A romantic science-fiction short story. Amelia is trapped into living the same day over and over. Miserable and alone, forever a stranger. Until the morning comes where she has dragged her host into this nightmare, now, they must find a way out together.
Amelia couldn’t remember waking up. Instead, she found herself stepping once again into the dressing room where the maid appeared half a minute later. This was the fifth day she had found herself in this place, this room she barely recognised, inside a house that was not her own.
It wasn’t just this place that was unfamiliar. Amelia was a stranger in time, and it was getting annoying.
“You don’t need to stay, I’ll bathe myself,” she said to the maid.
The maid gave the smallest of blinks. “You are sure madam? I cannot assist you?” She paused, one corner of her mouth twisting slightly in concern.
“I can do it myself,” she said. “Hang on, before you head off, how many days have I been here?”
The maid looked startled. “Five days, madam.”
“And when am I expected to leave?”
“After the Winter Solstice Ball, ma’am. All of Mr Westmoreland’s guests are due to depart in the morning.”
Amelia nodded. “Right, and the Ball is tonight, is it?”
“That’s right, madam.”
Fandabbydosy. It was like Groundhog Day, at least a hundred years before anyone would understand the reference.
She missed the good parts of her normal life, the good things, like lace-up trainers, jeans with pockets to carry her keys, lip balm, and TV. She was sure there were probably better things, but she couldn’t think of them off the top of her head right now.
After she’d struggled her way through her bath, it was time for Lady Forster to appear. She was a terrible, bitch sort of woman who wore a monstrous purple hat dangling coquettishly over one eye.
“What am I doing here,” she asked.
Lady Forster’s eyebrows raised into her hat at the sight of Amelia, wild-eyed, in only her dressing gown, she was too well brought up to show any real emotion, but there was the ghost of a frown on her face.
“What am I doing here,” Amelia asked.
“Whatever do you mean, child. You’re preparing for tonight’s Ball, of course. I am under strict instructions to assist you in any way you can, although I do wish I’d been previously informed about the state of your hair, my dear and your skin is so terribly freckled, I do not know what you’ve been doing with yourself back home.” Lady Forster growled.
Amelia leant forward. “Whose instructions told you to help me?”
“Why your dear mamah’s of course. I received a very detailed note begging my assistance.” Lady Forster shook her head, eyeing her distrustfully. “Really child, what is all of this about?”
“Have you ever met my…” She paused before the word, sucking on her teeth to force it out. “My mamah?”
“I believe we met some years ago, but I admit it has been a long time since we were reacquainted.”
Later, during the Ball, Lady Forster took her to one side, her fingers cinched in a pinching vice around her forearm. “Your behaviour really is quite extraordinary and quite unacceptable among civilised people. Roaming about in the snow by yourself, there have even been reports of you swearing like you are nothing more than a common sailor.”
Amelia had to disguise a smile. It was true, she had spent the day wandering in the snow, freezing her tits off in a little froo-froo dress and without proper snow boots. One step and then another, on and on she strode until her legs couldn’t go any further. The grounds of this place seemed endless.
“So send me home then. Let me go home.”
“You are here as Mr Westmoreland’s guest, and you shall remain so until after the Ball.”
Amelia strode off to scream into one of the chintzy pillows dotted about the place, only stopping at the sound of footsteps.
“Is everything quite alright?”
She sighed heavily, not bothering to turn around.
“Go away, please.”
“I feel like we have met before, but I have no recollection of it.” Westmoreland’s voice sounded from the doorway.
“You don’t know me,” she replied, looking up, frustrated. “I barely feel like I know myself.”
That much was true, the memory of who she’d been before coming here was hazy and abstract, there were muddled images in her head, of trainers and pink furry cushions that would appear for just a moment and then would disappear, like smoke. The longer she stayed here, the more confused and distant her previous life became.
His eyes were suspicious again, glinting in the half-light. “Did my…”
“I don’t know if your mother invited me.”
