Ash was dancing. At least, he was moving; swaying, with his eyes closed and his arms raised, as if encircling someone. All he was holding was air.
“Ash?” Emma asked tentatively, as she took a step forward. A hand on her arm stopped her.
“Wait. Something’s going on, and it’s not good. Be careful.”
Emma nodded and took another, cautious step forward. “Ash, are you okay? It’s me, Emma.”
Ash ignored her, dancing with someone that didn’t exist, a rapt expression on his face.
Emma took another step forward. “Ash?”
Finally reaching her brother, Emma put a shaking hand on his arm and gasped. He was cold; preternaturally cold, as if there was ice in his veins, stiffening his body. At her touch, Ash shuddered and dropped his arms. He opened his eyes and it took all Emma had not to scream and run. Ash’s eyes were white, as if ice had formed across them.
They glittered in the cold light.
“Oh God, Ash. What has she done to you?”
“He’s mine now,” a voice hissed in Emma’s ear. “Soon, my chill hand will enclose his heart and he will die. Until then, you will watch him fade, knowing there is nothing you can do to save him.”
Emma whirled and found herself face to face with a woman with long dark hair and wide blue eyes. She was dressed in a wedding dress, but it was no longer white. An ugly red stain spread from the chest to the hem and dripped onto the floor where she walked, leaving bloody footprints on the polished floor.
Laughing, Catherine pushed past Emma and pressed herself against Ash, stroking his cheek. “Dance with me, my beautiful boy,” she purred and Ash raised his arms to embrace her.
Hands closed on Emma’s shoulders, holding her back. “No,” Tristan said softly in her ear. “Don’t touch them. You’ll be caught in the spell, too.
“But I can’t just stand here and watch her do this to him. He’s so cold. He can’t stand
up to it for long. His body will go into shock, and he’ll die.”
“Not yet. She won’t kill him yet. She’s like a cat and likes to play with her kill. She’ll toy with him…and me.”
“Part of this whole thing is to torment me; to punish me by having to watch my family die, one by one.”
“Ah,” Catherine said, spinning out of Ash’s arms. “The inimitable Tristan Loughbridge. I knew you’d be here.” She glared at Tristan. “You never could resist a pretty face, and I have to admit, this one is pretty. The boy is, too.” Catherine turned and stroked Ash’s cheek. “Such a pretty baby,” she cooed. Ash stood, immobile, showing no sign he’d heard her.
Turning back to Emma, Catherine gave her a cold, appraising look that made Emma shiver.
“I think he might be the prettiest,” Catherine said, “except, perhaps, for Edward. Edward was so sweet, so adorable. It was almost hard to kill him. He took such a long time to die. Who would have thought it from someone so delicate, and frail? He had a sister, too, didn’t he? As pretty as this one. What was her name?”
“Anna,” Tristan said, flatly.
“Ah, that’s right. Such a beauty. You had a dalliance with her, I recall. She quite fell in love with you. Poor Anna, she was devastated when her brother died. She really thought she could save him – with your help of course. You didn’t tell her you had the means to save him all along, and you’re not going to tell this one, are you? You’re not going to tell her that you will comfort her, lead her on, and mourn with her when he drifts away – and all the time you could have saved him. You could have saved them all.”
“No,” Tristan said, sharply.
“You made your choices. Now you have to live with them. You all have to live with them.” She turned to Ash and smiled at him, caressing his cheek and hair in a way that made Emma feel sick. “Except you, of course.”
“Leave him alone. Don’t touch him.”
Emma tried to grab Catherine’s arm, to drag her away from Ash, but as solid as Catherine’s arm seemed, it was as insubstantial as smoke in Emma’s hand.
Catherine laughed. “Oh dear, little girl, did you think you could touch me? That you could drag me away by force? Silly little thing. You see, I’m not really here. I’m in there. She tapped Ash’s forehead. I’m doing all kinds of things in there, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. Of course, you have modern medicine now, don’t you, in your shiny hospitals, with doctors and nurses. You could probably keep him alive for a while, a long while, maybe, but I’ll get him in the end, and all the time you’re holding on, all the time you think he’s calm, sleeping, inside he’ll be doing this….”
Catherine tapped Ash’s forehead again, and he crumpled to his knees. Holding his head in his hands, he rocked back and forth. Then he started to scream, and didn’t stop.
All around, the dancers took up the cry, shrieking, their lovely facades fading to reveal twisted creatures with sharp fangs and claws. Their eyes glowed in the fading light, as the illusion shattered around them and darkness fell in shards of dark glass. In every shard, a mote of white light danced, and laughed at them.
“Come on,” Tristan said, grabbing her arm. “We must leave this place. We are in grave danger. It may already be too late. Keep tight hold of my hand and we may yet escape with our lives.
“I’m not leaving Ash.”
“It is already too late for him, Emma. His end is close. Please, save yourself.”
“I’m not leaving Ash, Emma repeated stubbornly, and fell to her knees beside her tormented brother.
As usual, you now have the joy of even more free flashes by other, even better writers. So go check them out.