An Erotic Paranormal Romantic Thriller
By KJ Cartmell
“Elena’s Curse” is an anomaly, the only story in my repertoire that deals with the supernatural and the occult. Now, as you may know, I write for HarryPotterFanFiction.com. My stories about Hufflepuff Liam Wren involve magic, of course, but mainly they are about kids going to school. Magic is a normal part of the student’s environment at Hogwarts. It’s not at all unusual or scary. This book, on the other hand, is creepy. My stories are intimate, and are often emotionally intense, but rarely do they give one the heebie-jeebies.
I wrote "Elena's Curse" in early 2009, in response to a contest prompt. I felt I absolutely nailed their prompt, but the contest backers were bewildered by my entry, and I was bewildered by their bewilderment. Clearly, there was a lack of communication somewhere. I thought I had given them exactly what they asked for, but it wasn’t what they wanted.
I didn’t have a Plan B for “Elena’s Curse,” at that point, so I just moved on to my next project. Later that same year, I began reworking the concept of Elena Morrow into what became my first Liam Wren story, “The Dangers of Black Cats.” The new Elena was a completely sympathetic damsel in distress. The story was well-received by the HPFF community, so I saw no reason to go back to the original story.
A few years ago, I remember reading a newspaper story about Tablo. (Yes, I am so old fashioned that I still get a daily newspaper.) I didn’t investigate the site and soon forgot about it. When I stumbled upon the site recently, following a Twitter post, I immediately thought, “I should be here. I need to play in this space.”
The first story I thought to post was “Elena’s Curse,” as it’s polished and contest-ready. I figured I could get it up on the site quickly. Reading through the draft, however, I spotted a few things I needed to fix. The narrator was originally called Sadie Thompson. Sadie has since become a key figure in my HPFF stories, the brilliant and feisty girlfriend of Liam Wren. I quickly settled on Erica Greer as an alternative name for my narrator. Technology has changed dramatically in the six years since I wrote this story, so all that had to be updated as well.
If you like this story, and want to read another that’s just like it, I can’t help you. This is the only sexy thriller paranormal romance that I have written (so far). But, if you like my style, and you want to read more about love in all its different forms, you can find me in a few other places. I have a story, “On a Christmas Eve,” published in the very sexy anthology Down the Chimney. There’s a sweet little book about adolescent love, called The Trouble with Girls, available at Amazon and in the Kindle lending library. The aforementioned story, “The Dangers of Black Cats,” and two complete novels, Liam Wren and the Dragon Wand and The Witches of Slytherin, are available to read right now at HarryPotterFanFiction.com. Plus, I have a work in progress there as well, Love, and Arithmancy.
And still, I brave the cold rain of rejection notices, pushing my magnum opus, The Gospel of Thomas, on agents and traditional publishers. I’ll keep you posted on my progress here on Tablo, on GoodReads, Facebook and Twitter.
Send me a line sometime. I love interacting with my readers. If you like what you read, please, spread the word!
KJ Cartmell, May 2015
My first impression of old Mrs. Covington was that she had an insane hatred of cats. We’d barely said our first hellos when she spotted one and started screaming, “Get off my lawn you wicked beast!” She took two steps past me, shaking her fists. “Go! If I ever catch you on my property, I’ll wring your neck!”
I turned around and saw two black pointy ears and two yellow eyes gazing curiously at me. Then, with a flick of its black tail, it turned and disappeared into the high grass. Mrs. Covington was facing me again. Her withered cheeks had purple blotches on them. She didn’t look at all abashed at the sudden outburst. “I hate cats. Kill that one if you get the chance.”
I smiled awkwardly back. The screaming fit had knocked me off track. I decided to start over again. “Hi, I’m Erica Greer. We talked on the phone last week. I’m going to be your lodger for the summer.”
“Yes, you said all that already,” Mrs. Covington answered impatiently. “There’s a guest room upstairs. I hardly ever go upstairs anymore. Take any room you’d like up there.” She swept her arm vaguely in the direction the cat had gone. “I’ll need the grass mowed, and there’s some overgrown bushes that need to be trimmed in the back. Inside, the house will need some cleaning, too. I don’t go upstairs much anymore,” she repeated.
