Special Interlude XII {Part One}: Supposed to be Dead


A high-pitched ring filled Carina’s ears as the haze of death slowly receded. As her consciousness surfaced from the well of numbing darkness, she sputtered, half-choking as her heart pounded awake like some frantic, wounded beast trapped inside her chest.

The cold hard operating table beneath her had been replaced by a rough and lumpy surface that prickled oddly against her arms, back, and legs. Carina’s fingers curled weakly around what she guessed to be a blanket of sorts. She focused on the texture and blinked slowly, robotically, as she swallowed down the petrified scream that had followed her since the nightmare beneath the hospital room’s blinding light.

‘Am I—alive?’

An attempt to move her head to the side to further assess her surroundings only sent the dark room spinning. Carina’s stomach sent a sharp ping of warning up her spine that flared briefly behind her eyes before slowly going numb. She focused on breathing. Each faltering, shallow breath became gradually steadier than the last as her heart settled down to a dull, methodic beat.

The shroud of shadows before her eyes slowly solidified into recognizable shapes. A dark curtain hung from the four beams of a rather antiquated bed. The longer Carina stared at the dark blue fabric, the more its tattered and matted appearance came into focus. The bed curtain was lined with blue ruffles that barely clung to their frail stitching; through them, she glimpsed a dark oaken door and walls painted a musky green.

‘Where am I?’

An odd feeling of déjà vu surfaced but then quickly faded away before Carina could grasp its meaning. She attempted to move onto her side, only to send the room spinning like a ship held captive on the waves. This disoriented sense of direction made ‘sitting upright’ far more challenging as she attempted and failed to discern between ‘left,’ ‘right,’ and ‘up.’

Carina’s heart continued to beat its fists against the cage of her chest as she clawed her way to the edge of the bed. There the panting girl bowed head to knees and clung to the side of the prickly quilt as she waited for the walls, ceiling, and floor to stop moving.

When the wooden slats of oak beneath her feet finally steadied, Carina blinked and then frowned at the odd distance from her blurred toes to the floor below. Much about her foreign surroundings sparked several unanswered questions, yet the distance to the floor felt the most wrong.

Her confusion shifted as an acidic and foul odor pushed through the cold haze wrapped around her pounding head. Carina twisted her stiff neck, looked down, and pulled at the sticky white fabric she wore. What appeared to be some sort of old—and rather unwashed—nightgown carried a bitter scent and dried stain. A single sniff was all it took to confirm the smell.

Death, it seemed, was determined to humiliate her in every possible way.

‘I suppose that means I’m still alive—right?’

Carina wrinkled her nose, unclenched her stiff fingers from the soiled nightgown, and then frowned as her vision cleared. A pale right hand with swollen red joints that appeared bruised and untrimmed fingernails lay against her lap. Its accompanying twin was in an equally dirty state, but as Carina turned the pale hand over, she found a wide gash of festering, broken skin inside the swollen palm.

‘It’s—not a burn,’ she registered numbly. Flexing the fingers of her left hand provided none of the expected pain, but this abnormality was soon forgotten as Carina focused on their size.

These were not the hands of a twenty-two-year-old woman.

That undeniable fact was followed quickly by a wave of nausea, and the high-pitched ringing that had woken her earlier returned.

Carina clenched her teeth and jolted upright as a sharp rapping sound came from a corner of the room. The nightmare of her abduction, medical incapacitation, and absolute helplessness on the hospital bed sent her bolting to her feet, but the body that was not hers faltered. Numb limbs crumbled gracelessly to the floor with no thought for self-preservation.

She numbly registered her skull smacking against a carpet as stars danced behind her eyes. The blow silenced the ringing behind her ears and the pounding in her head. Carina blinked slowly as dark tentacles spread throughout the room. The four-poster bed and depressing walls loomed in towards her with a threatening, crushing doom.

Carina flinched, closing her eyes instinctively.

