Emilia: the Modern Pandora
May 14, 2023
“For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sickness which bring the Fates upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men.”
—Hesiod, Works and Days
There are giants everywhere. They lurk in the space where no one looks, in the background.
You’ve seen them, haven’t you? They follow you. You pretend not to see them. It’s hopeless. They are impossible to forget. You feel their presence and see their shadows. You can never shake the feeling that they are there.
I know. I was like you once. Can I give you some advice?
Just don’t look behind you.
Oh poor thing. She’s been hiding from them.
Oh poor child. The giants are coming for her.
The girl noticed the giants at the age of seven.
The shadow followed her home from school. It was rainy. The storm had passed through, the rain ceasing to strike the dead leaves on its way to the ground. Evening was arriving rapidly, the day fading away, soon to give into bitter twilight. It was the hour of all things tragic and unveiled. Clouds trailed above the girl as she pranced through the dim light and crooked trees. The wisps of gray spread the gloom of evening through the blue sky of the winter.
She had been walking beside the river for a while, its current icy and churning. The forest grew dense and dark around her, sombered by the departure of light and color. The girl even dared to splash in the shallows of the river, feeling the water soak through her wool socks.
The giant blended into the trees as she passed. Her cheeks were already pink from the chill. The giant envied that, a burst of color trying to push its way through the famished cold. All it could ever be was colorless. The giant had long arms and legs, almost skeleton-like. Its neck was stretched, the veins like spindly ropes, and its arms dangled below its rangy torso. Its eyes were beads of dark amber, pinpricks of hollow gold. The giant didn’t want to bother the girl at this moment.
It just wanted to watch.
The girl rounded the corner, her boots scuffing against the dirt. The giant paused in its curiosity of her, fingers scraping against the bark of the tree. The action emitted a noise that could have been created by the wind, or a mere creature of the forest. But she knew. She was smart from the beginning, this quiet girl with a mind for the odd and irregular. Most would have turned, instilling confidence in themselves to face their predator. They would have screamed.
However, the girl did neither of these things. She wanted to turn and look at the giant, but she resisted. Instead, her eyes went ahead and she moved as if there had been no noise. Her mind was haunted with scraps of ideas, her fears glimmering in a haze at the front of her thoughts, as she trailed through the forest path to her home. Only did she once look back, right at the steps of her porch. It was foggy and darkening, the mist lacy over the grass, but she could have sworn there was a shadow of a figure waiting at the edge of the forest, watching.
It was at this moment that sparked such wild curiosity in that particular giant. It watched her until she disappeared beyond the doorstep.
For the girl could sense the giant. And even more dangerously, she ignored it and her very own instincts. What kind of child was capable of such things?
The giant was desperate to find out.
The girl was unusual.
That is to say, she viewed the world from a rather lonely perspective, far too deep and introspective than many did, even in their old age.
She liked watching the sky. Oh! what joy it gave her to see the stars and the blinking celestial orbs that danced their way across the darkness, changing around the seasons like some clock created by the heavens. She had read many books on the old wisdom of the stars and the founders of the modern truths. Books of poetry that stilled her soul and books that made her blood hum with the excitement of discovery. There was too much out in the vast universe for a small girl like her to grasp her fingers around, but she wanted to try nevertheless. She wanted to witness the world in its ever-changing, vigorous workings.
Her mother was a teacher who had studied poetry and philosophy for many years before happening upon her father, who had learnt the ways of mathematics and the man-made computations of the world. They had taught her from a young age to watch the world, to see it grow and flourish, and to see it die and fall. The fluctuation of humankind was as inevitable as the changing of the seasons were, they told her. She was taught by their quick excerpts of knowledge and by her own unceasing yearning for the ultimate compilation of wisdom.
Her name is Maddalena Emilia Andris. A rather long name, too long for her slight figure and small gaze. She carried the name like a frightening weight on her back. She feared she would never catch up to its might.
Some say names have an impact on how one will turn out and grow up to be. They are rather incorrect. A name is a name and nothing more. Her name is no different.
Just a word breathed in the air. A declaration to an ear sensed to discern the particular syllables. A string of sounds.
The girl watched the rain from the downstairs window. It flickered under the lamp posts and against the brick of the houses, beating against the roof of the house, audible from every room. The world outside was utterly, bitterly grey. She could feel the cold through the glass as she set her hand upon the windowsill. Perhaps, if she listened hard enough through the rain, she could hear the splashing tides of Emerson Lake close by.
The giant was standing in the darkness, the deadness, like something foreign and distinctly archaic. The lamp light flickered dully as it tilted its head ever so slightly. Its eyes burned with some subtle sadness. It looked like an angel; a strange, yet beautiful creature.
