This story is by Fernando Bascunan and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
20 years, the silent inexorableness, a mysterious settlement among Arinas’ uncles and the so-called priest with a terrible secret, expires. What is to be perhaps the happiest day in the life of a beautiful, Russian young lady hosting her birthday ball tumbles uncontrollably into nightmare with just three simple knocks… Confessing just moments before to be her father, the mystifying man of the cloth extracts Arina unwillingly and unexplainably from home and from the people she lovingly entrusts with her life, alongside him into a car.
Speeding into the unknown winter night, she feels momentary relief sighting what looks to be her uncle’s men in several cars, madly catching up. A bizarre fiery explosion soon engulfs them, leaving only a mass of smoldering, melting, wrought iron behind. With time as his enemy, the old man in a downward spiral of ever-growing guilt gives Arina a unique, mysterious, jeweled, gold necklace. Receiving it with great bewilderment, Arina only conceives the unavoidable danger too late, lost into the night towards an unknown destination.
High on a hilltop, an enormous dark Cathedral’s uninviting entrance awaits the speeding vehicle, now traveling through the narrow, dark, twisting road leading towards it. Strange men dressing in black hastily command both passengers to descend. Finding out to her horror on that very same night, her circumstance is that of espousing an uncommoner named Zhernebos.
Blisteringly furious, driven to her deepest pain, a bitter Arina is forcing to gown a strange improvisation for a wedding dress. An expensive, elaborate, hand-made, black satin, tulle nightdress the groom formerly selects. Ravishing, even with her smeared makeup and soul-torn, heartless expression, suddenly the door swings violently open, guessing the man standing before her with an evil smile is indeed Zhernebos.
“Oh my, who would ever guess my wife-to-be is a heavenly angel!”
Tilting his head slightly, he instructs an order to a nearby man without ever losing eye contact. The firm, deep voice comes from a tall, middle-aged, athletically-built man. Accentuating his powerful facial expressions, large, coal-black eyes, short black hair, a very sharp nose, and a noticeable scar underneath his left eye. She most resentfully mesmerizes, unable to refrain from looking at her captor after all he represents and is painstakingly trying to accomplish.
“Let’s not keep our ceremony waiting any longer!”
Swinging around dramatically, he leaves his long, black coat trailing behind and walks out the door. She stares menacingly at the three men present, who reveal it’s time, persuading her by unforceful means to abandon the small chamber.
Squinting with the glare at the immense amount of torchlight, Arina indignantly enters the nave. Nevertheless, its unbearable eeriness makes her hesitate an instant. At least a hundred of Zhernebos’s men dressing as counterparts are strewing evenly throughout the church. Awaiting the future spouses standing by the altar, yet another priest. Suddenly, walking down the aisle, an intense, unpleasant scent exhumes precisely in front of her where Zhernebos towers. Remembering the reek after meeting the man in the room a moment ago, now the stench just grows into suffocating proportions.
Arina reaches the altar, standing insubordinate aside Zhernebos for the first time. How grim could all this really be? She thinks. The images of the perfect wedding holding her Uncle’s arm down the aisle with a beautiful, white dress and of her beloved Andrei waiting for her stand worlds apart from this godforsaken misery.
Looking at her once again with an even-bigger, unholy grin, he shouts.
“Bring him in!”
Chained, her so-called father swiftly drags by Zhernebos men who force him to kneel aside the altar facing the groom.
“I’m a man of my word and you get to see the wedding.”
Irrespective of the kneeling man, Zhernebos quickly scrutinizes the standing priest, yelling.
Paying no attention to the ceremony and feeling she’d plummet, Arinas’ stoical honor carries on. Everything seems so appalling, from the old man kneeling down like a wounded dog on a leash to the unnerving priest performing the most beautiful, love-filled ritual, shaking beyond control. Every time Arina looks at Zhernebos, he smiles back more impatiently than before, anxious to its fruition.
