WARNING: This is a nasty little story about madness, magic and murder and not for the faint hearted. If you’re here solely for spaceships and swords, you might want to skip this one!
The piano was singing. The notes swelled and rose like ashes into a darkness that swallowed them up then spat them out, faint echoes from the ceiling high above. She didn’t know what she was playing. It was a piece she had written a long time ago, when she was lonely for the right reasons.
She was swaying, the music taking her far from the hall in which she sat, far from him and his fists and threats. It seemed to grow inside her until she struggled to breathe, gasping for air between every phrase. She was nearing the climax, a crescendo that built and built until her fingers stung as they hammered the keys. It was now or never, but for a moment, she hesitated.
Nothing would happen. She didn’t believe for a second it would.
But the lady had been so sure, so confident. She could see her, clear as a photograph. The dark, twisted hair, so thick you could lose a mouse in there, and the eyes, a shade of brown so deep they looked black. There had been no doubt in those eyes, none whatsoever.
It was now or never. She felt the bruises swelling on her ribs where her arm brushed against them and the hesitation was gone.
As the song reached its peak, she spat the mouthful of blood and the mixture the witch had given her over the piano. It spattered across the keys and she felt some splash on her face, warm and thick from where it had sat in her mouth since she began playing.
She was still playing, but gently now, the piece winding down, her fingers slowing. Her face was flushed, partly from the playing and partly in unconscious embarrassment. She had believed for a second, truly believed.
She stopped, letting her hands drop to her lap and shaking her head. She was trembling and cradled her face in her palms, the tears beginning to leak out into the silence.
That was it. The last chance she had. There was no escape now, nothing else to try.
Her shoulders were shaking and she rested her arms against the lid of the piano, her body slumping forward.
“Why did you stop?”
She jumped, literally, her entire body leaving the stool for a second. The voice was cold. It was a weird description, but it was the first thing that came to mind. It sounded like ice if ice talked, brittle but deadly, unrelenting.
“You can’t stop, you’ve called the powers. Don’t you know what happens if you stop before the end?”
She stood, the stool scraping across the floor as she glanced around. Her back was covered in goose-bumps, the sweat that had gathered under her arms suddenly cold and clammy. She shivered, realising that she could see her breath in the dim glow from the emergency exit lights.
It was sitting on the piano, although she could only make out the bright eyes and the broad, mirthless smile. The witch had said something would visit her. She wrapped her arms around herself, wincing as she pressed against her ribs.
“Will you help me, please?”
The eyes stared at her, unmoving. The smile disappeared for a moment, then came back, broader than ever. A long finger came out of the shadows and wiped across the keyboard, taking a dollop of blood back into the darkness. Once more the smile vanished as the finger was licked. She shuddered. It had worked, god, it had worked. The eyes were still staring.
“Moon’s blood, and fresh. Your offering is acceptable, but you stopped playing.”
“I’m sorry, I just, I thought it hadn’t worked.”
“Why wouldn’t it work? You had the ingredients, you clearly have the talent.”
A pause, in which she could just about make out the traffic, in the world that existed beyond the hall, beyond her and the thing sitting on the piano. He would be getting home about now, slamming open the door and demanding dinner. She stood straighter, putting her hands down to her sides.
“So, what? What happens if I don’t finish playing?”
The smile got wider.
“Well, you have a problem you want help with. It just so happens that I too have a little something I could use some assistance in.”
She tried to stop herself and failed, the words blurted out before her brain could catch up.
“Anything, really. Kill him and I’ll do anything I can to help.”
The eyes blinked, slow enough for her to yawn nervously before their lambent light struck her once more.
She stammered, trying to say something she’d never dared give voice to.
“Ahh, well, ahh, so…”
She took a deep breath.
“Til death do you part?”
“Uh, yeah, something like that. He… He hits me, and drinks and cheats on me and I’m scared every time I wake up and every time he comes in the house and I cannot be this person anymore, this person who is so scared of everything I barely leave the house and…”
She trailed off, her breathing ragged, her forehead suddenly pounding. She felt sick and light and oddly free. The eyes blinked once more and when they opened this time, they were red, almost brown in the corners and the most frightening thing she had ever seen, despite what she’d just said. The smile was gone, a gap showing the thinnest white line of teeth. She tried to make the same shape with her own mouth and wondered exactly what it was that sat on the piano.
“I can kill him that should be fun. About my problem?”
Another shiver as the voice, chilling but now with a cold that burned, raised in an unspoken question.
