Friday, February 7, 2014

A Dark Night

Slowly rousing from your dead sleep, you first take notice of your wooden ceiling, smacking your dry lips as you stir within the confines of your bed. Bloated, you roll over and pull a pillow over your head. From beneath the pillow, you blink away the sleep from your eyes, staring at the clock beside your bed.

“8:00 already?” You grumble your voice a dry rasp that you have to clear with several guttural coughs. The clock reads 8:03; you went to bed perhaps six hours ago, having retreated to the darkness of your basement bedroom to escape the weariness that always settled into your old bones around that time of day. Now, you had missed the sunset and were rising far later than normal… the boards above your head creak, indicating movement within the house.
You grab the pillow and toss it off of you, rolling out of bed slowly, as your joints are aching from the cold. Stiff needles pierce your chest as you suck in the frigid air… god your lungs hurt!
Coughing into your palm, you stare in disgust at the specks of blood. “God, I need to get some help…”
Scratching your wrinkled side as you finally rise to your feet, you stare around your bedroom; a simple desk facing your bed and a large bookcase are the only adornments to your cozy little section of the house. You don’t really need much to survive, you always say. “Just somewhere to rest my bones and make my tea.”
Speaking of tea, you could really go for some right now. Reaching to the floor to pull on your clothes, you ease yourself into the stained black shirt you wore yesterday… and the day before that. If you weren’t such a depressing old man you might think of doing laundry at some point, but frankly you have no idea how you would do it.
Buckling your belt around your thin waist, you whine as your distended belly gurgles unpleasantly.
“Dinner did not agree with me…” You mumble, walking over to your desk with a pronounced limp. Damn foot is asleep!
You scoop up your fountain pen and scratch out another day on the calendar. According to it, today is Thursday.
“Never did like Thursdays…” You button the shirt over your pale chest, knotted fingers moving slower than you would like. Looking at your nails, you remind yourself that you need to trim them, as their getting a tad jagged.
With renewed feeling in your foot and strength in your back (now that you’ve been awake for a few minutes) you walk quietly over to the steps leading upstairs. The wooden boards are old, almost as old as you. Soon you’ll have to replace them in their entirety. Not yet, but soon.
Another creak from deeper within the house tells you that someone else is awake, and is in your kitchen.
“If they have any manners at all, they’ll be making some tea…” You slowly begin to ascend the stairs, your knees aching with every step.
Reaching the landing at the top of the stairs, which always seem to be more numerous than you remember, you heave a sigh. Placing a palm against the panel in front of the broken bits of plaster and wood, you slide it to the side, revealing your gloomy home. Worn thin drapes hang over a broken window, revealing your moldering sofa and broken armchair, several of the legs having been shattered years ago when you were eating.
The thought of eating makes your stomach turn, forcing you to stop and rub your gut, trying to ease it. You shush it, murmuring quiet words as it finally settles. You feel it twitch within you, audibly digesting a portion of your last meal as it gets pushed deeper into your bowels. Groaning, you pull the panel back over your bedroom door; you don’t want anyone finding where you sleep, now do you?
Walking across the living room, you turn left into the hall, stepping over the portion of the second floor that caved in last year during the blizzard. You see a dim light coming from the entryway in the kitchen, and you smile. You can smell the faint odor of kerosene… perhaps they are making tea?
You round the corner silently, staring at the back of two teenagers, one blonde boy and a red headed girl. That brings back a flood of memories, the red hair. From the back, she does bear a striking resemblance to your dearly departed. Her legs are held in tight denim, and her feet are clad in blocky boots that go up to mid-calf; she’s wearing a dark jacket of some indeterminate color, probably one with a fairly queer name to it.
“I’m telling you Stacy, this place is haunted!” The boy tells the girl, apparently Stacy, with a voice full of wonder. Between the two of them is a small portable grill, and sitting atop it is your old tea kettle. You smile widely for the first time since you woke up; someone with manners!
“I think you just brought me here because you think I’ll put out if I’m scared,” Stacy says, her tone saucy and seductive. “You didn’t have to bring me all the way out here for that…”
“I’m actually glad you did come out tonight,” you say, causing both teens to jump. Both turn and look at you, wide-eyed, “as I haven’t had anyone over since dinner, and I do love the company.”
“Who the hell are you? Michael, you brought me to a house with some creepy old dude in it? What the hell?” Stacy, it would seem, doesn’t approve of your just-out-of-bed look. Perhaps it’s your hair. You run a palm up through the stringy ends, pulling them back. “God, what’s wrong with him?”
Okay, that is a little much. “Now now, you came into my home looking for something to scare you, am I right? Well, consider me that gift. Now will you heat up that kettle? I’m dying for a cup of Earl Grey.”
