Fiction Friday: J.T. Ellison’s “Gray Lady, Lady Gray”
What a blessing it is to have talented friends. When I called up J.T. Ellison to ask if she would write us a ghost story for Surreal South ’11, she said “yes!” immediately. And what a story it is. It’s not just a ghost story, it’s a deliciously gruesome demon story. Yet, there’s so much more to Gray Lady, Lady Gray than demons. I love the fairy tale, Gothic feel it has all the way through. That could have something to do with the castles she’d been visiting in Scotland for research for her Taylor Jackson thriller series.
The following is an excerpt, opening a few pages into the story. I like the crescendo of anticipation that’s common to both sets of characters.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy.
Gray Lady, Lady Gray (excerpt)
Dolon mounted the stairs slowly. He knew what was waiting for him. Lamia was once a beautiful, cunning woman, sought after by men across realms. But she had become something less than real, something full of hate and spite. He didn’t blame her. Not really. He was simply annoyed that he was tied to her, forever. All gray ladies were assigned a demon, for they were unable to leave their earthly rooms without a demon’s escort, and needed something that could travel through the air, move through walls, lift into the breeze and delve into the souls that fed her existence to make that happen.
It was just… Lamia was so old. Even when she received the essence, became the glorious woman she once was, even then he knew that she was crinkled up like an old parchment inside. It interfered with his abilities, it truly did.
He reached the top of the stairs and slid through the wooden door into her rooms. She was asleep in her chair, facing the fire, a fur throw around her shoulders. Her gray skin sagged and a fine line of spit dripped from her hollow teeth. At least she still had them. She would be furious with him for watching her sleep. He slipped back through the door and made some noise in the hall, a warning to wake her. When he moved through the door again, she’d straightened in the chair. The fur throw was in her lap now, and she was smiling at him. Her cataracts made her eyes the color of sludge.
“What news, my sweet?”
“A wedding, Lamia. Just like you thought. Between two very young, very impressionable beings. You should have seen the female when you called to her—she turned red in the face like a baboon’s ass. And him, my love, he is strong, but also susceptible. We have a chance.”
Lamia leapt briskly from her seat and went to the window. “When is the ceremony?”
“Tomorrow night. Seven. We should have enough time.”
“Yes, we will.” Lamia turned back from the window to face him, and Dolon could see the vestiges of the beauty she had once been. Even she, old and cruel and severe, could be transformed by joy.
The dress Elizabeth wore was simple and elegant. The base had been her grandmother’s, a wide, bell-shaped skirt of thick satin. The bodice and all the lace had been current additions, making the dress modern and sophisticated. It had a cathedral length train, and though it was much too long for their purposes in the small castle chapel, shortening it was a concession she refused to make.
Princesses had cathedral trains.
She swished about in the heavy skirt, feeling the slick fabric mold to her legs. She was rapturously happy. She checked off the list in her head.
She was in a castle.
She was about to marry the most wonderful man alive.
She was wearing part of her grandmother’s wedding gown, which brought her back to life, in a way.
She looked beautiful. Her skin was clear, she didn’t have her period, her dress fit like a glove. Even her hair had gotten in line and was piled on her head in glorious waves.
That was plenty for one girl’s wedding day, she thought.
There was rustling in the antechamber.
“Lizzie, it’s time. Are you ready?”
Her father. Tears pricked her eyes. Oh, my God. Her whole life she’d been waiting for this moment, and now, here it was. She took a deep breath.
She opened the door and admired her handsome father, resplendent in his white tie and tails. He twitched a bit, uncomfortably humbled by the scrutiny.
“You look gorgeous, Daddy.”
“So do you, my dear. Shall we get you married off? Remember, it’s right foot first.”
There were forty-nine stairs. She counted every one as they went down.
The castle was decorated to the nines. She wondered what mice had descended upon the rooms to make it happen.
Before she had a chance to think anymore, the planner handed her the flowers, a simple spray of white roses and hydrangea, then opened the doors to the chapel.
It all went very quickly from there. The trumpet voluntary sprang to life, her guests rose to their feet, and she saw Edgar, standing at the other end of the room. It was all she could do not to break free and run to him, throw herself in his arms.
She floated down the aisle to gasps of appreciation. She attributed the crawling, goosebumpy sensation to nerves. She couldn’t see the two uninvited guests standing at either side of the altar, waiting for her with blood risen.
Her father stopped walking, so she stopped as well. Edgar looked ready to cry. She fought the urge as well.
Her father squeezed her hand. And then it was time. The priest was a homely man with wads of white hair spilling from his ears. Mwaiwwage… She stifled a giggle. He spoke in a clear bell voice that snapped her back to sober.
“Elizabeth, will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?”
“I will.” Elizabeth brushed a single tear from the corner of her eye.
The priest turned slightly with a rustle of cloth as dark as raven’s wings.
“Edgar, will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?”
Edgar’s voice carried to the back of the hall.
“Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”
There was a chorus of confident, “We will.”