A strange sort of fear, bridled with curiosity, pulsed through Emilia’s veins, shaking her soul. She had heard of the forbidden ghosts that stalked the edges of the forests, weaving through the paths of death under the haunting moonlight. Those old stories reflected the terror of seeing such things, but not the shocking sense of doom that Emilia now felt.
“Is this a dream?” she muttered, quivering. The giant paused, raising a spindly hand. The dim light caught upon its fingers, burnished bone glinting. Its mouth glowed a faint blue.
Emilia blinked and the giant was gone. She stared into the rain, willing her eyes to see through the impenetrable blue-grey. The trees stood like barren creatures, lining the damp roads.
A brittle cold caressed her cheek, softly, ever so softly. A chill ran through her soul, drenching the corners of her mind. She turned to face amber pinpricks of eyes gleaming from right above her. The giant had appeared to greet her.
Emilia fled. She ran up the stairs as fast as her legs could carry her, not caring that the giant was far taller and faster than she was, knowing that it could hurt her in an instant. But no—
It just watched her as she left.
The girl was playing in the field.
She was alone with the melting snow and wilting trees and dry yellow grass. Her red ball hit the ground in even bounces, thumping strangely in the silence. The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun shone dimly upon the scene, weak from the force of the winter. Looking down into the valley, she could glimpse sails on the lake, pushed by the gentle breeze that swept through the hillside. It was idyllic; a thoughtful, stolen dream.
Emilia began to sing softly, some gentle lullaby. Her mother used to sing it to her, the notes strong and valiant. Her voice carried sweetly over the quiet, half-dead landscape.
The giant emerged from the pallor, as if it had been called forth by her song. It stopped in the shade of the trees, quite far away from Emilia. She gasped as it appeared and her voice fell away into silence. She dropped the ball and could only watch as it rolled away. For a few moments, Emilia and the giant simply looked at each other.
The ball thudded forward, bouncing along the grass until it stopped in front of the giant.
With soft elegance, it picked it up, examining the toy. After a moment, the ball thudded back to the ground, rolling to Emilia’s feet. The trees seemed to murmur in curiosity as a soft breeze fluttered through their barren branches. She stared at the giant with intrigue as she threw the ball, watching as the giant’s arms extended to retrieve it.
They played with the ball until the sun began to fall in the distance, sending shadows tumbling across the field and through the skeletal limbs of the leafless trees. The giant nodded to Emilia, a slight incline of the head. She returned the gesture, picked up the red ball in her hands and departed back home, grass crunching underfoot.
Perhaps she had found a friend after all.
The giant became her friend.
It walked with her after school for months and months after their first meeting as she wound through the familiar path alongside the river in which she had first sighted it.
The giant would come to her, after her schooling or in the field on bright Saturday mornings when the light was sharp and the world was colorful. They had wonderful conversations. She would tell it about the novels that she had spent hours deciphering. She would reenact scenes from the works of poetry her mother taught her at nighttime, when the fireplace roared and her father made steaming mugs of apple cider. She told the giant everything she knew.
It could not reply, but Emilia knew it could hear her, could understand her words.
The leaves crunched underfoot one autumn afternoon as she talked to the giant.
“Father has told me there is an entire universe out in the world. The little lights, the stars that we see when night arrives, are as big as Earth. Every time we look out to the sky, we see worlds just like ours. Perhaps there are other things out there. Other people or animals. That would be an astonishing sight. I can barely imagine it. Perhaps they will come and visit us.
Although, Father believes that there is no such thing possible. We cannot travel in the sky. We would perish most definitely. Alas, I wish it were not so. How I would have loved to be in the stars with all the other beautiful wonders of the sky. Wouldn’t you?” she asked the giant. It bowed its head, a subtle affirmation. Emilia laughed. She knew it was different, a strange creature, but she could not shake the feeling that there was something inexorably human about it.
“Farewell, my friend.” She waved to it as she entreated upon the premises of her own home. She knew her parents would not enjoy the company of such an atrocious creature. They would be so blinded by its strangeness! The giant raised a spindly, beautiful hand and waved sadly. Emilia knew it would much rather enjoy her company for longer.
The next afternoon, Emilia waited within the treeline for the giant to emerge, so that she could once again walk with it.
It did not appear. Emilia waited for hours, watching and listening for any sign of its gentle stillness, its warm strangeness. But it did not come. Even when the sun sank below the hillsides and the light became a shadow through the treetops, it did not arrive for Emilia.
Her friend had disappeared.
She did not see the giant for a very, very long time.
Thirteen years had passed since Emilia last saw the giant. She had changed much since.
Gone was her childish demeanor. Gone was her naive gaze and bright eyed innocence. She had stopped looking over her shoulder, wondering if the giant would visit again. As time grew weary, she started thinking that perhaps she dreamed of her childhood friend.
