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Authors: Nathan Wilson

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Arsenic for the Soul

BOOK: Arsenic for the Soul
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Arsenic for the
Soul

 

Nathan Wilson

 

 

Arsenic for the Soul
are products of the author’s imagination and or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales
or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright 2016 Nathan Wilson

Smashwords Edition

 

All rights reserved.

 

Smashwords Edition License
Notes:

Thank you for downloading this free
ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted
property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and
distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you
enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their
own copy at Smashwords.com, where they can also discover other
works by this author. Thank you for your support.

 

Cover art:
Photography by Xua, TheGeminiSage, and
Obsidian
Dawn

 

Discover other titles by Nathan Wilson
at Smashwords.com:

The
Undying God

Red
Widow

 

For Rachel and Albert
Lin,

Thank you for being my light when
I was blind.

and for Stephanie Eder,

 

Never was there a more beautiful
woman

who showed me so many new
worlds.

I will always love you.

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

 

Winter’s breath churned the ashes
under Camilla Vesely’s feet.

The ruins of Vesely Manor greeted her
from beyond the pall of morning fog. It crouched in the darkness,
biding for the moment to devour her like a dredged up
calamity.

Gothic trimmings, minarets, cloister
galleries, and lavish ceiling frescoes were reduced to cinders in
one foul night.

Camilla remembered walking past the
manor when it glowed under the sheen of a summer day, wondering who
her mother and father truly were. Now she returned to bear silent
testimony to their sins.

A reflecting pool glowed beyond the
estate, hedged by untamed gardens and rampant forest. How easily
one could lose her way in that mischievous labyrinth.

She stroked the vial dangling from a
chain around her neck. It served as a constant reminder of her
chilling origins.

The same ashes that dotted these
grounds glittered in the crystal vial. It was an omnipresent burden
tugging on her heart.

Its weight multiplied ten
thousand-fold when she set foot on these unhallowed
grounds.

It seemed like only yesterday that she
tiptoed inside the shadow-steeped manor for the first time. She
explored bedrooms that once belonged to her father, his wife, and
brothers and sisters she never met. She rummaged through their
photos and journals, anxious for a peek into their closely guarded
lives. She imagined them gathered in the parlor during the evenings
or reading their daily lessons near the marble fountain in the
courtyard.

She pictured Mrs. Vesely looking out
the arched window on the second floor, her eyes raking the
sunset-scorched horizon.

Meanwhile, Camilla’s father would be
taking a woman other than his wife into his arms. The sparks of
lust would have danced wildly between them, giving way to a night
of forbidden passion.

Had this woman given any thought to
the consequences when James Vesely pressed his lips into the nape
of her neck? Did she consider, even for a second, that one
ill-conceived night of pleasure would end in her
disappearance?

Camilla approached the reflecting pool
and peeked inside. Her face wavered like ribbons on the chaotic
surface. She had changed so much in the span of a year. Her
chestnut hair seemed thinner and her heart-shaped face acquired a
new pallor.

I’ve spent too much time
shut away in my apartment, consumed in my work. I don’t even
recognize myself anymore. Those dim, lifeless eyes are not
mine.

For a moment, she wondered if she was
witnessing a reflection of that mystery woman who courted her
father. What ever became of her mother after she fell prey to the
madman who bore her no love?

As soon as Camilla was born, her
mother vanished. She never felt the loving caress of a mother or
the biological bond that transcends the womb. Without a doubt,
Camilla’s father played a role in her disappearance. It was his
modus operandi to eliminate any threat to his moral standing. If
there was one thing the Veselys treasured, it was the
holier-than-thou image surrounding their bloodline—but that
bloodline was never destined to last.

One by one, the Veselys passed away or
retreated from the public eye, auctioning off the manor to a
reclusive gardener.

Since then, the Vesely Manor became an
empty tomb abandoned to pelting storms and cruel winters. The
family legacy had splintered into a thousand pieces borne away on
frigid winds.

Camilla wondered if the Veselys loved
each other as a normal family would. They were too abnormal to rule
out the possibility. Perhaps they only tolerated each other on the
surface, masquerading as a perfectly ordinary, righteous
family.

No one would suspect any illicit
affairs, cruelty, or abuse under the veneer of wealth and family
churchgoings. Sadly, Camilla would never know the truth now.
Everything they left behind simmered under a veil of
ashes.

Before the estate succumbed to arson,
she dreamed of transforming it into a residential home for women
and children. It was a small atonement for the Magdalene asylums
her ancestors sired into existence.

The asylums were constructed for the
purpose of sheltering prostitutes, unmarried mothers, orphans, and
the diseased. Alas, the asylums only operated under the guise of
providing refuge to the innocent.

Instead of healing, caretakers
punished the girls for perceived sins and forced them into manual
labor. Even children weren’t spared the torment of toiling in the
sweltering laundry rooms. It was said the act of washing dirty
linens represented the purging of sins.

