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Welcome to Austenville, 7

June 22, 2020 11:40AM

Welcome to Austenville

I really appreciate Caroline Bingley as a character. There is so much potential for her to be either the villain (Even More Consequences) or the romantic heroine of a subplot (Education of a Chaperone). Henry Crawford is another character I love to hate and reform in equal measure.

7: The Unexpected

As Alice leaned back on the bed, luxuriating in the sensation of satiety, her phone rang. It was such an unexpected sound that she jumped, then fumbled to fish it out of her pocket. Her brother’s picture flashed on the screen as she stabbed at the button to accept the call.

“Dean!” she yelped.

“Alice!” he replied through a fog of static.

They shouted back and forth through a conversation that was really nothing more than duelling monologues. Dean was alive, and well. He was in Maine with a new girlfriend and wanted Alice to come up and meet her, join her family for an extended weekend party. “They --- a yacht!” he called out to her between bursts of static. “You should --- it!”

She tried talking about her car, but he wasn’t listening, not really, so there was no point in trying to go into detail. The only time he paid attention to her was when he asked her when she was going to join him. “Wednesday at the earliest,” she told him.

“Are you ---?” he cried. “This invitation from the --- is not open-ended. If you don’t --- up by ---, don’t bother coming.”

“If you want me there so badly, come and get me,” she told him, enunciating clearly. “I’m stuck here until my car is fixed.”

There was a final shower of static at his reply, then her phone dropped the call. She sighed and dropped the phone on the bed in frustration. She was trapped here for the duration.

Now what? she sighed. She wondered what had happened to Tripp. After Dr. Singer had led him away, she hadn’t run into him again. Maybe he too would be at the square at lunch the next day, scowling at all the romantic happiness he was trying to arrange.

With no pre-planned rendezvous, she decided that there was no point wandering around looking for her favorite vagrant. She’d find him tomorrow. In the meantime, maybe she’d take a nap, and then stop by Thornton Lacey Creamery to have ice cream for dinner.


She awoke hours later. The sky outside her window was darkening with twilight. As she stood up to stretch, she noticed a scrap of paper that had been shoved under her door. She picked it up and read it: Meet me at Nelly’s tree, 9 p.m. Tripp hadn’t bothered to sign it, but who else could it be?

So, change of plans: she was going for an evening stroll. But first, she still wanted ice cream.

Licking her cone, Alice stopped by the drug store and bought a flashlight and batteries, then started walking. When the street lights stopped, she turned on the flashlight and kept going. She had tried to remember how long it had taken her to walk from her car to town the first time, but then figured it would take her longer at night as she walked slower to avoid tripping over hazards in the dark.

Alice wondered if she would even recognize Nelly’s tree at night. Had she even bothered to study it when her car was smashed into it? All she had been looking at was the car.

She reminded herself that Tripp would be waiting for her, so he would call out to her or stop her if she tried to keep walking. Then she made a mental note to get his phone number so they could text next time he had something mysterious to tell her. Then she wondered if he even had a phone.

After a half-hour’s walk, it was clearly past 9 o’clock and she had seen no sign of Tripp or his sister’s tree. She was on the verge of being very seriously worried and ready to turn back when the beam of her flashlight slipped over a body.

She gasped, nearly screamed, and almost jumped out of her shoes. Upon review, it wasn’t a dead body, but rather just Tripp, sleeping at the base of a tree.

Once her heart rate began to slow, she tapped him with her shoe and shined the light on his face. “Wake up!” she scolded him.

He groaned and threw his hand up to block the light but he moved with a lethargy that didn’t bode well.

“What happened to you?” she asked, crouching down to be closer to his level, lowering the beam of light from his eyes. “Why did you want to meet out here? You look awful.”

He didn’t articulate a reply, but groaned again and rolled over, away from the light.

“Come on, get up,” she said, tugging his arm and pulling him to his feet. He was nearly a dead weight and as she got nearer to him she could smell alcohol and other things coming off of him in waves.

There was no way she could carry him the distance back to town so she stood there, nearly buckling under his unsteady weight, as she thought of what to do. Maybe she could guide him as far as the sidewalk and then leave him behind while she travelled alone and faster to the police station. Maybe Fred Wentworth would be on a date with Kelly Lynch, leaving the helpful Will Price to deal with Tripp's inebriation.

She started walking, lugging her drunk friend behind her. He tried to say something but, after failing to make sense of the first few strings of gibberish, Alice gave up trying to understand or even listen to him. He could explain himself when he had sobered up.

