Veiled in Red


Harriet Plumb had thirteen brothers, three of which sold her soul to the devil. Four ailed from scarlet fever. And five perished in the Civil War. Just one survived Richmond unscathed—then happened upon a wayward siren. Whether or not he remains is a tale for another time. For you see, our heroine endured a most disagreeable journey. 

And that’s where we should be.

~

As ugly a crumb as dear Harriet was, there was but one demon who adored her. A demon whose feelings she did not requite. It may have been Pitheous’s metaphysical form or his shy, incomprehensible parlance. Or it may have been the glasshouse wherein her soul wept, awaiting the same execution her body met.

Surely it wasn’t the latter.

Of this our demon was so convinced, he planned an outing. A date, if you’d prefer. Despite his unusual facade, our demon was somewhat of a romantic. He’d dabbled in the art of wooing, not that he’d ever been successful. What demon wants a lifelong commitment to, well, another demon? They’re poor companions—traitorous, selfish, boorish.

And bodiless.

But souls were special.

Pitheous’s first was dreadfully rotten, for she’d sworn herself to an inanimate object over him. A beverage no less! That’s why he imprisoned her in a portrait. 

Harriet would be different. 

And what a grand idea he had to captivate her heart. Without hands—in either case—they’d go apple picking. Was nothing more exquisite? More romantic? 

Yes, anything. 

But Pitheous insisted.

With Harriet’s prison safely stowed in—somewhere—our demon swept them ashore. Hell bubbled as they rose, though it left them no more dampened than the arid, Fall air. 

There stood Richmond.

Oh, how Harriet missed Richmond, and yet, she never intended to return in such a dramatic fashion. She never intended to return at all. The beauty of her hometown was in remembering the tragedy that bathed her there, not in experiencing it for a second time.

And so our date began with a putrid nostalgia.

Pitheous, all but ignorant of her plights, leapt. With the wind in his leaves, he soared. His spattering of blue, green, yellow, and black expanded until he engulfed the sky. 

Harriet could only witness his extraordinary anatomy. As much as she would like to, she could never take reverence in it. He was her keeper; she, an unwilling captive. And with her fingers flattened to the glass, she remained all too aware of her station. 

Reassembling, Pitheous lowered himself to the ground. The crunch of leaves on grass was a pleasant sound, though dear Harriet wished it wasn’t from his leaves. “Selppa fo llems teews eht, ha.” His vapid murmur followed a sharp inhale. The words echoed through the unoccupied orchard. Harriet offered no reply. Even if she could comprehend him, her lips would remain sealed. 

At the base of the first tree, Pitheous paused in awe. It was his first time seeing apple trees, though he’d partaken in various cultivars of apple prior. He knelt, pleased with his selection, and positioned Harriet’s glasshouse in the dirt. 

“Uoy rof eno eriuqca ot em wolla.” Kinder words had never fluttered through his leaves.

But then came the difficulty. 

The strength of Pitheous’s ability wasn’t simple actions. He was a “torrent of fiery energy made for decimation.” Though, the descriptions he’d composed for himself were hardly proof. 

How could leaves bring anything but rakes? 

One variegated hand brushed through the branches. Invested, Harriet observed him. His leaves laid still around the apple, and then he tugged. Could a more despairing sound have been uttered, it would have still been cheerful compared to his pathetic whimper. For as his grip tightened, the apple aged, disincorporating at his feet.

Embarrassed more than frustrated, Pitheous repositioned beneath another apple. He was determined to impress Harriet, regardless of whether she had any inclination to be or not. Grasping for that second apple, Pitheous exhaled with a gust. The tree reacted in kind, branches ruffled, and spat that apple down at his feet. It split, burst, mutilated itself before him. And Pitheous burned that tree to the ground.

So our date came to a halting conflagration.

Dear Pitheous was distraught. His wonderfully imagined date had degraded so effortlessly. But more than that, our shy demon was ashamed. With his back to Harriet, he wallowed. And she ignored his every pout, even with lovely blues highlighting his tearful expression. When was he going to realize the ultimate illustration of his devotion would be liberating her?

Likely never.

With his sorrow disregarded, Pitheous swirled on dear Harriet. His leaves were withering with agitation. His fragmented face built itself entirely of blacks, the blues transferring to his chest, mingling with yellows. 

But our Harriet only stared. His formless features would be entrancing to any other, aside from her—and the woman who came before. She pressed her translucent hands to the glass once more, communicating her desire with fluttering lashes. Ignorant as Pitheous was, he finally understood. 

“Nwo rouy kcip ot tnaw uoy?” he wondered. Yellows bloomed up his throat, brightening his once grim face. Greens flushed his cheeks. Delicate power released her, a display of embers melting the tight bonds of her glasshouse. And she inhaled her first breath of Earthian air, only to find that it heaved right through her. Tears formed as she met Pitheous’s hollow eyes.

She fled.

In a flurry of disbelief, Pitheous loomed over her. His power transcended, leaves enveloping her negligible form, her glasshouse, and the orchard.

And thus, our date concluded with divinable betrayal.

~

The Plumb brothers had one sister whose soul they sold to the devil. She was gifted in a glasshouse to his faithful servant, where she was meant to remain. But upon her wretched deception, she found herself sealed in an orchard, bound to endure the seasons that decayed her leaves. A poetic punishment from dear Pitheous whose heart shriveled, love just beyond his reach.

And while our disagreeable journey has come to a bitter end, at least Harriet’s apples are sweet.