“I have been for many moons now without a body, incorporeal. It was fun to begin with, the freedom, but now I am bored. I wish to spend some time here on Earth. This place, interests me.”
She glanced away from the eyes to where the blood was dripping slowly off the piano. It was spattering into a pool beneath the keyboard, the sound suddenly loud in the silence of the hall. The traffic noises drifted in as she became more aware, though they seemed so far away. Everything she knew now seemed distant and somehow transparent, the thing before her the only reality she could rely on.
“How can I help you with that?”
“Blood. Everything comes from blood. Your moon’s blood is strong. Gift me some, of your own free will, and I can use it to cross over.”
She could hear screams, faint and incomprehensible, deep inside her. She knew what they were saying, but she ignored them, buried them deeper.
“Ok. We kill him, then I give you the blood.”
The smile returned.
“How about you give me the blood first? You summoned me here, so I am bound to carry out whatever task you require of me.”
Something wasn’t right. She snorted abruptly, shaking her head. Everything wasn’t right. There was nothing in this hall that didn’t feel like the world was being twisted and distorted, but even so. She was missing something, but it ran from her, elusive, hiding until a quiet cough pulled her from her reverie. She looked once more at the thing on the piano and nodded, quickly. The smile widened.
“Well, that was easy. Let’s go and kill your husband shall we?”
The blood dripped from her fingers and stained the ivory. It reminded her of something, something she was sure had happened recently, yet she couldn’t remember. She didn’t remember much these days. There had been a time, was it yesterday? Last year? when she repeated her name, over and over, but it was gone now, run off with the notes that caressed and danced with her, battered and beat her.
This was her house, had been her house, she was sure. The piano was hers also, every key familiar. She couldn’t really feel them anymore. Her fingers looked shorter now, the nails long since ripped away, the pads; blood and bone.
There was a scene, playing over and over in her mind. It was the only thing in there these days, aside from the music. She thought she was in it, but she wasn’t sure, it didn’t feel like her. It always began the same way.
She got home, weary and feeling sick. The thing had come with her, though she hadn’t seen it. She could feel it, this presence that made her feel somehow dirty. They had spoken on the short drive home.
“How will it happen?”
“You will wield the knife. He will be blind and weak, like a baby.”
“What do you mean? I can’t kill him, that wasn’t the deal, it wasn’t—“
“The deal is that your husband dies and you are free of him, yes?”
The thing sounded angry, no, petulant. She didn’t know anyone who was like that, but that was what it was, like she’d threatened to take his toys away. This creature was a child. She gripped the steering wheel, staring at the road as her hands shook.
“I have told you that I have no form. How did you expect me to kill him?”
“I dunno, some kind of magic or something?”
The creature laughed, a high pitched, machine gun of a sound that bored into her ears.
“There are many types of magic Astrid, but that which kills people is serious indeed. I would need more than your blood for that.”
It giggled again as if she’d told the funniest joke.
“I can’t stab him, he’s too big, too strong.”
“I told you, he will be weak and blind, it will be like slaying an infant.”
She lapsed into silence, her inner voice reduced to a high pitched wailing that threatened to break free of her lips and fill the car. She had always known there was magic in music. When she was little and began to play, she would see things, such colours and dreams that filled her imagination. When they met he had been obsessed with her playing, loving to sit and listen to her for hours on end. He was smart and had a plan, knew where he was going.
Nothing had changed. He was still smart, smart enough to only punch where the marks could be hidden, smart enough to change just long enough for her to forget. Only she never did forget, she just didn’t know what to do. It would be easy if she didn’t love him.
When the fear began to outweigh the passion, she knew she had to kill him. Lynda said she should get a divorce, but life without him, no, life with him with someone else was something she couldn’t face. This way, he would always be there, like he was at the start.
She pulled up at the house, careful to switch her lights off so she didn’t disturb his TV. She sat, paralysed, hands gripping the wheel. She had left no food and he would be angry. She swallowed, then glanced back over her shoulder. The eyes stared back, dark and bloody. She spun back around, suddenly desperate to leave the car. She put her hand on the door release when it spoke.
“Before we go in, I believe there is something you need to give me.”
“When we enter your house, we will kill your husband. That is the deal, yes? So before we do that you owe me.”
“What, here, now?”
She was met with silence and put her hand on her mouth, choking back a sob. She pushed her hips off the seat and undid her trousers, then slid her hand inside.
“Where, I mean, what should I do with it?”
“Just hold your hand out.”
