Celia Tekiel Bowden made for an unusual sight as she fled the borders of her father’s estate.
Dressed in a gown that was much too fine for a commoner, she might have seemed beautiful, once. Her flowing blonde hair, delicate features and petite figure had seen her become the envy of many other young women her age. The work of a professional stylist, alongside the liberal application of both jewellery and makeup, had left her with a public image that her parents and siblings had deemed ‘worthy of the family name’.
At the present moment in time, however, Celia seemed a far cry from the stunning daughter that her family presented to the rest of the world. Her hair was dishevelled and messy, with a noticeable number of tangles. Her dress, once the latest in fashion, was now both dirty and torn along the hem. The vast majority of her jewellery had been discarded prior to her flight, and her makeup bore the distinctive ruined streaks that could only have been caused by tears. There were a considerable number of bruises hidden beneath the folds of her dress, too, but those were not quite as recent of an occurrence, and much less immediately noticeable.
The distraught girl ran towards the outer limits of their family home as fast as she was able, eager to get away from the torment that lay within those walls.
The part of her torment that was so easily escaped, at the very least.
Only when she had pushed beyond, into the edges of the forest that bordered their estate, did the girl finally slow to a walk. Surrounded by the all-encompassing calm of the forest, she could finally feel something that vaguely resembled peace. A temporary respite from the abuse that flowed from the hands and mouths of her father, and her older siblings.
She lost herself there, for a time. Wandering through the undergrowth, circling around the trunks of trees that had stood for countless years, Celia marvelled at the changing of seasons. The late evening sun sneaking through the canopy above, illuminating the leaves as they began the slow change from a healthy green to a fading orange. Autumn had the forest in her grip now, well and truly.
Then, she caught sight of one.
A flicker of movement, a brief glimpse of living shadows, just on the edges of her vision. So quick, so sudden, that any other person might have dismissed it as their imagination. Not Celia, however.
For as long as she could remember, Celia had seen things. Things that other – ordinary – people couldn’t. Often they were vague and indistinct, like this one. Shadows that lingered on the very edges of her perception, fuzzing and fading away as soon as she tried to focus on them properly. Occasionally, she would see something a little more distinctive; a humanoid shape that lingered even under close scrutiny, or something more…unnatural. Animalistic, even.
The rest of her family forbade her from talking about them. They swore that the visions weren’t real; just the fabrications of an unhinged mind. Hers. That the things she saw weren’t truly there, and that normal people weren’t able to see them.
Fearful of the disgrace they would suffer if Celia’s affliction became known, they tried to suppress her visions through sheer force. Any time she mentioned one of them, or was caught staring at something that wasn’t really there, punishment was both swift and brutal. When she was younger, they had settled for things like confinement. Now, beatings and verbal degradation were simply a fact of life. All done in the name of helping Celia understand, pushing her towards becoming a ‘normal’ human being.
Oh, how she hated them for it.
This time, sequestered away in the depths of the forest as she was, Celia allowed herself to watch. Despite her family’s best efforts, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of curiosity towards the dancing shadows. As she watched them dance and play, Celia couldn’t help but wonder how something so pretty – so enticing – could be bad or wrong. Inwardly, she felt her resolve harden.
She would find a way to prove if they were real or not. To herself, at least, if not everyone else.