His eyes widened.
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she said simply. “Anyway, you shouldn’t be here with me, you should be in there looking for a suitable wife or whatever it is your supposed to do at these things.”
“I’ve never felt very comfortable in a ballroom. When I was a child, I used to hide in one of the smaller rooms with my cousins, we’d sneak in little bits of food and spy on the couples through the panelling.”
Living the same moments over and again grated. There was no forward momentum into the next moment, Amelia was doomed to living these seconds as a stranger.
It seemed that whatever she decided to do, it made no difference. Lady Forster was still bent on being a bitch, and Westmoreland didn’t trust her.
The music seemed to follow her into the next room, trailing behind them as a constant reminder that this place wasn’t real: whether it was a fever dream or hell, she hadn’t decided.
Day 14. During the ball, Westmoreland followed her outside to the snowy courtyard and was giving her that same suspicious look that was pretty familiar by now.
“I’m sorry, I know you don’t know what I’m doing here. You can join the club,” Amelia said. “Nothing I say matters anyway because by tomorrow you won’t remember it.”
“It’s most peculiar. When I look at you, it feels as though I do know you, or that I should.”
His eyes were so intensely looking into hers, it was like looking deep into a bottomless cavern, and it made the hairs on her arms prick up, a shiver coursing down her spine.
“I know what you mean.”
“Would…” He hesitated. “Would you like to dance?”
“I’m not sure I can.” She looked a little wistfully at the couples charging around the floor with the kind of grace and poise she couldn’t imagine.
“I’ll show you.”
As they span around the floor, the faces and candles lining the dancefloor all blurring into one, she felt connected to the movement and to his sturdy frame, holding her tight.
“That dress looks like you are made up of a million tiny stars,” he murmured into her ear.
“A whole galaxy.” She smiled.
The moment was just right, and for the first time since being here, she felt at ease. It felt as though this moment was connected to something, a celestial string was being pulled.
They danced together until the ballroom emptied and then into the time beyond.
“I’m afraid we must say goodnight,” he said.
And goodbye, she thought.
Amelia stepped into the dressing room and found her knees grew wobbly. No, this wasn’t right. It should have ended.
The night before had felt momentous like something had shifted. But here she was again, stuck reliving these moments.
The maid appeared.
Amelia didn’t bother with the pleasantries. “Tell me, what’s happening tonight?”
“The Winter Solstice Ball, madam.”
“And how many days have I been here?”
“Fifteen days, ma’am.”
Amelia sucked hard at her teeth. “You can go,” she said.
Footsteps. Lady Forster was on her way. Amelia didn’t bother to move, instead staring out of the window of the house she couldn’t escape.
“What’s going on?”
This was different. Westmoreland strode into the room in his grey, day suit. He looked as though she had sneezed in his mouth.
“Last night was the Ball, we danced all night, and yet I wake up this morning, and my staff tell me that it’s the Ball again tonight.” He put his hands on her arms and stared into her eyes. “Tell me you remember.”
“I remember,” she said.
“Are all these people delusional? What is happening.”
“I don’t know.”
“I thought perhaps it was a dream, but if you remember it too then surely, it can’t be.”
She didn’t know what to say.
“This has happened to you before,” he said slowly, watching her face as she nodded.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything. All I know is that since I’ve been here, every morning I find myself here and every evening it’s the Winter Solstice Ball.”
“So this is your nightmare, and now I’m trapped inside of it?” He began pacing the room, then paused to look at her. “Since you’ve been here… that’s two weeks.”
“You never remembered me before,” she said.
He began pacing furiously again, chewing a nail with vigour. “Then it’s you. Are you some kind of Witch? Fix this so that I can go back to my life.”
She gave a humourless laugh, leaning back in her chair. “I wish I were and I wish I could. I’ve tried everything.”
“We could run away, get as far away from this place as we could.”
The ‘we’ made her pause to look at him.
