Mystic Keys and Expectations

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“Dear, beautiful spectator,” said the magician, his knuckles dove-white from his clasp on an amethyst, shimmering top hat. The audience was wide eyed as the young man reached inside his polka-dotted blazer. “I ask you to look inside yourself, unlock the chest of your lonesome soul,” his eyes glinted, “tell me what you find.”

He waited a few seconds before continuing. “You will find, binding your very being, two padlocks. If you look closer at the first, you’ll find yourself with a third-degree burn on your nose and a spirit full of harmony and grace. It’ll feel you with such jubilation that you’ll never want to look away, but you risk blindness the longer you peer at the blazing bolt.” Pulling a gilded key strung on a strip of speckled lace, he added: “With haste, this first lock of lust can be overcome.”

“Now you’re left with one obstacle, to unlock the soul – you’re full potential. If you focus hard enough, you’ll make out a black padlock; its cloak of darkness shrouds the brightest light.” He pulled a twisted obsidian key from his blazer. It shone under the spotlight like a thousand black candles. His mouth was pulled back in a sneer, his heart racing. “This one is infinitely more difficult to handle than the first. Every second you peer into this bolt is an eon of torment.” Several spectators coughed in their red, cushioned seats, disturbed. “You must face your demons, peering into the boiled face of the devil, before the lock drops and the restraints are lifted. In this battle, the deepest force of the universe is concentrated on you. Bleak vultures will try and tear at your shoulders; shadowed serpents will sink their fangs into your heel.” A viewer bellied over and vomited on the black tarp.

The magician grimaced as he dropped the key, reaching within the ornate top hat. “Let the dancing fumes wash away your glowing, painted wings. As the toxin slithers into your conscience,” the magician pulled a skeletal, writhing creature from the hat, “I will exonerate you.”

Suddenly, the viewers fall to the floor, scratching at their chests and throats. Children’s eyes turn vermillion, their skin splintered like blistered glass, as their parents stumbled to their side. Whispers muted the indignant bellows. Cloaked specters carried the babies to the ceiling, sending their fragile bodies back to the ground, smashed and mutilated. Every breath was an inhalation of bladed powder and cyanide. Boiling slime expanded across the tarped floor, an ocean rife with starving, scaly beasts.

The magician groaned, snapping the patchy, wiry neck of a vicious rodent – its squeal a nightmare siren. Virulent typhoons of shadow and disgrace protected him from the evil consuming the theatre. Flickering emerald flame followed his footsteps, as he approached the door.  With every step closer, blurry phantoms shouted: “You’re not invited!” One flung an infant’s decapitated corpse at him. “NOT INVITED!” The banshees’ shrieks nearly brought him to his knees, but he forced himself to reach the locked door.

Trained on the shimmering, golden deadbolt keeping him contained in this infernal trial, the magician pushed in the key and turned. The padlock opened with a pop and dropped to the floor. In a flash, the charred tarp turned into soft prairie grass; the intestine-adorned walls faded to reveal a sunlit forest and a diamond-specked pond, disgusted incantations a chorus of mockingbirds.

For the first time in an eternity, the magician smiled and laughed, rolling around on the damp grass. “Free at last!” he shouted.

The magician’s expression changed, however, when he cut himself on the teeth of a charred, barbed statue resembling the Bringer, the evil entity from his dreams. Elation melted to malice. Ravens obscured the beaming sun, and the forest collapsed to a frozen graveyard.

The Bringer’s silhouette was etched on the horizon. “For years you relied on slight-of-hand to deceive unwitting spirits. Now you shall wear their souls and walk through the inferno you so dexterously illustrated.” Sharp winds ripped the clothes off of the magician, the great entertainer reduced to a bumbling, naked boy in a bed of sweltering snow. “You will forever chase the jester of your former being, always falling short of vindication.”

“Please,” the magician begged, “make me forget all of this. Give me a fresh canvas to start anew.” His tears evaporated against the hot snow. “I’m so sorry, for everything.” He wept. “I know I shouldn’t have touched those kids. I’ve learned my lesson! Please!”

The Bringer roared, cracking the frozen earth. “Something tells me you enjoyed that first trial too much to ever be forgiven.” It cackled. “Granted you survive the night, you’ll find your black key somewhere in the winding river of tar up north; the padlock is deep within the Salahrin Mountains, but I’ve got a feeling the army of vengeful infants and tortured toddlers will pick you off far before you reach the border.”