Forcing a ring on her finger, she peevishly ignores; Arina startles, noticing her new bloodstained apparel reveals a miniature version of a woven, rose-thorn crown. Trying forcefully to pull it off proves useless, pricking and bleeding even more. Zhernebos avoids the inconvenience of asking his bride to slip his ring on. Taking it, he firmly drives it into his finger, raising it to where she clearly distinguishes those infernal gold pieces are indeed, an exact matching pair.
“Are you finished father?”
Inquires the evil groom.
“I now pronounce you, man and wife.”
Zhernebos swiftly walks behind the man, just marrying him, wickedly grinning.
“Moving, touching me almost to tears.”
Without vacillation, he slashes the religious man’s throat wide open. The kneeling old man shivers as Zhernebos, now holding a long sword, walks over decidedly towards him from behind.
“Twenty years you made me wait…”
Looking over to Arina, then back at the man.
“It was worth every second of it!”
Perversely, skewering him straight through the heart, the executioner kneels down next to the victim’s ear.
“That time is meaningless, where you’re going!”
Standing up, he pulls the sword out from his chest while pushing the corpse with one foot on its back. Zhernebos hears a loud, piercing scream from Arina, who now lies unconscious, thanks to her new husband’s gruesome wedding gift.
Arina awakes alone inside a speeding car escorted by another group of Zhernebos men, realizing the groom to be nowhere in sight. Wrapped again in her own fur coat, she immediately recalls the necklace in her pocket, holding onto it tightly. The long, silent drive gives Arina time to notice they’re transferring her from the city to a more rural location. Finally arriving, the two vast, iron gates immediately open as the car directs itself towards an immense castle’s main entrance.
She’s swiftly escorted through the halls towards two closed doors on the second floor. After knocking, from inside, a familiar voice accedes their entry. Resembling her uncle’s private study, behind the desk standing near the window, attiring a comfortable, dark-red robe, overlooking the view with a glass in his hand, her new husband.
“Dear creature, I expect you have been treated with the utmost courtesy. I will not be indulgent to anyone who dares otherwise.”
Giving everyone his back in disregard, a simple hand movement summons his men to leave.
Zhernebos strolls ever so slowly towards Arina. Gifting him a profound expression of her indignation, while he calmly walks besides, then around her.
“It is true we have not spoken, as many lovers do. Now, time is on our side. You see Arina, all I want is to make you the happiest woman in the world.”
“Was having to kill those two people, supposed to bring me happiness? An arranged wedding, the black dress, the torchlit church, dismissing family, friends, loved ones, even flowers? You really believe all that would make me happy?”
Zhernebos feverish smile, growing with her words, makes him clench his fists so tight, he draws blood from one of his palms inconspicuously.
Taking out a white silk handkerchief from his pocket, he wraps it around his wounded hand.
“Our first quarrel…why of course, you should be happy. That sinful priest coming out from oblivion, claiming to be your father, and what of your so-called family, letting you go, just like that? He deserved to die!”
“They deserve to be forgotten! Au contraire, I alone, would kill for you! How many men can take a life only to prove love, and devotion?”
Arina storms back.
“The other priest…?”
“What about him, did he overwhelm you? His endowment make you feel more attracted to me?”
Defying every one of Arina’s words, he circumvents her, noticing her uncontrollable stare gives him the advantage. The same miserable pungence as in the church suddenly interrupts Arina’s aggravation, coinciding with Zhernebos outburst during their discussion.
Inflicting on her lack of self-control is his knowledge of her family as well as the incomprehensible relationship with the priest. Understanding it’s of utmost momentousness she succeeds in imposing her stature; otherwise, this monster will definitely overcome her.
“Tell me Arina. Was there anything you considered about that deplorable reverend worth saving? I’d have been more than glad to spare the bastard!”
Zhernebos’s abominable expression swarms Arina, forcing her to look another way. Dwelling on his final, incongruent words, she denotes the rising influx of her consternation.
“You are now my wife, Arina. As such, I expect much respect and obedience, not your love, well…not just yet.”
Advancing towards the door, he leaves Arina behind.
“Time will witness you grow, learning to love me…dearly!”
Zhernebos face instantly transforms into Arinas’ beloved uncle, chuckling as he opens the door…with red, glowing eyes.
“Don’t they all…?”