However, some things would always stay the same. Emilia still kept her vigorous necessity for intellect. She held onto the arduous passion that had fulfilled much of her younger years. Adulthood had stripped away the glorious freedom of youth, but her curiosity grew unceasingly. It was a sad thing, for such a beautiful mind to be bound to the unfortunate pressures of society and its unceasing desire for conformity.
Time passed relentlessly. At twenty one years of age, after years studying at a small boarding schoool in the city, Emilia returned home. She had a child of her own now. A young girl, barely one year old, with golden hair and chestnut eyes. Celeste, Emilia called her. A beautiful name for a beautiful child. She was the little sunshine of Emilia’s life.
Emilia’s mother had passed away a few years previously, claimed by the flu. Emilias father had much changed since Emilia had last seen him. His hair had grayed, his face wizened with age. It was only a matter of time before he too passed, he stated as Emilia entered the foyer.
He doted on Celeste with grandfatherly affection. He watched her sleep, rocking her gently in her crib until she dozed off. Celeste had no father figure, but Emilia knew she would remember her grandfather.
Two years passed in which Emilia lived in that house, reliving the memories of her youth and the knowledge in which she once consumed so admirably. She raised Celeste as she had been, with gentle care and the assurance of love. Winter fell and Spring blossomed, bringing with it Celeste’s birthday and the miniature buds of periwinkle forget-me-nots and pearl white lily of the valleys. Summer arrived and departed and with it, her father.
There was no funeral. He had not wanted one.
Emilia lived in the house with her daughter and a newfound sense of freedom. She could do as she pleased now. Her parents had had no other children, no other inheritants for the house. She began her education again. The house had retained many of the books of her youth and of the studies of her late-parents. Emilia would stay up late into the night, a sleeping Celeste beside her, poring over the great leather bound volumes as the windows shuttered against the rain that often befell the countryside.
She began to write great stories of the heavens and the earthly bodies. She told tales of the landscape that fluctuated around her, from the glimmering fields of wild orchids and poppies to the sparkling rivers that poured into the vast deep blue of Emerson Lake to the white cliffs that plummeted magnificently to the rocky shore. Her pen was always moving against parchment.
She had no desire to marry. She had her daughter and that seemed to be enough.
It was enough. For Emilia longed for the peace and the subtleties of life, for the quiet to raise her child, write her novels, and start her life anew.
Hallsbury was a village for the lost and wandering.
The town rose up from of Emerson Lake, upon the grassy cliff sides that looked on the endless horizon. It had grown from the remnants; from the families and the runaways and the travelers looking for a new life. Mankind had flourished in the nothingness of the valley.
There was a town square in the center of it all. In the mornings, it would flood with shops, constructed from bare tables and brown canvas. Nature had bore the people food aplenty. In the summer, the market would fill with fruits in varying shades of magenta, gold, and green. Colors would fill the eyes and the village would become as eager as a newborn child. The bakery would open its doors and infuse the air with the thick scent of bread and sugar. When the autumn fell and the days grew cold, the story shifted. The market closed and the shops grew weary. Ribbons of snow would cover the cobblestone and the winter would become cruel.
Yet, on this particular early-summer morning, the sky was a brilliant, overwhelming blue.
“Celeste, don’t look directly at the sun,” Emilia warned as they approached the market. “It will turn your vision bad even before you reach ten years of age. Wouldn’t that be awful!”
“Yes, Mamma.” Celeste reached for Emilia’s empty hand as they entered the bustling town square. She was six years old now and looked just as her mother had at that age.
It was strawberry season. Emilia could smell it in the air. Soon, the bakery would be making sweet berry tartlets and loaves of bread studded with nuts and raisins. Summer was the finest season of them all, she thought.
“Estelle, dear,” Emilia said as she approached a woman, who turned with benign surprise. Her features were plain and simple but elegant, wrought with the endurance of the winter and the tenderness of the spring morning. One hand was clutched around a woven basket, the other held a sleeping child close to her chest.
“Emilia, how are you on this fine morning?” Estelle smiled, dropping a coin into the hand of a vendor before turning to walk beside her friend. As was usual in a town of such size, Emilia had grown up with Estelle Williamson, who was three years older than her. Their parents had been well acquainted. Emilia remembered visiting the family home on the weekends.
“Quite well,” Emilia replied as they walked. “And you?”
“Delighted. Alfie has finally been able to sleep through the night.” She gestured to the sleeping baby nestled in her arm. “It has been surprising to feel so well rested.”
“I remember when Celeste was that young.” Emilia sighed.
“Ah, Celeste,” Estelle looked down with a kind smile at the young girl clutching her friend’s arm. “How are you, my dear?”
“I like the summer, Mrs,” Celeste chirped. “It is much warmer than the winter.”