She was beginning to think that a single scoop of ice cream was insufficient indulgence to offset the exercise of bringing Tripp back to town when she noticed a beam of headlights coming toward them.

“Oh, thank god,” she muttered, leaving Tripp to sway on his own as she stepped forward to flag down the approaching car. Even if the driver didn't want to give Alice and Tripp a ride back to town, they could certainly get word back for someone to come rescue them.

“Hey!” Alice shouted, waving both hands as the car drew closer. The driver should've been able to see her by now. The driver should've started slowing down by now.

A spike of fear sent her jumping into the ditch as the car actually accelerated. Tripp, standing dead on his feet a few yards behind her, was unaware of his peril.

Alice had enough time to twist around and call his name before watching the car strike him. Then his body seemed to crumple over the hood of the car, sliding forward to the windshield and then off to the driver’s side where he rolled limply like a rag doll across the asphalt.

The car’s brake lights blazed to life finally and it screeched to a halt.

Alice scrambled back onto the road, shouting to Tripp, hoping he would answer her. He had just been hit by a car! Should she move him? Could she at least check if he was still breathing, if he was still conscious?

A quick glance over her shoulder showed the driver and passenger getting out of the car.

“He's still alive! Call 9-1-1!” she called out after seeing his chest move up and down in quick, panting breaths. “It's okay, Tripp. We're going to get you to a doctor,” she said quietly.

A gruesome chuckle came from behind her. “Oh, don't worry. The doctor's already here.”

Alice 's eyes darted up just in time to see the figure of Carol Singer wielding a tire iron like a baseball bat.

The threat never came to fruition. A hulking man who had also been in the car grabbed Alice by the throat, squeezing until her vision darkened and went black.


She woke up some time later on a cot with a worried brown face hovering overhead.

“Hello,” said the stranger with a trace of an English accent. “Do you remember your name?”

“I'm Alice Parks,” came the easy response, but there were other things she clearly didn't know. “What happened? Where am I? What about Tripp?”

“Tripp? Was that the young man you were with?” the stranger asked gently. “He's in the neighboring cell. Dr. Singer had to set his leg and apply a cast.”

“His leg is broken!” Alice exclaimed. She attempted to get up but her body protested. “Ow!” she winced and lay back down.

“There, there,” soothed her companion, easing Alice back down on the cot. “Of the two of you, you're in much better shape, but you still had quite an ordeal.”

“What happened?” Alice repeated. “Where are we?”

“Dr. Singer and William brought you in last night,” the woman explained. “Your friend was pretty hurt so the doctor focused on him, leaving you to William and me. I warn you that I don't have any formal medical training but William is a licensed nurse. You've just got some minor scratches and bruises for the most part. I can give you something for the headache, too, if you want.”

Alice swallowed the pain medication. While she waited for it to take effect, she tried to take stock of the situation. “So we're at the hospital?” she asked.

The woman laughed ruefully. “I wish!” she lamented. “This is a prison.”

Alice’s eyes opened wide and she gaped. “What?”

“Sorry, but I stand by my statement. This is a prison. Dr. Singer has held me here for a few months now and I'm losing track of the days.” The woman tried to smile but it was more of a grimace. “I was going crazy with only William to talk to -- the prat! -- but I didn't want anyone else to be stuck like me.”

“Who are you?” asked Alice, feeling like this was momentous.

“Oh good heavens, where are my manners? Deprive me of basic human companionship and all my social skills atrophy,” she rambled. “Miss Parks, how do you do? My name is Elizabeth Bennet.”

Elizabeth Bennet?

Alice stared stupidly. The woman before her was short and curvy, with frizzy brown hair and lively eyes. But she was Black -- no, African-American, Alice corrected herself. No, Elizabeth had an English accent; she couldn't be an anything-American. She was Black.

And Charles Bingley was a lesbian, Alice reminded herself. And Edmund Bertram had apparently married the wrong girl. And Frederick Wentworth had joined the Coast Guard, and Marianne Dashwood was allegedly a recreational drug user. The characters that Alice knew were all wrong, except for the fact that she could still see through their disguises to their true selves. And their true selves were unchanged.

John Thorpe still flirted with anything that moved. Anne Elliot had never stopped pining for her lost love. Col. Brandon justifiably loathed Willoughby. Emma Woodhouse never had enough experience receiving constructive criticism to handle it well. And Elizabeth Bennet was concentrated charisma despite her average looks.

“Are you alright, Miss Parks?” Elizabeth broke into the silence.