I nodded my head. That was the deal. I was staying here, with free room and board, for the summer. I got to stay in Elmwood South Carolina, near my school, Sandhurst College, instead of going back home to Connecticut. In exchange, I was going to do some house chores for her. I chose this over being home to watch the unraveling of my parent’s marriage, like it was some twisted reality TV show. Better to be here, where I didn’t have to think about it.
“I have my lunch at noon and dinner at six. You’re on your own for breakfast.” I nodded. “They said you’re a quiet girl. A reader.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve brought some books I need to read before next semester.”
“Any guests will have to be pre-approved. I won’t have any loud parties.” She gave me a stern glance. “And absolutely no boys.”
That won’t be a problem, I thought to myself. I was an average looking girl, not someone guys paid much attention to. Still skinny, still girly looking with my short brown hair and freckled face. I didn’t look like a woman at all, even though I was almost twenty.
My suitcase was slowly pulling my arm out of the socket. I shifted it from one hand to the other. For the first time since I’d arrived, Mrs. Covington gave me a kind smile. “You must be tired. Go upstairs and pick your room. Dinner’s at six.”
“Thank you,” I said, and went into the house.
It looked like a grand house from the front – a wide lawn, a curving drive leading up to ivy covered walls and a long Southern style porch. Inside, the house was like a museum that had been closed for years and suddenly reopened. The air was still and musty. Everywhere I looked, there was antique furniture topped with white lace doilies. A winding staircase lay off the entryway. A formal dining room was on my left, a shadowy hallway past the stairs on my right. From where I stood, I could see a lush green backyard through the kitchen window.
The air quality got worse as I headed upstairs. More than one of the rooms upstairs had beds. All of them exuded a feeling of abandonment, like no one had lived in them for years and years. There was only one bathroom, at the end of the hall opposite the stairs. I took the room closest to it.
There was a double bed and a dresser. I drew the drapes and opened the window. There wasn’t any screen. I gazed out over the back yard. The branch of a nearby oak stretched just below the sill. Beyond it, I could see other trees and bushes, all wildly overgrown. Erica, I thought, you’ve signed yourself up for a ton of yard work.
I went to the bathroom. There was a tiny window in there, too, that I opened. Fresh air slowly seeped into the house. By the toilet was a tiny sink with ornate faucets. Above the sink on a glass shelf was a brush and a few vials of lotion, the only sign that someone had ever lived here.
In a closet off the bathroom, I found some worn out towels. I took one and wet it in the sink. I might as well get started. I took the wet rag and ran it over the dresser and desk in my chosen bedroom, lifting off the white layers of dust. The room suddenly seemed more homey. I started to unpack. I put my clothes in the dresser and my toiletries on the narrow shelf next to the brush.
Later, I went downstairs and out into the back yard. I really wasn’t eager to get going with the clippers. Better to start in the morning with that sort of thing, I figured. The yard was peaceful and quiet, not anything like living on campus. Though, campus is probably pretty quiet now, too, now that everybody’s gone home for the summer. Suddenly, I felt a pang of loneliness. I was out in the middle of nowhere, living on an estate with a crazy old lady I hardly knew.
Ahead of me, in the shadows, a sudden movement made me flinch. The cat I’d seen earlier was a few feet in front of me, gazing at me with its yellow eyes. I took a wary glance behind me. The branches of an old willow blocked my view of the house. I wasn’t the least bit superstitious; the fact that it was a black cat didn’t worry me at all. I bent down and stuck out my hand. “Come here, little one. I promise not to hurt you.”
It seemed silly to speak to the cat like it was a person, but it really did seem to understand me. Cautiously it crept towards my hand. Its coat was glossy black. “You’re such a pretty thing.” It was at my hand, now. Its little nose gave my fingers a sniff, then it rubbed its cheek against my fingers. I coaxed it closer until I could lift her into my lap.
A quick check showed it was a girl. “What should I call you, sweetie?” Her purring was a low rumble against my chest. “Cinder? Briquet?” Those names seemed so obvious.