Camilla thanked God she wasn’t reared
into the brainwashed flock of the Vesely family. As a child out of
wedlock, she was raised by her dear Uncle Sebastian in the lush
countryside of the Czech Republic.

She never saw the inside of the Vesely
Manor until it was abandoned to dust and decay. In another
lifetime, she might have strolled through these halls and played in
the gardens.

She would have been indoctrinated into
the same twisted dogma as her father—who obviously strayed beyond
the tenets of his faith.

In all likelihood, he imprisoned
Camilla’s mother in one of the many Magdalene asylums that dotted
Europe. Once she was removed, no one would know the secret of his
affair.

But no matter how thorough her
father’s attempts to bury the truth, Camilla managed to pry it from
Uncle Sebastian.

At first she couldn’t handle the
reality of her birth and the consequences it implied for her
mother. As the weeks passed, she came to grips with her
origins.

She wouldn’t deny the truth of her
mother’s imprisonment as her father had so heartlessly
done.

Though Camilla never had a chance to
have a mother, Uncle Sebastian became her father.

He lived a hermit’s existence in a
cottage on a craggy slope overlooking Adršpach Lake. He never
married or begot children so he treated Camilla like his own flesh
and blood. As a bonus, he seemed more sensible than his family
peers.

Camilla first learned about the
Magdalene asylums from Sebastian, who painted a picture of cruelty
and absurdity that stemmed directly from her father.

The Magdalene asylums represented the
ultimate hypocrisy of her father. In some ways, Camilla felt
compelled to shut down the laundries and undo the crimes of her
family.

After all, no one ever stood up to
these institutions so why should she expect someone else to
intervene? This was something she would undertake alone. She would
have to make a difference without anyone’s aid.

Through her efforts as a crime
reporter, Camilla exposed the ongoing abuse in the asylums. The
public outrage finally goaded the police to launch an
investigation. In little time, the laundries were barred and
abandoned. No more than five months ago, the Magdalene Midnight
Mission was closed.

Camilla planned on refurbishing it as
a charity once the funds magically deposited into her bank account.
She chuckled at the thought. A career in journalism wasn’t likely
to result in that kind of miracle, but she could always pin her
hopes on a wealthy donation. In any case, justice for the enslaved
women and teens proved the most worthy reward.

They were returned to their rightful
families, and innumerable assault and abuse charges were levied
against the asylums’ caretakers.

Camilla’s only regret was that it took
so long to shut down the asylums. How many innocents could have
been spared had she pursued her investigation more
rigorously?

Yet nothing prepared her for the
outpouring of gratitude from the women who were freed. She didn’t
know how to feel when she received letters of forgiveness for her
demonic bloodline.

She still recalled the letter she
opened a few days ago.

 

Dear Camilla, thank you
for paving the way to my freedom. Were it not for you, I would
still be living on bread and water and sharing a room with eight
other girls. For the first time in years, I can feel the rain on my
face, sing to my heart’s content, and pursue my
passions.

You’ve given me hope that
I thought was forgotten. Few people can say they’ve touched so many
lives in the way you have. I will always cherish that. If only
every soul was as selfless and determined as you. Thank you and
bless your heart.

 

Camilla blinked away a film of tears.
Their expressions of gratitude were her fountain of strength in
these trying times. Perhaps she needed to step aside and distance
herself from the investigation. More so, she needed to stop
thinking about what she could have done better.

As she scanned the vacant lot, she
felt a change in the air. It was as though the ruins here were
laughing at her.

She noticed another set of footprints
had disturbed the ashes and snow. They wound past the decrepit
manor and into the uncharted woods. Had someone come here before
she arrived or was someone keenly watching her, just waiting for
her to turn around and meet his eyes?

An icy feeling more penetrating than
the bite of winter pulsed through her core. Every nerve trilled
with alarm.

She longed to turn around and gaze
into the eyes of the fiend lurking in her shadow.

Camilla only saw the Gothic arched
gateway with its host of ghoulish statues. No one was there, save
for the footprints left behind to mark a curious wanderer’s
trespassing.

Camilla shivered against the wind as
it knifed through her cashmere jacket with gusto. She wondered who
would dare stand in the shadow of Vesely Manor.

 

 

 

ONE

 

 

 

Medical textbooks landed with a heavy
thud on Vivian Xu’s bed. She spent two hours combing through
bookstores for the fall semester’s required materials. Now she
could look forward to the soul-eroding task of reading and
memorizing over a thousand pages of rudimentary text.

She glanced over the books and
approached her dresser. A letter was propped by the mirror as it
had been every day, virtually untouched. She picked it up and
shivered in unashamed delight. She must have read the letter every
day, perpetuating a morning ritual that dangerously bordered on
obsessive compulsive. The impact from the letter still hadn’t
dulled after all these weeks.

 

Dear Ms. Xu,

It is my pleasure to offer
you a position in the 1999 fall class to the Institute of Nursing
Theory and Practice at the First Faculty of Medicine at the Charles
University of Prague.

BOOK: Arsenic for the Soul
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