“Yeah, sorry,” she said, shaking the cobwebs from her thoughts, then wincing in pain. “It's just that a friend and I have been looking for you. I can't believe I've actually found you.”

“People have been looking for me?” Elizabeth asked, relief flitting across her face. “Oh wonderful news! I was worried that no one would know what happened.”

“Well, it's just been Tripp and me,” Alice clarified. Elizabeth shouldn't expect to be rescued. “And he's the one with the broken leg. I don't think anyone else believed him that you exist and are supposed to be here.”

An odd thought cut her off and Alice looked up at her companion with a sense of unease.

“Um, out of curiosity, Miss Bennet, do you know why you're here?”

Elizabeth sighed heavily. “If I said ‘true love and a curse,’ would you believe me?”

“Yes, I would,” said Alice. “Especially if it involves Jane Austen and Mr. Darcy.”

“That's comforting to hear,” Elizabeth smiled weakly, “because for the longest time I felt like I was going crazy.” Then, as emotions bubbled up quicker than she could express them, she kept talking with gradually increasing speed and volume. “I mean, I know that I was born Elizabeth Bennet, and grew up the only child to two very loving parents. And I didn't have an amazing life, but I was pretty content with it. Then all of a sudden, I can remember being a different Elizabeth Bennet, and this one is the second oldest of five sisters and her parents aren't as loving, or at least not in the same way. And it's all very confusing.”

Listening to Elizabeth, Alice wondered if Tripp had gone through the same thing, if this awareness was the root of his mental health problems.

“It's going to be okay,” she said soothingly.

“No, it's not,” Elizabeth nearly wailed. The cork had popped and there was no more bottling up her anxiety. “It's getting worse! I'm losing track of the 'me’ I thought I was. All my memories of growing up in California are being replaced by memories and feelings of my original life. The first time it happened, I convinced myself that it was just a vivid dream from drinking too much. It took over a month before I had the next episode but they eventually became more frequent and I couldn't blame it on alcohol.

“And they weren't just at night when I was asleep,” she said, brushing a tear from her cheek. “I had them during the day: in the shower; in the car; at my desk; when I was out for dinner. Out of nowhere, I wanted to walk everywhere, and spoke with an English accent when I was tired! I finally told my best friend, and she laughed! Said it was hilarious for me to imagine myself as a romantic heroine and that it was probably my subconscious telling me to find a man.”

Alice cringed. That response did feel like a natural reaction.

“Eventually it got so bad that I went to a therapist but she was a waste of time so I went to someone else who suggested that maybe these hallucinations were my brain’s reaction to a particularly traumatic event and, if I could identify the event, maybe I could focus on healing myself from that and the hallucinations would go away,” she said, pausing to take a deep, deep breath.

“So then I spent the next year of my life trying to figure out what horrible, unspeakable thing had happened to me,” she continued with a ragged breath. “When I investigated the first episode -- the one I blamed on too much Merlot at the conference mixer -- I realized that it was where I met Mr. Darcy, only he's not Mr. Darcy now because he's busy living as someone else, he's --”

“Fitzgerald Darby,” supplied Alice, pleased to get a word in edgewise.

“Yes, exactly!” Elizabeth said, relieved that Alice already knew. “And then I found out that he was the mayor of a town called Austenville, if you can believe it. So I called him.”

“You called him?” Alice interrupted.

Elizabeth shrugged. “I tried. He's a busy man, I'm sure, and the number I found online for his office went straight to voicemail. I gave my name and number, and nothing came of it at first but then a few weeks later, about four months ago, I got a call back.

“It was a man but I could tell just over the phone that it wasn't Mr. Darcy. Still, he knew details that he couldn't have known if he wasn't involved with it. He asked me to meet him in Boston, said he would explain things there, in person.”

“Who was he?” asked Alice.

“It took me about a month to arrange for the trip,” Elizabeth said instead of answering. “I took a leave of absence from work. Maybe they don't even realize I've gone missing. Anyway, I met the man, and he so clearly wasn't Mr. Darcy but he said he had answers and explanations. I stupidly believed him because I was just so desperate to understand. The memories were coming so often by then that it was hard to keep track of what was happening in this life and what was supposed to happen in the original life, that anyone who offered to make sense of it was like a savior to me. And then he drugged me and brought me here. And I've been here ever since.”

There was an increasingly uncomfortable silence as Alice waited for Elizabeth to continue before realizing that the story was over.

“But who was he?” she wondered.

“He's William. William Collins. William, the registered nurse who helped you while the doctor set your friend's leg.” Elizabeth sounded very matter-of-fact about it, but given Austen's propensity to reuse names, nothing was certain.

