Foreign Heart

A Short Story by Jessica Baynes
Inspired by Renee Stout's "Jars With Roots and a Heart"

London 1763

The swirling bodies, clad in flamboyance, were beginning to near their last turn as the music became less and less classy and began to turn into a misshambled mess of tunes. The sun had
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Jars With Roots and a Heart

long sense been gone, as had the dignities of several of the girls who had had too many sparkling drinks and now ran around the ballroom with their hair falling from their chignons. All the glamour of the room had been sucked dry, as if an invisible vacuum had come in and taken all the beauty right from it. The ice sculpture had begun to melt and lose its shape, the dark red curtains were now stained and crinkled, and the band in the corner even looked bored with their own repetitive music. Even the candelabras seemed to burn less brightly as the evening progresses, and the further down the wick recoiled, the stranger the shadows on the walls became. Adorning theses walls were huge portraits, delicately painted and framed in gold, which now hung askew thanks to the carless guests of the event. The eyes of the paintings seemed to look down upon the people disdainfully and regard them with reproach. The hall was, as you might say now, “trashed”.

I distinctly remember standing in a corner of the room, watching as women threw themselves onto gregarious men, and pondering to myself “How did I wind up at a place like this?” Of course I had known the answer. I had been specifically invited to come to this ball by my father’s employer, Mr.Hallington. I knew nothing of this man except the fact that he had forced my father to bring me to the ball. It was exceptionally odd that my father had agreed, for he was not a man of easy will. But in any case, my father had told me in a very brisk manner one evening that I would be attending. He then ordered me a new dress, one of an almost imperceptible blue that was trimmed in golden lace, and told me to look respectable. And that was all he had said until the night of the party when the carriage had arrived to carry us to the gathering.

My father and I used to have to most peculiar relationship. You see, my father did not love me anymore than he loved his servants. To him, I was simply a burden on his extravagant lifestyle. I did not mind this either because I too did not love my father. There was no love in our association, but also no hate. It was simply a neutral feeling that we both shared. The one thing that I did despise about my father is that he never let me leave the mansion until the ball. Ever. My whole life childhood had spent away in my room with my maid as she taught me how to paint and speak French. Whenever she was gone I would pass the days with reading stories about adventure and romance. Not that I had any idea what either of the two were at that time. So as you can imagine, when my father told me of the ball, my head was instantly filled with images of grandiose ballrooms and dapper gentlemen asking me to share a dance.

But as I stood in my corner, gazing out at the increasingly drunk crowd, my hopes of adventures and romance dwindled from a burning fire to a doused flame. It was precisely at this time when I saw him from across the floor. A man so beautiful that I remember thinking that he was a rouse, a conjuring of images from my head due to the colorful drink I had consumed not before. But as he made his way across the floor and stopped in front of me, I knew I could not have been dreaming. The first thing I noticed had been his eyes. They were a light green that contrasted against his black hair in the most unusually handsome way. He was also dressed in high end attire that could have only been acquired through a special seamstress. The man took my hand and kissed it saying “Ms. Fitzgerald, I have been searching for you all night. I am sure your father had informed you of who I am. I am Mr.Hallington, but you can call me by my Christian name, Elias”. I was stuck silent. How could my father be employed by a man no older than twenty years old? How much money did this young man have? I responded to his question promptly though, no hesitation at all. “Good evening Elias. If you insist we go by Christian names, than you may call me by Lydia. Despite your belief, my father has told me nothing about you other than that you employ him.” He had looked at me quizzically then, as if he was trying to sort out a rather difficult puzzle, not talk to a seventeen year old girl.

“My regards Lydia, for I was ignorant of you fathers inability to inform you about why I insisted you come tonight. I sought to meet you because I had seen a picture of you that your father showed me. It was a small canvas of when you were only thirteen, but I could tell you were lovely. I told your father that he must bring you to my ball so that I could introduce myself to you.”

I glanced in a mirror close by to try to see what he was so worked up about. I was not ugly, but I was not beautiful by any standards. I had long brown hair and hazel eyes. My skin was fair and my features were slight.

“Pardon me Elias, but if it is my beauty that called you to me then you are surely mistaken. There have been much more suitable women in the manor just today that contain more beauty than I do.”

“Yes, this may be very well true, my halls are graced with good looks every fortnight, yet it is you whom I desired to see.” He had said this so low that I recall straining to hear his voice. And hearing it had only confused me more.

“That is kind of you Elias; however I do not see how I am the wo-” . My words were cut short as a pair of rambunctious women ran right into me and nearly knocked me down. Elias, clearly started as well, closed the gap in-between us and steadied me with his hands.

“Shall we talk in a place quitter?” he had inquired.

