“I have to go now,” said a soft, tender voice. “Or I shall be very late!” she added.

“My dearest child,” replied an old woman, with a tear-broken voice, “You mustn’t go there,” she continued.

“Oh! Come now! You know I must help father this year. The awful winter has killed almost all the flowers, and we have none to sell till spring arrives. If I do not work, then we will not have any food!” exasperated the softer, younger of voices.

“How much time do you have?” cried the old woman, her leathery brow deeply lined with worry. “I must tell you before you go!”

“Nurse Fri, father asked you not to scare me with stories! I am nervous enough as it is!” laughed the girl, tinkling.

“I must warn you, as my sister once warned me,” Nurse Fri’s voice darkened, and the young girl listened on patiently.

“The wealthiest family that originally lived here, many years ago, ran this town. The Mayor had gained a lot of popularity from his horse show days, won the town’s election to become Mayor, and after a while got married to the world’s most famous beauty-pageant queen, Eris. After having two girls, Eris had gone mad with anxiety at her third pregnancy, because the Mayor was adamant that he needed a son to continue his sport. As everyone knows, a pregnant woman should look upon beautiful things to have a beautiful child, and for her first two daughters, she had admired her own reflection in a hand-held mirror she kept at her side. But the Mayor ordered that this time, her room to be covered in manly images; of horses, hunting, past Kings and Lords and nothing feminine to be in the room at all. But unfortunately, the baby had to be delivered by caesarean and Eris died.”

“Oh my!” gasped the young girl, biting her lips red.

“But what is worse, is what happened to the child,” whispered Nurse Fri, “The boy was barely human-looking; small, feeble, misshaped body all coiled up, and ugly beyond belief; like a snake, and the Mayor? The Mayor rejected him, and kept him hidden, until the boy was eighteen, last year. The boy got his revenge; an evil face like that had an evil soul too; he burned the entire mansion! His sisters, his father, everyone! Only he saved himself, and he stayed quiet for an entire season, until the wretched man started to feel lonely.” She looked at the young girl in earnest, “You mustn’t go! You’re a beauty; he will harm you for sure!”

“Nurse Fri,” sighed the girl, shaking her head, “This is just a story. You don’t know what is true… I have to go,” she got up to leave, but on seeing the old Nurse’s concern she added, “I promise to be careful.”

*                                  *                                  *

“May I come in?” said the young girl from behind a thick wooden door.

The man sighed, “Come in, but stay behind the curtain.”

He watched as a silhouette of a young woman in white came in and sat in a cushioned chair on the other side of the room.

As the girl came in she breathed in the smell of damp furniture, stale air and rotting food, she took sharp breath and sat down quickly covering her nose. The room was dark, the curtains were drawn and there was a dark figure lying on an enormously grand bed, hidden behind a heavily dusted net curtain.

“So, you are the girl from the village, come to do her father’s job?” He asked, hoarsely.

The young woman cleared her throat, and the resonance of a smile was about her voice, “I have not come here out of choice,” she replied simply.

The man crossed his eyebrows, unsurprised by her lack of self-promotion.

“My father,” she continued, “is very sick, and the trade of selling flowers is seasonal,” her soft, crystal-clear voice cut sharply through the air.

“I am sure you have been are acquainted with tales from the gossiping old women from the village?” asked the man, through his teeth.

“I do not believe them,” she turned her head in his direction.

“All people, are bad. Cruel. You are lucky to have not been subjected to that,” his throat crackled from straining vocal chords.

After a pause, the girl stood and started clearing up the room. “What’s your name?” she asked, and the man could not help but hear the compassion ringing out, but he swallowed the thought quickly.

“My name is S-Samael,” he said stuttering his reveal to the stranger.

The girl hesitated, but curiosity evaded her, “Is it true that you killed your whole family, Samael?” her voice ebbed with fear.

“Yes. And I am not sorry,” he paused, eyeing her silhouette. “Are you afraid now?”

Her soft, stammering answer was barely audible, “Yes… I-I can’t s-tay…”

As he cleared his throat to answer, the door snapped open, and another nurse walked in, “It’s time for your injections,” said in a stern, brittle voice.

“You! New girl, leave now!” ordered Samael. So, the girl stepped out of the room, only to hear strangled cries of pain and muffled grunting. As the older nurse left the room, after much contemplation, the girl re-entered.

“You’re still here?” Samael asked, surprised. The room was hot and sweaty.

“I can’t help but feel sorry for you. Would you… tell me what happened? The whole story… I have been told that you were born with a deformed body,” she said, softly.

Samael thought, the silence ran deep in that moment, and he watched her silhouette turn towards the door. And in an instant he felt panic… fear… was this girl really showing him compassion?

“Wait..! Please… I’ll tell you,” he gasped. “Stay…

“When my mother was expecting me she became increasingly worried that she would not have a boy, and would have to become pregnant again. So, she decided to let the local doctor come in and predict the sex.

“The nurses called for the best female doctor, but advised the older doctor to veil her hideous face; because of my mothers’ harsh temperament on beauty.