“That is true.” Estelle and Emilia bought a small brown container of strawberries with a clink of coins in a leather pouch. “Here,” Estelle handed Celeste a delicate strawberry, “tell me how it tastes.”
“Very nice,” Celeste said, sucking on the red flesh of the berry.
“Soon, the fields will be alive with fruits and flowers, Celeste,” Emilia said, running fingers through her daughter’s blonde curls. “That will be lovely.” She glanced at Estelle. “But we must be going. Celeste and I have much to do this morning.”
“Indeed. I must return home.” Estelle glanced down at her sleeping son. “My husband has just recovered from an awful illness. I was worried he would not make it through the spring, but he has pulled through. But you must visit us soon,” Estelle said. She reached out an arm and touched Emilia’s wrist.
“I will,” Emilia promised. Estelle left the two of them, skirts swirling in the breeze.
“Mamma, can we go back to Miss Betty?” Celeste implored.
“Soon, my love. After the market, we will go to the lake. It will be beautiful.” Emilia gave Celeste another strawberry.
“Like magic?” Celeste asked.
“Exactly like magic,” Emilia replied.
The clock tower struck above the town square. Birds flew from the church steeple, crying in their sweet shrill notes.
Emerson Lake shone in the soft, summery morning. Delicate sunlight floated down through the mist that veiled the little sailboat from the rest of the world. The light glimmered against the cerulean hue of the water. No one knew quite how deep the water was.
The dappled lilypads in the shallows swayed as the hull cut through the water, barely creating ripples as it struck through the lake like a knife. A breeze swayed lazily into the valley, floating against the stark ivory sail. Emilia’s mind was set alight in the small beauty of the morning. Her hands worked quickly, quietly to prepare the boat. Celeste sat on the golden-wood bench on the left side of the boat, watching the glimmering water as it fled beneath them.
“Mamma?” Celeste whispered. Her sweet voice carried across the silence as if she had shouted it. “Where are we going?” Her hair fell in lovely, golden curls, half-hidden by the pink-ribboned sunhat she wore.
“I told you, Celeste love.” Emilia’s voice was, too, delicate. “We are sailing to see the beauty of spring at its finest. Winter has at last fallen and now is the time for the imagination to soar.” Her eyes remained fixed on the water ahead.
The sailboat moved forward and Emilia’s breath hitched in awe of the lake’s fullness. It was a magnificent sight to behold. The mist drew away as the morning set in fully to reveal the white-gray cliffs, jutting out from the shore, laced in rosy sunlight. The fields of multicolored wildflowers spilled down from the hillsides, giving way to giant willows and oaks that bloomed bright green in the newfound spring. Their leaves swayed in idle glory, swinging to the song of the wind and the water.
Withdrawing a bound leather notebook, Emilia removed a pen that had been tucked behind her ear and began scribbling. The sound fell away as she became wholly immersed in the work. Words were hers to capture and hers alone to do what she wanted with. The wonder of language could never grow old, could never become outdated or unnecessary or repetitive.
“Mamma?” Celeste asked after the moments had fallen into minutes, or perhaps hours. Her eyes were soft as she watched her mother, illuminated in gold by the falling sunshine.
“Yes, love?” Emilia murmured.
“When will the outing be over?” Celeste was taken away by the loveliness of the lake, but it did not enrapture her as it did her mother.
“Shhhh, have patience, Celeste,” Emilia muttered, barely glancing up from her scribblings. “Have patience.”
Celeste sighed, looking down into the depths of the water. Ripples moved under the surface, catching the light. Golden fish darted just below the sky met the lake, light sparkling off of their iridescent scales.
Celeste’s fingertips reached for the surface, but they fell short. She wanted to touch the fish, to see what their slimy bodies felt like against her soft, uncalloused skin.
There was a splash.
A golden fish flew through the air.
Circular ripples trailed away, moving in a uniform pattern. They ever so gently rocked the boat before falling into non-existence and the lake became as clear and smooth as glass yet again. Emilia continued to write. The sweet voices of the lake were calling out to her, gently, like sirens on the sea. After a few more minutes, however, Emilia closed the notebook with a sigh that was no more than a subtle release of air.
“Celeste love?” Emilia asked, turning back around to face her daughter.
“Yes, Mamma?” Celeste smiled. She looked like a little angel in the sunlight.
“I am done with my writing. Would you like to go home now, my darling?” Celeste, seated politely on the floor at the back of the boat, bowed her head in affirmation. Emilia unfurled the sail and they set off again. Celeste’s golden curls swirled, unbounded, in the youthful breeze.
The lake sparkled innocently. The air filled with the scent of honeysuckle and earth.
