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The Mirrors of Her Eyes

Lise Fracalossi is an eccentric time-lost noblethem who enjoys long walks in fungal forests, having Opinions on people who died hundreds of years ago, and non-competitive elf fancying. She attended Vassar College and the writing workshop Viable Paradise, neither of which taught her how to stride the moors like a Gothic heroine. She dreams of achieving immortality through becoming a lich, but in the interim, develops webs for a living. She dwells in a swamp in rural Massachusetts with her husband and three coeurls, in a house entirely bereft of chicken feet. She haunts Twitter @lisefrac, and blogs infrequently at lisefrac.net.

Mine is not the face of evil.
It is more of a rotten toadstool of a face, after fifteen years of my twin's hard living. Too much jowl, teeth decayed to stinking pulp, lips cracked with venereal sores.
His face, naturally, is still a fresh sheet of paper.
I am a servant, of a sort, in my brother's service. I do the work that he does not wish to do, the work that leaves marks.
Which is how I find myself in his wife's bedroom, a pistol in my hand.
The room gives the impression of a birdcage--airy, blond wood burnished by the sun, bars on the windows striping shadows on the floor.
Cold-forged iron bars, I note. I hope my twin has armed this weapon with the same stern stuff. He has not told me how it is with his wife, but I see now why the other servants--believers in faeries, every one--call this woman "the witch-wife" and cross themselves at the mention of her.
She turns from her seat at the vanity table, her song interrupted. There is a symphony in her voice, and I don't want to stop her. Nonetheless I close the door and lean against it, feeling cold iron at my back.
Seeing her, the word that comes to mind is exquisite, like a perfectly-articulated porcelain doll. And yet she is darker than is strictly fashionable, the color of a tree's heartwood. Her hair--loose, to her waist--is glossy and black as a starling's wing, and contrasts with the froth of her nightgown.
Her eyes do not focus on me, but scan the doorway, half-lidded. She is blind, I realize.
"Who is that?" she says. "Your step is like my husband's, but you smell of gunpowder."
"I am your husband's sympathetic." Some call us Dorians, after Mr. Wilde's book. But if he had a twin to whom he was alchemically linked, to bear his sins into the desert like a scapegoat... well. Things might have gone better for him.
"Mr. Tavistock, then. Why are you here?" Her voice is the snap of a flag.
I am ashamed at how my heart twists to hear she knows my name. And yet: "Madam, I regret that I am here to kill you."
There is no reason to dissemble. I am standing before the only door. It locks from the outside, and will only open with a word to the footman on the other side.
She rises and crosses the room, the rustle of her nightgown like wind in the pines. She does not move like any blind woman I have ever known. She moves as if her flesh is a puppet she's piloting for the first time, and maybe it is.
Her hands are on my chest, as cold and heavy as stones. I feel she might drown me, and I think I would like that.
"You're not wearing a waistcoat," she notes. Her fingers explore the buttons of my shirt, the starched pleats of the yoke.
"I have come to work." I charitably do not point out her own state of undress. I may have a villain's face, but I was brought up a gentleman.
"Do you think I will be hard to kill? I fancy I will snap like a rotten twig. You should hardly perspire." A question in her touch, lighting on my tumored jaw.
I hesitate. I fear the moment when her face contracts in horror, feeling the ravages of my twin's debauched life. But she tilts her head, baring an expanse of flesh as solid as a glacier, and the roiling at the base of my spine betrays me. I nod my permission for her to proceed.
Her fingers brush over my face like spiderwebs, landing first on the ruin of my nose. "There, that's his snuff habit, isn't it?" Her fingers dance downward, to my chancred lips. "That's the Mary Ann he's visiting in Limehouse."
I am the one who flinches. "Please, madam."
Her lips form a rosebud of amusement, but her hands fall away. "You don't like it, Mr. Tavistock?" She stands on her tiptoes, leaning against me. I catch her scent--heated iron and stone--and then she is whispering in my ear, her breath the exhalation of a bellows. "We can destroy him."
That we is a promise, and it sends a spear of light through my gut. "There is no way," I protest. My voice is strangled, as I feel her lips on my neck, kissing a delicate spot below my ear.
"Oh?" The vibration of her voice raises some sort of resonance in my flesh.
"Anything we do to him," I struggle with the words, "is doubled upon me. It's the alchemical binding. Until one of us dies." Of course one of us means me. The binding allows me to endure more suffering than a normal mortal, but my lifespan is unaltered.
I feel teeth along my neck, devouring the last of my composure. Of course I've never been allowed sensations like this, so I have no notion how to tame them. My breath comes ragged, and I fear what is happening to my body, rocketing out of my control.
She pulls away. The momentary reprieve feels as if I've stepped out of an oven. "What if we could reverse the binding?" she says.
I have pondered this many times, but I am no alchemist. "How--" I master my voice. "How do you propose to do that?"
She opens her eyes then, and I see mirrors behind the lids.
No metaphor, this. They are obsidian, or maybe just polished glass. Expecting my own monstrous reflection, I recoil.
But instead, I see my twin. His face is unbroken, slack with inattention; he's reclining on a settee in the library, reading a novel. As I watch, a shudder passes through him, and he doubles over on himself, as if with a stomach cramp.
There is a long, painful keening. I think it is mine at first, because it sounds like my voice. But no; it is farther away, down a flight, through doors and walls.
"Is it really so simple as that?" I wonder aloud. I have been no friend to mirrors since I was bound as a sympathetic, but surely I've caught my reflection in a window or a puddle before. So it must be some unique quality of this woman's--this creature's--eyes, that twists the binding between us now, makes him feel the pain I feel every day.
I find the thought of causing him pain pleases me.
"We've only weakened him," the witch-wife says, and takes my hand. "Come, we must finish him. Open the door."
I call to the footman. There's hesitation in his reply--my brother has given him strict orders--but I hear him moving laggardly.
The key is turning in the lock as the witch-wife says, "Give me your weapon."
I do, because her voice suggests she knows exactly what she is about. She is going to march into the lair of the villain, my brother, and slay him. I would have given her a flaming sword, if I had one. Instead I present her the pistol butt-first, like a gentleman.
The soft click of a door opening, and then a thunderclap. The room fills with smoke.
Her white nightgown is a flag in the haze, and I grasp at it, feeling my legs collapse beneath me. I note the blood mottling the white garment. Some distant part of my mind informs me it is my own.
The witch-wife looks down at me from a great height. "Of course, it's more accurate to call the effect a merging of fates rather than a reversal. But thank you, Mr. Tavistock, for your sacrifice." Her smile is a curlicue of gun smoke. "We both have our freedom--never let it be said that a faerie is ungrateful."
In her wide obsidian eyes, I see my twin's and my tortured reflections become one.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 26th, 2021

Author Comments

I wrote this piece for a Codex Writers' Group flash fiction challenge, to the prompt of "the face of evil." I can't recall why I decided to interpret the phrase literally, but I can say it fell together easily after that. It involves a few things I'm passionate about--the late Victorian period, alchemy, and ill-advised fae bargains. I imagine this taking place in an 1890s that never was.

- Lise Fracalossi
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