, candy, ice cream, and soda that would be needed, as well as which movies we should rent. I suggested Sleepy Hollow, as it had recently come out, but none of the other girls wanted to see that, and Lara jokingly called me a Christina Ricci wanna-be. I laughed it off and said, "What�s wrong with that?" causing the other girls to dissolve into a paroxysm of giggles. Lara changed the subject from Sleepy Hollow to The Mummy after that, and I was content to sit quietly during the video discussion. After all, I hadn�t won one of these yet, and I figured that my luck wasn�t going to change now. That was when Lyndsay came and sat down at the table with us. She hadn�t slept in days, as evidenced by the dark circles crowding her cheekbones and pressing on her eyes, bulgy with the bags of a much older woman under them. Her entire face was sallow and sunken, covered with too much make-up that, rather than concealing her misery, made it all the more obvious.

"Hi, guys." she said, a weak smile playing on her graven features. "How is everyone?"
" Fine." Lara said, her sad, pitying eyes showing up the broadness of her fake smile. "We�re fine, Lyndsay. How are you? Are you sleeping any better?" I asked, wanting her to say yes so that I could be rid of the guilt that grew inside me a little every time I saw her. "Well, maybe a little better." she said, showing me a polite smile that made it so obvious she was lying. Lying for my benefit, but lying nonetheless.

"Lyndsay, you look awful!" came a declaration from above. It was a feminine voice, and we all looked up to see who it was. My eyes locked with those of the speaker, deep blue eyes reminiscent of the color of new blue jeans. It was Beth Morson, the girl we all loved and hated simultaneously. She wasn�t too popular, too pretty, or too nerdy. She was simply too good.

She genuinely cared about everyone, regardless of who they were or what they�d done to her. She was so nice that you couldn�t dislike her, though you desperately wanted to. She was the girl who you wanted to be friends with because she would genuinely love you, but that you wanted to ignore because her perfection was stifling. We always invited her to the slumber parties, but she rarely ever came. She wasn�t there the night that Lyndsay? anyway, all that matters about her is that she had a tendency to be a little too responsible for our group. "Lyndsay, when was the last time you slept?" Beth asked, her blonde brow furrowed in concern as she stroked Lyndsay?s thick dark hair. "I don�t know. A few days ago, I guess." "Why can�t you sleep?"

Lyndsay�s eyes went blank at that, her mind obviously in the dark bathroom of Lara�s house, the only place where there was a big enough mirror for the dare? she had come out of there screaming, slamming her body against the closed door as if something was after her. We had all been waiting in the hallway, listening as she chanted, waiting for her to come out.

I�ll never forget the look on her face. Her face was expressionless, but her eyes. Oh, her eyes! They had shined like diamonds in the dim light. She had been somewhere between sobbing and screaming when she flew out of the bathroom, like someone awaiting her own execution. She refused to leave that door the whole night: afraid that if she didn�t stay on her guard, something horrible would escape from it. She never told us what she saw. I knew, though. I knew because the only thing she could have seen was what I dared her to conjure up. Elizabeth B?thory. The blood countess of Transylvania. I read of her somewhere a few weeks before, and decided that the next time we played truth or dare, I�d have one of my unsuspecting girlfriends try to summon her the way they tried to summon Dracula or Bloody Mary: by chanting into a mirror in a darkened bathroom, a flickering candle her only light.

I made up the necessary chant and decided that the ritual would be to hold a large dark red candle in front of you, look straight into the mirror and say, "Erzebet, Erzebet, (Erzebet had been her name in Transylvanian) take your vengeance on me! The king has come, your life is done, evil, evil, Erzebet!" You must say this over and over again until a beautiful woman with long dark hair appears. She will then open her mouth to show bloodstained teeth, and perhaps a little blood will drip, fresh from her latest victim.

I never in a million years thought that anything would actually happen. I had done the Dracula and Bloody Mary chants a thousand times, and they had never appeared to me or to my girlfriends. After the party, I wanted to try the chant myself. If I hadn�t been on hand during Lyndsay�s experience, I would have.
"Oh, I guess it�s a growing thing. Mrs. Porten said that we might have trouble sleeping if we�re still growing, didn�t she Annie?" Lyndsay�s terror-filled eyes gazed at me with a "Please help!" type of expression. She could tell that I knew what had happened, in part at least, and she was desperate for one of us to back her up. "Sure." I said, faking excitement about the idea, "Mrs. Porten told us that like three weeks ago." Remarkably, that was about how long ago I�d heard of Erzebet. Why couldn�t I stop thinking about her? "Well, lunch is almost over. We�d better head to the bathroom and touch up our make-up before class starts again." Lara said, trying to change the subject.

