Stolen Youth

Prompt Day #195: Invent a strange scar. Tell its story.

 

Stolen Youth

 

Once upon a time there sat a small village on the edge of a dark forest. In a modest cottage near the border of the village and the forest, lived a poor blacksmith with his wife and their two children. The eldest child, Isabelle was growing into a beautiful woman and would soon be of age to wed, but more importantly, she was smart, observant and kind. Her younger brother, Henry was just a toddling babe learning to talk; but he was happy and curious and laughed more than he cried which is just as a babe should be.

One day in the early spring, there came a knock upon the door. Isabelle answered to find a fragile old woman bundled in a hooded black cloak. The woman was holding an empty bowl in one hand and a gnarled old walking stick in the other.

“Hello, Grandmother” Isabelle said. She was taught to be most respectful of all the elders and to address them as such.

“Why what a lovely young voice you have.” The old crone rasped. She sat her bowl on the ground and her staff as well. “May I touch your face? You see, I am old and blindness has settled into my eyes. I cannot see more than the outline of your face, if you let me touch you, I can then know your true beauty.” She was already reaching towards Isabelle before the girl could answer.

Isabelle stepped closer to the woman. “Of course, Grandmother” she answered politely.

As the woman reached up to Isabelle, her hood feel back off her head revealing a pale, sagging face. The woman’s eyes were sunken deep in the flesh and her mouth was slack.

“Ouchie” Henry, who had come up behind Isabelle curious to see who had come for a visit, said pointing at the old woman’s face. Isabelle, who had closed her eyes in anticipation of the exam, opened them in time to see a scar which completely encircled the woman’s face thereby forming a border between the face itself and the rest of her head.

“Hush, Henry. Run along and play” she said to her brother, knowing it was very rude to point out irregularities in another’s countenance. The woman quickly grabbed her hood and brought it back up to cover the scar.

“Quite a beauty, you are.” She said picking up the staff and bowl again. “I am but an old blind beggar as you have surely surmised. I live in a small hut deep inside the dark woods and this past winter was cruel to me. I have nothing left with which to feed myself nor have I wood for fire. Having lost my sight, I can no longer fend for myself and rely on the kindness of strangers such as yourself. Will you help?” She held the bowl out with a trembling hand.

“Grandmother, please come in and sup with us. You cannot possibly carry a full bowl back through the shadow of the trees all by yourself. ‘Twould be a dangerous thing.” Isabelle explained.

“What a sweet child you are.” The old crone said. “Thank you for your time.” She turned to go.

Isabelle grabbed the woman’s hand. “Oh, No! Wait. You’ve misunderstood.” She grabbed the woman’s other hand. Holding both in her own, she noted how plump and smooth the skin was. How very unlike an old woman’s they felt.

“Let me keep the bowl. I will prepare you a suitable meal and bring it to you this evening. I will fill my cart with wood and will start a fire to keep you warm.

“You will come alone?” She asked

“I will.” Isabelle promised. The woman nodded.

“Good. I shall see you at sundown.”

“You must never go into the forest alone. I forbid it.” He father said flatly when she told of the strange woman beggar who’d visited their cottage.

But Isabelle knew she must go. Something inside her was drawn to the sweet old woman who needed so much help. She determined to secret food and wood out that night in the light of the full moon.

The forest was dark, pierced with swords of moonlight dotted along the path. She hurried along. The light of the humble cottage shone through one lone window in the back of the stone domicile. Coming upon it, Isabelle stopped. She could see a figure in the window. Stepping closer, she could see a young woman peering into a large mirror. The woman looking at herself was wearing the same rags the old woman had been wearing earlier that day when she’d visited Isabelle’s home.

If the woman had a younger daughter, the girl should be ashamed of herself. Isabelle thought. So busy admiring herself in the mirror when she should be out helping her blind mother. Isabelle shifted her weight, looking into the window from another angle when she heard the crack of a breaking branch under her feet. The younger woman in the cottage jumped. Isabelle ducked below the window instinctively. She waited a moment and then peeked back over the edge of the sill in time to see a terrible sight.

The old woman was there again in the rags. In her hands she held a face, a mask perhaps, of a young woman. She opened a large armoire filled with mannequin heads each but one affixed with a lifelike female face. Most were young girl faces, but some were old women, complete with liver spots and moles. The old hag placed the face she’d just been wearing back on the empty head and closed the door. She leaned into the mirror and Isabelle watched in horror as the woman slid the face to and fro until it was placed just right. She ran her finger around the edge of the face where the scar had been earlier in the day. Isabelle was mesmerized to see the scar appear again as the face was sealed onto the woman’s head.

She’s a witch! Isabelle thought alarmed. She backed away from the window and began to push her cart away. Her father had been right. She should never have come. Once she had the cart turned she began to silently retreat.

“Young girl! I thought you’d changed your mind” The familiar raspy voice called out to her. She stopped. Putting a smile on her face, she turned.

“Yes. I….I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier. I’m afraid I was detained by chores. My mother is ill, you see.” She stammered.

“Well, come in, Love. I wish I could offer you a warm seat by the fire, but as you know.”

“Yes. I recall. I’ve brought wood and kindling. It shouldn’t take me long to start a fire.” Isabelle said, trying to remain calm as she pulled her cart up to the entrance of the cottage. She carried in first the bowl of stew and then an armful of wood. She carried a satchel at her side where she’d placed the kindling she’d gathered on her way to the cottage.

“I’ll start the fire and then we can warm your stew.” Isabelle said.

“Wonderful” the old woman said, now staring blindly past Isabelle as if she hadn’t just been staring into the mirror. “I’ll find some spoons for us.”

Isabelle knelt down to start the fire, remaining ever alert and vigilant to the “blind” woman’s movements behind her. She could see the reflection of the old woman in the mirror out of the corner of her eye. She saw the woman rummaging about presumably searching for eating utensils. As Isabelle built the stack of wood and then prepared the kindling, she saw the woman pull a small dagger from her belt.

Isabelle had the fire burning quickly. She kept her back to the old woman but could see her approaching with the dagger raised.

“I am so very happy you were able to come help me, Dearie.” The woman said. “I’ve been so bored lately, it’s nice to have a fresh face around the house.”

Isabelle heard the humor in the woman’s voice. She willed herself to stay busy at the hearth, biding her time. She pulled a handful of kindling from her satchel and lit it in the roaring flames just as she felt the woman’s strong, young hand on her shoulder. Isabelle stood, spinning around; she grabbed the woman’s face and pulled. The skin came off in her hands and she had one brief moment to see the ancient skeleton grin that lay beneath. Isabelle threw the burning twigs and reeds into the eyes of the monster.

The witch screamed, holding her hands to her eyes.

“How do you like true blindness, you evil thing!” Isabelle yelled and with that she shoved the witch into the pyre she’d made in the large fireplace.”

As she ran out the door and back into the woods, she dropped trails of kindling throughout the house. As she ran home, Isabelle stopped once, hearing a crowd of whispers. Turning her eyes back to the blaze in the center of the forest, she watched as the souls of a hundred women whose lives and faces had been stolen ascended into eternal freedom.

 

 

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