Draft #1 - The Woman Without a Face (2013)

Across the black river and through the forest lives the woman with no face. She lives alone in an old stone cottage, though no one knows much else. Once a month she appears in the village to gather grain, and then disappears once again. Hauling her grain through town alone, she accepts no help, and none is offered. This was the way things were for as long as anyone could remember. Until one day the order was interrupted. 

     Alice Reys was a quiet woman with a simple life, and a kind smile. She was well known in the village for being married to the best, and only blacksmith within walking distance. She was a pleasant woman with round cheeks and short, dark hair. Though she was content with her life, the one thing she desired more than anything in this world was a child. Alice and her husband Duncan had been trying to conceive a child for years, all to no avail. They were both in their late twenties, and Alice could feel her time dwindling down with every passing day. She had done tried everything in her power to have a baby, and was running out of ideas. Today, she had a meeting with Zefra, the town madwoman and a rumored witch. Alice knew it wasn’t necessarily safe to see this woman alone, but was desperate. Lacing up her shoes and straightening her dress, she set off on foot to meet the stranger who would change the rest of her life. 

     Thinking better of it, Alice turned back towards home to get a lantern. The set meeting place was the forest near the black river, and it would be undoubtedly dark. On her way out the door for the second time, she bumped into her husband. “Where are you off to, my dear?” Duncan Reys asked his wife. “Oh I- uh, I promised Gladys I would help her with the cooking tonight. She has been able to get around quite well with her arm in a sling, since her fall, but I figured I would lend and extra hand.” Alice was an excellent liar, a trait she had learned from her father. She kept her gaze locked in the deep blue eyes of her husband while she spoke, and plastered a warm smile on for extra effect. Duncan Reys was an even better liar, and could sense that something was amidst. However, he planned on visiting his mistress tonight, and Alice being gone ensured that he wouldn’t have to lie to her again, something he hated doing. “Alright, my love; have a nice time and give Gladys a kiss for me.” Alice forced a tight smile at hearing her husband say her sister’s name and hurried out the door. Two years ago, Gladys had come to her, accusing Duncan of trying to seduce her. Duncan had denied the whole thing, and not wanting to upset her new husband, Alice had sided with him. The accusations were dismissed, and the relationship between the two sisters had never quite been the same. Gladys knew however, how badly Alice wanted a child, and had provided a cover for her tonight. Hurrying through the night, Alice began to walk. She was half way through the woods when she heard a twig snap. A dark figure in her peripheral vision began a slow trudge through the thick trees. The figure wore a dark cloak and dress, and though Alice had never seen her with her own eyes before, she knew exactly who it was. The woman without a face drifted eerily past Alice, and she felt the hairs on her arms stand straight up. It took five minutes for her heart to restart, and another five minutes to remember how to move. She was almost near the heart of the woods when she heard a growl right beside her ear. With a glass shattering scream, she dropped her lantern. There was complete silence for an immeasurable period of time. With shallow, frightened breaths, Alice picked up her dropped source of light, and looked right into the face of the witch named Zefra. 