I was in no reason to object. The ball was growing increasingly inelegant and the woman and men were beginning to act as if the ballroom was the beginning corridor to a brothel. I agreed swiftly and Elias led me by the elbow down a hallway and into a small study.

The study was adorned in all red, like the inside of a heart: Red walls, red curtains, red chairs, and a flickering red fire kindling in the fireplace. He sat down in a chair and urges me to take the seat next to him. As I sat I began to ponder if entering into a man alone was a ladylike thing to do. Sure it had simply been a study, but I had known nothing of Elias’ background. But at this point it had been too late for me anyway.

“You must be wondering how a man of my staggeringly low age of 20 could possibly have this much money. Or why I threw this party if I simply wanted to talk to you? Or even possibly how a man could be as handsome as I am?” He had spoken this so suddenly that I had slightly jumped and banged my toe against the table. I composed myself and answered “Are you going to inform me of the answers to any of those questions Elias?”

“Heavens no” He laughed.

“Then why ask me if I wondered” I snippety said

“My reasons for pointless conversation are unimportant at the moment. Right now there should only be one question about me that is in your mind.”

“And might I inquire to what that question is?”

“You should be thinking “what could this stranger possibly want with me”. However, if you are too enamored by my good looks to think on your own, I would be more than willing to assist you in obtaining this thought” He said in a relaxed voice.

I had no clue what to say to his snide remark. This situation was not something I had ever expected to find myself in. Outside the room, the orchestra played on, but from through the heavy velvet door, the tunes just sounded like the beating of a large heart. I looked up at him, my hazel eyes meeting his light green ones, and spoke with as much snark as a woman of my stature could muster up.


“Resorting back to my formal name, are we?” He remarked rudely.

“Though I am unaware of the reason that you requested my presence tonight, I am able to understand when a man only sees a woman for what she might offer him. I see no benefit in my staying here, so I am going to leave now.”

I began to rise and walk to the door, but Elias caught up with me in three easy strides. He grabbed me by waist and spun me around, pinning me against his body. I had been completely caught off guard; no man would grab a woman in such a way, especially not after having just met.

“Lydia, please, listen to me. I need you here tonight whether you understand it or not. Please, please stay.” His eyes had turned from ice to pools of apologetic remorse. But I did not stop; I turned from him again and began to again walk to the door. Then he spun me around again and pushed me back to the chair.

“Elias! Let me leave! Your behavior is of the upmost-”and then my words were cut off by the image of a swinging candle coming towards my head. And then I blacked out.

When I awoke I was laying down on a hard surface. I looked around the dark room, trying to remember how I had ended up here. The walls were stone and the room stank of disuse and blood. I tried to sit up but realized that my arms were chained down to the table, like some sort of undomesticated animal. I remember screaming an earsplitting scream at that very moment when I had seen those chains.

“My God you are loud! Could you try to quite your voice Lydia? For I am in the middle of a book and it requires my upmost attention right now”. Elias looked up and waved his book at me in an annoyed manner, as if we were just casually sitting in a parlor, not in a dark basement in god knows where.

“Let me out of here! I will not stand for this! Elias!” I was panicking. I had heard whispers on the streets of London of young girls disappearing in the night, but never had I thought that I would follow in that path. Girls had been disappearing randomly for the past month around the city, and I knew, as I looked into Elias’ eyes, that he was responsible.

“Lydia, please do not fret” He put his book down and came over to my table of captivity. “Everything was perfect! You were perfect! Do you not understand the service that you have just done me? Do you not get that I have just given you the best present of life? “He spoke with a palpable excitement, one that did not catch.

“Elias, I do not know what you are speaking of” I spoke steadily, but my voice still caught when I spoke. “However, if you release me, I will tell no one of what has occurred tonight and I will leave.”

“But darling! You know nothing of what has gone on tonight! Do you not lust to know what I have given you?” With every word he spoke he came closer and closer to me.

“Look closely” He advised me. And then he took his hand and placed it directly over my heart, and then pulled my dress down expose the skin. And that is when I saw it. Blood and rough looking stitches, all around where my heart is. I screamed and Elias quickly covered my trembling mouth with his large hand.

“Do not scream at such beauty. For I have given you the heart of a queen. The blood of a warrior. Why, do you not understand? I have made you immortal” His eyes searched for mine, but mine were glued to patchwork of skin that was now my chest. Whenever I breathed in, the stitches pulled against each other and tugged at my skin in the most painful way.

“I am no immortal Elias, just as you are no gentlemen. Please, please let me leave” I began to cry, for I was not strong back then.

Elias looked at me sadly and said, “I cannot release you yet. Or ever. You are mine now. Would you like to see something?” Before I could answer he darted across the room and grabbed a jar. He sauntered back over and handed it to me. It had water and an object inside, though I could not see what it was. The liquid inside was red as was the object inside.

