This story is by nedohn and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
10 pm The Night Before
The trousseau items took months to craft, hand sewn from the finest French fabrics available. Delicate lace tatting graced the edges. Clarissa ran her hands over the softness.
Tomorrow at this time, she would be Mrs. David Carter, The Third. He liked to emphasize that part, perhaps an attempt to highlight the family’s longevity and his pedigree.
She would eventually meld into that world until her own identity was no more. Bearing children. Nodding at servants. Sitting stiffly upright during dinners.
“Don’t, Clarissa,” she admonishes herself. “This is your choice and this is your life. It won’t be a bad one, after all. Money. Travel. A standing in society. All the things that are important. David has many fine qualities, too.”
At least that is what Mother tells her, again and again. What about love? she asks Mother.
“There will be a . . . type of affection that will come with time, my dear. Mother pats her hand. “you will be far, far too busy to even think about it.”
She watches her Mother walk away with a rigid grace only years of practice could create. Would that be her destiny as well?
Clarissa shudders as a deep feeling of loneliness chills her soul. A desperate look around the room for anything that might bring her warmth, but there’s only the trunk, her wedding gown and her bed.
All personal items, from her favorite doll as a child to her first dance card, has been relocated. . . already removed and assimilated into her new life.
“What will become of me?” She toys with the trunk’s key, fingering the ornate ridges. “Will I be permanently locked away in some ornate box of a house separated from all that makes me happy?
7 am The Day Of
Father takes a sip of coffee, and pauses. “Where’s Clarissa?”
Mother and Father exchange looks
Forks are gently placed on china. “I am sure she doesn’t feel like eating, Arthur. No bride does on her wedding day. Have you seen your sister, Lily?”
Soft blond curls shake the answer no.
Mother shoves her chair back, dabbing a napkin to her mouth. “I’ll go check on her.” She passes through the Grand Hall, which has been transformed into an English Garden in preparation for the ceremony.
In a mere six hours, it will be full of music, gaiety and champagne toasts.
Ascending the grand staircase, she carefully avoids the garlands of white roses wrapped around the banister and imagines her daughter floating down the stairs in a cloud of taffeta on the arm of her father.
She knocks softly. “Clarissa?” Nothing. “Clarissa, are you in there?” A quick scan reveals only the steamer trunk, her wedding attire and a bed that clearly hadn’t been slept in.
Movement in the garden below the window catches her eye. Mother sighs relief, and wonders why for an instant she panicked at not finding her daughter.
Clarissa would never do anything rash, like run away, and even if she did, where would she go. Silly. Just a case of wedding day jitters.
Father looks up as Mother returns. “She’s in the garden, writing in her journal.”
Father slams his coffee cup down and throws his napkin. “Preposterous thing to do. She needs to be in here primping and preparing or doing whatever a bride does, not wandering around flowers daydreaming about who knows what. This is a very important marriage between two fine families.”
Mother’s bowed head capably deflects his wrath as is has for years. When all is calm, she excuses herself and goes to the garden.
Two Hours Before
Clarissa paces back and forth until hands position her in front of the floor-length mirror.
A lovely bouquet of deep red roses graces her dressing table, a gift from David Carter The Third that included a pearl choker, which now circles her neck. “Like a dog collar, perhaps?” she wonders as she fingers it.
Her room is a bee hive of activity, and she is at the center. Hands are patting her hair, adjusting straps of her silk camisole while others rub cream into her arms and legs.
“Like I’m being sacrificed,” she thinks. “For the sake of her family, society, image and pedigree.”
“Stand still now,” she’s told. “Arms up.” Cool satin slithers down her body, creating goose bumps where it touches as it falls in place.
Even Clarissa can’t help but gasp at the transformation she sees in the mirror. “Oh, why can’t there be love, too?” she wonders.
One Hour Before
The mantel clock is ticking her life away. “Please, I need some time alone,” she manages to choke out. Her personal attendant, Nora, deftly shoos everyone out.
Alone, panic swells inside her. Like a caged animal, she seeks escape but there is only one way out. The back stairs.
Once there, the turmoil and hurried footsteps of last-minute wedding preparations well up from below. There would be no way out here.
She returns to her suite, defeated. Then a brilliant plan comes to mind and sends her heart racing with new hope.
Mother moves throughout the Great Hall, nodding here and hugging there. Across the room Father shakes hands with David Carter The Second as if solidifying a great deal.
After a quick glance at his pocket he moves toward the stairs. Nora meets him at the top, her head bowed. “Sir, Miss Clarissa is not in her room, Sir. I can’t find her anywhere.”
A thorough search of her suite reveals no Clarissa and no clues. Father storms down the back stairs, dividing servers and staff like a descending blade.
Orders are barked to search the nearby property, the out buildings, the gardens and orchard. Nothing is found. Nothing is ever found.
Barbara stands in the middle of the grand hall at the base of the sweeping staircase, feeling the ghosts of past galas and swirling gowns.
She can’t believe they now own this amazing house and that it survived the apartments and other structures that now surround it.
It will make a great bed and breakfast.
She hears her husband’s muffled voice and the tromping of footsteps. He appears at the top of the stairs covered in dust and cobwebs.
“Hey, you gotta see what I just found. Come on. It’s in the attic. I don’t know how we missed it before.”
Way back in a gloomy corner as if purposefully forgotten was an ornate steamer trunk. Between the two of them they could pull it out.
Barbara ran her hands over filigrees. “I can see how it has been overlooked stuck way back there but why would anyone shove it there in the first place?”
John shrugs. “Can’t answer that. It’s locked and obviously there’s no key. Let me see if I can jimmy it open.”
The lock gives, almost with a sigh. “Whoa, that was a bit wild. This thing has probably been sealed shut for decades. You ready to see what’s inside?”
They both peer cautiously. “What is that?” John asks.
Barbara kneels and touches the fine silk. “It’s a wedding dress. Oh, so lovely and almost perfectly preserved. I wonder how old it is?”
She begins to lift it up. “Wait what is that?” Something grey falls from the layers. “Oh, my god, John. It’s a bone. There’s a skeleton inside the dress!”