Small feet pattered across the cracked tile floor. Two figures in flowing white nightgowns crept along, stifling giggles as they slipped along towards the spiraling staircase leading to the rest of the house. A tiny bell chimed discordantly from the hall. They paused just at the top of the stairs.
The only light below came from the moon shining through the broken windows. She sat on a worn settee and stared out at the encroaching rose bushes. Thorns as long as her hand gleamed in the silver light, looking like strange and twisted daggers.
She knew the children were there. The giggling was unmistakable. She didn't look up, though. She closed her eyes and prayed for sleep to come. It didn't. It never did. Not since that day. She fingered the pendant around her neck and cursed her husband. Her imprecations didn't matter. He was dead, buried and turned to dust.
The children giggled again. She sighed. “Back to bed with you,” she called.
“Why mama?” The voice was of her beautiful Light. “We want to stay up and watch the moon too.”
“Don't you love us, mama?” That was Gale. His piping voice was as easy to recognize as that of his sister.
“You know I love you,” she said, rising from the settee. Agony ripped through her heart as she turned to stare into the faces of her children. She walked towards the stairs with slow, heavy steps. Her tangled hair brushed against her back and the tattered remnants of her nightgown stirred up dust on the broken tile.
“Mama, tell us a story,” Light begged. Her smile was bright. “Tell us the story.”
The woman stopped, swaying a little on her feet. That wasn't a request she'd heard for a long time. She halfway hoped to never hear it again. “The story?” she asked.
“Yes! Yes!” Gale shouted, jumping up and down. He looked like a little boy pleading for his favorite treat.
She bowed her head. “Come down here and join me then,” she whispered. She returned to her seat. The children scampered down and climbed into her lap. Their little bodies were cold and hard as they squirmed around in her lap. They settled into comfortable positions and waited.
“Tell us, mama,” Light demanded.
“Once upon a time, there was a little family that lived together in a grand mansion,” the woman began. “To everyone else, they appeared happy and loving. The parents seemed to dote on the two little angels they'd been given to raise. But the mother wasn't pleased with them. To her, they damaged her beauty and limited the amount of pleasure she could take in life because of her vanity.” A tear slid down one cheek. “Her husband was a kind man who couldn't understand why his wife didn't love the angels as much as he did.”
“What happened next, mama?” Gale asked when she paused.
“One night the woman was sitting by the window dreaming and singing to herself. She was admiring a new necklace in her small hand mirror. The angels came downstairs, frightened by bad dreams. The woman, angry with the interruption, scolded them instead of offering them comfort. The children ran back up to their room.” Her hands trembled and the words choked her.
“Go on, mama,” Light said. Her eyes flickered a restless crimson.
“One of the angels knocked over the candle used to guard against the night,” the woman said. “Their mother ignored their screams until it was too late. All of the upper part of the house was aflame and the angers were dead. She was blamed at first but her grief made most people believe her when she said it was an accident. Her husband never forgave her and she was cursed.”
“How was she cursed, mama?” Gale asked.
“She was forced to live in the house that was where she'd been happiest, and was the place of her greatest sorrow,” she said. “There she lives to this day. She is unable to die and unable to forget. She watches as the world she knew leaves her behind.”
“What else?” Light demanded.
“She is haunted by her angels, who have become demons to punish her for her crime,” she said in a barely audible voice.
Light laughed. “We're going to be together forever and ever, aren't we?” She wrapped her bony arms around the woman's neck and hugged her.
“Yes, Light. We'll be together forever and ever.”