Belladonna

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in a town devoid of strip malls, there lived a young lady named Faustine. Not having been born with much good sense, but somewhat blest with good looks, she focused all of her energy on enhancing and maintaining her physical appearance.
Faustine was popular with the local youths, whose obsequious flattery and flirtation were the only attention she ever got in her lonely adolescent life. Her sole rival in this respect was a haughty young coquette named Gothilocks, who was renown throughout the region, for her jetty locks and fetching good looks. One evening, in the closing days of September, as Faustine arose with the setting sun, she stood at the railing of her balcony looking onto the forest and, poised within the twilight moment, made an oath to the murky woodland and its inhabitants. She swore that she would give anything to find a secret that would cause her beauty to surpass all others—especially that horrid wench, Gothilocks.
Then, just as the sun finally gave way to his mistress, a tenebrous figure stepped out of the woods and encroached upon the grounds leading to Faustine’s balcony. Faustine was shocked by the stranger’s boldness, and yet entranced by her grace. She was impressed with her confident stride and almost funereal solemnity of mien. When the mysterious personage came in close enough, she pulled back the tulle of her wide brimmed hat and revealed herself to the young lady, who was amazed by her beauty; startled, in fact, to the point of almost being frightened by it. She was a perfect vision of sepulchral pulchritude, clad in a form-fitting dress of dark purple velvet. Her skin was unnaturally fair, her lips were thin, but nicely formed, and seemed to be painted a dark reddish color, turning to black. Her all-encompassing eyes, as she looked up to Faustine, seemed to be of a deep purplish hue, but our young heroine dismissed this as a trick of the gloaming, and assumed that they must be some shade of blue. She had high cheekbones, which protruded slightly, insinuating a death’s head; nevertheless, she was breath-taking just the same.
Faustine stood there, spellbound, and gaped at the figure with what must have really been a silly expression on her face, because the moment was soon shattered by the snickering laugh of the stranger. This rattled her from her reverie, and put her on her guard.
“Who are you,” demanded Faustine, “that dares to trespass onto my land and laugh in my face?”
“My name is Atropa Belladonna, and I beg your pardon, but I was in the vicinity and could not help but hear your plea, and felt impelled to come to your assistance.”
“That’s a very strange name,” she said, “and I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”
“O sweet lamb,” she intoned in a voice as sweet as aspartame, “do not be sore with me. I heard you bleating, as a shepherd hearkens to an errant charge and must come to its aid and show it the way. Dear sweeting, allow me to help you in your endeavor, and I promise you shall become the most beauteous babe in all the land.”
“More beautiful than Gothilocks?”
“Who, that curly-cued cow?”
“I like the way you think, and your offer is tempting, to be sure. May I have a day to sleep on it?”
“You may have a day to think on it, wherein you may sleep upon what or whomsoever you please, but I must have an answer by tomorrow evening just after sun-set. Then, if you consent, we may begin to transform you into the envy of every girl, and the desire of every swain in town.”
“On second thought, I would rather not wait. I want to start being beautiful now!”
“Do you not wish to consult someone before making your decision—your parents, or perhaps a confidant?”
“Why, so she’ll learn my secret? No thank you, and besides, I never talk to my parents. The less they know the better; they’ve even said as much themselves. No, I am quite sure in my decision. I wish to start now.”
“We have not yet discussed the cost of my services…”
“I don’t care, I’ve got money to spare. I’ll do it no matter what the price!”
“Very well then. We begin tomorrow at the previously appointed hour. I shall arrive just after sunset, and you shall follow me to my home where I shall wait on you.”
Then, bidding Faustine a good evening, the stranger slowly slank away, vanishing into the woods. Almost immediately thereafter, our ingenue started to have doubts about her decision, and wondered if she hadn’t acted too hastily. She even reconsidered telling her parents, but then thought better of it.
“Oh well,” she reasoned, “she seemed nice enough; besides, anyone that pretty can’t be so bad.”
* * *
The following evening, at the pre-appointed hour, Faustine met up with Ms. Belladonna, who led her to a secluded area of the woods where the ground was damp and sunlight scarce. There, in the middle of nowhere, was a curiously quaint little cottage, which was surrounded by a singular looking plant with puce colored flowers and dark purple berries, which brought to mind the purpure of the lady’s dress.
