This week Toad presents a delightfully wicked piece of flash fiction by South African author Carine Engelbrecht. Enjoy!
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Cat liked the look.
For the three months before they began shooting, Hughie banned her off the beaches, which was how she got just the right translucent skin tone. It was also how her romance with Brandon Tardis got a serious knock when he fell for Brazilian supermodel Sylvana, with her topless tan in the Caribbean, but that’s another story. It hardly mattered now, anyway.
She absolutely loved the look.
The character, Countess Bethany, was supposedly based on a real-life villainess who had terrorised the county they filmed in with her cruelty and her bloodlust. That had been some time towards the end of the twelfth century. To get her into the part, Hughie made her read all sorts of yellowing tomes in archaic language about what the countess had been like.
He spent ages location scouting before he found the castle. For its use, they paid a tidy fortune to an impoverished lord whose family had owned it since the 1600s. The lord said no one knew who had originally built it, but Hughie thought he did.
At first the place gave Cat the creeps. It was draughty and the poor wiring sometimes caused lights to go off for no reason. That drove the gaffers crazy. Sometimes an icy breeze seemed to slip very real fingers under the bodice of Cat’s deep-crimson outfit.
She found a favourite nook between floors, though, a tiny secret room full of dust and bits of bones. A slit window seemed to look out directly to the road everyone used to approach the castle. Cat wiped some of the dust away and used the place to study her lines. No one ever bothered her there. It was as if nobody but her knew it existed.
One lazy afternoon she sat in her usual spot, imagining she was the real Bethany, a woman whose husband feared her, whose neighbours plotted against her, a woman who longed only to feed her insatiable hunger for beauty, but could not quite manage to escape the confinement of her gender. Not in that age.
Cat opened her eyes and found something glittering on the dusty floor, a necklace with a gem that looked exactly like a drop of blood. Strange that she had not noticed it before.
She cleaned it up and put it on. It complemented her costume perfectly.
That evening they shot the key scene, in which Countess Bethany first seduced Lord Roland, her main adversary, played by Eldridge Moore. He was, despite one night of surprisingly good sex, a bit of a drip and way too much in love with his latest bride.
Cat really got into the scene, only hearing Hughie the third time when he yelled, “Cut, cut, cut!” Apparently, Eldridge had started screaming long before then. She had his blood on her chin, but not that much of it.
Hughie sent the actor off to the medics for some stitches and a sedative, but he did not seem at all displeased with Cat.
Two nights later, a local teen disappeared from a rave. He had been a problem child and his parents suspected he had run away. Cat read about it in the papers, trying to brush away a hangover and some disturbingly violent flashbacks from a dream she only half remembered. She had been to the same rave.
By the time his mangled and badly decomposed body was found, there were other missing kids, in other cities… Cat kept clippings. A morbid obsession, her therapist called it. According to him, the violent dreams were stress related. Many young actresses suffered similar problems when their careers suddenly took off.
Her pallor became a trend that female fans were never quite able to duplicate. She never smiled in photographs, but that, too, became fashionable.
Did it really matter that her mind seemed like an empty collection of echoes, that she sometimes felt like a ghost haunting what she used to call her life?
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Carine Engelbrecht writes fantasy, horror and science fiction. Long ago she briefly played guitar for an all-girl metal band called Misery. Nowadays she mostly plays guitar in her room, and if there is an audience, it’s nothing more spectacular than the occasional cat and/or disincarnate spirit. From time to time she even commits visual expression of some sort. She is a member of Cape Town’s Adamastor Writers’ Guild.