Authors: Rebecca Gibson
REBECCA M. GIBSON has always loved a good story.
after a certain Miss Hoddington
tumbled into her head, intruding upon a perfectly peaceful walk.
Rebecca lives and works in Devon, UK dreaming of a white manor
and the woods where oceans of bluebells lie in wait.
Rebecca M. Gibson
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 © Rebecca M. Gibson
Published by Tanner Press
Tanner Press UK
Cover and interior design by Molly Phipps
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
No part of this publication is to be reproduced, transmitted or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.
To my mum, just because...
A whip cracked. The sound reverberated through the air like a gunshot. As the carriage jerked into action, a young woman stared out the window. Her reflection sat beside her like a ghostly twin. Together, they looked unknowing towards their impending future.
Once in the midst of a vast park the vehicle came to a stop and Annabel Hoddington stepped down. An awed silence fell over everything. The gowned and suited figures - perched on top of checked blankets - froze.
The Hoddington family was a magnificent example of high society. They symbolised everything the spectators dreamed of, a constant illusion of unachievable perfection. Seizing his chance, a journalist leaning against the fence began furiously scribbling in his waiting notepad.
The park itself seemed to hold its breath as Annabel took her first step. The figures remained rigid with excited expectation. There was a collective sigh as she began to walk away from them.
Annabel inhaled, filling her nose with the scent of fresh flowers and mown grass. Satisfaction coursed through her body as she felt every pair of eyes fixated on her slightest movement. She had been officially out in society for two years, yet it was tonight she would raise herself further above everyone else. Tonight was when her life would begin.
She strode past her admirers with a practiced air of indifference, a small smile tugging at her mouth. Her chaperone, some distant relation of her mothers, chattered incessantly. As she spoke she wielded her hands in front of her face, as if conducting an invisible orchestra. Annabel studiously ignored her, glancing around to make sure she was still being followed by every gaze present. She even took a turn between the upper and lower class border just to give those shabby, poor persons a glimpse of the splendour they would never achieve. She figured she was doing them a favour, placing a positive experience in their otherwise dull lives.
When her chaperone's chatter had turned to the topic of her uncomfortable shoes and overly tight corset, they decided to rest on a nearby bench. The plump girl gratefully threw herself down, prepared to stay there indefinitely. Hiking up her ruffled skirt somewhat she balanced her ankle upon her stocking clad knee. She groaned obscenely as she removed her shoes - she could only have been in them for twenty minutes at the most. Annabel looked away from the sight, repulsed and glad the spectators had returned their attentions to their picnics.
Rolling her pretty eyes, Annabel turned around. Gazing in front of her she realised she was looking towards a dense forest, a few hundred yards beyond the park's edge. Annabel had never been in the forest before.
She sat for several minutes, perched on the edge of the seat, watching as the leaves swayed in the gentle breeze. She wondered what it might be like to hear them rustle against each other, or to be surrounded by the scent of wild flowers. As she wondered, her cheeks heated up with an uncharacteristic, rebellious impulse to enter. After all, it was her birthday. Come tomorrow she would never leave the adoration of people's gaze. This was her only chance. Glancing around like a criminal, noticing that her chaperone's eyes were now closed, her head lolling to the side, Annabel stood carefully and crept out of sight.
She walked faster than usual, looking back every few yards to check - for the first time in her life - that she had not been noticed. It was naïve to think no one had seen her but Annabel was too self-absorbed to register the hiss of chatter building behind her. The forest was ever so slightly up hill, the ground uneven beneath her feet. Unused to exertion she entered the line of trees flushed and short of breath. Her feet crunched on stones and fallen leaves whilst the small heels of her boots sunk into the damp earth.
Annabel looked up. Her breath caught in a sigh at the sight before her. She had never seen anything more beautiful in her life.
She had gazed upon this very forest from her bedroom window a million times. From a distance the dense gathering of trees had seemed rather magical. Once inside the magic doubled. The trees embraced each other lovingly above her head whilst the birds sang in their own melodic symphony.
An ocean of bluebells washed over her feet, filling her nostrils with sweet perfume as she strolled further into its depths. Every nerve ending in her body ignited, such as she'd never felt before. It was as if everything had ceased to exist, as if the world itself had stopped spinning.
Annabel found that for the first time in her life, she actually wanted to be alone. She noticed how the sun shone at the perfect angle through the thin leaves to catch the vivid purple of the flowers. She watched it dart off her embroidered skirt, casting rainbows in the air around her. The insects flying lazily above the plants looked, in this setting, like fairies gliding through their very own fairy tale.
Unseen, or so she thought, Annabel removed one of her gloves and crouched down to touch the tiny purple blooms on the floor, smiling still wider at the velvety feel of the petals against her fingers. The musky smell of fresh earth and fallen leaves, so far from the usual artificial smell of the manor, was oddly reassuring from down there. She straightened slowly, with a slight creak of her corset, to gaze up at the fluffy clouds through the trees and feel the rare caress of the sun's warm rays on her face. She untied her hat so she could feel the heat of the warm weather. Her hair glowed a celestial gold from the carefully erected structure atop her head.
A twig snapped.