“We could try I guess, I’ve tried walking, but I never seemed to get far. Eventually, I always found my way back here,” she said quietly. “I even tried sticking my head under the bathwater until I passed out, but then I found myself in the next day even sooner.”
He looked hard into her face and shook his head slightly. “You’ve been alone here, a stranger for a fortnight. That must have been difficult.” He paused, looking down while rubbing a scuff from his shoe. “And now I’m trapped in your purgatory with you.”
“Winder,” he called, darting to the wall and ringing the servants’ bell.
An elderly man appeared, his eyes darting from Westmoreland to Amelia in her robe and then back again. “The carriage, Winder, I have need of it.”
“All the carriages are in use, m’lord. They are fetching the visitors for this evening’s Ball.”
“Of course they are. Blast.” He glanced around, lost in thought. “Then we shall walk. Get dressed, and I’ll meet you on the porch, we’ll see how far we can get.”
Together they walked, the icy wind brushing their cheeks until they were scarlet.
“Do you remember who you were before you came here?” He asked suddenly.
“Not so much, anymore.”
“Perhaps you should dance with all of the men, they might all be caught up in the nightmare with us.” Westmoreland nodded at the line of gentlemen, leaning against one wall, trying to look casual.
“What difference would that make? Having you trapped here with me, it doesn’t make it better.”
“Perhaps then, we should set this whole room ablaze.”
Before she could do anything, he began to charge about the room like a bull cooped up too long, knocking over the candelabras and setting torches to the curtains until the walls were an inferno of furious orange. The crowd screamed and surged toward the exits until just the two of them remained. It felt different now when she was in his arms, familiar, but the world no longer fell away.
On day forty, Amelia escaped from the crowded ballroom and stood watching the snow fall.
She felt Westmoreland’s presence behind and turned to see him watching her, a snowflake resting on one of his thick black eyelashes. Day by day he grew more miserable. He would be gone for hours during the day, wandering through the snow only to return just in time for the evening meal, looking a little pale and lost, blinking into the candlelight.
“I think maybe I should try and keep away from you. It seems like we can’t run away from this and I don’t think it’ll be long before you start hating me.”
He didn’t say anything and just let her pass him as though she didn’t exist.
She couldn’t avoid him entirely, something always seemed to bring them together, one wrong step and she found herself in the room where he happened to be. The Ball inevitably came around, as it always did and she would watch from a corner at him dancing with the other women, twirling them around and making them laugh.
She avoided dancing with anyone, in case he was right, in case she was cursed. She didn’t want to damn an entire roomful of men to this purgatory.
On one of the evenings, she sat in a room upstairs, hiding from the world until it went away. These nights were now painful, waiting as the seconds ticked and imagining another woman in his arms being spun into an eternity.
“I can’t. I’m sorry, I thought you were to blame for this. Will you come with me?”
He led her out of the darkened anteroom and into the hallway outside, soft music was playing from somewhere.
“Dance with me.”
She could see the glittering reflection of her own dress in his eyes, it was as though they showed the stars in the night’s sky.
He spun her around, and it felt so comfortable to be in his arms once again.
“Have you noticed, the nights have begun to cut off sooner. I think that perhaps our time is waning.”
He was right. One of the mornings, she blinked and Lady Forster was in front of her. She blinked again and found herself at the dining table, Westmoreland caught her searching gaze and gave a slight shake of his head.
Blink. It was close to midnight. She found herself outside where the snow fell. Westmoreland came and stood beside her, she didn’t need to look to know that it was him, his arm felt warm against her skin.
“I think this place is fading,” she said softly.
“Dance with me.”
She glanced up at him. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. If in the next moment we fade to nothing, I want to be with you, and I want our last moments to be dancing.”
She nestled her head into his chest.
“In that dress, you look like a thousand-night skies. A true, celestial beauty,” Westmoreland murmured into her ear.
His voice was the last thing she heard, just as the music stopped.
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