The widow looked wistfully at the fireplace. The edges of her face were barely visible under the veil but it seemed that there was something missing from the glow of her face from before. Her eyes still shone brightly, dark as they were. Her lips were still bright red but even in the full light of the fire, it seemed like the brilliant shade had become duller. It was difficult to tell if this was because she was fading or if it was the change in the light of the fire.
Since the last large crackle, it had changed and there was slightly more heat coming off it but not much. The green was turning to a brighter lime color with a vibrant blue at the bottom. It cast the whole room in a strange light and the shadows were easier to see now. They shifted to remain in the darkness. Even when they appeared to look menacing, they would shift to avoid the gaze of the widow. It was only in this strange new aura that the room was cast in that Dolly saw more of the expression on her face. It was clear to her now that the lady in black was not unaware of their attention nor of their reactions. In fact, she was rather amused by these creatures swirling like dust around her. When one scuttled out of the way of her gaze, Dolly even managed to catch her smile. It was not a pleasant or warm expression but it was clear that she was amused by this. It reminded Dolly of some of the horror villains that she’d seen as they prepared to give chase. If she wasn’t mistaken, this woman was having entirely too much fun with this.
“So you lost the first husband and now this newest one,” Dolly said, unsure if she should continue. “I’m going to assume there might have been a few more in between?”
“And I’m guessing that a few of them weren’t exactly on their deathbed when she met them,” Will said, looking around. “There’s a few of them, though. You can see the shadows hunched over and at least one looks like he’s confined to places where he can stay lying down.”
“Oh that one hardly counts,” the widow said, disdainfully. “We were married for less than two months before nature took its course and he barely had time to sign the papers to legalize our marriage.”
“But I’m assuming that he signed off on leaving you his fortune before the end of your first day as a couple,” Dolly said.
“I don’t mean to boast,” the widow said, smiling wide. “But the poor dear was genuinely this side of barely alive when I stumbled across him. And wouldn’t you know it, I wasn’t even the first one to visit the chemist to assist in this very long transition that he was making. Turns out that he was quite fond of one of his maids and that had been rather off-putting to his wife. Well, when the poor girl had turned out to be pregnant, his wife, being the jealous sort, turned the girl out onto the street and decided to teach her darling husband a lesson. It was really all quite tragic.”
“So you didn’t kill him?” Lydia asked, slowly.
“Well, I don’t think I did,” the widow pondered. “If I did cause his death, it was merely a formality at that point. Really, the poison that had been intended to do him in initially may not have done the job entirely but it did reduce him to being little more than a corpse you have to feed and change like a baby.”
“That’s awful,” Lydia cringed.
“Truly, it was,” the widow agreed. “Why, considering all that ungrateful harlot had to work with, she might have killed twenty roaming husbands and collected their fortunes but the silly goose had to go and mess it all up. Serves her right that she ended up on the gallows for her miserable performance and I do very much hope that she thought good and hard about how the bargain of getting something as gauche as cyanide salts to do the job was weighing heavy on her mind when they took her to meet her fate.”
“So are you mad that she poisoned him or mad that she did a shitty job?” Matt asked, confused.
“Why, both, darling!” the widow said, offended. “Don’t get me wrong, a good poison can be a wonderful way to open the wallets of even the most unreachable men but really, cyanide salts? Was she hoping that he would look like he’d tried to end his life? Hardly! One has to play into the narrative a bit more than that, I assure you. The poisoner’s game is to be played with some understanding of what she is working with and clearly, this woman had not thought this through.”
“Why is that?” Dolly pressed. Matt looked at her funny but Dolly signalled that he not interrupt.
“As I said, a woman who intends to poison her husband and survive long enough to enjoy his money must take her time and understand exactly what tale his interfering family and friends will require. Consider it like assembling an outfit. A lady would not stand a chance of blending into society wearing a dress from her mother’s youth and assembling accessories of the modern world would not hide such a faux pas,” the widow explained. “Likewise, I fail to understand how such a woman could possibly hope to have gotten away with such a clumsy attempt at murder when she was married to a rather robust man who would not have taken any kind of medication by accident. And her choice! Aside from being rather pedestrian in how little it cost, there was absolutely no chance of her getting away with her little deed with a poison that had such a distinct odor. It’s rather a mystery that she managed to get the idiot to swallow it in the first place but as she had so little experience in such matters, she didn’t count on him realizing immediately that something was wrong when the bloody thing burnt all the way down. Oh it was enough to do damage, of course, but it’s downright offensive how utterly pathetic this all was. And to think, if her failure as a poisoner hadn’t outed her, the woman’s wailing and ranting about her philandering husband would have been more than enough to implicate her in such matters.”
“Cyanide doesn’t exactly leave much of a chance of survival from what I’ve heard,” Will frowned. “I guess he was lucky that he was still alive but it doesn’t sound like he had much going for him afterwards.”
“He didn’t but that didn’t stop him from hoarding his money like it would save him from the grave,” the widow sighed. “You know, for a man who had already been nearly fatally poisoned, you might think that he would have been more of a challenge but he really never did question what he was eating or drinking. In fact, he was also thoroughly unaware that he was despised by most of his staff and a good number of his living children that he’d had with a previous wife before the one that tried to murder him. In truth, perhaps he was simply lucky to have survived long enough to have gotten that far. I suppose if he’s here now, this might indicate that I was indeed the one to finally succeed where everyone else had failed but in my defense, I genuinely didn’t really try with this one. In fact, all I truly had to do was use his hand to ensure that he was leaving his money to me and he seemed to give up the ghost almost naturally immediately after. If you ask me, I can hardly be blamed for his completely predictable demise. Personally, I think it was simply the act of signing his newly drafted will that truly did him in.”
Dolly didn’t know what to think of this woman. It was clear now from her description that she wasn’t simply an abuse victim who had suffered at the hands of a husband who might kill her otherwise. She genuinely enjoyed telling these tales. In fact, this last one, she had seemed slightly annoyed by how little she had participated in the act of killing this man. (Though, she couldn’t help wondering if that was just still left over from her critique of the other woman failing at murder. Dolly was both disturbed and baffled that anyone would be that callous.) The bottom line was that she was getting a sense of who this woman was and what she was capable of. That said, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do with that. It was one thing to listen to the sordid tales of this widow and how many of these shadows were her creations. It was a whole different story when she had to figure out where they were going from here. After all, this was the world of the imaginary where human Bucks could go crazy from getting antlers and shadows could become strong enough to pull her and her friends into horror movie settings to try to become something else. If this widow was wanting a story and her only real interest was in killing people, there were five potential victims sitting right in front of her and no way out of this room.