They landed on the shore of Emerson Lake when the sun was still high. Emilia helped Celeste out of the sailboat, clasping her hand. It was surprisingly cold for such a warm day.
“Celeste love, next time, do not put your hand in the water. The lake is very cold this time of the year and you do not want to become ill.”
“Sorry, Mamma,” Celeste whispered.
“It is nothing to be sorry for.” Emilia finished docking the boat. A wind blew onto the shore and Celeste’s locks flew wildly around her face.
“Celeste, wherever is your sunhat? Your hair is a mess, my darling.” Emilia knelt down to comb a finger through the tangles.
“I must have lost it,” Celeste replied, touching her hair with surprise.
“No matter, no matter,” Emilia said with a sigh. “We can find you a new sunhat soon.” She led her daughter up the hillside towards their house, where it stood solitary among the wild orchids and oak trees. The beautiful shadow of her daughter followed silently, looking back at the lake every once in a while, as if to be sure it was still there.
Emilia stopped in the path. Her breathing grew heavy, unwanted.
“Celeste, stand behind me, love.” It was not a request. It was a command.
The giant stood ahead in the shadow of a willow tree beside the house.
It remained the same as it had been eighteen years previously. The thin, horribly pale limbs were stretched and mutilated, the fingers shockingly thin. The giant’s eyes flared, brighter and more fervent than the sun itself. It was tall, far taller than Emilia remembered.
“It cannot be….” Her voice was a shaken whisper in the clean spring air.
The giant reached out an arm, its head tilting as it surveyed Emilia. It examined her face, youthful but worn with the struggles of motherhood. Its eyes wandered and fell upon Celeste. Emilia did not miss this. She watched as the giant looked at her daughter. No.
Why had the giant returned?
She had insisted, in her days at the academy, in her days caring for her father even on the last days of his life, that her imagination had somehow been the cause of the giant. That, perhaps, she had created it to entertain herself, to make herself a friend. She now realized her idiocy. The giant did exist. And it, for some strange and utterly terrible reason, had returned.
“Run, Celeste, run,” Emilia whispered, not keeping her eyes off of the giant lurking in the sun-dappled woods. She felt her daughter let go of her hand and scramble towards the house, dashing through the wildflowers until she was safe inside the doors of Emilia’s sanctuary.
The giant did not follow Celeste. It did not follow Emilia as she, too, left, eyes etched with the horrors of the creature of her youth.
Emilia: Are you quite alright, love?
Celeste: I am well, Mamma. [A brief pause] What was that creature in the woods?
Emilia: It was simply a memory from my childhood. An old friend, I might say. It came to say hello to me. I was simply surprised. I do not think it will be visiting again.
Celeste: Oh, what a shame, I would have liked to meet your old friend.
Emilia: [A moment of silence ensues] Would you like me to read a story before we eat? Miss Betty is just finishing with the pie, but we have a few moments before it is ready.
Celeste: Yes, Mamma. I would like that.
Emilia: Which book would you like me to read?
Celeste: Can you read the one about the rabbit and the little boy?
Emilia: Are you sure? You’ve already heard that one.
Celeste: I know. I want to hear it again. It’s my favorite.
Emilia: Oh all right. Come here on the couch with me so I can show you the pictures too.
Emilia: Once upon a time, in a little meadow along the way, there lived a young boy…
Emilia stood on the sand in the darkness of midnight. She needed freedom. The shore of Emerson Lake provided such liberties. She had spent the day in idle work, rewriting her story of the morning on the lake, reading to Celeste, watching the woods from the parlor window, and scanning the trees for the giant.
The lake breeze braided her hair gently. The moisture, caught in the wind blowing off the water, stained her face and hands with a layer of dampness. Celeste held her hand. Emilia was watching the water.
There was almost no light, save for the half-moon and the dull shine of stars from the deep onyx of the sky. Emilia’s eyes skipped up to where they twinkled innocently, blinking to adjust to the darkness, before looking back to the lake in front of her. Water splattered up her bare legs as the waves lapped into the shore, sand brushing against her ankles.
Her eyes scanned across the horizon, down to the water at her feet. There was something that had brought her here, to this very spot, but she was uncertain what it was. Her heart thudded with miraculous speed. Emilia was determined to discover what lured her. Nature had its strange ways. Perhaps she could unlock them.
As she watched, there was a glint of light.
Behind the horizon of the water, Emilia could have sworn she saw two flickering lights, glowing like yellow beacons. As she drew her eyes towards them, they vanished.
Perhaps it was only by the slimmest chance of luck that she saw the giant.
It was a ghastly being. It had bone grey spindles that jutted threateningly from the back of its scaly body, oily with water that glistened in the moonlight. The scene was soaked in terror. Dripping with it. Emilia’s breath hitched as she stared at the creature immersed in the darkness of the lake. This was a different giant, quite unlike the one in which she had befriended long ago. She had not realized there was more than one of them.