A name came to me unbidden. Elena. “Should I call you Ee-lay-na?” She brushed her cheek against my chest. Her purring was hypnotic. I bent my head down and inhaled her scent.
The back door to the house slammed shut. Elena and I both flinched. “You’d better go,” I whispered. “She’s insane when it comes to cats.” The black cat seemed to understand just what I said. She hopped off my lap and disappeared into the brush.
Mrs. Covington came up the path. I stood up quickly and brushed dirt off my pants. She looked at me curiously. “Are you all right, dear? Did you fall?”
“Um, no. I was just looking around at all these trees.”
“They’ll need trimming back.”
“Yes, I can see that.”
“You should be careful. The humidity can sneak up on you here. But then again, you’re a Sandhurst girl. You might be used to it by now.” There was an edge of disdain in her voice when she said that.
I went back inside and read until dinner. She didn’t ask me to help cook, and I didn’t offer. Dinner was awkward: the food was bland, and there was nothing to drink except water or tea. All my conversation starters seemed to go nowhere. Mrs. Covington wouldn’t tell me much about her husband, where she grew up, or why the two of them decided to settle here. She didn’t seem too interested in what my friends and I were studying, either.
I offered to do the dishes, but she shook her head. “No, I’m sure you have more reading to do. Are you coming to church with me tomorrow?”
“Um, I wasn’t planning on it.”
“That’s fine, dear. The neighbors take me. I don’t expect you to do work on the Lord’s Day. You can get started on the house chores on Monday.”
Upstairs, I changed into my nightgown. I pulled out my laptop and discovered a couple of immediate problems. The Sandhurst campus is one big hotspot – you can get WiFi just about anywhere. But here at the edge of town, I had no luck. And Mrs. Covington didn’t even have a computer, much less broadband. The second problem I discovered while looking for the jack – there wasn’t a three-pronged plug in my room either. I got up and went down the hallway to each room on my floor. There weren’t any three-pronged plugs anywhere upstairs. Once my laptop and cell phone batteries were dead, recharging them would be a problem.
There wasn’t anything I could do about it then. Tomorrow, I decided, I’d go around and look for a decent plug downstairs. It was time to get started on the reading for next semester. I got onto the bed and propped myself up with the pillows against the iron headboard. The pillows were down - soft, but not very supportive. It felt like I was lying right up against the iron posts.
Outside, the air was still and thick with moisture. Yes, I was a Sandhurst girl, and I lived here full time, but the dorms and all but the oldest lecture halls were air conditioned. There wasn’t any air conditioning in this old house, and there was no breeze coming through the open window. The house was silent, besides the quiet steps of Mrs. Covington as she moved around downstairs. After nine o’clock, I didn’t hear her anymore. I lost myself in my book.
About ten o’clock, I heard a rustling outside my window. I went to the sill. There was a dark shape on the oak branch. I gazed at it, a nervous chill rising up my back. What is it? I wondered. A raccoon? A squirrel? Yellow eyes gazed back at me, reflecting the light from my lamp.
I stifled a scream. With a sudden leap, the black cat appeared on the sill next to me. “Elena!” I whispered. “You crazy thing! You can’t be in here. What will Mrs. Covington think?”
The cat was unperturbed. She gracefully dropped down to the floor and then, after another long leap, settled herself down in the middle of my bed. I had to laugh. “And here I thought I would be lonely. I didn’t know I’d have a pretty cat like you to keep me company.”
I tried to go back to my book, but Elena kept imposing herself on me, sitting in my lap, rubbing her cheek against my chest. Her purring was loud in my ears, making me sleepy. Finally, I turned out the light and covered myself with the thin sheet. My head sank into the soft pillow. Elena was curled in a ball at my feet. “Good night, sweetie,” I said to her. “You better not let the old lady catch you up here.”
That night, I dreamed of Trisha. She was an old friend of mine from grade school, someone I hadn’t thought about in years and years. Her family moved away when we were in middle school, and we hadn’t kept in touch, but when we were younger, we were inseparable. On sleepovers, we’d lay side by side, our foreheads almost touching, and whisper secrets to each other until we fell asleep. In the night, I’d sometimes feel her nestle against my back, her breathe soft and warm on my neck.
