The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Nothing to Give
by Angela Yuriko Smith
She watched the moon rise behind her former home. Her gaze was as cold as the babe in her arms. A feather drifted across across her vision, letting her know the Trickster was with her. She didn’t look away from the castle.
“Why am I here?” he asked. His voice rasped with words as sharp as his beak. The misty dark expanded into the emptiness in the silence between them. The Trickster ruffled his feathers and hopped forward to look at the castle rising out of the ragged valley.
“Why am I here?” He asked again, and turned to look at her. His eyes burned bright in the shadow. Any girl would quail under such fierce observation, but she was no longer a girl. Circumstance had seen to that.
“They took everything,” she finally said. Her voice was flat and emotionless. “Now I have nothing.” She turned her eyes away from the stone towers and looked at the Trickster. “Give them nothing as well.”
His beady, ember gaze swept over her. A young girl, shabbily dressed clutching a bundle of baby and rag to her breast. There were no tears left in her eyes. There was no soul left to bargain with. She had nothing he wanted.
The castle sat on the horizon like an entitled queen, towers of stone shining like powdered skin. A smear of rouge across the gatehouse would make as fine a courtly whore as any he’d seen. He could smell the acidic scent of pride and gluttony even where he was. The castle was ripe pickings, if he had the excuse.
“Give me your babe, and I will do what you ask.”
“My baby is no more. They saw to that—a nameless bastard given a bastard’s end.” She clutched the bundle of baby and rag closer.
“You ask a task, I ask a price. That’s how bargains are struck. Give me your babe and I will give them nothing in return.”
The girl nodded and let her arms drop limp to her side as if the life had left them. The bundle thudded to the ground at her feet, rolled and lay still. The Trickster hopped down onto the bundle and gripped it tight.
“So it will be done,” he said. He spread his wings, until they blotted out the moon and castle from her view. He flapped, straining to take air with the added weight. The girl started keening as she watched her baby boy rise up and realized it would be the last time to see him. She held out her hands in futile desperation. Her wails cut the night and filled the Trickster’s wings with vengeance, lifting him all the way.
He landed at the castle gate, dropping his bundle. There was a guard sleeping inside the narrow window, he knew. He let out a sharp, grating caw that was meant to rattle dreams. It did, and he heard the guard inside wake up with a yelp. He cawed again, and a man’s face peered out the opening at him.
The Trickster cawed a third time and then turned his fiery gaze fully on the man. The guard stumbled back from the window and exited the room into the walled courtyard. The Trickster could hear him yelling a warning to all within.
“Demon! Demon at the gate!”
His cry was taken up by other voices. Torchlight came to life inside, touching the slumbering stone with a blush. The Trickster was pleased. Let them come and see what they have wrought. It took no time at all to gather a nice collection of heads at the top of the wall. They muttered to each other as they looked down at the raven and his bundle on their doorstep. A fat man carrying a sword on his shoulder stood up straight and looked over at the Trickster. On either side, two guards kept a hand on, ready to pull him back.
“Why do you show up at our door, Demon? We have no truck with your kind.”
The Trickster drew himself to his full size, the raven form lengthening and growing until he was twice the size of the biggest guard. He picked up the tiny bundle, a fragment of cloth in his now massive palm. He spoke, allowing his voice to amplify loud enough to shake the depths and rattle heaven.
“Your actions expose your lies. You fouled innocence in a horse trough, drowned like a kitten. You bring a curse to your house and lands.” He held the baby up, letting the winds blow the rags away. It lay still and blue in his hand. “You took everything a girl had and left her with nothing, so nothing is what you shall receive in turn.” He opened the foundation stones of the castle and planted the small body inside before leaping up to take wing.
He circled the castle three times, relishing the cries below. They were in hysterics at his theatrics but they would endure the slow desolation of their curse with barely a sigh. They would soon boast how they drove away a demon one night—a demon who cursed them with nothing. He would be a song and a joke… but the punchline would be his in the end.
Beneath the foundation he could feel consequences taking root. The curse was already moving through the stone, weakening mortar, crumbling it into the cistern where the water would sour stomachs, wither gardens and weaken livestock.
The castle would collapse, one slow stone at a time. The people would sicken and pass without ever attributing the decline to their own guilt. The worst sinners die with the cleanest conscience, he thought. He vanished into the sky, bargain accomplished and pleased to rid the world of what was not needed.
Years later he found himself called back by an old woman who lived on the edge of a ragged ravine overlooking a ruined castle. He recognised her. Now wrinkled and bent, she carried the same empty look in her eyes.
“Why am I here?” he asked. His voice rasped with words as sharp as his beak. She looked directly at him, her eyes tired of watching the castle below for so long.
“I have another favor to ask,” she said. “I asked you to give them nothing, and you did. Now I ask you to give me nothing as well.”
The Trickster studied her. There were no tears left in her eyes. There was no soul left to bargain with. She had nothing he wanted. He had nothing to give, so he gave it.
He lay her down on a bed of pine, consequence and conscience rising up through the misty dark, expanding into the emptiness that grew in the silence she left.
Fiction © Copyright Angela Yuriko Smith
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Angela Yuriko Smith:
Book a stay at the Bitter Suites, a hotel that specializes in renewable death experiences. Whether you schedule your demise as therapy, to bond with a loved one or for pure recreation, your death is sure to give you a new lease on life. Renewable death is always beneficial… at least to someone.
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Women in Horror Month 10