by Steve Carr
Clarice crawled out of the water and onto the wet, gray beach and collapsed as the turbulent waves washed over her. With the left side of her face against the sand, she took in small gasps of air as each wave receded. Digging her fingers into the sand, she slowly pulled herself further onto the beach until she was free of the water. She rolled over onto her back and stared up at the streaks of blood red, deep purple and dark blue that was fanned out across the sky. Shivering, she tugged at the silk gown that clung to her body. She drifted in and out of consciousness, not becoming fully awake until she found herself staring at a star-splattered sky and recognized the demon star, Algol, that waxed and waned among the stars in the constellation, Cassiopeia.
She slowly sat up and stared at the black ocean that lay calm and quiet, sending only tufts of sudsy foam onto the beach. Using her fingertips, she combed her long brown hair back from her face and brushed the sand from her cheek. She ran her tongue around her parched lips and then spat out the salt that coated her tongue. The cry of a seagull circling above her made her look up, and then turn as it floated upward. She faced a steep, craggy stone cliff rose up from the beach, that walled it off on three sides. At the top, light from several windows shone from the side of a large, stone house. She quickly stood up, shook her head to clear her dizziness, and yelled “help” as loud as she could.
Then she was struck in the head from behind. She collapsed, unconscious, onto the sand.
* * *
A warm, salty breeze blew in through a large opened window. The heavy dark green drapes that hung on both sides of the window fluttered almost imperceptibly. Sunlight streamed into the room, bathing the canopied bed in white light. Clarice awoke with a start and sat up. The nightgown she was wearing was new and rose colored. The room was sparsely furnished, with the bed, a vanity dresser with a large round mirror and an embroidered, padded stool. The walls were bare and burgundy. She pushed aside the pale green comforter and dark green linen sheet that covered her and climbed out of bed. She ran to the window and looked out. The ocean sparkled under a lemon yellow sun. When the door to the room opened, she spun around.
"I see you've awoken," the old hag standing in the doorway, said.
Beneath her thick white hair that stuck straight out from her head, was a face as wrinkled as a topographic map. Her irises were as white as the sclera of her eyes.
"Who are you?" Clarice said.
"I'm Tribell," she said. "The master of the house has asked me to see that you're comfortable."
"Who is he?"
"You'll be meeting him in due time," Tribell said. "Your bath is being drawn and clothes befitting a beautiful young woman such as yourself has been found and laid out for you in the dressing chamber."