Embers’ Last Light, Reflected

by Emeline Marie Beauchêne

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There, in the dark corner it rests, covered in linen as if wrapped in grave cloth. Mocking, scornful and hateful. Billowing tattered ends of the faded cover dance from a breeze of uncertain origin – all windows tightly shuttered against night’s howling wind.

The movement of the cloth beckons, silent yet screaming nonetheless. The bronze mirror underneath gazes through the sheet as if to the bottom of a shallow pond. It knows I have returned. Patient. Awaiting my waning constraint. I have already set logs ablaze in the fireplace. A slippery slope.

Therein lies a struggle as old as the garden. Knowledge. Knowledge of good and evil. Distinction. I have seen the fluttering shades of lightness and dark and suspect the difference. Like most, I dwell in the gloam of ambient twilight without true comprehension. The mirror, however, shows absolute truth. I cannot hide in its reflection.

Questions asked to the mirror under precise conditions yield clarity. The knowledge I yearn for my troubled soul to abate the pain. Answers to questions dared not asked anyone, save the reflection of my weary visage.

Three sounds fill the chamber, subtle yet strong. First is the crackling of flame consuming wood. Second are the machinations of the grandfather clock behind me. Lastly, the cacophonous tattoo of my heart thumping wildly in my chest like that of a frightened rabbit.

I remove the sheet over the mirror like a magician revealing a trick, theatrics lost on all but the cold stone bricks of the inglenook walls. Firelight languidly twinkles in the sullied surface of the bronze mirror. The once stately artifact now merely glimmers under a thick patina; its once proud luster reserved for kings and queens now tarnished to my morbid desire.

I move the mirror in position, its legs shrieking with contempt as it is dragged across the marble floor. I place it facing the fire as a weary traveler drying out from an unexpected downpour. The metal surface is cold like the mortician’s slab.

My heart’s desire, addressed. The promise of it dries my mouth and flutters my stomach. Would that I know the truth?

It is growing close. The logs crumble and the flare diminishes. I walk to the window, opening the panes and pulling apart the shutters. Moonlight pours through the angulate window and falls across the floor like a large silver door.

I have to turn away, if only for a moment. I consider the blustery night swaying the garden of the estate. Wispy clouds veil the moon for a transitory moment as they sail through the vast heavenly sea.

The glowing coin in the sky makes me wince until my eyes adjust to the harsh light. Then, I can see the imperfections on the lunar sphere. I see his face in the mottled surface. Nathaniel.

My long white hair flows as if I have taken flight. The nightgown pushes taught against my chest. A mournful wail from the trees tries to warn me against such blasphemous action. Yet the fire and clock conspire behind me, urging that time is nigh.

I turn again, this time aided by the wind to proceed. I glide towards the mirror as if in a dream. I place my hands on the curved frame like upon the shoulders of my beloved.

Though the phrase is etched on my very soul, I read the inscribed words again as if to glean something that previously eluded my grasp. The incantation is carved into the back of the flat surface. The mirror’s words echo from my cracked, crimson lips. 

Upon fireplace gaze I will gloat,

     then burning questions I can explain.

Unlit, reflections are ill of note,

     and by flame questions asked are in vain.

Embers last light with time’s final smote

     reveal heart’s desire in truth and so plain.

Three questions revealed – no more to quote

     ’til harvest moon brings midnight again.

I glance behind me to see the arms in the clock-face pointed skyward, both nearly aligned. I round the mirror, seating myself on the warm hearth. In the large oval reflective eye, I am just to the side so that the fireplace still takes center stage.

I can feel the last heat of the dying embers on my back. The pendulum lyre swings, its bob swaying back and forth. The first chime of midnight begins.

The reflection fogs briefly. A shadowy shape takes form. It is the horrific deed that haunts my nightmares. In the mirror’s realm, I straddle Nathaniel as he lies on the ground. My black hair pours over his dying face. In that reflected surface, I drop the dagger that had pierced his faithful heart, clattering to the marble floor. Oh, that fateful night since past!

