PROMPT: Desperate Times from the 12 Short Stories Challenge
WORD COUNT: 1000 WORDS
GENRE: Supernatural Fiction
He flicked a half-burnt cigarette onto the sidewalk.
It was cold. Colder than normal for October, but maybe that wasn’t true. These past few days always felt cold.
Jakob blew out a cloud of white smoke.
He took out another cigarette, lit it and put it between his dry lips. He always chewed his lips, a nervous habit he began after moving to the city.
He glanced at his watch.
Tonight was the night. It had been three days since it happened and three days was what the book said.
He took a long drag from his cigarette, thinking back to the day before yesterday.
“Jakob, we can’t,” she whispered. At first, Eliza was unsure why her husband had furiously dug through his mother’s old books, but once she realized what he was thinking, she tried to convince him it wasn’t the right thing to do.
“Yes.” he replied, his eyes cold, lacking warmth, but determined. “We have to… I’m not living without her, not when we can bring her back.”
“But at what cost?” Eliza pleaded, kneeling down next to him. She put her hand on his forearm, sympathetic. “How can we do this? How can we bring her back knowing the pain we’ll cause?”
“I don’t care.” He replied, slamming the book closed. He got up and threw it into a cupboard.
“How will we explain this to her? How will we know it’s even her? Our Rosie?”
“I said, I don’t care.”
He locked the cupboard and attached the key to the chain around his neck. He made a fist around the rose pendant.
Half-dazed, he looked up and saw his brother-in-law, Petr. He shifted the necklace underneath his shirt.
“Where’s Eliza?” Petr asked, worry for his sister showing.
“Preparing,” Jakob replied, curt.
He reached into his jacket and handed him his last cigarette. Petr put it away. He’d need it for later, to calm his nerves.
“We go now. You know where to meet me?”
Jakob grabbed his shoulder and squeezed, more of a thinly veiled threat than a comfort.
“I’ll see you in a half hour.”
Petr nodded again, swallowing hard before turning away.
Jakob walked across the street, through several alleys and soon heard the market. In a few minutes, girls from the orphanage would be by for their weekly trip.
His mother’s voice echoed in his head.
Look for the ones who are hungrier than others. They follow without question.
He needed a nobody. Someone who’d likely not live a full life. So many girls never got adopted, ran away and ended up prostitutes or worse.
His Rosie needed a body, a soul. This girl would be the sacrifice.
“Claire! Don’t dawdle!”
Jakob searched for the voice and saw an older nun scolding a little girl.
“Yes, sister…” she snarked back, rolling her eyes before turning to some fresh apples.
Jakob’s heart was racing. This one looked 8 or 9. Brown hair, tall, slender. She could pass for his Rosie.
He walked over, seeing her pick up an apple to smell it. She noticed him looking and smiled.
Jakob stopped. He swallowed, mouth dry.
“Little lady, no money, no apple,” the vendor snapped.
“I’ll.. I’ll get it for her,” Jakob squeaked, holding out some coins. Satisfied, the vendor grabbed the coins and put them in his satchel.
Jakob held the apple to Claire.
She smiled at him again, her big brown eyes grateful for the treat. She wrapped her small hands around it and took a bite.
“Good?” Jakob asked. She nodded happily.
“You look like you could use a hot meal,” he whispered as they walked together, closer to the alley. “Maybe my wife can make you something?”
She seemed wary, but he gave her an encouraging grin.
“Don’t worry. I know the sisters. You’ll be back before dark.”
Easily convinced and wanting hot food, she followed.
“Jakob?!” Eliza called, hearing the front door open.
Jakob and Petr placed Claire gently on the table, now a makeshift altar. Eliza shut and locked the door, but froze when she saw the girl’s unconscious body.
“Eliza, start lighting the candles!” Jakob ordered.
Still, she didn’t move.
Petr grabbed the matchbook and lit them, carefully placing the votives back down.
Jakob ignored his wife and unlocked the cupboard where he last put the spellbook. He stood at the head of the table, kissed the rose pendant and flipped to the marked page.
He started the incantations.
His voice was low, barely above a whisper, recalling his mother’s teachings when he was just a boy making hex bags and charms.
The spell was a few lines:
Fus dhui whu rraafr ail rdula eln sreirr,
haan dhair serr,
saira if eln ufairr,
dsasc ul dhsuirh dha Musder nuus,
erranfra llrarh eln werc ulsa nusa.
For thou who sleeps in stone and clay,
heed this call,
rise up and obey,
trek on through the Mortal door,
assemble flesh and walk once more.
He grabbed a match, struck it and dropped it into a mixture of ingredients he gathered earlier. It sparked into a small, blue flame. All the candles flickered out. A few moments later, they relit, one by one.
Jakob held his breath.
“Rose? Rosie? Wake up…” He cried, stroking what was supposed to be her cheek.
“Come back to me.”
He didn’t cry when the police knocked on their door and told him the news. He didn’t cry when they identified her body downtown. He didn’t cry when Eliza fell to her knees after bringing Rosie’s things home, clutching her rose pendant necklace.
Tears began to slide down his cheeks.
Hours passed. Petr sat in the corner, unmoving, a cigarette lit. Eliza wept quietly in a bedroom.
Jakob didn’t move, his head still, hand robotically caressing her hair. His tears, silent and unceasing.
Suddenly, he felt a chill.
Her eyes opened, now a bright, icy blue.
She smiled. Dark, purple blood seeping from her eyes.
“I’m not Rosie.”
Everything went black.