The Price

The laws of life and death are meant to be broken, this I knew. The Creator would not have put a species capable of such intelligible thought if he did not expect it to eventually realize rules are only governed by those to which they apply. With this epiphany anything is possible, so I set out to put it to the ultimate test.

I was going to bring her back; she didn’t deserve to die. All it took was a blessed herbal concoction and a recited sacrament under the light of a full moon. Sure, the ritual would be much easier with the staff of the Grand Wizard, Arca, but neither he nor the rest of the council would ever consider aiding me in an act they would deem blasphemous.

As I am standing atop Talonbreak Hill, having already recited the sacrament, the king intervened. “Alastair!” He hobbled up the hill to meet me at the top, his white hair glowing in the night. “Stop this insanity this instant!”

“Don’t you have a kingdom to ruin, Rock? Go back to that corrupted council of yours where you belong, and let me be.”

“Alastair, step away from the circle. I’ve got fifteen archers with you in their sights if you continue to disregard my orders. You’ve been warned on multiple occasions that the use of magic is strictly prohibited in accordance to last year’s incident.” The stress incurred from his reign is amplified under the moonlight – deep wrinkles stretched across his face.

My gaze turned to the potion; all that was left of the ritual was the pouring of the concoction over the grave. I was so close to seeing my precious daughter once again, but yet I faced another obstacle. “Oh, I know all about that massacre, Rock. My daughter and all of her students lost their lives that day by the blade of the magic resistance – a group mirroring your ideals. So you’re going to have me killed just as you did Emily?”

Festered, the king replied, “For the last time that was not my doing. You really think I would be capable of the slaughter of an entire school full of children and teachers?” His face was expressionless. “Now, I am very sorry for what happened to Emily, and honestly if her revival had no repercussions, I would personally see to it that all of those poor people were brought back. That’s not the case however.” He gestured at the night sky. “The cost of reviving your daughter is eternal darkness. Not even the council, as wise and powerful as they are, can reverse it either. So do us a favor and walk back with me to the village.”

“A world without Emily would be dark anyway,” I said, diving toward the potion. Unfortunately, Rock wasn’t lying about the archers, and before I reach the ground four arrows tore into my chest. However, before my last breath I spill the vial’s contents onto Emily’s grave, pouring the magic into the earth.

My last sight was of Emily, enveloped in a warm, heavenly light. She hadn’t aged one day, and was prettier than she ever had been. Her golden hair fell over her shoulders just as her mother’s had – if only I could tell her how much she looked like her mother. But before I closed my eyes and left the realm, the silver moon receded into darkness and the star-speckled sky turns black. The curse of eternal night had befallen the land, and I, blinded by sorrow, selfishly dragged Emily out of everlasting bliss and sentenced her to live the rest of her days under a black cloak. My final gift to my daughter was that of damnation.

Weeds In the Field

“How could he do this to us? We could lose the farm!”

“That’s enough, Gisette.” A woman of sixty-five clad in a tailored blue gown, her silver hair pulled tightly back in a perfect bun, waves a hand of dismissal toward her daughter. “Your brother is well aware of the risks he’s taking; he is a smart man after all.”

Patti, Gisette’s twin sister, uncharacteristically slams her porcelain tea cup down onto the oak table. “David cannot marry that… That gold digging whore! If he had an ounce of wits about him, he’d see through her act.”

“Patti, Gisette! Hush, both of you. I need to hear myself think.” Geraldine Hatchett pinches the bridge of her nose and closes her eyes. She was the eldest daughter of a wealthy politician – and the smartest, she would argue – but if there was one thing her father taught her before being sent to prison for embezzlement, it was how to remain calm in stressful situations. Her daughters have yet to pick up on this nifty skill, but they were going to learn one day.

After a moment of silence, Geraldine resumes: “For thinking of the good of the farm, you both are right, and until your brother met Beatrice, I believe he had a similar state of mind as well; however, now he is without the good sense his father left him. Something must be done to stop this blasphemous marriage.”

“What are you thinking, Mama?”

“Well, obviously I can’t get through to David; she’s already poisoned him.” Geraldine pastes a grim smile on her face, showing a set of dull, golden teeth. “It’s only reasonable she suffer a similar fate.”

That night, Geraldine and her girls crept into the cornfield behind the Hatchett manor, guided only by the light of a full moon. Despite the rumors, Geraldine wasn’t just a lonely widow pent on rotting in her web-infested mansion – she had an advantage that many other women of her time were without: she could read.

