This Weeks Book: A Great & Terrible Beauty
"Why does everyone want to own me?" Pippa mumbles. She's got her head in her hands. "Why do they all want to control my life- how I look, whom I see, what I do or don't do? why cant they just let me alone?"
"Because you're beautiful," Ann answers, watching the fire lick her palm. "People always think they can own beautiful things."
“Shall I tell you a story? A new and terrible one? A ghost story?”
The voice, a faint echo in the great cave, belongs to Felicity. She turns around on the rock, faces us, wraps her arms across bent knees, hugging them close. “Are you ready? Shall I begin? Once upon a time there were four girls. One was pretty. One was clever. On charming, and one…” She glances at me. “One was mysterious. But they were all damaged, you see. Something not right about the lot of them. Bad blood. Big dreams. Oh, I left that part out. Sorry, that should have come before. They were all dreamers, these girls.”
“Felicity…,” I start, because it’s her and not the story that’s beginning to frighten me.
“You wanted a story, and I’m going to give you one.”
Lightning shoots across the cave walls, bathing half her face in light, the other in shadows. “One by one, night after night, the girls came together. And they sinned. Do you know what that sin was? No one? Pippa? Ann?”
“Felicity.” Pippa sounds anxious. “Let’s go back and have a nice cup of tea. It’s too cold out here.”
Felicity’s voice expands, fills the space around us, a bell tolling. “Their sin was that they believed. Believed that they could be different. Special. They believed that they could change what they were—damaged, unloved. Cast-off things. They would be alive, adored, needed. Necessary. But it wasn’t true. This is a ghost story, remember? A tragedy.”
The lightning’s back, a big one, two, three of light that lets me see Felicity’s face, slick with tears, nose running. “They were misled. Betrayed by their own stupid hopes. Things couldn’t be different for them, because they weren’t special after all. So life took them, led them, and they went along, you see? They faded before their own eyes, till they were nothing more than living ghosts, haunting each other with what could be. What can’t be.” Felicity’s voices goes feathery thin. “There now. Isn’t that the scariest story you’ve ever heard?”
The rain beats down relentlessly, mixing with the strangles sounds of Felicity’s sobbing. Ann has stopped torturing her hands. Now she stares through the flame at cave walls that show her history, promise nothing. Pippa twirls her engagement ring round her finger till I fear she’ll break it off.
Maybe it’s the steady downpour driving me mad. Maybe it’s the thought of lovely Pippa, married off to a man she doesn’t love, who doesn’t love her, only wants to acquire her. Maybe it’s imagining Ann squelching her voice to work for pompous aristocrats and their hateful children. Or Felicity trying to hold back her tears. Maybe it’s that every word she’s said is true.
Whatever the reason, I’m thinking now of a way out, of bringing the magic back from the realms. I’m thinking of those mothers today in their ornate dresses and their vacant lives. And I’m thinking of my mother’s warning that I’m not ready to use my full powers yet.
Oh, but I am, Mother. I am.
Outside, there’s a fresh wave of thunder rumbling a warning, a prayer. All around me in the semidarkness are the symbols etched into rock with the sweat and blood of women who’ve gone before us. Their whispers urge me on in a single word.
I can see the glint off Pippa’s unwanted ring. Hear the labored struggle of Ann’s mouth-breathing. Feel the desperation meeting the silence with its unasked wish. There’s got to be something better than this.
My voice rises to the unseen top of the cave, a bird taking flight.
“There is a way to change things…”
When I join the others again, Felicity is staring at the new grave, crying in the rain. "She's really gone, isn't she?"
"Yes" I say, surprised at how sure I sound.
"What happened to me on the other side, with that thing?"
"I dont know"
we look down at the mourners, blotches of black in a sea of gray rain. Felicity can't bring herself to look at me. "Sometimes I see things, I think. Out of the cornor of my eye, taunting me, and then it's gone. and dreams. such horrible dreams. what id something terrible happened to me, Gemma? What if I am damaged?"
The rain is a cool kiss on my sleeve as I link my arm through hers. "we're all damaged somehow."
Want to read more? Check out the Gemma Doyle Trilogy: A Great & Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels & The Sweet Far Thing