     Zefra boomed a loud shriek of laughter, scaring the some crows who were watching them from the dark treetops. Alice recoiled from the dreadful noise, and got a good look at the madwoman. She was tall, with shharp teeth and a main of wild, unruly golden hair. Her eyes shone dark and black as night, and her long finger nails were dirty and jagged. Zefra the witch moved in short, quick bursts, and had leaves in her hair. She was barefoot, clothed in matted animal fur, and was without a doubt the most beautiful woman Alice had ever laid eyes on. Zefra shrieked laughter once again at her companion’s stunned expression and spoke for the first time. “Did I scare you, Alice?” she asked, holding the ‘sss’ sound in Alice’s name. The wild woman licked her lips in anticipation of the fear she would her in the little woman’s voice. “Of course not”, Alice said clearing her throat. Disappointment shone wetly in the witch’s black eyes at the steadiness of her tone. “Alright then, young one; let Zefra see what seems to be the problem.” She closed her eyes for a moment, and then opened them suddenly, looking at Alice’s face. “You would like to bear a child, but none of your efforts have come to fruition.” Alice stared dumfounded, at the wild woman. “How-“ Zefra silenced her with a dirty finger. Her eyes closed again, but when they opened this time, only the whites were showing. Her voice rose to an even higher pitch than before, and each word that left the witch’s mouth sent chills through Alice’s body. “You will have a child, but not your own. The child will be born out of evil, but raised with love. The universe is a wicked player, my love. You will have your child, but it will be costly. Go home and bathe in warm milk, and do not question your husband when he gets home. Prepare him a feast, and feed your deceiver. You will get your child by the second week of winter.” The eyes of the witch returned to normal and with a final look, she walked through the thicket of trees, leaving the speechless woman alone with her jumbled thoughts. For the second time that night, Alice Reys dropped her lantern. 
     Duncan Reys did not want a child. He never did, but decided to pretend to as a small consolation for being unfaithful to his wife. It wasn’t that Duncan didn’t love Alice, he did – or at least thought he did, but the thrill of the chase would never get old to him. Alice was warm and soft, and a comfortable body to hold, but Duncan’s sexual appetite was insatiable, and he was quite content to hop from woman to woman. He was on his way to his mistress right now, her house at the very far end of the village, near the grain fields. He had had to be extra cautious ever since that old prude Gladys had blabbed. True, it wasn’t necessarily smart to go after the sister of his wife so soon after the wedding, but he had spent an entire two months in the company of one woman, and it left him desperate for something new. Arriving at her door now, he knocked twice, and then three times, the code to let  her know it was him. Deidre Smith opened the door, and sneezed right in Duncan’s face. “Well I suppose that’s one form of a kiss”, he replied, wiping his face with his handkerchief. “Oh! I’m so sorry. You should have told me you were coming”, she said wiping her nose “I would have told you not to bother. I’ve been feeling lousy all week, I’m afraid I’m not quite up for it tonight.” Duncan’s face dropped. “Oh, well I suppose I could.. You know- for your troubles,” she hinted, staring pointedly at the front of his pants. “Oh no, you get some rest, I’ll try next week when you’re better.” Duncan Reyes was no monster; he wouldn’t put a sick woman through that trouble. Plus it was lousy timing anyways; her husband would probably be home soon. With his head low, he began a slow walk back home. So fixed were his eyes on the ground, that he did not notice the figure in the cloak walking in the same direction. The person in the cloak had its eyes trained on the floor also, so it was no surprise when the two heads met in a painful collision, knocking them both to the floor. “Entirely my fault, please let me-“Duncan Reyes stopped midsentence, with a loud gasp, for sitting across from him on the dirt road, was the woman with no face. 
     The woman with no face had had her hood knocked off from the fall. Duncan could see a vague outline of a face, but was too afraid to look up. There had been countless rumors surrounding those who had stared directly at the supposed faceless woman. Some had said that her gaze was like that of a basilisk, one look could kill a man. Others had said that those who looked upon her face would be struck blind immediately. When Duncan finally mustered the courage to look up, the woman had abandoned her spilled grain and was briskly walking down the abandoned road, her dark cloak flying out from behind her. Without thinking about it, he ran after her and grabbed her arm as she tried to flee. “Wait, I’m so sorry. This is my fault, here let me help you.”He tried to soften his tone, and the woman responded to the sincerity in his voice. Her body relaxed and she let her hood fall down once more to look at this strange man. Under other circumstances, Duncan would have been embarrassed at his reaction, but the audible gasp that escaped his lips was to be expected. From under the hood tumbled thick tresses of hair the color of blackest night, framing a face pale as the moon. The woman without a face was not the withered old hag from the folk tales, but a slender, pale woman with wild hair and quiet grace. She nodded her consent at his offer and raised her hood back to cover her face. Duncan and the pale woman drifted quietly side by side into the grain fields to collect what she had spilled in the road. She struck up a conversation to Duncan’s surprise and he found himself mesmerized by the quiet tones of her sweet voice. When he had gathered all the grain, the woman took the sack and began to say her goodbyes. Unable to help himself Duncan slipped back the hood off of her angelic face and stared at her, feeling himself drawn to her in ways he never felt possible. The woman placed the sac on the ground, and light as a feather, used a cool hand to cup his face. She then handed him her sac of grain, and with his hand in hers, led him to the old stone cottage across the black river. 
     Alice could not sleep. She had battled all night on whether or not to take the witch’s prophecy seriously. Sitting up in her empty bed, she decided that it wouldn’t hurt for her to do as she was told. The worst that could happen was for the wild woman to have been making it all up, and if that were the case, then she would just have to find other ways to try to get pregnant. She realized that it should bother her to found out that if the witch was right, she would be a mother to her husband’s love child. However, ever since the incident with Gladys, Alice knew Duncan was not to be trusted, and to have child born out of her husband’s deceit was better than not having one at all. Alice Reys would be a mother if it killed her. So she set herself a bath of warm milk and scented it with spices and flowers. Tonight she would feed her deceiver, and the countdown to motherhood would begin.