The Price

This one was fun.

After my last 500 Club entry, Nimue asked me, “Why are all your stories sad?”

I said, “They aren’t all sad.”

To which she replied, “Yeah. They are.”

I thought for a moment. “Okay,” I said. “They aren’t happy.”

I intended this one to be downright cheery, but it wasn’t in the cards. The prompts were challenging and the one I landed on just didn’t lend itself to anything that remotely resembled happily-ever-after. On the upside, writing it was very enjoyable and I got chills myself picturing the scene. That made it worth it to me, though Nim will undoubtedly say she told me so.

the price

Life isn’t fair. This simple fact is so often spoken, it’s as trite as it is true. Still, this is the sentence that played on repeat in Duncan’s mind. It was a loop of fatalistic, cynical energy coursing through him, reverberating to his bones.

Implements in hand. Holy fuck.

His thoughts were clouded by the vague sense that if he wished things to be as they were again, before this mess, the wishing could change his current condition.

In his right hand, he held a swath of red silk.

Honestly, it was a tie. Who has swaths of red silk lying around? Then again, who owns a solid red tie. Answer? Duncan Smith does. It was an ostentatious wardrobe choice at best. Now it would, what did the gypsy say? Protect his heart? Or was it his soul?

His left hand held a stuffed envelope. There was red seeping through the edges and the paper, though thick, was soggy and gave in a sickening way just where his palm cupped it from underneath. It was warm.

Neither choice was good.

How many times had he thought about that in the last four days? But he didn’t consider himself brave or heroic, not one to sacrifice for others. He would have been a horrible soldier. It wouldn’t have been the killing that would have bothered him–God knows he’d shown an alarming talent for violence–but the idea of selfless service. There was nothing selfless about his errand tonight.

And that was the terrible reality of the choice.

“It is hard,” the gypsy had told him. “Harder than you think, young man. Just now, you think to yourself, you think, ‘I will do it,’ because the curse seems too much. The price too high to pay. And you feel it is not fair.”

She clucked her tongue.

“When have the spirits cared about fair?” she asked. “But you think on this. Think on it. Think hard, young man. I can tell you how. You decide. It is not easy, and the life you save you must live with.”

The life you save you must live with.

Fuck it.

He closed his eyes and began, first the words, like she taught him, then the red silk tied around his eyes. He spoke of seeing and not seeing and the sight of the spirits, stolen so that they would no longer see him.

His hands fumbled the envelope and he feared he would drop it, but he recovered and, trembling, reached inside. He found them, found the eyes. Holding them up, he offered them and, like she said, demanded–not asked–that the spirits leave him in peace. He’d paid their price. The curse must be lifted.

And then he listened. No voices. No whispers. No more goddam threats in his ears, spoken in languages he didn’t understand. Quiet.

He removed the blindfold, gathered the envelope, the silk, the eyes and last, her body. And he winced when he saw her face, contorted. Pained. Listening to what he could no longer hear.

He’d paid the price. Now she would, too.