"Yeah, I guess we must." I sighed, evoking a few nervous giggles around the table. We all got up and started heading for the girls� restroom. We had come in before the rush, so it was easy to monopolize the three mirrors available. There were about nine of us, including Lyndsay, but Lyndsay refused to look into any mirror larger than her compact�s 3-inch one. She sat on the floor facing the door, turned away from the crowded sink stands. She was always the master at balancing her make-up on any surface. We all went about our business, curling eyelashes, applying mascara, blush, lipstick, etc. We were all staring into the mirrors, trying to get a good look at our young faces that we were trying to cover from the world. I had finished putting on mine and was fixing my hair when I heard a little gasp from Lyndsay. Curious, I handed my brush to one of the girls that had forgotten hers, and went over to where Lyndsay sat cross-legged on the tile floor. "What�s wrong?" She looked at me, her face awash with terror.

"She�s there!" she gasped in a whisper.
"She�s in the mirrors, staring at us, smiling.
Smiling that awful smile!" She buried her face in her arms, sobs slowly taking over.
"Lyndsay, how did you see her if you were facing the door?"
She gazed up at me, her bloodshot eyes awash in tears,
"I caught the big mirrors in my compact on accident, and there she was! I can?t get away from her, I can?t!" she cried, the sound turning into an almost inaudible whisper in her dry throat.
"I can�t stay in here! She�ll kill me!" The other girls continued their teenage babbling and giggling while they applied their make-up, acting as if nothing at all was happening. This angered me, but at the time, I wasn�t willing to get into it with them. Lyndsay was more important. I scooped up her backpack and pulled her to her feet.

"C�mon, I know where we can go where there aren�t any mirrors." Pulling her by the arm, I expertly navigated the school, avoiding pillars and open doors until we came to a small stairway. We went down until we reached the third landing, backpacks crashing to the floor as we slid down the concrete walls.

"She follows me everywhere! Why can�t she leave me be!"
She started rocking back and forth, a caricature of insanity. I wrapped my arms around her, and let her sob. It was the only thing I or anyone else could do for her. She wept for a good half hour, soaking my t-shirt and wracking my heart and soul with guilt. I had done this to her. If only I hadn�t dared her. She would probably be fine now. Why? Why was I so stupid! How could I do this to my friend? Regret settled upon me like night over the world. I had made the worst mistake of my young life, and it had been made against one of my dearest friends. This poor sobbing creature was a giggling girl once. Not even two weeks ago, she had been completely normal. Now she was a pitiful, horrified shell, afraid of her own shadow, and it was my fault. Mine and mine alone. I began to cry too, trying to ease my suffering with tears.

When Lyndsay realized that I was crying with her, she turned her watery cess pools on me and whispered, haltingly through stifled sobs and more tears, "Annie, don- don�t blame your-yourself. You couldn�t ha-have known. It- it�s not your-or fault." The eyes that locked on mine were so tired and terrified, but they were full of pity for me. She knew how I felt, how anyone would feel if something like this happened to someone you love and all because you dared them.

We sat there awhile, content to remain quiet as our bodies calmed and our tears dried. "Annie?" Lyndsay spoke quietly in the dimly lighted stairwell;
"Annie?" she said again.
"Yeah?" I whispered.
"Do you want to know what I saw that night, and what I keep seeing, every night?"
"Yeah, if you want to tell me."
"I�m not sure I want to or if I should tell you,
but I feel like I need to tell you, to tell someone who won�t think I�m crazy. Will you listen?"
"Of course. What are friends for?"
She laughed a little, seeing the irony in the situation. And then she began her tale.
"Well, when I went into the bathroom, I expected it to be like Bloody Mary and Dracula, nothing would really happen, and after awhile, you guys would open the door and ask me if I was done chanting because you guys were all getting bored, and blah blah blah. The fifth time I said the chant, a form began to appear, it was like a fog but it wasn�t like any kind of person. It was like a picture, or a painting. I kept on chanting, totally sucked into what was happening. Each time I said the chant, the picture became clearer.�

?The tenth time I said it, the picture was clear. It was a castle courtyard, like the ones in our world history book, and there were 15 women in a line, waiting for something. I said the chant again, for the last time, and the picture started moving. It was almost like a movie, except I felt like I was there. And that�s when it happened. I wasn�t in Lara�s bathroom anymore: I was in the picture. I was at the back of the line of women I had seen not two minutes earlier. I looked down and saw that I was dressed like them, too, and my hair was done like theirs.� ?When I looked around, I saw the mirror on a rock; it was only a speck of light from where I stood. The women ahead of me were filing into a large blank room. It had walls and floors of stone, and there was a hole in the middle of the room, something like a drain, I thought. They all seemed excited to be here, like whatever happened in this one room was going to make or break their futures. I had no idea why until I saw her. Erzebet; Elizabeth B?thory herself.