In my dream, I felt Trisha slide into bed next to me. I felt her breath across my cheeks as she whispered, “Erica, it’s been so long.” I felt her soft hands caress my arms. Her warm skin pressed against my nightgown; my feet rested on her shins. I felt like I was a little girl again on a sleepover with my best friend.
The next morning, I was so disoriented I didn’t know where I was. It felt weird to wake up in this strange house, but I had to remind myself, too, that I was a college co-ed and not a little girl.
With a sudden panic, I remembered, Elena has to go before Mrs. Covington finds her in here! I sat up quickly and checked the edge of the bed. The cat was gone. I got up and went to the window. The cat was on the lawn in the back yard. As I stuck my head out the window, she turned her head and looked up at me.
I went to make the bed, when suddenly my breath got caught in my throat. Both sides of the bed were unmade. When I’d gone to bed, I only pulled back the covers on the left side of the bed. Now both sides were undone, and both pillows had identical head-shaped impressions in them. Had someone really slept with me last night?
I gazed carefully at the right side pillow. There was a black thread lying across it. I picked it up and ran my fingers along the strand. Hair. A long strand of black hair, over a foot long.
Now, I doubted myself. Maybe I messed up the sheets when I got up suddenly. I was all worried about the cat. The hair had probably been on the pillow the whole time, and I just didn’t notice it.
But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had been in the bed with me. Who could’ve slept with me? I reasoned. Mrs. Covington can’t even make it up the stairs. And, I knew intuitively, it was the soft skin of a girl I felt in my dream, not the dry wrinkly skin of an old woman. It was just a dream.
In the bathroom, as I got ready for my shower, I noticed the brush on the glass shelf. It had black hairs caught in the bristles. See, I told myself. Someone with black hair used to live here.
I went downstairs and had a quiet breakfast of toast and coffee. Mrs. Covington had already gone to church. It was just as well. I’m not big on conversation in the morning. After breakfast, I started on the yard work. I mowed the front lawn and trimmed back some of the bushes and trees in the front of the house. Elena watched me from a patch of sun. Every so often, I’d take a break and rub her behind her ears. When it started getting hot, I loaded all the trimmings into my little car and drove it back to Sandhurst, where a composting project ran year round. I dumped the trimmings in the compost bins, then headed back to Mrs. Covington’s.
At lunch, Mrs. Covington served little sandwiches and tea. We sat across the table, not saying anything. Finally, I asked her, “Did you and your husband have any kids?”
I tried to keep the conversation going. “What about lodgers? Were you always taking in Sandhurst kids like me?”
She shook her head. “No, only last spring did I begin to realize this house was becoming too much for me.”
There was a burning question in my mind. I decided to come right out and ask it. “Is there a brunette in your family?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, there’s a brush upstairs with some black hairs in it, and . . . .”
Her face had gone pale. “There’s no one in my family with dark hair,” she said coldly.
I couldn’t understand her reaction. The hairs had to come from somebody. What’s the big secret?
She didn’t want me to do any more housework because it was Sunday, or as she called it, “the Lord’s Day,” so I spent the rest of the day reading in my room. In the cool of the evening, I took a walk around the neighborhood. The houses were isolated from one another, with wide lawns and big willow trees, their branches drooping down to the ground.
I turned in early and lay awake, staring at the ceiling and listening to the crickets chirping. After a while, I heard a rustling on the tree outside my window, and Elena appeared at my windowsill. She lay down right beside me on the bed. I stroked her until I fell asleep.
In the morning after breakfast, I spent some hours trimming bushes in the back yard. I made another trip to Sandhurst with the trimmings. This time there was a guy, Environmental Studies major, hanging around the compost bins, and he helped me unload. On my way back to Mrs. Covington’s, I stopped at a little market and bought a twelve pack of diet Coke. I took a single bottle from the cooler for my lunch and stuck the twelve pack in the fridge when I got back.
After lunch, in the heat of the day, I stayed inside and cleaned. There was dust everywhere, not just upstairs. Slowly, the musty feeling of the house was lifting (or maybe I was just getting used to it.) In every room I cleaned, I found them – long silky black hairs, some as long as my forearm.
