My family’s manor sat in Caristan’s sparse countryside, forty miles south of the city of Lakis. The greystone was laced modestly with withering ivy, and a wooden fence marked the boundaries of the property, snaking a path among the trunks of the surrounding white birches. Some of the fence planks had reduced to rotting wood over the years.
The manor had once been a prosperous farm, producing the finest wheat and corn. Every mid-autumn, the eloquent auburn tones of the foliage around the manor painted a picturesque example of the season. The temperate winds carried the scent of fallen seeds and a promise of another prosperous harvest.
This year, the Blood Moon filled the autumn skies. Under that moon, the farmlands surrounding the manor were mostly barren, devoid of life. The once-flourishing birch forests around them had reduced to hollow, white-striped trunks with dead twigs for branches. The earth thirsted for rain; it had been months since there’d been a single drop.
Folklore and superstitions drew on the Blood Moon, which had appeared rarely over the past several centuries. It was generally perceived as a portent of misfortune, affliction, and death. I believed in neither superstition nor coincidence and rather saw the Blood Moon as a beautiful work of art. The Blood Moon, casting its copper-stained light over the drought-stricken country, brought the skies to life.
Amongst the wheat fields, I lay on my back in a bed of straw and stared up at the cloudless orange and crimson sky of dusk. A cool wind began whistling through the fragile shafts of dried wheat and brushed over my pale face.
My stomach growled, protesting the meagerness of the dinner I’d eaten earlier. I sighed and shut my eyes, attempting to ignore my body’s demands for more food.
Beneath the sounds of the wind and rustling wheat, I heard footsteps approaching. I slowly opened my eyes to see my elder sister’s silhouette. As she drew nearer, the trim of her long, flowing dress flitted through the soft breeze of the impending night.
A thin smile crept upon my lips at the sound of my sister’s concerned, soft-spoken voice. I sat up from my nest of straw.
Her slender, pale hands gently smoothed out the excess creases in the soft, laced fabric of her white, ruffled house dress. She gave me a pointed look. “You know that Father does not approve of your being out here alone whilst the Blood Moon has risen.”
I pouted and directed my attention toward the horizon, where the crimson-touched moon had already begun peeking over the distant hills of the countryside. I shook out the excess straw that had found its way into my snow-white hair, a contrast to my sister’s ebony just as my slate grey eyes contrasted with her amber ones. “It is still early, Violet,” I said wistfully. “I wish Father were not so paranoid of age-old myths. He is like a child, believing in nonsense like creatures of darkness swooping down during the nights of the Blood Moon, to feast upon our souls.”
Violet pursed her lips. The wind rustling through the fields sounded like footsteps approaching.
She cast a nervous glance over her shoulder toward the manor before returning her attention to me. She lowered her voice to a soft whisper. “It is not just the Blood Moon he worries about, sister. Mother’s condition has worsened.”
I sighed. “Honestly, Violet, I cannot bear to see Mother’s sickened condition any further.” I chewed on my bottom lip and envisioned the frail, skeletal body of our comatose mother.
Violet canted her head and furrowed her brow. “But . . . you have not seen her all day.”
“Something is eating away at her very soul, and it is obvious that none of us are able to help her.”
Her expression fell, and tears formed, which made me realize how cold my response sounded.
I scowled. “No, Violet. Don’t you dare cry. I hate it when you cry.”
She gazed at me pleadingly, attempting hold back her tears. “I-I’m sorry, Jasmine. I’m trying to stay strong, I really am. Please . . . please go and see her for me.”
Her choked words made me cringe. With a soft sigh, I reluctantly stood up. “All right . . . I will.”
Smiling, Violet wiped the tears from her eyes, then extended a hand.
I took it, and we made our way back to the manor, following the narrow, shadowy path that cut through the wheat fields.
A chilly wind whisked over the part of my upper back left exposed between my hair and my dress’s neckline. Was someone watching? My steps faltered, and I looked over my shoulder.
In the wheat fields behind us, shadows danced in the coppery glow of the Blood Moon above.
© 2010 R.M. Prioleau