“What?” Michael says, looking back at the tea kettle as if it were some alien object. “You mean they were right? We just have to make tea to call up the ghosts of the house?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, I’m no ghost lad!” You growl out, shuffling closer to them. “I may be old, but I’m not dead!”
“Sorry sir,” Michael says, avoiding your eyes. They always avoid your eyes.
“And you, girl! Make yourself useful and go stoke the fire in the living room! There should be some dry kindling by the fireplace.”
She doesn’t avoid my stare, merely nodding slowly before plodding off to perform her chore. You shuffle up next to Michael, who backs away slowly along the cracked counter top. You ignore him, holding your knotted hands up to the kettle, moaning as the heat radiates out enough to seep through the sheer wrap of utter cold that seems to have sunk into your bones. You admire the long veins on your dried arms, the black and blue spots where bruised flesh hung from your bones limply.
“Are you going to want a cup as well Michael?” You ask as you open a cupboard, reaching in with your log-fingered hand to pull out a chipped cup and a box of tea bags. “I’m afraid I have no cream or milk, but in the cabinet by your knee there is a sack of sugar, I believe.”
He continues to stare at you as you pull a small bag from the metal box, dropping it into your cup. “You’ll have to forgive an old man, as I have little taste for the sweeter things. I’ve found that I prefer the more bitter foods over the sweeter ones.”
You peer over at him, craning your neck out to catch his gaze. “Are you just going to stand there or are you going to answer me?”
He nods slowly.
“Does that mean you would like some tea?” You ask, eyes locked with his. He has very pretty blue orbs in his pale head. He reminds you of a past lover, an Italian, who had the same pale blue eyes. “Are you Italian, by chance?”
“No sir, and yes I would like tea.” He answers, having finally backed himself into a wall.
“Then get yourself some sugar and get over here and make a cup, I may be the host but I’ll be damned if I ruin another man’s tea!” You order him, chuckling as he hurries over. “I have a few more cups up there, make Stacy one as well. Two spoons of sugar for her… shame that we don’t have any milk, she prefers things to be sweeter, doesn’t she?”
“Yes sir,” Michael responds, back to you as he pours boiling water into two cups before dropping in the tea bags.
 He turns to regard you for a moment, and you just stare at him blankly. Oh yes! “Oh, the spoon is in the drawer by your left hand. Go ahead and use it, I don’t mind.”
He opens the drawer, hesitating for a moment before reaching his hand in and grabbing a long handled metal spoon. Steel of course, no iron in my household thank you very much! He grabs the two cups and walks over to the cupboard with the sugar, setting the cups down gently on the uneven countertop. While he ladles several spoons of sugar into the two cups, you turn to the tea pot and fill your own cup. Dipping a long finger into the cup, you pierce the small bag, allowing the leaves to drift out into the steaming water. The heat is utterly delicious, and as you stare at the tea leaves swirling about, you make out a fair shape within the off-color water.
“Oh my,” You mutter, before turning to Michael, stooped and low. “Are you done? We must see if Stacy has made the fire yet.”
“Yes sir, I’m done.”
“Well off with you then, head to the living room. I’ll be just a minute.” He quickly exits the kitchen, allowing you to move to the drawer where the spoon had rested. Pulling it open, you reach in and fumble about for a moment, before pulling a short, stubby silver knife. You tuck it into your belt, beneath your shirt and head towards the living room.
You find a roaring fire, along with the couple standing in seemingly random spaces. “Sit you two, sit!”
They both look at you; Michael regarding you for a few moments before he finally does sit.
You choose to go stand by the fire before slowly descending into a squat, allowing the crackling fire to warm you. Sipping slowly from your cup, you savor the flavor before opening your eyes and looking over at the two teenagers once more.
“So,” you decide to begin, seeing as they won’t, “how long have you known each other, Stacy?”
She blinks, “five years. We met in 5th grade. He called me a wiener.”
“My, I hope he speaks to you better now that he’s matured a bit.”
“He does.” Stacy says, her gaze flickering over to Michael’s taut form.
“And you Michael, tell me about the two of you.”
“We’ve been dating for about a year and a half. I asked her out to the spring dance at school and she said yes. Now we like to see what new things we can do.”
“I may be on in years but I remember people your age tend to desire physical exploration over, well, venturing into an old house.” You say, staring deep into his eyes. He struggles for a moment about what to say, but the words come tumbling out.
“We do have sex, fairly often. Three to four times a week. We like to do it at parties, in front of people, and in strange places. We were going to have sex in the kitchen if you hadn’t shown up.”