?She came striding into the room, and her face was totally white. I guess she painted it or something. No one is that naturally pale. She was wearing a purple gown that came to the floor and then swept out into a long train carried by two little dark-haired girls with awful, pale faces; each stared into space with cold green eyes. The roses that should have been on their little cheeks were substituted with small brown burns.

?As soon as I saw them, I remembered everything that you�d told us about how evil Erzebet was. I was so scared, Annie. I didn�t know what to do, and all the women in the room were smiling, but the two little girls both knew better. They knew the evil of her ladyship, the Countess of Transylvania. They had both seen the murders of too many women, sacrificed for Elizabeth?s pleasure. I saw through the charade she put on. As her mouth moved, I realized she was speaking a language I didn?t understand, but I heard English. Plain, ordinary English.
?She was asking each of the girls how their trip was, asking them all which province they had come, and why they had decided to come. She complimented every last one of them on something superficial, her dress, face, or body. Finally, she came to me. She looked into my eyes and said, "Well, Miss Lyndsay Saier, how was your journey to my castle?"

?I didn�t know what to do. She was obviously in control of this, and I had no option but to play along. "It was lovely, Madam." I said and I curtsied! I actually curtsied to that awful woman! I didn�t want to give her a reason to torture me, Annie. I felt I was really there, really staring down her royal evilness. I had to have been there. How else would she have known my name? ?Anyway, she kept questioning me, asking next by what vehicle I had come. "Why, my own two feet carried me to my new employment here, Madam." "And why did you accept my servant�s proposal to work for me?"
"Well, because I wished so desperately to work for a woman, Madam. I have worked for men for quite a few of my young years, and have learned the hardness that they govern women with." She nodded her head as I waited for the compliment. It didn�t come. Instead, she leaned toward me and whispered plainly in my ear.
"I know very well where you came from and how you got here, little miss. It is also in my wisdom the knowledge that you have received from your little friend on the other side. Bring her along next time you come to visit me, will you? You both look so deliciously fresh." ?That was when I found myself in the bathroom again, only I wasn�t alone. She had somehow come back with me. She had me around the neck and had her hand over my mouth.
"Remember, little Miss Lyndsay, I�ll not rest until I�ve tasted your flesh. It matters not how long it takes for me to catch you alone. I will come for you, one night. And you�ll not know when. I would take you now, but why remove the pleasure of anticipation?" After she said that, she disappeared back into the mirror, and that�s when I ran out of the bathroom. Annie, I, I?"
She dissolved into yet another paroxysm of tears in my lap, a portrait of the terror that overcame her so many times. I didn�t know what to do. Erzebet knew that I was the one who had uncovered her legend for the frightful enjoyment of my friends and myself. I was the one who had released her evil. I was the one who deserved to pay the price.

But, had I released Erzebet, or had I merely found the tools to do so? It was a question that didn�t deserve discussion. I had been involved, regardless of what technicalities did or didn�t save me from a torturous death at her royal evilness�s hands. I deserved to die as much, if not more, than poor Lyndsay who was going out of her mind with terror. I had to face her. My anger for this woman grew rapidly throughout the day. I pictured facing her and telling her to leave Lyndsay alone. By evening I was like a soldier: I was so angry and so excited that whatever happened to me didn�t matter. All that mattered was winning.

That night, I went into my bathroom, a large red candle in my hands. I began to chant Erzebet, Erzebet, take your vengeance on me! The king is come, your life is done, evil, evil Erzebet! I repeated it the necessary five times, and I began to see the form in the mirror. The tenth time found me in 16th century Transylvania, a servant girl waiting to be devoured. I was in the same line leading into the same room behind the same kinds of women that Lyndsay had been in. I traipsed along slowly, waiting for my turn. As I walked along, I felt and heard her hot breath, sticky with the blood of 600 women and girls, against my ear. "Ah, it is the gatekeeper herself! Brave enough to come and find me, eh? Such bravery should be rewarded! Ah, but not now, not now. Soon enough, young Anne, you�ll find your reward. And it�ll be more than you could have hoped for." I continued to follow the line, until I finally came face to face with her. She passed me and went on speaking to the other young women, asking them the same questions and getting the same answers.

