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  • Writer's pictureCheryl

Lilith Howells

Updated: Jan 28

The Misfortunate Chronicles of Havisham Hollow; Chapter 5

Cautionary Warning:
Some viewers may find the contents in the following account violent or disturbing. Read at your own discretion.

People assume that terrible things happen when the atmosphere is particularly unkind. The air was chillier, the skies were darker and gloomier than usual. There was something sinister about the trees that day that practically begged those desperate, unhinged souls to act. The optimistic of us want to believe people only unleash horror on an equally horrible world. This was not the case for Lilith Howells. The path she walked towards the library was just as cold and unforgiving as it was every morning. The same musty air stifled the weary lungs of each passerby. A cold mist had bejeweled the ivy-covered brick walls with dew just as they had yesterday. The pavement corners were just as slick from last night’s rain, and the echo of her footsteps could be heard from the neighboring houses. Havisham library was certainly no exception. Grey-peat moss quilted the crimson brick exterior only. Spiders quietly crawled along the long rectangular windows, crafting cobwebs in their corners. The chiseled faces of great philosophers, scientists, artists, and thinkers that lined the outer perimeter were still powdered with the dust from centuries before.

Only Lilith was different that day. Barely eighteen, she came to wade away her waking hours, as she had done nearly every day. But as walked up the familiar steps that morning and through the great oak doors to the library’s entrance, a peculiar drive stirred deep inside her. She knew Lowell would be visiting today. It should be noted that of the many qualities Havisham Hollow is reputed for, the most obscure of which is that of Havisham Library—the carrier of the largest collection of murder-mystery, detective, femme fatale, and other such suspense novels in the nation to date. It was this fact that first drew Lowell to Havisham, being the avid macabre reader that he was. It was his enthusiasm that first caught Lilith’s attention, followed quickly by his deep chestnut eyes and slightly crooked jaw that only enhanced his charismatic smile. They engaged in many invigorating conversations over the works of Poe, Christie, Dickens, and Bronte. It was of no surprise when she fell madly in love with him, enough to confess it aloud. Pitiful thing. Lowell continued to greet her warmly, but the fact remained he could not return her romantic affections. Nevertheless, today he was returning his latest read, The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Furthermore, she knew what book he would be checking out next: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It had been on hold for weeks, and at last, it would be in his possession. The time to act was at hand.

At 11:45 am, Lilith made her way to a dimly lit corner of the neglected shelves in the eastern wing. She brought with her the book, and a small bottle of chloroform she had purchased from the apothecary that morning. One by one, she carefully brushed each page with the noxious liquid and let them dry. She knew he would be in that afternoon and carefully planned the timing accordingly. At 3:45 pm, she was finished and swiftly made her way back to the front desk, where they shelved all the books on hold. The minutes passed like molasses until, at last, Lowell had arrived.

He came in around 4:00 pm. His entrancing eyes glistened at Lilith’s. As she exchanged one book for the other, he thanked her kindly—just as he did every day and made his way to a well-worn brown armchair by the central fireplace. Fortunately, he was the only visitor that day. Ever so patiently, she waited, watching for the poisoned fumes of death-soaked pages to coax him into unconsciousness. When at last Lowell was asleep, she took him by the shoulder and carefully dragged him out the back door, where a creek was waiting for him. To make sure he wouldn’t wake up during the process—what a mess of complications that would bring—she cut through his trachea. She then laid him down in the creek bed, where the rushing water would clean up any detritus she left behind. Working quickly, she dismembered the corpse, cutting off his head, arms, and legs (at the waist and the knees). Once the pieces were clean, she gathered them and headed back to the forgotten shelves of the library, where the floorboards were old and loose, and deposited the remains. Being well-versed in forensic fiction herself, she was careful to leave not a stain nor a trace of evidence behind.

Days passed, and no one, not a single soul in Havisham, uttered a word of Lowell’s disappearance. Even more peculiar was the silence. It seemed only Lilith was aware of the faint but ever-foul odor lingering amongst the bookshelves. Perhaps they assumed it was simply the mold of century-old books, water-stained from leftover raindrops that leaked through the ceiling. But the smell of decay grew worse still. It saturated the cavities of Lilith’s nose, steeping in her mind with the awful stench of his memory. Yet, as the guilt churned and corroded within her, the townsfolk remained silent. How cruel they were to her, for surely they knew— they must have known—but the people said nothing. In truth, Lilith was craftier than she believed herself to be, for no one knew what crimes she had committed that dreadful afternoon. Only when they found her note did someone discover the nails she had hammered into those loose floorboards.

“They say time heals all wounds,” she wrote one day, carefully tightening a rope around her neck. “For a while, I thought as much. But when he came by yesterday to check out The Tell-Tale Heart, I was undone. Our conversation lasted maybe a minute. It was enough time to coax my heart with charming smiles and kind apologies. Sixty seconds and I was once again ensnared by delusions. How was I supposed to move forward after that?

When he spoke to me, the words were at once healing and destroying. Like a placebo, he was full of proclamations but lacked the substance to deliver. Still…I just couldn’t resist him. One glance, one glimpse of feeling, and I gave up my soul and ran back— only to return to the painful realization that my joy was a delusion. It was built on a fantasy spun by depravity, desperation. It survived on the shallow hope that if I looked between his words, I could find a whisper of reciprocation. All the while, the pieces of my bandaged heart ripped at the seams and crashed on the floor.

Unrequited love is, simply put, an aching, life-wrecking, full-of-feeling spiral. The man I loved had the especially rude habit of dwelling in my mind day and night. Yet he never returned my desires. Maybe that’s what drew me to femme-fatale novels—beautiful, calculated women who could seduce any man with a single glance and destroy them with another.

Time reminded me of all the mistakes he had made, and how pathetic I was for still falling for him. All the while, where was he? Surely fine. He never felt for me that way, why should it have bothered him? Why couldn’t he have been so easily swayed when I spoke his name? Why couldn’t he have borne in this loneliness instead? But no. It was my time to be the ‘crazy’ one—it had to be. After all, it is crazy to feel heartbroken over someone who never loved me to begin with. I am the addict, and he was the nicotine. No cigarette ever felt bad for the cancer it caused.

I regretfully admit that I received some small comfort from the daydream that some version of him could share in my misery. That for just a moment, I could watch from behind a one-way glass, as he completely lost his sanity over me. That he might understand the frustration of being helplessly, unhealthily infatuated with someone who will never return his affections. That for a second—a measly second—he might understand the pain and destruction he has wrought on my heart through the years.

Revenge and love are complicated desires, especially when held in twine. It is the only time when we embrace the darkest, sinister, tantalizingly attractive of thoughts—that if we cannot in fact make them love us, we can at least make them understand what it is to bear the pain of being us. That is: we can at least make them suffer like us. Perhaps this was the unspoken truth that makes mystery and macabre literature so entrancing.

In the end, I loved him. I loved him with every fiber of my body. When he couldn’t return my affections, I loved him enough to kill him. Surely, not a soul in this whole Hollow ever loved him more than that.”

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