“There we go, that’s what I thought. Three to four times a week, eh? How is it Stacy isn’t a mother yet? I would have smelled child on her…”
“We use protection,” Michael and Stacy say at the same time.
“Protection? Please, elaborate Michael.” You don’t know how armor would help prevent pregnancy.
“Condoms. They are elastic or rubber sheathes that slide over ones penis to prevent the sperm from entering the vagina,” Michael replies.
“My, how long have those been around?”
“I don’t know. Longer than I’ve been alive.” He says, twitching.
“I really do need to get out more often…” You mutter before looking at Stacy. “So Stacy, do you love Michael?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you know what I was going to do tonight when I heard you two up here.”
“No,” they both reply. You look at Michael and glare, forcing him to remain silent. Looking back at Stacy you sip your tea thoughtfully.
“So you came here looking for what, a ghost?”
“Yes,” Stacy says.
“Pity that, there are none to be found here, though I know of a few back in Ireland. Though they may have moved on by now…”
The two remain silent. You finish off your tea, and set the cup down on the wooden floor. Without looking up, you continue. “Michael, do you know what I was going to do to you two?”
“Kill us,” he replies after several long seconds.
“That’s right, normally I would. But thankfully for you I’ve eaten recently. A stray cat had wandered in from somewhere… it wasn’t exactly healthy for me, but it does provide what I need.”
Michaels slack face breaks for a moment, his eyes going wide. “You ate a cat?”
“Oh my yes.” You reply, reasserting your control over him with a glance. “Aren’t you the strong willed type? You remind me of an Italian man I once dallied with… oh he was wondrous. Tell me Stacy, does Michael please you?”
“Yes,” she says calmly.
You nod. “Good boy… now tell me Michael, do you know what I am?”
“A monster,” he replies.
That raises your hackles a tad. “No, that is incidental. What I am is a bargainer, someone who trades in the ethereal for the physical. When I was younger I was much more active, but time does not wait for anyone.”
I can feel Michael grow curious about my last statement, so I loosen my control over him. He twists his head around, looking at the room. He finally settles one me, looking at the wooden floor in front of me rather than at my face. Smart move…
“What do you mean by trade?” He asks.
I shrug. “I trade what your people call luck. My kind have an abundance of it, and are able to siphon some off into others when tickled so. I rarely do it anymore as the collection is more of a problem than the payout, it seems.”
“You didn’t answer my question really.” He says.
“You didn’t word it right,” I casually reply.
“What would you want in exchange?”
“Ten years of luck for the woman, good health for you and her for the next fifteen years… all I would ask is your firstborn daughter.”
“Whoa, hold up. Our daughter? We’re still in high school man, we’re not about to talk about babies or anything.”
“And I would hardly blame you,” You say rising up from your low position by the fireplace, pulling the knife from your belt slowly. Michael looks apprehensive, while Stacy is still enthralled.
“What would you do with her?” He asks after a few moments, focusing on the sizable fire in the stone fireplace. I turn and regard the dancing imps visible within the smoldering logs, the tiny creatures gleefully burning away sections of wood to nibble on.
“What would you do with the extra luck and the good health? It’s up to you and frankly none of my concern. The same could be said for my actions performed with your daughter.”
“No, I need to know before I can even think about agreeing to such a thing.”
I smile at the statement. “Well, I would imagine I would drain her soul out to reinvigorate me, A fresh child from two healthy parents could reverse the clock as much as forty to fifty years for me. The mind and body would still be intact, and I would exchange favors with lesser of my kin and allow them to infest the body, so that they can live as mortals do. Then I would raise her as one of my own as she slowly grows a new soul, though this one of fairy blood and magic.”
“So she’d be like you?” Michael asks, looking around. I can feel his panicked thoughts bubbling to the surface of his mind, searching for a way to escape, while also considering the proposition.
“In a way, though nowhere as long-lived. She would blend into human society far better than I would, to be certain.
“So good luck for my wife and good health for me in exchange for our first born daughter. What if we don’t get married?”
I smile widely, displaying the needle thin teethe jutting from my gums. “Then I collect from both of you, when the time comes.”
“So you’re kind of banking on us separating so you can pull in double the pay-out.” He surmises, causing me to let loose a low chuckle.
“Oh my no, the collection of my child is always an arduous process, one that I generally despise. The only reason I am offering this service to you instead of killing you is because the tea leaves in my tea showed a fortune of good wealth and trade for the evening. A rare occurrence, and not one to be taken lightly.”
“Does Stacy have a say in this?” Michael asks, waving a hand in front of her face.
“Not necessarily, no. She admitted she loved you and according to our ways, that means you can make decisions for her.”
“So, improved health… what does that entail?”