I went about the business of deciding on a strategy for her destruction. This had to be a dream: you don�t merely chant something and end up in Transylvania. But, of course, it wasn�t. I was a part of something much, much larger than myself. Something I couldn�t control. I had no idea how I could escape. There seemed to be no way out of this terrible prison of the mind.

The most horrible thing was that there didn�t seem to much of a way in either. I had done nothing but look into the mirror at the line of young women when I became one of them. How would it be possible to reverse such a process by myself? I didn�t have a clue. Her royal evilness had made it that way on purpose:
I was at her mercy, nothing I could think of could save me. She was done interviewing us now, and she looked me in the eye as she revealed her horrible smile one last time before leaving us, saying in Transylvanian, "Welcome once again to Csejthe Castle. I hope you�ll all be good wenches and that punishment shall not be necessary for you. You are all now dismissed into our head housekeeper�s hands. All but Anne. You shall be trained to be my personal servant. Come with me."

Hands trembling, I followed her, every part of my headstrong nature cringing at the idea of being told what I should do in this way, especially by someone so evil. She and the two other women with her, no doubt her accomplices, led me to a long staircase, winding round and round the center of the tower. This was her tower. Erzebet�s Tower. I was afraid that I�d be shown to a room filled with instruments of torture, the crusty brown of old blood the only decoration on the walls and floor. Instead, I was admitted to a large bedroom equipped with a wardrobe, a canopy bed, a large chair, and a full-length gilded mirror. Rather than blood, there was deep blue silk on the walls and large Oriental rugs graced the floor. "May I ask milady, what dost thou wish me to do?" I said, as unsarcastically as possible, attempting desperately to mimic without mocking the common deference of that time. A part of me thought that maybe good service could save me.

Erzebet dismissed her accomplices who each curtsied deeply before turning to leave. Then she smiled again, that same horrible smile. "Oh, no, Anne. There will be no dusting, sweeping, or washing for you. You�re far too clever for that, aren�t you? After all, you did discover a bit of information about me, not to mention making up a chant all by yourself. No one else has ever opened their world to me like that, Anne. No one."

It suddenly struck me that she was really speaking English now, I wasn�t merely hearing it. I knew because her lips moved to the sounds escaping them, not out of sync like in a bad Japanese film, the way she spoke before. It seems it is time, gentle reader, for me to describe her, in all her awfulness. She wasn�t very tall, perhaps a little over my height, which was 5�4" at the time. She had deep black hair that was twisted around her head, reminding me of a boa constrictor squeezing a melon. The only thing about her that I know I�ll never forget besides her horrific smile is her eyes. They were the exact same shape and color as mine, green-hazel round almonds staring heatedly into my soul. The only difference between our respective sets of eyes was that hers were both warm and steely cold at the same time, creating a paradox of feeling.

She wore dresses of the era, but with strange patterns embroidered into them. Nothing Satanic or evil, or anything like one would expect a mass-murderess to wear; but there were spirals and strange geometric shapes, things of this nature. Not like a sorcerer�s robes, but like the paintings of Picasso or Van Gogh: strange, but recognizable. She turned to me and said, "You see that mirror in the corner?" I looked towards it, and nodded. I couldn�t find the breath to speak. "Well, that mirror may be your rescuer. Or is it? Hmmm? I don�t seem to remember." Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my head. She wanted something from me. That�s why I was here, that�s why I was separated from the others to be her personal servant, and that�s why she stared at me as though I were a combination safe.

I turned to her and said, "And why would I need to know such information? I know enough about this time to survive, and enough about you to escape, Erzebet. The real question is, what do you want badly enough to bring me here?" She glared at me, angry that I saw through her little scheme and too surprised to hide it. However, she suppressed her urge to destroy me, looking straight into my eyes.
"When your little friend Lyndsay was ushered into my presence, I became aware that you existed. You�re the one who formulated the chant that sent her and yourself to my former corporeal time, a place where I am locked for all eternity. I am doomed to grow old while never aging, to live while my soul is dying, to be trapped in a world of blood all my own creation. But, all that could change, Anne, if you�re willing to offer your assistance. Remove me from my living dead existence by liberating me from this pit of time, and you?ll go free."
Suddenly, I couldn�t breathe. I felt like my brain was going to explode. Could this be real? Lyndsay had told me that Erzebet had come with her into the bathroom. Why was she asking me to tell her how to escape from here? I scarcely knew how I had transported myself in. A thought went spiraling through my fevered brain at that moment,, setting me aflame with the glow of a thousand dangers. If a chant and a mirror sent me here, wouldn�t a chant and mirror send me home? It made perfect sense, especially since there didn�t seem to be any other way out of here. I resolved to try it.