The world was a horrid dark landscape, the details completely indiscernible. The pitch-black water howled sadly. The panic was trapped within the scene, like in some horror film or old, diseased novel. Fear fluttered terribly in her chest as she looked out to the giant, the creature crawling in the gentle waves of the lake. Her body tightened, pulling Celeste closer to her. She stood, the water pushing at her ankles, burying her feet in the sand. Her eyes pressed for the details, but all she could see was its blurred grey mass stalking the edges of her vision. The lake threatened to swallow it, crests of darkness moving against its gray hide. Alas, giants cannot be defeated by such minor things as the beckoning depths of water. As Emilia watched, the giant looked back at her. It sensed her again. It sensed her beautiful Celeste.
Emilia would not allow the giants to take her daughter from her.
She would not allow it.
Hallsbury was gloomy in the fine morning. It had been nearly a week since Emilia had last made a voyage to the village. It was a dreary sight outside indeed. The clouds refused to part, refused to let through even a slimmer of light. Even so, the town square was buzzing with activity as usual. Emilia heard mutters as she made her way through the crowd, Celeste by her side.
“The rain has been relentless this spring. Such a pity. The crops will surely not last if this keeps up. I must prepare jams in case the harvests do not survive until summer.”
“Oh, dear, I’ve heard the Illness is coming from Enderford and even St Cheadbray. My brother has sent word that many have caught it. It is bound to arrive here within the week!”
“Mamma, why are the people complaining?” Celeste asked as Emilia bought a large, seeded loaf from the bakery.
“It is a troubled time for some. Horrible things happen and people don’t know what to do. So they simply talk and refuse to do anything meaningful to help themselves,” Emilia replied.
The sky began to tear up once more as faint raindrops fell onto the cobblestone of the square. There was a collective groan as the patrons of the market glanced up toward the heavens and the incoming storm.
“Emilia? Is that you?” Emilia heard a voice calling as she hurried Celeste under an awning to avoid the onset of rain. She turned to see Estelle running towards her, this time without a child strapped sleeping to her chest.
“Estelle!” Emilia exclaimed with delight, only to stop as she took in the devastated expression upon her friend’s weary face. “Estelle, whatever is the matter?”
“It is my husband. He has passed in the night!” Estelle threw her arms around Emilia, her frame shaking with sobs. “The Illness has taken him from me, I swear, I swear!”
“Hadn’t he just recovered from a previous sickness? How could this have come so soon?”
“Mrs, why are you crying?” Celeste asked Estelle, who, by her curious expression, had not understood the unfortunate incident. Estelle did not appear to hear her; tears were streaming unceasingly down her cheeks as she continued:
“I do not know how it happened. All I recall was his coughing, seizing and then it all went still. Madame went running for the physician but it was all too late. He had gone quiet. Oh, Emilia, Death has reached out her unforgiving hands and taken my love from me. What shall I do now? I am to be ruined!”
“You poor soul!” Emilia exclaimed. “I cannot imagine the pain you must feel, darling. It is beyond thought, beyond all imagination.” Emilia shook her head, tears for her friend appearing in the corners of her eyes. She knew who must have done this. The giant must have sought to wreak havoc upon her life. It had come after her and now it had come after her friend. It was the only explanation for this abhorred situation. She grasped Estelles’ hands, which were shaking so violently she thought perhaps she too was seizing with the Illness. “Please, tell me if you need anything, anything at all.”
“Oh, you are too kind! This agony is unbearable!” Estelle was once again overwhelmed with tears. It was horrible, how much pain had been wrought upon her in such little time.
Emilia wondered how Death — how the giant — could be so cruel and unforgiving.
Emilia: Good morning, my Celeste. Did you sleep well?
Celeste: Yes, Mamma. Good morning.
Emilia: Come have some breakfast. I have saved you some toast and eggs.
Celeste: I don’t feel like eating at the moment.
Emilia: Goodness, why not?
Celeste: I don’t know. I feel rather strange.
Emilia: Sit down, love. You look awfully pale. Are you sure you don’t want to eat something?
Celeste: I’m sure.
Emilia: [A scraping of the chair on the wooden floor] Let me look at you. You are very pale, dear. Celeste: I want to see Grandfather.
Emilia: [A cold pause] Celeste. Your grandfather is dead. He has been gone for four years.
Celeste: That cannot be right.
Emilia: He is not here anymore. Are you sure you are alright? I am beginning to feel worried.
Celeste: Now I remember. I held his hand as he died.
Emilia: [A solemn silence] Yes, that is right.
Celeste: We should visit the lake again. It was lovely.
Emilia: Of course, darling. Of course.
