Short Story: Bargain
Created with a structure based on another fictional work in Advanced Comp class. Content-wise this story is mine, but the sensory grouping is the work of another.
It’s like a fire, she supposes- bright and ethereal, flickering as though it cannot decide whether to remain a part of reality or not. It casts strange shadows upon the walls of hewn stone, shadows which she observes with a quiet curiosity not atypical of herself. She has seen the woman before, dancing to the beat nobody else ever seems to hear, but she has never ventured past the darkened forest before, never tread past those stark dead trees stretching out towards the skies like desperate fingers searching for something to hold to as they fell to their graves. The trees seem to watch her, even though she is now within the crumbling walls of the castle. She is not sure that they will ever stop.
His eyes are brown, a richer shade then she has ever known, and they sparkle with a thousand emotions she cannot hope to know within her lifetime. His hair is darker still, though short. She remembers how it used to look when it was longer, and she has seen the bruises on his face, the result of how the unruly mop was sometimes used as a handle, something to grab onto when hitting him. She understands why he has sacrificed the length for security.
It hums like the tractor her father used to love, once, what seems like forever ago. It pulsates with an unearthly strength, pounding in her ears so that no matter how hard she tries she cannot help but hear it. It brings to mind a laugh, deep and booming, full of pride, and she wonders if she’ll see him again once she is dead. She ponders if there is laughter in death, though she suspects not. It seems to her that the dead must suffer in silence. Otherwise, she feels, they would cry out to the living.
His voice is rich, and she hangs onto every inflection, to every rise and fall. He assures her that her father is watching from elsewhere, and that they will know each other again someday. It’s the same kind of thing the priest is mumbling where he stands toward the front of the crowd, but it sounds much truer coming from his lips. The preacher’s voice is too distant, too reverent. He is talking to God, he is not talking to her. But every statement of Oswin’s is backed with years of shared secrets, of whispered confidences, and she suspects there is enough truth in their relationship to carry over to this day.
She can taste the wrongness to the air— an intoxicating purity stilling the breeze and chilling her spine. She can also taste coppery blood where she had been hit by the witch, before the deal had been struck. It coats her tongue, weighing it down with a heaviness far exceeded by her own guilt. She watches, strangely detached as Oswin struggles on the ground, crying out, yelling at her to stop this. She tries to pretend that the copper is a shield, protecting her from his accusations, insulating her from the truth behind them. She fails.
They step away from the gravestone, hand in hand, both tasting the salty tang of tears fallen from moist eyes. She has lost a father, him, a teacher and protector. The next time Oswin’s father is drowned in beer, he shall be defenseless. They sit in silence at the reception, nibbling at the pizza from Patsy’s, which is not bad per se, but far from enjoyable. It is chewed, and swallowed, and offers the taste one would expect from pizza, but without anything special to it, anything to make it worthwhile. It is now that Oswin suggests an impossibility. He says the pizza tastes better in New York.
Wrenching her hands from her pockets, she unclenches fists, and tentatively offers a hand to her love. He stares at her, betrayal still ringing in his eyes, but both of them know they cannot resist this last embrace. Their hands connect, and she feels that familiar spark of electricity, the one which has kept her going for the last few years. In the days to come, she prays the memory will be enough. Tears trickling down her cheeks, warm and sticky, she pulls him to his feet. He remains drowsy from the enchantment, but she is strong enough to pull them together for a final kiss. His eyes brush hers, and whisper that they will never forget her. The witch’s cold hands, which quietly caress her neck, laugh at this notion.
Their hands are squeezing each other tightly as they race through the streets, foot after foot on hard concrete, knowing full well that Oswin’s father is coming, and he will follow them wherever, and that no matter what, they are to be caught. But for her, it is enough that she spend her last moments of freedom with him, hand in hand. He says they can find sanctuary in the witch’s forest, that nobody will dare follow them there. She knows it to be suicide, but cares not. Her head and her heart have anticipated their death, and consequently decided to get ahead of the curve. They are laid to rest, and the only part of her left in control is her hand, clutching his.
New York pizza smells as good as they say it does. Part of her suspects it smells even better than it tastes. From outside, she watches him sit down in the unfamiliar setting, his eyes taking in every detail of the pizza parlor as he takes in deep whiffs of the appetizing scent. She can see in his eyes the joy at finally having escaped his old life, at the prospect of finally having a future. The fear has already faded, along with his memory of her, whisked away with the same enchantment that brought him here. She watches his smile as he bites into his first slice, and holds onto it as the witch wraps cold hands around her face and drags her down to where there is no smell but death.
Something is wrong with the smell of this forest, or rather, the lack of it. There is no scent of earth, of fallen leaves from last Autumn rotting, or of the damp dewfall she has grown accustomed to in the morning hours. They’d tried to ignore it when they were alone, but now that the witch is standing before them, furious, her eyes as cold as the bleak terrain, it becomes clear that this forest has been drained of much more than life. She is surprised to note that she does not fear her own death, but she does fear his. She promises to herself that she will do anything she can to make sure he survives whatever happens next.