by Christopher Stanley
Rain falls helter-skelter before skittering across the murky waters of Loch Ness. Something big ripples towards the southeastern shore. There are monsters here, numerous documented sightings, but the creature emerging from the shallows is broadly that of a middle-aged woman, save for a lingering tail and serpentine tongue. A stray cat hops up onto a gravestone and she breaks its neck, offering it up to Hecate before biting into its abdomen. Blood slithers down her torso and is washed away by the rain until the only remaining trace of the monster is a note of displeasure in the turn of her lips.
Beyond the cemetery, a single-story manor house glows in the moonlight. She remembers calling its name, over and over, the word sounding familiar and foreign at the same time. Boleskine. As she approaches, the iron gates part and flames dance excitedly in the lanterns on either side of the door. Boleskine never returned her calls, not until today.
“Welcome home, my darling rosebud.”
His voice comes from both ends of the hallway simultaneously. She should have known better than to imagine he was dead; the rules of mortality have never held firm in this part of Scotland. She hears a baby crying and follows the sound into the sitting room, using an oil lamp to light her way. In the middle of the floor there’s a mahogany drinks cabinet, standing tall on claw and ball feet. As she approaches, the doors open to display decanters full of amber escapism and regiments of lead crystal glasses. Her mouth is suddenly dry like the Egyptian desert of her honeymoon.
“You always had weakness for alcohol.”
It’s been decades since she drank anything other than water from the loch. She touches a glass and it shatters, as does the one next to it. A decanter cracks, sloshing its contents onto the carpet. She steps backwards as the other glasses explode into a million tiny shards. And then the cabinet starts to twist and buckle.
She leaves the room quickly and follows the sound of crying into the dining room. The far wall is covered in oil paintings, five of them, arranged on the points of a pentagram. She reads the names underneath each painting. Mary d’Este Sturges, Jeanne Robert Foster, Roddie Minor, Marie Rohling and Leah Hirsig. She doesn’t recognise the names but she knows who they were. His scarlet women, his sacred whores. In the centre of the pentagram is a mirror and in the mirror is a face that hasn’t changed in nearly a century.
“You drove me into the arms of other lovers.”
Once again she follows the sound of crying, this time into a bedroom decorated with rose-patterned wallpaper. On a sheepskin rug, a cot rocks gently. There’s a name engraved into the side panel. Lilith. She approaches the cot, not daring to breathe, hoping against reason for a glimpse of her little girl. But when she steps on the rug, the crying stops. The cot is empty.
“You let our daughter die.”
Blinded by tears, she flees the room, tripping and nearly falling through the door. The flickering flame of her oil lamp makes a carnival of the walls. As she steadies herself she sees something shift in the gloom at the end of the hallway. A tall, robed figure emerges from the shadows, antlers sprouting from its oversized head.
“I hated you, Rose Edith Kelly. That’s why I made you a monster. That’s why I condemned you to the loch.”
The creature carefully removes its headpiece, revealing the round, hairless face of her former husband, Aleister Crowley.
“How would you like to see Lilith again?” he asks. “Together we could bring her back.”
There’s nothing Rose wants more. Crowley beckons her to join him and she steps forward, shivering as his hands slip over her hips.
“My mother called me ‘the Beast’,” he says, ‘and I made you a monster. But you don’t have to be a monster anymore. I’ve forgiven you.’
He pulls her closer until she, too, is engulfed by his black velvet robes and the familiar scents of hashish and sex and magick. She can’t remember the last time she felt needed or desired. But she’s been here before. While they were married, Crowley exposed her to all manner of madness until she turned to drink. He told her he loved her but he cheated on her and filed for divorce. He dragged her to every unclean corner of the world until their daughter died of typhoid in her arms.
“Let me set you free,” he says. “I’ve been so lonely without you.”
Rose lifts the oil lamp up to his face and raises her lips to his ear. “You always made such fantastic promises,” she whispers, wondering how quickly his tattered robe would burn. “But I like being a monster.”
On her way back to the loch, she pauses by a moss-covered headstone and kneels to pay her respects. Boleskine never answered her calls before and it never would again. But sometimes, when she surfaced for air, she would hear a child crying on the southeastern shore.
Her daughter, Lilith. Waiting.