Hunting Cathy

Today we have a guest post, riffing on the last story ‘Out on the wily, windy moors’

Cathy and Jane have fought to the death… but not in this version. Here Jane survives. And it’s a slightly older Jane. One who married Rochester and who suffered a similar fate to his first wife…

The guest writer today is Olivia Pearce MA. Enjoy!

Jane awoke gasping for breath, ice cold hands clasping at her throat. She struggled to push herself up, grass and stones catching at her weather-torn skin. It was the same dream she’d had every night for the last fortnight. She clutched the threadbare shawl around her shoulders and sat up shivering. The moors offered little comfort from the biting weather but she had a job to do, difficult but she had been prepared by her time with her aunt, not to mention her husband. If anyone knew about survival surely it was Jane.

‘He’s mine’ the ghost had warned, the glare from those dark hollow eye sockets had bored their way into Jane’s skull, at once both frightful and fascinating. Jane had tugged and twisted these words in her sleepless vigil each night, who had Cathy been referring to?

Still there had been no sign, and as night crept ever closer Jane felt the familiar wrenching in her stomach which she had suppressed since her school days, it had returned with frightening alacrity when Cathy’s ghost had struck out to block her path. How she wished she had thought to bring something to occupy her, even needlepoint might help her mind from succumbing to the thoughts of that writhing creature beneath her.

Cathy. What was it about her? The fierce hunger in her body for that which she could not have? The dishevelled wasted face which still bore the traces of the comely woman she had been? The vulnerability at being ripped from all she had known just as Jane had been? Yes, Jane could see her spirit reflected back at her from those hulls where eyes once rested. She wondered who else had felt that formidable gaze, and if it had made them feel how she now felt, twisted with conflicted longing.

The brief glimpses of clothing had shown Jane that this was a woman of position yet not wealth, below par with her own, former standing, she thought if perhaps Cathy had suffered the same loneliness in childhood, the longing for tenderness, although she certainly had little genteel about her now; perhaps it had been worn away just as the wind tore chunks from the ragged moorland.

Jane was caught up from her daydream by the sound of a carriage passing by on the road some way hence, she scrambled behind a straggle of rocks, careful to keep out of sight in the fast falling dusk. She would not be recaptured, she would not return to that house of madness.

It was completely dark when Jane again dared to venture from her hiding place, she reasoned there was little sense in holding a vigil where one cannot see all about themselves.

She waited, steeling herself for yet another fruitless night with nothing but the shuffling and scurrying of small animals for company. It was not fear which kept her on edge, but an anticipation, excitement even to encounter that strange beast once more, to feel claws against her already tattered skin, beaten by unrelenting weather that stripped the moor of life. She had occasionally thought that she too might become as this creature, her crumpled remains left to return to the earth after the foxes and badgers had eaten their fill, it was far enough from the road that she was quite sure nobody who wasn’t looking for trouble would ever stumble upon her.

The birds had long since delivered their evensong and no travellers would risk the road in the darkness. Jane had no fear of highwaymen however, she knew well enough that they would pay her no mind were they to strike upon her frightful appearance, but she kept to what shadow she could find on the moonlit moor, there was little grace granted by the wispy clouds which scudded quickly across the dark sky.

She barely had time to register the cracking of bones before the frigid fingers closed once more around her neck,

“He’s mine. You can’t have him” hissed a breath sharp as Macbeth’s dagger. Instinctively Jane forced her elbow back hard which made contact with a pop shortly followed by the nauseating sound of splintering, Cathy cried out in anger and relinquished her grip just enough for Jane to pry the hands from her throat with her good arm. Pain seared through her shoulder as the connective tissue registered complaint at the use of such brutish force.

Cathy came back hard, pressing her body against Jane, forcing her face forward into the ground. The dirt forced its way into her mouth and nose as she felt a sense of what it would be to rest at last, shrouded under handfuls of cast dirt. Who would release that first fistful for her? Her estranged husband who had left her at that asylum without a glance over his felted shoulder? Her son perhaps, if he even remembered her now, how long had it been?

Jane pulled her head free from the ground, and spat the gravel from her mouth, her time would not come yet. She struggled to push herself up against Cathy’s anger bearing down on her.

“He is MINE”

“Who?”

“Don’t think you can fool me, I know what you are here for”

“I don’t want him”

“Liar!”

“I wanted …” Jane tailed off as she swallowed her words back just in time

“I knew it” Cathy seized on Jane’s hesitancy “You want him, but he’s mine!”

“Then where is he?” Jane had found what she needed, a way under those hollow ribs, straight to Cathy’s heart

“Don’t play games with me, you know he’s here”

Jane looked around, seeing nothing but the shadows cast in the moonlight, surely there could be no other humans about the moors tonight, could there? She tried to catch the tell on Cathy’s face, this must be a distraction to trick her, surely it could be nothing else.

“Where?” that was it, the final blow, Cathy cast around wildly looking for the mysterious presence she claimed to be with them, and Jane leapt forward, every instinct in her body propelling her forward against her better judgement. Her lips made contact with Cathy’s, stinging at her skin like fresh thawed snow seeping through old shoes.

In that moment Cathy seemed to realize what Jane had really been saying, as she pushed back gently at first then more firmly as they became more aware of each other. The darkness swirled around Jane as her surroundings began to melt away, she felt as though she were back in the red room at Gateshead, the strangeness of reality dissolving beneath her as she clung ever tighter to Cathy’s diminished form, she willed herself to fall completely under this strange spell as her blood coursed throughout her body bringing new sensation to frozen, aching limbs. It was a feeling as close to the birth of her son as she’d ever experienced, so intense it bordered on the edge of pain but with fire and strength tearing through her core. The darkness consumed her from within as she surrendered completely to Cathy’s touch.

The birdsong pierced Jane’s skull as she struggled to regain consciousness, the light stabbed into her eyes and she realized that her vigil was over, for tonight at least.

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