The cold train station appeared behind the curtain of stars. Eight-year-old Carina knelt in the snow, her numb hands clinging to that of a man lying sprawled upon the ground before her. His once smiling lips, encircled by a silver-gray beard, did not stir. His grey eyes stared absently towards the snow that continued to fall around them as guns cracked and bullets pinged against the buildings of the railway station. Carina ignored the blood that stained the snow around them as she continued to call his name, begging him to wake up.

A sharp caw snapped Carina’s eyes opened, and the murky dark room returned. She gagged, flipped over, and emptied her stomach onto the stiff woolen carpet. The scent of vomit—primarily composed of stomach acid—made the wretched girl heave again as a warm breeze filled the room. She turned towards the source and blinked as sunlight pierced the darkness from behind a curtained window.

The crow waited there. Its two beady red eyes bore into Carina with an unnerving glint. The eerie bird cawed, a deafening boom that made Carina flinch away and cover her ears. When she turned back, the window was empty, but the fresh air that blew towards her was all the motivation she needed to move.

She crawled across the floor on stiff arms and legs, then climbed up the wall until she reached the window ledge. From her wavering perch, Carina closed her eyes and drank in the fresh air in deep, gulping breaths.


Carina frowned at the odd sound and texture of her voice but quickly refocused on the view before her.

The courtyard was large, with a gravel circle driveway that appeared to come to the front of the building just visible to her left. Overgrown hedges that framed the courtyard swayed beneath the steady summer breeze that carried the scent of flowers and wide open fields. Beyond the hedges, Carina could just make out a distant gate that connected to a dirt road.

‘I must be somewhere in the country then—not a paved road in sight.’

Her protesting limbs soon forced Carina to abandon her awkward perch. She slid slowly back down to the floor and rested for a moment. The glint of sunlight from the window soon pulled her attention to a cracked mirror tucked into the corner of the room. After another failed attempt to stand, Carina returned to the floor, where she spent what little energy she could find massaging her legs and joints until they were no longer numb and stiff. Then, while carefully steadying herself against the wall, Carina slowly made her way towards the mirror.

A strange image awaited her as she looked into the cracked glass. The girl was young, possibly six or seven years of age, which explained her tiny size and small hands. Matted hair, darker than Carina’s, clung to the child’s gaunt cheeks and bony shoulder and collar bone. These were accompanied by dry, cracked lips and dark circles under red eyes, which suggested the child had been sick for quite some time.

Only the ice-blue eyes that stared back at Carina were familiar. She clung to that sense of normality like an anchor before returning to studying the body she had woken up in.


A murmur of voices that seemed to come from below pulled her attention from the mirror. Several pairs of feet on distant steps turned Carina towards the door as the conversation between one and three people drew closer.

“I told the Lady of the house. I said, ‘Call a doctor now before it’s too late,’ I did. But did she listen to a word I said?” the woman lamented loudly.

“Shocking,” replied a gruff male voice.

“The family left for church this morning. I suppose it would be too much to expect the Lady and her brats might pray for the poor child’s soul while sucking gold from that rich relative of theirs. Anyway, Lady Helena gave explicit instructions to remove the corpse before they returned.”

“Tsk! Even if she was a half-blood. Letting her die off like that—it isn’t proper,” replied a surly male voice.

The woman snorted. “Mark my words, the Lord of this house will be pleased by the news when he returns. He was never fond of the little trickster.”

“I expect he wouldn’t be. Not many a lord would bother to keep a half-blood under the same roof as their own children.”

“Still, I hear the Lord of this house has more than a few bastards roaming around nearby villages,” added the surly man’s voice.

“It’s hardly my place to speak of the Lord Josiah’s coming and going,” the woman replied, not sounding at all bothered by the topic of conversation. “The Master is off on another one of his business trips presently. Anyway, tis plain as day they remained married out of spite or some form of noble obligation. Those two haven’t shared a bed since the Lady returned from her—misadventure.”

Carina followed this conversation with interest but stepped back instinctively as a key turned in the lock of the bedroom door.

‘Did they keep the door locked because the child was ill or—’

A middle-aged woman soon appeared through the door dressed in a simple gray dress with a white apron tied at the waist. She possessed an unfriendly sort of face graced with the expression one might have after biting into a very bitter lemon. The miserable-looking woman stopped short as she caught sight of Carina and promptly dropped the wicker basket she carried onto the floor.