“Come in,” proclaimed Eris, stroking her large, expectant belly, exposed unnaturally.

The old woman tottered forward, her maddening eyes searching beneath black silk, “Ah, yes. Only one more moon to go,” she murmured knowingly. The old doctor traced her fingers, tragically, over Eris covering her belly. Her old eyes rested on a bloody plate next to Eris. “This baby will be a boy… but it will be fragile… weak, much care is needed for him to survive this world. May I ask what it is that you are eating?”

“The Mayor wants a strong, loyal and hardworking boy, so he prepares special horse’s meat and heart for me to eat every single day until the boy is born,” she said, rubbing her belly.

“You cannot eat the heart of such an animal in your pregnancy! It is such bad luck!”

“What? What do you mean?” Eris sat up in alarm, “And, uncover your face!”

The old woman backed away, covering her veiled face with her hands.

“No…! No! I must leave,” she turned in haste, but Eris followed her, scrambling from her bed. The old doctor staggered as straight as her wandering eyes would allow her, but Eris ripped off her veil.

The old woman stumbled backwards, covering her face, but Eris stood there, bent over this woman, the veil in her fist, and her eyes wide in horror.

The old woman had a severely pale face, skin wrinkled and disfigured, with a protruding brow. Her mismatched eyes showed blue and brown, her nose was crooked, and her teeth were a state. Her neck was craned up from a low hunchback, and she trembled – not out of habit, but uncontrollably. And her hair was red. Devil red.

““NO!” Screeched Eris, she forced herself forward, tackling the old woman, who had just managed to stand up again.”

Samael paused, his throat catching on his hoarse vocal chords.

“What happened?” asked the girl, kindly, as she placed a glass of water beside him. He caught sight of her pearly white skin as she did. The light glimmered on her delicate wrist and slender fingers in splendid matrimony.

Samael cleared his throat and continued:

“Total and complete fear struck Eris, and she felt a pang of pain inside her stomach… from me. She let out a blood-curdling scream, and fell back.

The rest is a blur, and no one has any details, although I have scrounged after them for years. My mother fainted, and lost consciousness and so I couldn’t get any air either. But the fateful moment happened, when the doctor cut open her stomach, and lifted my ugly self out. Eris died, and the Mayor – my own father – named me her murderer. Evil.

Samael continued, softer now, “My father and sisters despised me. Not only for killing my mother, for whom they showed little remorse, but because of my hideous face; my satanic hair; my coiled body. They taunted me, saying I was a living curse: I had caused my mother’s death and I was an embarrassment to them all!”

The girl sighed, a soft “oh,” escaped her lips, barely audible. Samael paused, eyes closed, waiting for her to ask to see him.

“You can ask,” Samael sneered, snatching the glass of water to ease his scratchy throat.

“That must have been hard for you,” she looked up, in his direction.

“WHAT?!” Samael hissed, throwing the glass across the bed, and the curtain stained darker as the wet soaked through. “HOW DARE YOU PRETEND?! STOP PRETENDING TO CARE ABOUT ME!”

The girl stood up and, screamed back, “I’m NOT pretending! You employed me as a NURSE! I’m supposed to NURSE you, which includes your obviously rotten and damaged MIND!”

Samael sat, stunned. Who was this girl? She had yelled back at him without fear. He growled under his breath.

“I used to creep around the mansion, to make sure no one saw me, covering my face with a mask, and eating at midnight,” he continued hoarsely, shaken in curiosity. “I had forgotten what my family looked like, until I turned eighteen, and the Mayor asked for an audience with me:

I covered my face with the mask and went to my father’s study. He was sitting at his writing desk, and my two sisters had obviously been forced to sit there also.

 

“Samael, you are turning eighteen tomorrow, and your sisters and I have decided to give you a present. A big present,” he paused, dramatically. “As you know, our family takes high pride in beauty. Your mother was a stunning woman, and she and I made a fabulous pair. It was said that we would have beautiful children, and just look at your sisters!” he exclaimed, gesturing.

My sisters were like porcelain dolls: big blue eyes, and long golden hair that flowed in locks, their features were pointed and dainty similar to a fairy’s. But, they were like porcelain in their natures; hard, shiny and fake. There was no kindness towards me, their ugly brother. They hated being related to me, or any sort of association to me.

I held my breath, in fear that this ‘gift’ was not going to be as delightful as my father was making out.


“Surgery!” he cried, clapping his hands together, like a solution had been found. “All these years we have hidden you, but now, you are old enough to be transformed. You have finished growing, and now you can be fixed.”

 

“Why?” I asked, growling. “Why do you want to “fix” me when you despise me, and ordered my soul to the fiery depths of Hell when I was born?” My hands shook.

“Yes, we do hate you now. Maybe if you became beautiful, and earned the family some hope then you would be worthy of love,” he continued dismissively.

“Heaven is a glorious, beautiful place, and such a place would spit out your beastly appearance in a heartbeat. If that’s not enough, you killed your mother, Samael. If that is not an evil, then what is?”