“That Lydia, is your old heart. Do you understand now? The heart of an ancient woman beats in you. Her powers have consumed your body, and soon you will be unstoppable.”

That was it. I dropped the jar and began to scream. I tugged against the chains until my wrists became bloody and raw. My muscles strained and a sweat broke out across my forehead. Funny lights danced across my vision as I stared at the content of the jar before me. I bent over the table and tried to vomit, but my empty stomach protested against me.

“Do not fear my darling! For a new heart beats in your delicate chest now. One of a lady not much unlike you. Her name was unknown but her legacy lived on forever because she lived forever. That was until I was able to kill her and steal her heart. All so that I could give it to you! Please tell me that you get it now. I have given you immortality, and all I ask in return is you.”

Immortal. A word foreign to my ears. “Why me?” I whispered.

Elias bellowed at out a laugh. “Believe me you were not my first choice. I tried on several beautiful girls before you. Yet, none of them could handle the process. In order for the spells to work, the women must not be in love and have no love to anybody. This is why I asked your father to bring you. He spoke of you in a way that had no love, so I knew you would be ideal. And you were!”

“You murderer! Release me now!” I began to wail, and at that exact moment, Elias unchained my hands.

“There is no use in keeping you chained. Part of the spell bound you to this property. So now you can never leave.” A sick smile creeped onto his handsome face, distorting his features and making him appear as if he was a madman, like he actually was. My mind wheeled. But why did I have any reason to believe this crazy man? I ran. I ran out the room despite his despite calls for me to return to him. I ran past the golden portraits and elaborate hallways, all the way to the door. But as I threw it open, I could not step outside. It was like an invisible door had formed between me and the rest of the world. I looked behind me at the ball room. There were no signs of the party the previous night. Or had it even been the night before? I threw myself against the invisible barrier, but it would not budge.

Elias came over to me and put his hand on my arm. I quickly recoiled away as he spoke softly “I told you that you cannot leave now.”
I did not know what to do. I was truly out of places to run. I looked up from the floor. My brown hair tumbled around my shoulders freely now, for it had fallen out of its complex chignon long ago. As I looked into his eyes, I remember thinking that I had never seen something so beautiful actually be something so distrusting. A single tear slipped down my cheek as I realized that there was no way out of this new found hell that had wormed its way into my life. I looked up at him defiantly and he matched my gaze.

I knew what I had to do if there was no way out of this place. “I need a drink. Take me to the kitchen.” I whispered.

Without saying a word, he turned around and began to lead me to the kitchen. It was very odd, the kitchen was. There were no servants even though the kitchen was enormous. As he began to prepare me my drink, I spotted a knife and picked it up with precaution. I placed the knife over the foreign heart that was beating in my delicate chest and waited for him to turn. He turned around with the glass of water in his hand and as his eyes fell to the blade, the glass slid to the floor.

“It will not work” He spoke cautiously

“Are you sure about that Mr.Hallington? Because I do not think that you want me to try” I retorted

He contemplated me and then spoke.

“Anything. I will give you anything if you do not do that. For we must make sure that the heart is fully intact for a while until we can test your immortality. Please do not do this Lydia”

“Will you lift the curse?”

“You know that I cannot”

Before he could barely slip the words from his mouth, I plunged the knife deep into my heart. I had not known what pain was until I felt the burn of steel slice through the one thing tethering me to this life. I felt as the strange heat beating in my chest was sliced in two. The burning pain radiated throughout my body, numbing me. My mind was blank.
I did not die.
Tears sprung from my eyes as I lifted my gaze to that of Elias’. A wicked grin had taken over his face as he regarded my seemingly impossible morality. “My God” He whispered “It worked. You understand now what I have done, correct! This gift I have given you?”
I started down at my bloody chest and watched as the flesh stitched back together and the pain reduced to a small throb. This was no gift. I was a monster.
“I might not be able to die, but I can feel the new strength in my body, and I plan on using it”
Elias looked confused until I flung the knife, thick with my blood, right into his human heart. His beautiful face contorted in pain as he started at me in utter shock. Again. I stabbed him again. And again. More times that I care to admit to. When I was done, he looked like the monster he really was, torn and bloody, not immaculate and handsome.

London 2013
Come to my door, I can show you my face. How it has stayed the same through time, but how I also no longer look innocent. Sure, the curse has never lifted, but like Elias said, I live forever. Please, come. Keep me company, but I know you will not. This estate had long succumbed to the wilderness around it. Nobody will find me now. Isolation. I am used to it thanks to my father. I guess freedom was never an option for me. The madness of the previous owner of my heart has crept its way into my soul, because I am sure I am crazy now. I throw myself out windows just to feel pain, knowing I will be healed in seconds. I run around these empty halls and scream now, just because I need to hear something. Anything except for the beat of this damn heart inside of my chest.