Carina stared at the pile of wildflowers that spilled free from the basket. There appeared to be rather more than was necessary for a single ‘get-well’ bouquet, and judging by the complete absence of flowers in the room—withered or otherwise—she doubted that was their intended purpose.

The woman continued to stare at Carina with a look of speechless horror. The two men whose voices Carina had heard earlier squeezed into the room with handkerchiefs tied beneath their eyes, covering their mouth and nose.

“What’s this? Have you called us here to bury a living person,” the man with spectacles and a surly voice demanded from behind his companion. “Saint’s mercy—it sure does smell as though someone died here.”

Carina grimaced as she recalled her soiled garment. Not trusting her limbs to move without showing weakness, she studied her trio of visitors with a wary apprehension. Any of them could easily overpower her in her current state—not that being a small child did her any favors. Carina’s eyes narrowed as she noted the rolled sack of burlap over the arm of the man whose beard peeped out from behind his black handkerchief. His companion, the man wearing spectacles, held an old weathered shovel against his side.

‘They came here to bury her,’ Carina realized. She clenched her fists silently and raised her chin to offer them a defiant glare.

“Ah—pardon, Miss,” the bearded gravedigger muttered as he tucked the sack behind his back. “It seems we came to the wrong house.” He nudged his partner and the man with spectacles followed him from the room with a muttered complaint about not getting paid. This left Carina alone with the dumbstruck woman, who appeared somewhere in her fifties or sixties judging from the extensive gray that covered her auburn hair worn up in a tight bun.

“You—” the woman finally sputtered as she took a step forward, crushing the forgotten flowers beneath her feet. “You are—”

“Not dead,” Carina confirmed coldly. The words came out rough and cracked, and a sudden need to drink tickled at the back of her throat. A glance around the room confirmed the absence of even a cup of water. ‘Had they even tried to keep her alive?’

“But you were—” the woman turned and pointed at the bed. “Earlier this morning you were—I-I checked—”

“Water,” Carina croaked out in an attempt to shift the conversation from the topic of death. ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but I should appear as normal as possible for the time being.’

“What?” the woman stammered, then recoiled as she sniffed. “You-you peed the bed?!”

Oddly enough, this unfortunate accident appeared to aid the woman’s transition from horrified and on guard to simply vexed.

‘Still,’ Carina winced beneath the woman’s accusing glare, ‘I should like to think it was the work of this body’s previous owner—rather than—myself.’

“Water—please!” She repeated. Although faint, the ringing behind her ears had slowly returned, and her limbs were growing numb with fatigue.

“You’re supposed to be dead!” the woman exclaimed angrily, apparently still hung up on that little detail as she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and pressed it over her face.

Carina blinked. She had encountered her share of callous adults before, but still, telling a child that she was supposed to be dead? “Sorry to disappoint.”

The woman flinched but quickly composed herself. “Mind your tone, Maura. Well now—I suppose we’ll have to clean this mess up either way. Lady Helena will decide what’s to be done with you when she returns.”

‘So—the child’s name was Maura.’

Somehow just having a name made the previous owner of the body more pitiful. “Can I please—have a glass of water?”

The woman scowled and drew in a slow breath behind her handkerchief. “Being ill is no excuse to ignore your manners, Maura. Address me properly, or you can quench your thirst with what’s left in your piss bucket.”

Shock and anger coiled inside Carina’s stomach as her clenched fists tightened. A grim understanding took hold as she turned her attention from the woman to the mirror and the child’s reflection trapped within it.

‘I’m not sure which of us I should be feeling sorry for at the moment, Maura.’

“Well?” The woman tapped her foot pointedly.

‘Well, what? I said, “please.” What more does this woman want from me?’

“Sorry—I’ve—forgotten how—” Carina mumbled past her dry lips.

“Oh, for Mercy’s sake!” The woman threw up her hands and then quickly covered her nose and mouth. “Say, ‘May I please have a glass of water, Miss Joy’!”