The giants began appearing once more. The ghosts of Emilia’s past had indeed come to haunt her. Alas, she remembered the giant, her giant, the great spindly figure who she had once watched, been intrigued with, and befriended. And now — they were unwelcome.
Celeste had school twice a week at a schoolhouse down the lane. They crossed the little bridge across the river, in which the icy cold flowed into the lake. Emilia could see the silver fish darting in the shallows, just as she remembered. Celeste walked in front of her, golden hair braided into two long plaits, hand holding a little pail in which the lunch that Emilia had assembled that morning. The weather was still cold. There had been more rain and more illness. Emilia knew it had been the giant who had reached its hands around her life, around her village, and suffocated it. She knew it had—somehow—caused all of this pain.
The schoolhouse was in sight, the wood just slightly darker than the trees so as to not blend in with the surrounding wood. Emilia could see the small paintings that had begun creeping up the walls, colorful and childish.
“What are you learning about today, Celeste?” Emilia asked.
“The universe,” her daughter replied with a skip. “Miss says we are going to be exploring the world: the heavens and the gods and the making of Nature.”
“Ah, what a beautiful thing,” Emilia sighed. “The world is such an intricate place. We have so much to yet explore about the universe. Light and dark, life and death.”
“What?” Celeste whispered. She looked pale. Emilia watched her daughter’s face intently. She had a curious expression, one Emilia could not decipher.
“Celeste—” A chill swept through the air, biting at Emilia’s face, cutting through her skirts. Instinctively, she reached for her daughter, clasping a hand around her small arm. She had felt its presence without even seeing it.
“We’re going home, Celeste.”
“But Mamma, school has yet to begin,” Celeste whined, trying to let go of her grasp.
“Yes, love, but we have more important things to do,” Emilia said, shaking with fear.
“Mamma, I want to learn. Please—” Emilia shook her head. Three times.
“Now, Celeste. We’re going home now.” Celeste complained but gave in as she looked at her mother’s face. Even as a child, she could tell that the expression on Emilia’s face was not one to be trifled with. Celeste had never seen her mother look this scared, this angry. Emilia did not turn around to see the giant as she left with Celeste.
The giants were coming for her daughter.
They were as cruel as Death herself.
Emilia was afraid. The giants had come to visit her daughter, with their haunting, unwanted presences. They had come to Celeste. It terrified her. Beyond certainty, beyond all belief. In these new days, however, it was all Emilia could do but not shiver at the mere thought of the giants and their eerily, paled figures. Days passed, encapsulated in terror.
When Celeste had gone to bed, curled up safely amongst the pillows and quilts, Emilia crept down the stairs late at night to stare into the shadows behind their porch, praying not to see a pair of candle-lit eyes gazing at her, glaring back into the darkness to assert herself.
Her hopes did not prove to be true. The giants kept visiting, watching with gaping mouths and glowing eyes. She grew accustomed to the terror, to the silence it ensued. At times, she wished she could run out onto the barren lawn, the street from which they watched, and run them through with a blade. Her instinct to protect Celeste took over. She needed to stay close to her daughter, to keep an eye on her resting figure. She thought only of her daughter, of herself. Emilia hated the giants with a burning, ardent passion. She would not rest until they vanished, until their beautifully horrible limbs stopped reaching into the darkest corners of her imagination.
The summer months arrived, beautiful and unwanted. The sunlight did not match the fear that threatened to overtake Emilia every moment she wasted away, watching out of the window, seeking the glare of the giants. Perhaps it was better to know they were there. Perhaps she felt safer when she knew exactly where they were.
The days were unbearable. The nights were insufferable.
Emilia was swept up in hysteria, fear shuttering against the locked windows of her brain.
Celeste: [The scrape of a hinge as a door opens]
Emilia: Celeste! What have I told you about going outside?
Celeste: It is daytime, Mamma. There is simply nothing to be afraid of when the sun is shining.
Emilia: There are things worse than darkness.
Emilia: [The slamming of a door] Stay inside. It is better that way.
Celeste: Mamma, please.
Celeste: You have to let me go.
Emilia: Again, love, I’m not letting you go outside alone.
Celeste: Mamma. [A choked pause] You have to let me go.
Emilia: [A startled silence]
Celeste: Let me go. Just let me go.
Emilia’s fingers drifted over the cold doorknob.
“Good night, Celeste,” she said softly. “My little girl.” She shut the door gently.
Hours passed as she watched through the window onto the foreign scene in front of her. The trees had begun to come alive in the last months, green buds arriving upon their limbs. Soon, they would bloom and the air would be full again with the sweet scent of spring. Alas, for now, they were still delicately new. If the cold were to attempt to fight its way back, the buds would die and life would vanish again. How very fragile the blossoms were, for belonging to such powerful creatures as the sprawling trees were.