Then another thought, equally as fiery, came to me. Where would I find a large enough mirror in a dark enough room undisturbed enough to allow me the privacy necessary to escape? I turned around and saw a sliver of bright looking glass through a gap between two long, flowing curtains.

This mirror was my salvation, particularly since it was in a tiny room separate from this one. However, I would still have to be able to gain access to it away from her royal evilness.

Erzebet was still talking, her horrible voice grating on my nerves like broken glass on sunburned skin. She was apparently outlining my duties as her personal servant. I was to take her laundry down to the castle laundress, fetch her food from the cook, taste her food, help dress and undress her, brush her hair, bathe her, mend and make her clothes, and be sure to keep her bedding clean and mended.

That was, of course, unless I wanted to return to my own time with her. "Madam, Lyndsay told me how you followed her into the bathroom. You can already come and go through other times. Why are you lying to me?" "You think I�m lying to you?!?" her eyes nearly popped out of her face with anger, "Why should I have any reason to lie, you miserable little welp! I, who have more power than you could possibly hope to have in all your life!"

"If I have no power, why do you need my help?" Being thirteen, disobedience and disrespect were my forte. She glared at me, the fire of murder in her horrible eyes. "You had best learn to stop asking questions, little miss. They only result in tears. The truth is that my power is limited in your world, and I wish it to be complete. I�ll ask you one more time today. Will you or will you not invent a chant to send me in completion to your time?"

"No, I won�t take a murderess into my time. I?ll stay here until I die before I agree to take you there." She stared at me with cold eyes.
"Very well. We�ll see how you like being my servant. That may change your mind." She dismissed me then, and I curtsied in common deference, and departed, really having no knowledge whatsoever as to where I should go now. I saw a young woman, perhaps five years my senior, round the corner as I was leaving Erzebet�s apartment. I went after her, walking quickly on the stone floor, my steps making a pat-pat sound as I went along. I finally caught up with her a few moments later and asked her what I should do, now that Erzebet had dismissed me. "She gave you your duties, did not she?"
"Well, go about those. I�m sure there�s some mending to be done, and she usually takes her supper in about an hour. Goodness, have you never waited on royalty before?"
"No, never." I replied, awaiting the dismissive sigh and shake of the head that I was sure to receive from her. It never came. She was far too elegant a person to demean me like that. You could see it in her eyes as she surveyed you: a goodness that traversed the bonds of time with ease. She giggled a little, making her pretty face that of a school girl.
"Well, I�d better be getting back to my duties. Good luck to you- oh, what was your name, dear?" "Anne. My name is Anne."
` "Nice to meet you, Anne. My name is Penelope. I do hope that you do well as my lady�s personal servant." With that, she disappeared around the next corner, her large basket bumping into walls here and there as she managed her way through the crowded hallways.

I thought of Erzebet again, wondering if Penelope was meant to be one of her victims. Maybe she is and maybe she�s not. Either way, I�ve got to get myself out of here. I saw Penelope later on that day, carrying a basket of laundry fresh from the palace clothesline. "Penelope!" I cried, running after her with my own basket of clothes bouncing against my hip like some strangely-formed child. She spun around and shot an inquisitive glance at me. She looked right at me without seeing me, and turned back to her walking. "Penelope!" I cried again, and she stopped and waited a moment this time. When she saw me rapidly catching up with her, she waved to me, a large smile on her pretty face.

An instant later, I was at her side. "Penelope, I must tell you something. Is there anywhere that we can be alone and talk without being interrupted by the palace guard?"
Her doll-like head nodded, tossing her deep brown curls across her back.
"Follow me." she whispered. I did, gladly.
She first slipped off to the far side of the courtyard, something she did in order to collect laundry from the large field of clotheslines there. She bade me follow her to the edge of the field where we consulted behind a large sheet, probably that of one of the royal bedchambers.
"All right, what is it?" she asked, curiosity glinting in her large blue eyes. "Well, the countess is extremely evil and very powerful in her evil, Penelope. She�s killed hundreds of women, exactly like us. The only way to survive is to escape. Will you help me?"
"Hundreds of women." she said, her tongue dripping with skepticism, "And you know this is so, young Anne? I?ve heard rumors of the like, day in and day out, we hear that someone?s been cut up or eaten or murdered. ?Tis your first day among us, and you simply know that the countess is a fiend. You listen to far too much gossip for your own good. Oh, what a waste of my time!"
Penelope picked up her b

Lorraine Gibbs, CA, USA
00:00 / 01:04
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