There was a three-pronged plug in the kitchen, the only place in the whole house I could find one. I set my cell-phone up to charge. I figured I’d worry about my laptop later, since I didn’t have a paper to type, and I could get email from my phone.
With my dinner, I had one of the cans of diet Coke. It wasn’t all the way cold, but it was better than drinking water. Unfortunately, the caffeine made me a little wiry. Even though I’d put in a full day of chores, I found it hard to sleep, so I plowed into my summer reading. I was so caught up in my book, I didn’t notice Elena appear at the window sill. When she leaped up onto the bed, it made me flinch. I reached out my hand and stroked her behind her ears. “Hello, pretty girl,” I said to her softly. She nestled into the crook of my arm. Her purring was hypnotic. I started to feel sleepy, so I put down my book, turned out my light and got into bed.
I felt the rough, sandpaper lick of a cat’s tongue on my cheek. Then, warm plump lips pressed into mine. I reached out my hand – to embrace her? To push her away? – and found warm bare skin, a soft firm breast, a pointed nipple.
“Who are you? You’re not Trisha.” My girlfriend was so modest, she changed clothes in the bathroom on sleepovers. She always wore long flannel nightgowns to bed. I couldn’t imagine her sleeping nude.
“Can’t you guess my name?” But my brain was too foggy to think.
“You’re naked,” I murmured. “Why are you naked?”
The answer came back in a whisper, “Why would you wear clothes in this heat?” I felt her lips again on the edge of my jaw. Tender fingers brushed against my gown. “Come on, take this off.”
“Mm-mm, I’ll get cold.”
“I’ll keep you warm.” Again, I felt her kiss my lips.
“I’m not a lesbian,” I murmured.
“We’ll see about that.”
Hands were touching me – was I masturbating? – gliding down my arms, slipping up my gown, lifting it, exposing my breasts to the night air. Fingers squeezed my nipples, caressed my breasts, wandered down across my flat stomach to slip the elastic guard of my panties. I slid my thighs tight together. “Stop it,” I whispered. “I’m sleepy.”
“Then come, Erica. Come and sleep.” Long slender arms pulled me close. A soft breast brushed my cheek. I fell into a deep slumber.
I awoke early that morning, suddenly cold. The memory of my dreams was still with me. I was damp with arousal. I glanced to the door and saw a flash of white.
What was that? I sat up. The room was still. Outside the window, dawn was breaking. I got up and made my way slowly to the door. I checked the hallway, but there was no one there. Then, I heard the front door creak open.
From the top of the stairs, I could see her, bathed in morning light, a naked woman with long black hair. She looked back at me, then slipped out the door.
I ran down the stairs, but when I opened the front door there was no one there, just Elena swishing her long black tail a few yards up the front pathway.
Mrs. Covington appeared at my side. “Are you all right? Where are you going at this time of the morning? You’re still in your nightgown.”
“I don’t know,” I murmured. “I thought I saw someone, but there’s no one there. Just Elena.”
Mrs. Covington’s eyes narrowed again. She looked past me at the cat slinking her way down her front drive. “Who are you calling Elena?”
“The cat. It’s sort of adopted me. She’s been watching me do yard work.”
“And you’ve named her Elena?” There was a fierce look of coiled anger in her eyes. I took a step away from her. “You shouldn’t give a human name to a beast.”
I shrugged and made my way up the stairs to the bathroom. I couldn’t take any more of her bizarre comments. My head was so full of confusing and contradictory information, I felt like it was going to burst.
In the bathroom, I stripped down and got into the shower. The hot spray of water on my breasts made me think of those long soft fingers touching me. Had it just been a dream? Was I really just touching myself? But, never in my life had I dreamed of being with another woman, and here I had dreamed it twice in a row, dreamed of a naked girl with long black hair. Was it just a dream?
Was someone really sleeping with me at night? The thought sent a shiver down my spine. I was sure I had seen someone leaving my room, sure she had looked back at me from the doorway. But then, what happened to her? There had been no one in the front yard, only the cat. Was the black haired girl hiding behind a tree or something? Why was she running around in the nude? Is it her hair I keep finding everywhere? None of it made any sense at all.