Annabel whirled around thinking of journalists, accidentally dropping her lace glove to the floor. Her heart rate increased, her chest rising and falling quicker than usual. She scanned the line of closely packed trees, laughing quietly to herself when she noticed no-one was there. Fixing her gaze back to the bluebells beneath her feet, she bent to retrieve her glove, with the intention of getting back to the park as quickly as possible. She still had a big day ahead of her, she needed to return home.
Just as she located the expensive lace in the grass, her gaze admiring the effect for a few seconds, there was another noise to her right. She whirled around again, her ears prickling on high alert. Her legs were rooted to the floor as if they had been there as long as the trees themselves. A sheen of sweat beaded on her upper lip.
Another noise from a different direction.
"Who's there?" Annabel called in her most authoritative manner. "I can hear you, you cannot hide from me. My father-"
She was cut short in the middle of her threat as the footfalls seemed to come even closer. She scanned the closely packed trees frantically, her eyes roaming in her head, as she tried to catch sight of whatever retch had followed her. She hoped it wasn't someone poor. That would not do, especially not today.
Annabel's corset creaked once more as her breathing turned heavier, the constraints of her clothing unused to such deep breaths. She wasn't even sure why she was so frightened, she had been chased by the likes of journalists before. Perhaps it was the possibility of her being caught alone in an unsuitable area that scared her. The story would be all over the gossip columns, casting a shadow across her impending announcement. She sighed when she heard nothing more for several seconds. Turning to leave, she replaced the glove on her slender hand.
That's when she heard the heavy foot falls start back up again. They staggered directly behind her and before she could move so much as an inch, she felt a white hot pain shoot through her head. Her knees smacked into the sun dried ground, crashing against a concealed rock in the mud. Unconscious, her body crumpled to the floor.
When she came too, Annabel's head was spinning, her vision blurred. She was lying on her front, disorientated but becoming painfully aware of a strong smell of liquor. It was different to the sweet, almost comforting smell of it in the parlours of the manor. This scent was vile, mixed with the pungent smell of stale sweat. Before another second had gone by, a coarse hand clasped itself tightly over her mouth, shoving some rough, sour tasting material between her teeth in the process. Too late, she tried to scream.
The hand, feeling her attempt to seek help, dug it's over grown fingernails into her soft cheek. She made a muffled moan of pain as she fought for breath. Fear and rage clawed at her stomach like bile. She tried to struggle but her hands had been bound behind her back. Pain tore at her wrists as she moved. She tried to open her mouth - just wide enough to sink her teeth into the disgusting flesh - but it wasn't possible. She squirmed left and right as much as she could, kicking out her legs.
Annabel's movements felt sluggish with the pain still searing in her temple. It was now she registered the slow, sticky wetness of her own blood dripping down the side of her face. She was not used to being out of control and that scared her more than anything.
There was hot, fast breath on her neck. A full male form was pressed against her, in a way that made his intentions frighteningly clear. She kicked out with new fight but his breath seemed only to quicken at her struggle.
Her voice was ripped raw by her silent attempts to seek help. The cloth in her mouth tasted of dirt and sweat, she tried desperately hard not to vomit as it crept its way further towards the back of her throat.
Her blood dripped onto the lilac flowers as pain shot through her groin. It felt as if she were being torn in two, ripped apart from the inside.
Annabel felt numb.
Her eyes filled as she let out another silent cry. She noticed, as if in a dream, a single diamond hair comb fall to the floor. The sparkling jewels landed face down in the mud.
Just as her vision was fading the hand on her face fell away. She turned her head the second she was able, spitting out the rancid cloth and sucking desperately at the warm air. As it hit the back of her starving throat, she heaved the entire contents of her stomach out onto the ground.
She felt violated.
She wanted to scream, to get back to the safety of her home and lie in her warm bedchamber. To cocoon herself in expensive fabric and forget this had ever happened.
She pictured her mother and father, how they might look at her once this had come to light. Would they be angry with her? Would they think she had played a part in the unfolding of these events?
She tried to picture her future husband, imagining what he might look like, how his brow would crease up in concern for her. She was meant to be announcing her engagement that evening. Would she still be a worthy wife? That was everything she had been brought up to be but she was no longer pure. No longer perfect.
These thoughts crossed through her mind like a lighting flash, quick but searingly painful. It was the shame, bubbling like molten lava in her gut, which stuck around to haunt her.
With the man's breath receding slightly as he stood up, Annabel mustered every ounce of strength she still possessed and rose to her feet, stumbling through the trees as fast as possible.
Pain stabbed her every fibre, whilst her clothes were ripped and soiled beyond recognition. None of this mattered in that moment; all she knew was that she must get as far away from there as possible before it happened again.
Her breathing was dangerously quick, forcing her to run bent double.
She had only gotten a few yards when a second man grabbed her by the waist and flung her over his shoulder. This time she found her voice. Filling her lungs she let out the loudest scream her raw throat was able to conjure.
It was still not enough.
She had run in the wrong direction, going further into the forest, definitely too far now to be heard from the sunny park beyond the trees.
Annabel glanced down at the man holding her. He seemed to move in the fast, agile way that suggested youth. She kicked out with more vigour, trying desperately to hit the place she knew would make him fall to the ground.
Eventually, her foot flew true.
He screamed in agony and crumpled, dropping Annabel who fell hard, knocking the wind out of her and ruining her advantage.
Scrambling back to her feet, she was wrenched onto the floor and another white hot pain shot through her temple. With this blow her body slackened and once more, everything went black.