by RJ MURRAY
t started with the magpies. Lines and lines of magpies, dotted across the inner walls of the castle like a marching army. She had honed her skills with dedication, focus. Master had taught her well. Methodical. Precise.
At the orphanage they had scoffed at her unusual ways. 'Bad blood', they whispered to each other, but Ellora merely shrugged it off, considering such accusations of little consequence. She knew she was destined for more specific meanderings. She had a strong thirst for knowledge, for learning. She was remarkable with her hands.
When Dr. De Vivre adopted Ellora his intention was to pass on his skills, teach his craft. He was a specialist in animal anatomy, a master in artistic preservation. When he arrived at the orphanage he immediately recognised something valuable in her manner, her attitude. She was terrifically curious, wily, strange - much like himself. Her hair hanged like glittering gold corkscrews over skin white as flour. When Ellora met Dr. De Vivre, her deep lagoon eyes illuminated electric blue and she smiled for the first time.
Dr. De Vivre had purchased the castle as a base and platform to develop and display his life's work. He was in his declining years but his ambition had never waned. He intended to leave a legacy, a large footprint in history and as he had no family of his own he had decided to take an unconventional path, such was the nature of his work.
And so Ellora departed the orphanage, much to her satisfaction, and became Dr. De Vivre's ward.
She fit the life well, after only a short time becoming like one of his mechanical inventions - loyal, dedicated, working like clockwork. He marveled at her rapidly developing skills. Such aptitude for a young girl. Her physical strength, despite her slight form was perplexing and he congratulated himself on his exceptional foresight.
The castle itself was a unique structure, adjoined by two stone towers with a single spiral staircase spanning the height of the interior, connecting vertical chambers. It sat menacingly and alone at the edge of a cliff, its gothic spires disappearing into thick white mist.
Almost immediately, Ellora developed in her a great thirst for the work, delighting at the first touch of corpse. Her small fingers weaved thread inside flesh, skin, fur. With intense focus she brushed, scrubbed, stuffed, positioned, postured and delicately pressed distorted features into eloquent, solemn guises. Just like new. She felt a glorious wonderment in the whole process, thinking it a beautiful celebration of life and death, the ultimate in artistic resurrection. It made her feel alive, the purpose she had been seeking.
She had not known a person to be as understanding of her nature as Dr. De Vivre and despite her lack of emotional feeling, Ellora grew a peculiar fondness for him.
And so she made a resolution to continue his legacy. It would be her life's work to do so. Nothing else mattered.
Inside, the castle was filled with clocks, oddities, rare inventions. She set the cuckoo clocks in perfect alignment along the wall of the dark chamber where she slept. At precisely six the preserved birds would appear from wooden hatches, tweeting loudly, signaling the start of a new day.
She would set herself daily targets, so like her master she was, ambitious and determined, always striving, demanding more of herself.
After the magpies were completed, she moved on to the foxes. In the basement were the cold stores, housing the preserved bodies of natural deaths and road kill, acquired and sent to the castle by Dr. De Vivre's professional associates. She gathered them one by one, attentive and meticulous, never faltering in her precision, in her consistently eloquent needlework.
When the foxes were completed, they looked enchanting, regal. She placed them proudly at the entrance gate of the castle, just as master had wished.
When there were no more shipments delivered and the preserved carcases ran out, she had no choice but to hunt the woods for subjects. Some days she would be lucky, luring coyotes and wolves in with rabbit flesh and then killing them with the shotgun, a master of which she had become.
Then as times turned desperate and uncertain she would scour the woods only to return hopeless, empty handed. Prey became more and more scarce yet it would pain her to sit idle. She simply had to work.
No longer was she satisfied with preservation of rodents or birds or small mammals, she had become masterful and ambitious, she longed to experiment with her craft.
Some time passed by until one day an unexpected visitor arrived to the desolate castle. The stone walls echoed with questions as the rusty door knocker called out through the chambers.
The visitor, an acquaintance of Dr. De Vivre, had became concerned over lack of contact and so travelled day and night to make enquiries.
Unprepared and socially inept for interaction, Ellora hid in the cold stores, willing for him to depart.
The visitor eventually entered at his will and as he walked into the castle, observed in awe the meticulous and creative display of work laid out. Every species of wild creature, bird, rodent, set out wonderfully in creative scenes around the chambers, oddly clothed, interacting, dancing, flying.
Increasingly curious and taken aback by his surroundings, he stepped onto the spiral staircase and ascended to the master chamber. As he caught sight of something within the room, he screamed in terror, falling back, his head hitting the hard stone step, staining it red.
Above, the glazed eyes of Dr. De Vivre looked on, his perfectly positioned form looming against a gothic throne, gloriously preserved in his finest threads, the art he had become.
Below, Ellora crept at the bottom of the staircase, gun in hand, and eyed the fallen subject.
Work, she thought. Work.
R.J. Murray is a writer, musician and dreamer from Scotland who is Inspired by the classic gothic authors (Poe, Lovecraft, Du Maurier) , dark, surreal fantasy and everything weird, macabre and haunted. She has several new short stories forthcoming this year and is currently writing her first novel. Poetry, news and other ramblings can be found on her blog.
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