The anger inside me melted into guilt. Pure, innocent guilt at the mention of my mother. Perhaps mother would have loved me, despite my horrific exterior?

 

My father told me that the operation would occur the morning of my birthday, as not to delay my hideousness any longer. And I had no choice. I was young and foolish. And all my hopes turned to that surgery; that I would come out of it beautiful and lovely, and then my family would adore me. Like my sisters, I would win international beauty competitions and woo the beautiful women who would line up to be my bride. My father would be proud.”

“Nurse, I am getting rather tired, and this is a long and mentally exhausting journey we are tracing. I need to eat!” Samael’s stomach made a second growl.

“Of course!” the nurse jumped up, startled. She ran out the door without a sound, and Samael slipped back into thought, pondering why he had chosen to give such long details to this nurse. Was he feeling lonely? Was the glimpse of her skin growing a fondness inside him? NO! She was a lying human being, like the rest, and was only temporarily nursing him. He let the thought disperse into ennui.

The young nurse came back, with a tray of food, and another, larger woman followed her.

“Who else is here?” snarled Samael, recoiling back against his pillow.

“I’m the cook, sir,” said the large woman, placing the tray down and started showing the nurse how to present it.

“I need gin, nurse,” pointed out Samael, eyeing the absence from behind his curtain.

“Of course,” the young nurse flew out of the room, leaving the cook, who was trembling and bringing his tray closer to his bed.

“Just put it there,” he said, bluntly. “What do you know about this nurse? Where is she from?”

“Sir, she is from the village… it was highly suggested that you would appreciate her particular services,” the cook fumbled over her words.

“Why is that? Are the stupid villagers chatting lies about me still?” Samael laughed in torture.

“No, sir, it is rumoured that she is the niece of Old Woman Frigga,” she said, in a rush, biting her tongue.

“What?” Blood rushed to Samael’s face, and his eyes froze over. “She is related to her…” he calmed himself, and lay back on his pillow. Interesting…

“You may go, cook,” dismissing her.

The young nurse came back, slightly out of breath, and sat on her chair again. Samael inspected his food, it was thick steak, well done, and the vegetables were drizzled with gravy. He picked at the food, tearing the meat with his irregular teeth, barely chewing, and continued:

“After the most excruciating pain I have ever imagined, my surgery was complete. They had restructured my face, my spine and joints had been replaced. I was in recovery for almost three months, covered head-to-toe in bandages, eating food through a straw and learning to walk. When I finally looked in the mirror, the only thing I recognised were my eyes; bright, alone and mismatched. They had left that untouched.

I was as beautiful as a Greek God; a competition for Adonis himself, but just as the Greek gods toyed with humans carelessly, so had the doctors with my creation. My skin was soft and fresh, plastic, grown for me; my hair was from another human’s scalp and my lips were unnaturally plump with fat.

Although I was finding it hard to adjust to my new found attractiveness, I began to enjoy all gazes of adoration around me, and so I found myself excited to meet with my family, and be part of them… be loved.”

 

 Samael paused, pushing his half eaten feast away, “But I was wrong,” he whispered.

“They hated my beauty because it superseded theirs. My treacherous sisters despised me so much more, and my father took one look at their desolate faces and blamed my surgeon. I screamed, throwing myself at my father, bellowing and hating him; hating my sisters… their rejection, my isolation. I changed everything for them, and they abandoned me still. I killed them all, in a moment as fierce as red; with fire. All those damned souls dwelling in a beauty parade… burned in my fire. And don’t think I wanted anything less. The fire should have killed me too, but the hybrid plastic skin did not burn, but melted, allowing me to survive. Just.”

“You are here to nurse the wounds from that fire,” Samael looked over at the nurse, a smile dotted at the end of his lips.

The nurse swept her hair back behind her ear, and rested her chin on her hand, silently. “Well, allow me to nurse you then,” she said, simply.

“Very well,” Samael sighed, covering his eyes, as the nurse opened the curtains wide, letting bright light into the room, she gasped.

The nurse took an automatic, gut-instinctive step back, as she saw him. He was like the mangled corpse of a snake, with skin re-growing in patches; blistering blisters and sores. Red and white burns covered him, and he was sickly thin. His red hair was growing in curls over his surgically implanted hair. She quickly douched his body in cool ice and Aloe Vera, applying the medication she had, shuddering at every touch. And he didn’t scream, once.

“I’ve finished,” she announced, later. “I’m redrawing the curtains around the bed.”

Samael opened his eyes, and in a bright flash saw the nurse before she drew the curtain.

She had pearly white skin, and brown hair flowing back, which was tied up, and a small mouth framed with rosebud lips. She glanced over, catching his eyes; her eyes were a bright blue.

The nurse saw sadness flash across his mismatched eyes, like the shadow of an inward beast. He coughed, “Are you going to tell me your name?”

The nurse turned her head, as she left the room, and in a rush whispered, “Belle.”

*                               *                                  *