As they entered the house, the girl noticed an inanimate rabbit by said plant with purple stains on its paws and mouth. Turning to her hostess, she asked what was wrong with the creature.
“The little minx has no doubt eaten its fill of my berries, overtaxing its digestion, and therefore must sleep it off. Naughty cotton-tail!” she said in a huff, as she flounced past the threshold of the cottage. Eyeing the creature still, as she followed, Faustine just could not detect any sign of breathing from the little lagomorph.
When inside, she was surprised to see that there was no kitchen. Nor was there any indication of any kind of comestibles ever having contaminated the place. There was no bed either, only a large armoire, a vanity table, surmounted by a rather large and ornate mirror, and two chairs—all made from ebony wood. She was seated in one of the chairs, which was accented by purple velvet cushions.
“Omigawd,” thought Faustine, “Mircalla and the others would positively die for a chance to sit in a chair like this!”
So it was, that then and there, Faustine was turned into a gothic princess. She was shown how to henna her hair that copper color she’d been trying to master all summer long. She was shown how to blanch her skin, as well as tastefully apply the more somber hued cosmetics. She was also given free reign to try on any of the dresses in Ms. Belladonna’s wardrobe; and when she got up the nerve, she even dared to try some of the leather accessories the lady had fitted especially for her little dress-up doll. She didn’t have any PVC wear though, the lady did not approve of it: “I never don it, and neither should you; it is not natural!” she opined. Otherwise, Faustine felt she was looking great, and feeling great too!
As she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she was speechless. She had always been a pretty girl, but now she was a goddess! The gentlemen callers would be tripping over themselves to ask her out, as well as some of the more interesting girls, and best of all—she would make Gothilocks look like a carnival-grounds-haunted-house reject!

Shawna, as the ill-fated ingénue “Faustine”.

“For the finishing touch,” cooed the lady, “a few drops of my special ointment in your eyes to enhance their natural brilliance, and you can be on your way.” Leading Faustine back to her chair, and leaning her head back, she squeezed the grip of a small dropper into the young girl’s eyes, then kissed her on the forehead as she closed her lids to ensure the capture of every drop.
As she stepped back over the threshold to leave, Faustine was startled to see what appeared to be a black-a-vised man, dressed in pale green trousers, and a gauze shirt of puce, which was not unlike the color of the flowers of the plant growing alongside the dwelling. His pronounced collar furthered this likeness, causing his head to inevitably bring to mind the fruit of the plant. He struck an imposing figure, standing by the hedge, glowering, with a pair of clippers in his left hand. Gasping, Faustine stepped back and put up her hands to protect her pretty little face.
Then she heard the derisive laugh of Atropa Belladonna, mocking her fear, as she approached from inside the cottage.
“Funny little moppet, do not be afraid, that is only my friend, Banewort, come to help me tend my herbs. He’s a charming old devil, once you get to know him, and he is so dedicated to those plants! You know, he can only be persuaded to leave them for one night a year, just before May Day.”
“A sort of religious observance, you understand. It just wouldn’t do for me to miss it.” Added the fellow, whom, upon closer inspection, she realized did not have Negroid features despite the almost charcoal swarthiness of his complexion. In fact, he did not seem to belong to any particular race she had ever seen before. He was humanoid, in form, but seemed in essence to have more in common with the animal kingdom. There was definitely something feral in his countenance, which gave an unsettling aspect to his smile, and made him all the more frightening when he scowled.
Faustine stared for a moment, as Banewort’s smile grew into a leer, goading her to blurt out, “I must go home now.” and she did.
* * *
For the next several evenings, Faustine found her way to the lady’s home without an escort. On the way, she came across many a young buck who offered to walk the demoiselle through the perilous woods. Ms. Belladonna, however, had expressly forbidden her to let anyone know where she was going, or whom she was going to see. Faustine didn’t mind though, she liked all of the attention she was getting, and she relished seeing Gothilocks fuming at her physical transformation, and newfound popularity.
In fact, she was even approached by Gothilocks, who feigned friendliness in an attempt to extract her beauty secret from her. But all she could get out of Faustine was a smug smile and her reply, “Why, Belladonna of course!” This somewhat cryptic answer left her rival so perplexed and annoyed that she could “strangle the glossy-eyed bitch”. Where could she purchase this “belladonna”, and what exactly was it? More importantly, what was its cost? Come Hell or high water Gothilocks swore, she was going to find out, even if it was the last thing she did. But that’s another story.