“Mr. Collins!” exclaimed Alice, feeling like pieces were finally fitting together. "So he's behind all this. Of course!”

“Of course he's not,” Elizabeth corrected her emphatically. “He's just as much a victim as everyone else.”

Alice was nonplussed. “Um, he kidnapped you, and I think he choked me unconscious,” she pointed out. “That's not what victims do.”

Elizabeth sighed. “It's more complicated than you think,” she said. “He didn't want to kidnap me; he was forced into it. And he only did that to you to keep the doctor from braining you with a tire iron. If you claim to know William, do you think he's the type of mastermind behind this scheme?”

“Then who's responsible for Austenville?” asked Alice.

An unpleasant look passed over Elizabeth’s features. “Would you believe me if I said Lady Catherine?” she asked.

“Lady Catherine De Bourgh?” Alice blurted. “But she's been dead for years. How did a dead woman coerce Collins into kidnapping you a few months ago? Did she fake her death or something?”

“Or something,” Elizabeth replied with a grimace. “Her death was very real as far as we know but she's responsible for the mess we're all in. She's the one who cast this curse and put us all here, in this fantasy future. She hid me far away from Mr. Darcy so he could fall in love with Miss De Bourgh, and she hid William here in town to be her secret lackey.”

“So how is a dead woman manipulating people from beyond the grave?” Alice didn't understand.

“She isn't,” Elizabeth said simply. “She cast a very strong curse to create this world, peopled it, and set everything into motion. From then, it's been working on its own although William has noticed that it is starting to break down. But still, she was quite proficient in cursing, and it has persisted after her death. I don't understand it, but here we are."

“So then Mr. Collins kidnapped you under orders from a dead woman.” When Alice said it like that, it was hardly the least believable thing for the week.

“Do you remember that I was going crazy as the curse weakened? That it was harder and harder to function in this world with the truth pressing in on me?” asked Elizabeth. “Well, William feels the same way. Apparently a side effect of the curse is that you start to lose your grip on this reality when you can see beyond it.”

Alice could only frown mutely and think of Tripp and his sister.

“Talking about it helps. It's therapeutic,” Elizabeth continued. “But you can't talk to just anyone. Mention it to some people and they'll think you're crazy; mention it to others -- people likewise under the curse -- and you'll make them crazy too. William only had Lady Catherine, and she's not a very good listener. She wouldn't give him the time of day unless she needed something, and even then she paid no heed to his raving.”

“So he went insane?” Alice prompted. It would certainly explain why he was still going through the motions long after his master was deceased.

“No,” Elizabeth shook her head. “He secretly went to a psychiatrist and told her about his hallucinations. I think you've met her, albeit briefly: Dr. Carol Singer, also known as Caroline Bingley.”

Elizabeth stopped and just stared at her cellmate, willing Alice to figure it out.

“Did she… not think he was crazy?” Alice said at last.

Elizabeth nodded.

“Oh. He made her crazy,” said Alice as her face drained of color. “Wait. Was this before or after Lady Catherine died?”

Elizabeth bit her lip. “I only have his word on this,” she forewarned. “When Miss Bingley became aware of the curse, she realized that it was her ambition to marry Mr. Darcy, and the only thing standing in her way was Lady Catherine. So she agreed to treat William, learned all he knew about the curse and how Lady Catherine kept her power.”

Elizabeth suddenly grinned at a childish detail. “Do you know that Lady Catherine had a magic wand, rather like Harry Potter? William said it was a gaudy thing… I'm paraphrasing here.

“Anyway,” Elizabeth continued with a growing frown, “Miss Bingley decided to murder Lady Catherine, take her wand, and continue running the town as if nothing had changed. Except she would make sure that Mr Darcy fell in love with her rather than Miss De Bourgh.”

Alice suddenly gasped. “Miss Bingley pushed Lady Catherine down the stairs, didn't she?”

Elizabeth bit her lip again and nodded. “Based on William’s account,” she added.

"So Caroline Bingley is the villain."

"Some stories have more than one villain," Elizabeth philosophized.

A/N: Ta-da! Alice is not Elizabeth Bennet; she's not an Austen character, although she's not exactly an OC either (huge wink).

Welcome to Austenville, 7

NN SJune 22, 2020 11:40AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 7

KateRJune 23, 2020 04:27AM

Re: Welcome to Austenville, 7

AliciaMLJune 22, 2020 07:01PM

what a twist ,

TrishaJune 22, 2020 06:34PM


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