Short Story: Her Secret Ingredient

Hey, all, this is just a little idea that popped into my head earlier this week. Considering it's going to be some time before I have anything substantial to share with regard to Crimson Hollow, I thought I'd post this here! I hope you all like it, and who knows, maybe I'll come up with more things like this to share. (Some may only be available to my subscribers on Patreon, so consider clicking the link at the bottom of this post and becoming a Patron!)


The dirt is cool and soft under her hands as she digs her fingers into the soil, releasing a delightfully earthy aroma. They tell her she ought to wear gloves for this – they usually tell her that a lady shouldn’t do things like this at all – but she likes the feel of the dirt, likes being on her knees in her garden as she tends to her roses.
They – the society ladies, the gentlemen callers, the old women at church with their black lace gloves who sneer when they see dirt lingering under her nails – tell her to hire help. She has help, but her roses are hers, and hers alone. They require a special touch, and she doesn’t dare trust anybody else to take care of them.
Her roses are her pride and joy, a shocking combination of pure, clean white, and various shades of red. She is well-known for them, and though many wonder how she gets such a unique color combination, she keeps her secrets closely guarded.
They – the insufferable they – tell her it’s unseemly for a lady to spend so much time hidden away, but she long ago stopped caring about what anybody thought she should or shouldn’t do.
It helps to have money, of course, the great fortune she received when her parents passed. They left her with their money, and their house, and now she is the kind of odd that’s seen as eccentric, rather than disturbed.
She goes out, of course, to church on Sundays, and to society parties, and on walks through the park with one of her many suitors. She is the kind of beautiful that’s seen as mysterious, with pale skin and dark brown hair, and vibrant blue eyes that tend to startle people who don’t know her, and as such, has her choice of several men. They are all handsome and kind, but none of them truly know her. None of them understand her, and she knows she cannot marry until she finds a man who does.
Pushing to her feet, she wipes her hands on her apron as she walks over to get a bucket of special fertilizer. She makes it herself, with secret ingredients only she knows; if her recipe were to get out, it would cause quite the scandal, as some of the ingredients are rare and possibly illegal.
Returning to the newly planted section of her garden, she sinks to her knees again and begins to carefully spread her fertilizer, making sure it’s even. It’s a gloomy day, leaving the greenhouse cool and dark, but she thinks she’s timed things right so that she can open the ceiling panes to let the rain in once it begins to storm. Her roses need water, just like any other, and it helps the fertilizer do its job.
Her garden sits within a circular stone room at the back of the house, with narrow windows on the outer walls that let in small amounts of light. The ceiling is made of glass panes that can be opened with a crank to allow in rain and fresh air. Of all the rooms in her house, this is her most treasured, and the one she spends the most time in. Her servants know of it, of course, but they are expressly forbidden from entering except to find her.
Once the fertilizer is spread over the new section, she goes to add more to the other plots, smiling at her roses. The red varies from rose to rose; on some, it’s a vivid ruby shade, on others, it’s a rich burgundy, and on a few, it’s so dark it almost looks black. It all depends on the main ingredient in her fertilizer, and on which watering can she chooses to use.
The fertilizer stains her fingers, and she brushes them on her apron again, adding reddish smears to the brown ones already there as she walks over to the large iron crank on the wall. She can hear the tink tink of the first few drops of rain hitting the glass ceiling, and figures she’ll give the roses an hour of rain before closing the panes again.
While it rains, she settles on a stone bench in a small alcove, watching the raindrops hit the roses and the soil. The water nourishes the flowers, and it nourishes her to watch them, a warm feeling spreading in her chest. That earthy scent is in the air again, along with a tang of copper, and she inhales deeply, closing her eyes.
Nature takes what it needs, but sometimes it needs assistance, and she’s more than happy to help.

It’s midnight when she returns to the garden, the moon full and bright overhead. She walks to the corner, holding her lantern up to decide which watering can to use, and finally grabs one.
The moonlight is bright enough to see, so she sets her lantern down on the stone floor and steps into the garden. The soil is damp under her feet, cool between her toes, and she walks towards a row of pure white roses; they’ve only just bloomed and haven’t yet received their first dose of color.
With a smile, she carefully tips the can over and begins to pour the thick, dark liquid into the dirt, walking slowly along the row, making sure each growth gets an even share.
The can is empty when she reaches the end, and she turns to head back to the other side, taking the time to replace the can before returning to the roses.
She bends to look at the first bunch in the row, and as she watches, the tips of the petals begin to turn a beautiful, bright red. She remembers the first time she discovered the trick of her roses. She’d pricked her finger on a thorn, snapping it off and smearing blood over the stem, and to her astonishment, the blood slowly disappeared, absorbed into the stem; a moment later, the tips of the petals had turned a faint pinkish-red.
A slow smile curves her lips, and she reaches out one hand to gently stroke the soft flower with her fingertip as she looks down the row. The other roses are taking their color, and her smile widens as she feels a swell of pride.
Satisfied, she straightens and bends to pick up her lantern, pausing by the door for a few minutes to wash the dirt off her feet and dry them before heading back up to bed.
You should hire help, she thinks as she settles under the covers, and laughs softly in her otherwise silent bedroom. Oh, she has plenty of help. Those who work in the house and other gardens, but also those who come and wind up serving another purpose. Young girls, mostly, with fresh, pure blood; they’re the ones who provide the bright, brilliant red.
The older the blood is, the darker the red. Society ladies who meet unfortunate ends walking home late at night. Elderly busybodies with nothing better to do than stick their nose in other people’s business who pass away in the night.
There’s nothing that could ever connect her to them, except for the young maids, and if anyone asks, she always explains that they went away to another house, in another town. Not that anybody does; they’re all from poor families, and few people notice when they disappear.
Some people might call her a murderer, but she is a lady, and will accept nothing other than murderess.
Titles are very important.


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