Specifically, she took to books of a mystical nature. So, when she found out her only son, David, was marrying a poor valley girl she knew her knowledge of the dark arts would come in handy. All she had to do was get her two stupid daughters on the same page, and to do this she fed them lies. “That girl your brother is marrying, I heard she was married before,” she once told Gisette. Then, to Patti: “I ran into David’s fiancée this morning; I could see such hatred in those twinkling blue eyes of hers. Pretty soon David will have the same hate in his.” It didn’t take too many lies to convince her daughters, as gullible as they were.

“Patti, you hold your sister’s hand, and both of you hold mine with your other.” It all came together perfectly; she was following the instructions lain out in the devil’s book completely. Together they formed an oval; in the center was a burning concoction containing crushed henbane and jimsonweed and a cocktail of other spices and chemicals – the smoke coming off the brew smells foul but that was part of it, she presumed. “Goddess Katriah, I call upon you.”

Truthfully, at this point Geraldine has no idea what she was doing – the chant was written in a language unknown to her. But she had followed every other step to the letter, so she believed all should be fine.

“Katriah, Goddess of the Harvest, bless this potion I have before you. You must have heard my prayers, so you know our situation. A threat has come upon our fertile land, intending to burn it all. I ask that you bless this potion, fill it with the power to stop this Beatrice Nocant. By your beautiful hand, the Hatchett farm can flourish once more.” The last words resonate in the darkness. That was it. But why was it that she wasn’t feeling any different?

“So, did it work?” Gisette was looking painfully perplexed.

Geraldine has no answer for her daughter, because she was wondering the same. Regardless, she keeps confident. “Yes, darling. It’s in Katriah’s hands now. All we have to do is wait for her gift.”

But days pass to no avail. Beatrice was still alive, and Geraldine’s patience was growing thin. What was it that she had done wrong? Surely everything was done correctly. Every day that her soon-to-be-daugher-in-law continued to breathe, the old woman skimmed the frail page of the spell book one more time. Finally, it came to her: “That potion was meant for me. It wasn’t just meant to summon Her.” With her spirit returned, she walks back to where she and her girls so foolishly tried to call on Katriah.

“How could I have not considered this?” she asks herself on the way to the clearing. “Katriah isn’t a vengeful Goddess – she can only transfer the power to protect her domain to a worthy soul!” Geraldine cackles, grasping the bowl of magical herbs and spices. Before downing the potion, Geraldine mutters, “Give me your power Katriah, so I can wring that girl’s neck.”

It takes a few gulps, as well as some control of the gag reflex, to drink the bitter mixture. The brew stirrs a rumble inside of Geraldine’s stomach, making her want to throw it all up. “That certainly is not your afternoon sweat tea,” she states, smacking her lips.

Suddenly, she a deep roar of laughter invades her mind. “Katriah!” Geraldine exclaims. “You’ve come to help me!”

The goddess scoffs. “Honestly, I was hoping for a stronger soul to steal, one with more years left, but I’ll settle with this one.”

Magic, Motels & Mania

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Bring the pot to a boil and add the seeds. Let that sit for exactly six minutes, not a second more or you’ll have to start all over. Now pour the water and its contents into a flask; seal it, and let it sit for a month. Once the brew is finished, you’ll have a span of two days before it expires, so you’ll have to act fast.

My great grandmother’s words buzz in my mind as I stick the cork into a glass tube, the last one of the batch. In a month and two days I will be rich and famous and my enemy will be at my feet, mumbling curses while patches of her beautiful skin peel away from her body and turn to gray ash. Before long only a petrified skeleton and some dust shall remain of my mother. I only have a few weeks left to put up with the bitch; I wish it were sooner, but even magic has its restrictions.

I wrap the batch with linen, place it on the top shelf of the pantry and close the door. For a moment, I look around at my old, rotting kitchen and the nasty living room. If the Faeries hadn’t taken over the old Raponvale Motel, as per the so-called fantastic Faerie-Blessed truce, I would have claimed the territory as my own. But no – under their rule, all motels and whorehouses belonged to the state. Those filthy Blessed, they call themselves “good witches” as if there were such a thing. And my pathetic mother leads those witch bitches, but not for long. Only time is keeping me from turning the grand ivory palace of the good witches to black, hot tar. The reigning board of Blessed will be forced to admit their wrongdoing, or live the rest of days in wooden caskets.

“Mrs. Ettings, it’s time to take your medicine.”

With a scowl that could melt glass, I walk up to the all-smiles nurse holding a Dixie cup of water and swallow a smorgasbord of pills. One day I will break free of this padded prison, and when I do, they will all realize the crazy woman was never really crazy. I will be queen.