Things were really going quite well for our little darkling. She was looking the best she’d ever looked. This gave her more confidence, which brought her more attention, and in turn detracted from Gothilocks’s popularity—and this made her very happy indeed.
And yet, even though she was happy, after a spell, she started not to feel as well physically. In fact, she started to feel quite ill. She began to get headaches, and her mouth was always dry. She ran a fever, her throat burned and she had trouble swallowing.
Even so, she continued to visit Ms. Belladonna as a daily routine, to get her primping and dosage of drops. She would drag herself to the little cottage in the deep of the woods, feverish and heart pounding as if it would pop, practically collapsing on the threshold to the woman’s oversized closet of a home.
Then the lady would take her protégé by the hand, and with her support and steady step, would walk her over to the vanity and tell her in soothing tones how beautifully wan she looked as she combed her long coppery-colored tresses.
“Why my dear, you look so lovely and pale. You are the physical dichotomy of life and death. You are the Gothic ideal of vivacious beauty and mortal corruption. You are my spiritual child!”
{Faustine cringed a little at this last statement because, “I mean, come on, what real Goths would ever call themselves one?”}
“Yes, but Ms. Belladonna…” she began.
“Please, Atropa.”
“Atropa…I have not been feeling well lately.”
“Are you not happy? Are you not satisfied with the results of our sessions together?”
“Well, yes, I am…but…”
“But what my dear? Come, do not worry your little head about such things. You have probably just caught a cold carousing about town with your many suitors. I trust you have some now—more so than before, I mean?”
“Well yes, but…”
“But nothing! I grow impatient with your whining! Do you want to be beautiful or not?”
“Yes.”
“Do you want to be desirable or not?”
“Yes.”
“And do you want to outshine Gothilocks or not?”
“Yes!”
“Then quit puling like a whelp, and sit still so that I may put these drops in your eyes!”
Faustine, envisioning the face of her rival, contorted with jealousy and bewilderment, acquiesced.
* * *
When she left the lady’s abode, that night, Faustine could barely walk. She stumbled in the doorway, and slumped down to the floor. She felt hot and flushed, so she pushed back her cowl, and pulled on the front of her corset to let in some of the cool night air. She felt delirious, and seemed to fade in and out of consciousness. After a brief moment in oblivion, she opened her eyes to find Banewort’s frightening face just inches away from her own. As usual, he was smiling, which always turned up his features in a rather unsettling way. His breath seemed to engulf her in a fog of sickeningly sweet pungency.
“What is the matter my little sweeting? Do you not feel well?”
“My head pounds like a taiko drummer and I feel sick in my stomach.”
“Ah, perhaps you are hungry. Please, let me get you something to eat. I have some fresh berries here that I have picked and cleaned just for you. I had intended to give them to you before, but wanted to make sure that Ms. Belladonna would permit it, as they are her berries after all.”
“Berries? Are…are they safe?” said the ailing girl, with much diffidence.
“Are they safe! Really my dear, what you must think of me! Would I ever hurt you? Have I ever hurt you? Watch me; I’ll eat one, nay, a handful—watch!” After having said this, Banewort savagely shoved a bunch of the purple-cum-black berries in his maw, and chuckled oafishly as the juice dribbled out of the side of his mouth in inky streaks, which could only be seen by their reflection of the moonlight on his swart features.
Faustine took a few of the berries, and with some degree of trepidation, put them in her mouth. As she began to chew, she was surprised by their sweetness, and, as she swallowed, almost began to think to herself how silly she…had been…to doubt…
* * *
When she came to, on a leafy bed at the edge of the forest, Faustine thought she saw the faces of her parents, who had come to save her, and take her back home to cherish her, their beloved daughter. Cruel clarity, however, soon revealed the gloating faces of Banewort, and Atropa Belladonna. Moving in close, the lady took Faustine gently by the hand and with an earnest and imploring look said, “Tell me sweeting; were you truly happy with the things I gave you? I hope so, because, as you see, the cost of my services is very dear indeed.” Then, with a smile and a kiss, she rose up and sauntered away with her ferine friend in tow. And at those parting words, Faustine, abandoning all hope, relinquished consciousness and fell into a deep sleep, from which she never woke, as the first rays of the morning sun insinuated themselves through the treetops and onto her pretty little face.

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