by Melissa Knopp, Horror Flash Fiction 1st Place Contest Winner
Agnes’ dream had been loud. She opened her eyes to a sudden quiet, an abrupt stillness that made her fingers twitch. The room smelled of beeswax and linen and cold stone. The sun had not yet risen, and the air had a chalky, bruised quality it often took in the early hours. She remembered lips stretched tight around a scream. Deafening. Such a loud dream. She thought she heard that scream again, a rustle against her ears. But she had opened her eyes. She could hear the bones of the household begin to wake, the kitchen staff shuffling and stoking, the horses chuffing in their stalls. She listened to the girl who shared her room— the unremarkable Mary with her bouncy hair and shiny eyes— snore softly and turn over. A dog barked.
Her dream had been so very loud.
Her dark eyes assessed him as she waited. Now? No, that would be silly. She had to be careful. Attentive. She watched from the grand oak doors, waiting patiently in her gray skirt and starched blouse. Her employer, Lord Hartley, took a sip of his tea— taken always with two lumps of sugar and just a dash of fresh cream, thank you, Agnes. She stared intently at his fingers as they curled around the fine China handle. Immaculate. Hartley carefully replaced the cup on his desk before looking up at her. His study displayed heavy red drapes and black leather sofas, a sideboard filled with various spirits. There was not even a mote of dust to float through the pinkish sunshine filtering through the tall windows.
“Very good, thank you, Agnes,” he said evenly. Dismissively. She watched his lips draw tight against his teeth. He picked up his newspaper. “You may go.” Now. Agnes gave a succinct nod before shutting the enormous door. A smile quirked on her face, but it conveyed no apparent emotion. In fact, nothing about Agnes gave any indication that she experienced emotion. She wore her servant’s uniform crisply, and was borne of an exceptionally stern demeanor. Her sleepy eyes sat beneath thin, shapeless brows, and her dull orange hair was gathered tightly beneath her bonnet.
She turned back to Lord Hartley, that practiced smile pulling her thin lips a little too far across her cheeks, exposing both rows of teeth. Teeth and stretching skin to the point of discomfort. She didn’t notice. Grotesque. He gave her a vague, curious look.
Agnes made her way down the hall, past a lengthy series of portraits depicting former Lords Hartley, seeking a moment alone. She pressed her flat palm against her mouth. Desperate. She had acted on impulse and needed to think, think of some way out. It was so loud. Think.
She moved quickly through the kitchen, into fresh autumn air. The leaves on the trees were turning all lovely shades of red and yellow, drifting patiently to the frosted earth. Perfectly, quietly resigned.
She had left Hartley in the study. Mangled. Why had she done that?
“There you are,” a voice came from behind the stables. Charles was tall and freckled, a stable boy. An often too-willing distraction. But not now, no. Now he was the difference between escape and discovery. “I was expecting you last night.”
“Well,” Agnes said, glancing back toward the kitchen. “I didn’t get the chance to slip away. I should be—”
“Apology accepted.” His mouth tightened, pressed in a grin. It was perfectly formed— angled and curved and sweet and devious. “Would you care to join me? The master has gone in to breakfast.”
Agnes did not tell Charles that she had not, in fact, apologized. And what was she doing? She had left Hartley in the study. The screaming. Blood. Foolish.
“Someone is yelling,” she said, her voice perfectly even. Charles’ eyebrows fell. Then she heard the shouts.
Her nostrils flared and she began to sweat. Her toes were tingling. Could she stop herself now? Her mouth opened, gaping, until it was all she knew. No, she could not stop. Charles’ face crumpled as he watched Agnes’ teeth overwhelm her, engulf her. Become her. His eyes glittered as she reached for him. A scream bubbled low in her abdomen, but it couldn’t seem to climb its way out of the very depth of her body. Agnes’ dream had been so impossibly loud, but the sudden calm was overwhelming.
Born and raised in Kennewick, Washington, Melissa Knopp is the youngest of seven children. She is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at La Sierra University, and is currently an editor for The Roadrunner Review.