I cough into my hand, clearing my throat. “The standard package increases your bone and muscle density, your stamina, your agility and physical strength, as well as your pain tolerance. This, of course, comes with an increased sex drive.”
“To create the child that is your payment.” Michael surmises.
I nod. “Indeed. So, do we have an accord, or are we just sitting here wasting each other’s time?”
“How do we make this agreement?” He asks, looking nervous for the first time since the conversation started.
I shrug and move over to the fire, thirsting a hand into the red-hot embers. I wait for a minute, humming an old Irish folk song in my head before pulling my soot covered limb from the fire, the flesh cracked and sizzling. Turning I stand to my full height, popping the joints in my back as I extend my hand in an offer.
“Shake my hand in exchange for superior health and lick blessed by the Sidharthae of the Unseelie Court, for you and your chosen mate. Both will receive the blessings and in return will provide the first born daughter from both parent to me upon the child’s third birthday.”
Michael hesitates before accepting my hand, crying out as my red hot hand burns into his, the smell of burning flesh filling the room. Stacy twitches as her left hand smolders from the agreement her love made on her behalf, finally breaking her from the trance. She looks over at what Michael is doing and shouts out at him to stop, but it is far too late for that. Already I can feel the debts in the back of my mind, like seeds buried in topsoil; soon they would grow  and bear me the fruit desired.
“Michael, what’d you do?” Stacy demands of him, slugging him in the shoulder.
“He merely made an agreement that will see you through college and beyond. You my dear will have phenomenal luck, while he will have superior health.”
“And what did this cost us?”
“A trifle really, merely your first born daughters, upon their third birthday.” I happily reply, turning to move back towards the kitchen to pour myself a cup of tea. The two of them are fighting like starving dogs over a discarded piece of mutton, clawing and biting in verbal barbs with every ounce of viciousness they can muster.
Humming, I feel the thrum of new energy coursing through my dead veins, pumping my foul ichor slowly throughout my body. Between the pulse of life energy just exchanged and the heat of the fireplace, my body feels as if it is almost whole once more. I imagine the looks on the Night Mistress when I bring her one, possibly two mortal infants for her to rear. The Dark Queen of the Umbral Court will no doubt grant me several boons for delivering the first mortals to her chambers within the past two decades.
Walking back into the living room, I see that the two have exhausted their ire at each other, and turn it on me. Stacy decides to try first.
“How can you make an arrangement without my approval? Don’t I need to shake hands with you or whatever?” She demands, folding her arms over her chest. “Michael can’t just make deals for me without my apporoval.”
“Actually, when I was questioning you admitted your love of him; that alone makes him able to make decisions with the fair folk on your behalf.” I say, parrying her verbal thrust with ease.
“But I said that while under some sort of trance you had me under!”
“All my gaze does is force you to tell the truth and follow simple commands. It can’t make you agree to anything which is why I released Michael from the lock and spoke to him as an equal.”
“So there’s nothing we can do to get out of this?” She demands, glowering at me.
I shrug. “Don’t have any girls. The debt will be passed down to any children you have, so say you have three boys and they all have daughters, I’ll claim them all.”
“That’s not fair! You never said that the debt would be passed on!”
“You never asked what would happen should you only have boys,” I point out. “No it’s time to face facts kids, your future will be one of great joy and prosperity. Stay together or drift apart, it makes no difference to me. Your gifts will travel through your family lines, albeit at a diluted nature.”
“Well I say why don’t we just try and end this right now,” Stacy says, reaching down and picking up a chair leg from the high backed chair, wielding it like a bat. “I say we bash your head in and just try our luck without you looming over our shoulders.”
“Because of this,” I say, waving an arm flippantly to the fireplace, the tiny elemental sprites residing within the flames getting the subtle order to run out and start setting the house on fire.
“Now you have a choice,” I call out as the curtains go upn in flames, the walls crackling as fire climbs them rapidly, “either fight me and possibly beat me, and then die from a burning house, or run and live for another day.”
Stacy looks as if she wants to fight, but Michael catches her by the bicep, saying something too low to pierce the crackling flame. They both shoot me poisonous glances as they retreat out into the main hall, heading toward the front door. I myself slide my panel aside and slowly descend into my stone sanctuary, pulling the panel closed more out of habit than anything else. I’ll let the fire rage for a day or two, see if some sort of authority comes out to make heads of tails of the mess. After that, I’ll move deeper into the forest, find myself a cave.

I smirk as I feel the faint pulses of anger and outrage coming across my connection to Stacey, and the feelings of confusion and fear coming from Michael. Reveling for a moment in having the feelings to muck about in when I’m bored, I crawl back into bed, pulling a blanket over myself and settling back into my pillow as my body begins to shut down for an extended period of rest, perhaps two weeks.

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