Darkness lay like a blanket across the lawn, hovering sadly. Emilia could not see the giant. Its absence was dreadful. She did not realize how much comfort it had given her to know it would not entreat upon the boundaries of her house. Voices murmured to her, calling her to sleep. Her hands drifted like shadows over the banister as she gave into exhaustion. In her own bed, Emilia slipped away into a stupor, the sweet dreams that she yearned for flitting in front of her, just out of reach. She tried to catch them, like butterflies swooping in and out, but her arms were too burdened with heavy tiredness for them to grasp them properly. Once or twice, she swore she felt the soft caress of the butterfly across her cheek. Taunting her perhaps.
Emilia awoke with a shiver. She curled up tighter, the warmth leaking out of her body against the chill of the frosted winter night. Her eyes snapped open. Realization fluttered in her stomach, heavy and nauseating. On this night, the lawn had been empty for a reason.
The giant was in her room.
Emilia lay in her bed, motionless as a corpse. Her chest heaved, fingers twitching. Her eyes were blank. She could hear it. It moved with a graceful delicacy, shifting its bony fingers and ungainly limbs. It was so soft, so utterly quiet. Too quiet for such a large creature.
Her sheets were crumpled around her feet. But Emilia was paralyzed with fear, unable to cover her shivering soul back up with the white sheets. There was a cloud circling her thoughts, splashing and swirling like an efflorescent mist.
For what does one do when they know they are being watched?
For what does one do when they comprehend they are being hunted?
She was aware of every speck in the room: how her fingertips felt on the silk of the bed; how the curtains brushed briefly against the windowsill from the air pouring out of the gutted vent rooted into the carpet; how the brass clock sitting on the dresser ticked more softly every fourth second; how she thought, if she stopped breathing so loudly, if she stopped moving, she could hear muffled whispers calling out to her.
Or maybe that was simply in her head? She tried so desperately to ignore it.
She is safer, now. She is safe. The voice seethed through the thin air. You have cursed yourself and wrought pain among all those around you. This was your doing.
My child, do not be afraid. I am not here for you. Listen, my child. We, the messengers of the heavens, cry for your ignorance. You have made us angry and we do not forgive easily.
It is time to let go of her. Are you ready? You must be ready.
A gentle finger reached out to touch her face. Goodbye, Emilia.
There was no one in the house to hear her sobs.
She stood on the tide of the dawn.
The sky was tinged pink, the clouds swirling around the fading stars. From her perch above the lake, the whole world was visible through the eye. Emilia felt alone, more alone than she thought was capable. She was a solitary creature, looking up at the beauty of the natural world and looking down upon the withered landscape of man. The gray cliff below her loomed, delicate yet powerful at the same time.
She had brought the giants here, had brought them down from the heavens to claim her daughter. It had been her fault. She could not stand it. All her life had been taken from her and wretched out of her very soul. The misery it ensued drenched her bones, rotting her from the inside out. She was empty. No joy could penetrate that deep as to cure her. The gods had cursed Emilia for her mistake and now the world would pay for it in a vile exhibition of all that was horrible and inhuman. The realization, the truth, had swept through her mind. The pain of it was as hostile and as undaunting as Death herself.
Why? Why this? Alas, I am bound by myself. My foolishness.
My Celeste. My love. Why did I let you fall?
Why did I let you drown?
My daughter, my love, why did I not see it before?
Emilia sighed and looked at the sky. It glowed. The image remained embossed upon her eyelids. “It is so beautiful.” She heard herself say, as if in a peculiar dream. She hated the sky, hated the world. How could it be so beautiful, so lovely, so joyful, while she sat here in her own pain? It did not feel right, nor just. Her tears ached through her body and she let out a scream, a broken cry, a shattered sob.
She became a fallen angel, burning with the might of a thousand sorrows and a thousand remaining hopes.
HALLSBURY NEWS OBITUARIES – Written by: Morgan B. Everett
Two weeks ago, the body of Celeste Andris, 6, was found at the junction of Peaks River and Emerson Lake. Police identified that the drowned body had been dead for at least four days. Last night, the body of Emilia Andris, the mother of Celeste, was found dead at the same location as her daughter. A note left crumpled in her hand read: I took my Celeste for granted, but I had become careless. The waters show no mercy, nor do the shadows. I am to join her in the Stars and the Heavens by my own rightful choice. Have Hope for the world, for I have long abandoned it. The funeral proceedings will be held at 16:00 on the 2nd of May at Walter Grove Cemetery.
“But some may say a medicine has been planted to make long-suffering mortals forget their troubles, to save their lives. Would that Pandora had never opened the heavenly cover of that jar—she the sweet bane of mankind!’”
—Nonnus, Dionysiaca 7