She moved her shaking hand to above her shoulder, the finger tips wet and red. Its tongue was hot and rough, like a cat, and wrapped around her fingers in a slow caress. She stifled a scream, trying to pull her hand back but finding it trapped. Finally it withdrew and she dragged her fingers again and again over the passenger seat, trying to wipe away the feeling.
“You gift me this blood of your own free will?”
She stuttered, barely able to keep her stomach from rebelling.
“Uh, yeah, yes, this blood is a gift.”
As she said it, she felt the temperature in the car drop. The smell of pine forests and centuries of rot assailed her nostrils until she coughed at the sweet scent. She watched as the light hairs on her arms rose and her neck goose-bumped. She grabbed the handle this time and threw herself from the car. She slammed the door and leant back against it, taking deep breaths of the cool night air.
Eventually she pushed herself away and stood, swaying slightly. She was turning towards the house when she saw the eyes. They were burning now, the blood-red glowing and spitting. They hung before the front door and when the smile came, it was joined by a long, red tongue.
“He will be blind and weak. Go to the kitchen, get a knife and slide it between his ribs until you hit something firm. That will be his heart, push the knife as far as you can, then remove it. If you like your furniture, you may want to move him somewhere you can clean.”
She was moving as if in a daze now, her mind shut down, her body responding only to the simplest commands. She pushed the front door open and stepped into the hallway. The haze was pierced by the familiar shakes that swept through her, eyes wide and waiting.
There was no shouting, no demands.
The TV was on, ‘Friends’ providing the canned laughter soundtrack. She entered the lounge. He was sat in his chair, a can of beer glugging slowly onto the carpet from where it had fallen. His eyes were fixed on a point above the TV, his body slumped. She stepped closer, waiting for him to jump up, for the fist, or foot. Nothing.
She tiptoed until she stood in front of him, then waved her hand across his eyes. Nothing.
She left the lounge and went into the kitchen. Pulling out the drawer, she took the longest knife there, a blade nearly a foot long and grasped it in her sweaty right hand.
“Gavin, could you come into the kitchen please?”
She heard a grunt, then a thud. She walked back into the lounge, the knife behind her back. He had tried to stand and made it only as far as falling forward into the floor.
“Astrid, where are you? Christ girl, I can’t see anything.”
“It’s OK sweetie, you’re just a bit sick. Let me help you into the kitchen and get you something.”
“Jesus, I’m so tired.”
She mumbled nothings as she hauled him to his feet. His face flopped onto her shoulder and she could feel his breath against her cheek. The knife was hard and unforgiving in her hand.
They staggered into the kitchen and she half-lowered, half dropped him into one of the chairs, suddenly grateful for the laminate they had in here. She bent and kissed him and he seemed to regain some energy, one hand grabbing her waist, before falling back by his side. She stepped back quickly.
“Where were you? You don’t stay out when I’m getting home.”
It was all she needed. She stepped back in close and placed the tip of the knife against his chest, then pushed. He shouted, loud, wordless as she felt it pierce his skin then slide through his ribs. Deeper yet and he jerked in the chair, the shout becoming a wail. She realised that the handle was pushing into him and she slowly pulled it out. Blood poured from the wound and he rolled slowly, toppling off the chair and crashing onto the kitchen floor. She stood back, the knife still clenched in an iron grip, and watched as the pool around him grew bigger and bigger.
She was sat, she didn’t remember sitting, but here she was. He was still now, his face pale and cold. The knife was in the sink, the blood thinning as it met with spots of water. She didn’t know what time it was, but it was still dark outside.
She was counting her breaths, each one another breath of free air. She wanted to dance and scream and sing, but it felt wrong with the body still lying on the floor.
She stood, walked to the sink and washed her hands. Then she vomited, coughing until green bile hung from her lips. She rinsed her mouth out and stepped back towards where he lay. Only it wasn’t him anymore. It was just a body now. The fear that had been wrapped up in it was gone, his power to ruin her fled, leaving only meat and blood, and even that was cold and congealing.
She spoke to the empty kitchen.
“What now? How do I get rid of him?”
Silence. She waited. She walked into the lounge. ‘Friends’ had segued into sport and she grabbed the remote and flicked the screen to blackness.
She heard a low grinding, like something immeasurably heavy being dragged over stone, like glaciers melting.
She screamed, so loud her ears popped and she flung the remote at the doorway where he stood. She tried to draw breath, to say something, but found herself screaming again. He walked into the room, his left side caked in blood. When he smiled, it seemed wider than normal. His voice was cold.
“I want you to play for me. I want you to finish. And when you have, you can play it again.”
She kept screaming.