‘Joy…T-that’s her name?’

Carina held back a laugh as she turned towards the woman and offered a neutral smile. “May I please—have a glass of water—Miss Joy.”

“Better,” Joy muttered to herself and then turned to stare at the bed. “So much for my day off.”

‘Yes, I can only imagine what a trial it must be to have to wash a set of linen instead of burying a dead child.’


Joy eventually left to find others to assist her with the work of cleaning Maura’s bed. The woman made sure to lock the door on her way out. Through the wooden barrier, Carina could just make out the words, “I was certain she was dead,” as Joy thumped her way down the stairs.

A search of the room around her soon located the piss bucket beneath the shabby bed. Ignoring the lingering dizziness that threatened to unbalance her, Carina pulled it out far enough to confirm that it was suspiciously empty and then left it where it stood.

‘So, they visited her often enough to empty the pot but didn’t leave her a glass of water to drink?’

Carina pressed a hand against her stomach and stared at the pathetic pile of clear vomit on the floor.

‘And it doesn’t look like she had much to eat either. But depending on how sick Maura actually was—’

“You’re supposed to be dead!”

Carina clenched her teeth at the meaning behind Joy’s words and focused her lingering strength on crossing the room to an oak wardrobe against the north wall. The right door hung, off-kilter, from a loose top joint. She opened the closet carefully and stared at the depressingly empty space inside. Three dresses, black, brown, and gray, hung from wooden curtains to the left. A pair of old brown shoes lay beneath them at the bottom beside a tattered brown shoebox.

Carina ignored the dresses and sank slowly to the floor, where she pulled the box out and lifted the flimsy lid. Some old paper and a blue ribbon lay inside. The pages held the drawings of a child. The first showed a girl hiding under a familiar four-poster bed. A large bird with red eyes filled the rest of the drawing with its black wings. Carina frowned at the memory of the crow that had appeared on the window ledge. Once more, the elusive fog of déjà vu tickled against her mind before slithering away.

With a shake of her head, Carina flipped through the remaining drawings. The second appeared at first glance to be the depiction of a family. A scarecrow-like woman and man stood behind a little girl and boy with red hair, large green eyes, and angry frowns. They were drawn beside what appeared to be a lit fireplace. Carina wasn’t certain, but it looked like the little girl’s dress had caught fire—or perhaps that was just a mistake on the artist’s part. A glance at the corner of the page showed what Carina guessed to be Maura, hiding behind a cushioned chair.

“It’s not exactly a foster home situation—but I’m not sure your position was much better here Maura,” Carina muttered. She wasn’t certain what ‘half-blood’ meant, but the picture of Maura’s unfortunate demise was clear enough to guess. After returning the first drawing to the box, Carina focused on the second, which was much more positive—if not unrealistic. In this picture Maura sat smiling atop a white horse. There was a crown of blue flowers upon her dark hair and—what Carina guessed to be a knight—knelt before Maura in a field of flowers.

‘Well, I suppose every girl is entitled to imagine themself as a princess.’

Carina moved on to the last drawing and stared at it in silence as the wind rustled through the window curtains and stirred small dust bunnies from their hiding places. At first glance, the page held a simple drawing of a snowflake, but the longer Carina stared at the drawing—the more her heart fluttered as the chilling sense of déjà vu crawled across her skin and left goosebumps on her arms and legs.

‘It’s just a snowflake? But—why do I feel like it means something?’

“If only I could ask her.” Carina sighed as she lowered the drawing and then returned it to the box. The ribbon was old and tattered at the ends but clearly of some value to Maura. “What a pitiful life if these were the only treasures she had to hide away.” Carina picked up the lid and placed it carefully on top before tucking the box back inside the closet.

A sharp prick of warning raised the hairs on Carina’s neck even as tiny, cold fingers pierced her shoulder. She hissed and whipped around—only to freeze in place as the image of the child whose body Carina had woken up in stared back at her.

A ghostly Maura opened her small, tiny mouth and let out a banshee’s shriek.


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