Nathaniel looks through my reflected doppelganger beyond to the real me seated on the hearth of the fireplace. His terrified gaze falls full into my eyes. It is time for my first question.

“Please, Nathaniel, tell me. When I plunged the dagger into your chest, were you without pain, my love?”

Nathaniel shook his head. “No,” he gasped.

The fourth gong of the clock echoes through the inglenook and through the vestibule beyond. Time for the next question. I lick my lips.

“Nathaniel,” I ask, “can you please forgive me?”

Nathaniel’s eyes grow wider, knowing his demise imminent. “No,” he croaks.

A tear betrays my gaze, spilling down a wrinkled cheek. I wait four more bells of the hour. The last question.

I whisper, “Nathaniel, do you still love me?”

His reply comes as his countenance fades with the last chime of midnight. “No,” he says.

I sob as his reflection yields to the scene of the cold, dark embers. At long last, I know my transgression. The fatal error I made was in dispatching my love in a manner that allowed him time to reconsider. I should have taken him in his sleep so that he would love me forever.

I push the mirror back into the corner where it will rest beneath its shroud for another year. Until the harvest moon in the midnight sky shines upon dying embers, reflected in the mirror. As I have done so now for many, many autumns. Now, I wait. I wait for the answers to change. I wait for embers’ last light, reflected.

©️ 2021 by Emeline Marie Beauchêne

“Embers’ Last Light, Reflected” by Emeline Marie Beauchêne, was first published on January 7, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume I: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.

Interview with Emeline Marie Beauchêne, Author of “Embers’ Last Light, Reflected”

What inspired your story?

Poe’s work has always been tragically enchanting. “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven,” specifically, are poignant in the fact that they are so full of love intertwined with sorrow. When I heard about Love Letters to Poe, I knew I had to make an attempt to pay tribute to that mournful romantic style.

What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why?

My favorite poem of all time is “The Raven.” No matter how many times I read it, the impact is still powerful. I am simply awestruck by the piece.

Do you have a theme you return to time and again?

“Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.”

Holy hell, if I could only write like that. 

This sentiment eloquently captures a recurrent theme in my writing. In my short stories, I almost never had a “happy ending”. This is different for novels because the reader has invested more into the characters. My preference, however, is to evoke a haunted longing and bleak desperation.  Much like life, nobody gets out alive in the end.

Emotional turmoil is engaging. Poe did that best. I can only strive for a semblance of that in my writing.

Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?

I often feel like a stranger in my own skin, as I believe many writers do. It helps me to be reminded that this is not necessarily undesirable. I find Rod Serling to be an inspiration because of his perspective on this.

Due of his association with the medium of television, I think Mr. Serling was truly underrated in his time. Had he been born a century earlier, I believe he would have been a prolific writer in the vein of Lovecraft or Poe. He had the same tortured creative mind as their ilk.

The quote from him I find most inspiring is “being like everybody is the same as being nobody.” To paraphrase, it is not only okay to be different – it is preferable.

What are you working on now?

Agatha Christie has always been an inspiration to me, particularly her novel “And Then There Were None”. The Miss Marple and Detective Poirot characters are very intriguing, as well. She started me on a life-long adoration of the murder mystery.

I am working on a mystery series of my own, currently. It is set in a French Bakery amid the backdrop of a small Colorado town. I have thirteen books outlined and am currently in the process of finding representation.

What else would you like people to know?

I’m a second generation American with strong cultural and genealogical ties to France, though I’ve twice flunked French language classes in both junior high and high school. That hasn’t stopped me from inheriting a love for the culture. I hope to visit the country one day.

Along with my love of all things French, I’ve also inherited an adoration for horror stories. This was most likely a genetic trait as my grandmother, Tante Estelle, was a huge fan of Guy de Maupassant.  I, however, preferred Edgar Allan Poe. 

I grew up on a cattle ranch in Tucson, Arizona. This gave me plenty of time to read and eventually write several short horror stories. I’m still perfecting my craft, currently branching out into a cozy mystery series.