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Souls

The chill of the place crept into my skin, made me quake with an involuntary shudder. This kind of cold—the damp kind, where you can feel the wet seeping into your pores—was the same as on the first and last night. Do I remember this place always being this way? I wondered as I stared into the tiny, cob-webbed room that had been mine.

Then a flashback: Jandra and Phillip giggling in the hallway, wallpaper striped in robin’s egg blue and a lighter, beryl-blue, the floors that never stopped creaking underfoot. Someone had been baking caramel rolls. The sweet scent filled my nostrils. And the music, oh, the endless music! I can hear it still—everything: classical, country, pop, classics, show tunes, jazz, rock and roll—and it never stopped. If someone in the family wasn’t singing it or playing it, the radio was blasting it. And at night, it would become a soft whisper, a gentle croon, a temperate echo of what it was before and would become again the next morning when someone snuck into Ma and Pa’s room to turn the radio on.

And then I came back from my memories. I felt myself trembling as I edged cautiously forward. I noticed the wallpaper—it was peeled away from the wall in places, exposing bits of the ugly grey-green paint that it had been covering. The rug, though old, dust-covered, and rotting, was the same ghastly thing that we had gotten as a housewarming gift. The lone light bulb above my head with the plain, rusted old chain dangling from it—that was the same, too. No, this place hadn’t always been so dreary and forgotten, I remembered. This place had been our home.

This night, though—this autumn night the cold came through the open window in the corner. It smelled like the cemetery across the road: the chilling scent of weathered stone, a strong aroma of red cedar, a few of the last remaining flowers on Friedrich Abendroth’s grave, fresh dirt, an underlying hint of decay. Several small, brave weeds sprouted up between the floorboards at the edges of the room; ivy from outside reached thin, dying fingers around the windowsill. This wasn’t home any longer. All was still, all was silent… and then… music?
Yes, there it was: a tune, subdued and sweet, but also not quite right… like it hadn’t been polished and perfected by its composer yet. I couldn’t be sure where it was coming from. It echoed mellifluously through the abandoned house, up and down the stairs, entrancing me and calling me to it. The song was as beautiful as it was eerie and mystifying; I needed to find its source, its life, from whence it came. And then, when I had found that, maybe I’d figure out just where it intended to go.
So I wandered aimlessly through the house, not really seeing any of it, following the simple, repeating melody. Once, when I felt myself getting close, the melody altered itself one little bit—a D to an E, that was all— and led me on. As I slowly got closer and closer to its source, the music gradually tweaked its notes and rhythms, perfecting the tune as I walked. Finally I stopped, and I realized where I was. There was no mistaking the large, burnt-orange door. I hesitated, my hand hovering just above the doorknob—at the entrance to the family room.
My family. Someone had told me that they had disappeared without a trace, so I wondered—were they still inside?
I wasn’t sure I could make my fingers grasp the brass doorknob. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to know what I would discover inside. But then something made my mind up for me: a voice. Eerily familiar and filled with a frosty beauty, it crooned wordlessly to the tune, and I knew I had to figure out whose voice it was. Carefully, gently, I turned the doorknob and slowly pushed the door open.
The music stopped mid-note, and all I could do was stare.
There sat my little mother with her mouse-brown ponytail, in her battered, bruised, and dented old rocking chair, her hands forever stuck knitting a tiny pink hat for the child inside her swollen belly, her mouth forever open in the middle of a story. On the faded, hand-woven rug before her sat Jandra in her signature pink fluffy tutu and Phillip with that baseball cap that Pa had bought for his sixth birthday, both seated Indian-style and leaning forward in a perfectly still expression of their excitement at whatever story Ma was telling. And at the desk in the corner was my tall, lanky father, leaning over a paper until he was folded nearly in half with his large, round spectacles perched on the tip of his nose and his pen poised in the ready-to-write position. All four of them had their eyes closed, and the only parts of them that moved was their chests, rising and falling gently with shallow breaths.
Suddenly, as I stood staring at them from the doorway in horror, I felt warm breath stirring the hairs on the back of my neck and whipped around to face the old, wizened woman that I knew I would see behind me. She was bent over at the waist and gripped a short, gnarled wooden staff in her left hand; the other hand was propped on her hip. Her wispy white hair was tucked messily into a ragged bit of cloth, and her face, with its many hundreds of wrinkles, was cracked in a wide, almost toothless smile.
“Lilit,” I said quietly, meeting the hard golden eyes of the woman.
Those eyes danced with amusement from behind thin strands of hair at the blatant fear quivering in my voice. “I was wondering when you would return. And I knew it would be this day. Five years, it’s been.”
I nodded, but I found myself unable to speak. My mouth was so dry—and how could I speak to this woman anyway, this woman who had tried, and failed, to take my soul so many years ago?
“So are you ready this time, my dear? Your parents and siblings will be perfectly fine, I assure you.” She held out a hand to me, that impish grin widening until I could see every gap between her slightly yellowed teeth. “Do you surrender your soul to me, or do you leave your family to their sleep?”
I finally found my voice. “Lilit, why do you torment me?” I paused, mortified that my voice was still shaking. “What wrong did I commit against you?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Analise Herrmann, you called upon me to save your sister from the edge of death. That demands repayment. You must give your soul into my keeping, or their souls will remain in their slumber.”
Fury rose up inside of me, and I could feel the blood rushing to my face. “You can’t save a child from death without my soul in return?” I yelled, jabbing my index finger into the old woman’s shoulder as hard as I could.
Immediately, her golden eyes went dark with rage, and she rose up to tower over me. “You knew the price! I told you when you called my name that a favor would cost your soul, did I not?”
“You—you did,” I stuttered, my sudden spurt of anger dissipated instantly into terror.
“Will you pay your own soul, or leave me with those of your family?” Her voice was quieter, more composed, as she relaxed and held out a hand to me.
There were a few moments of silence before I regained my courage enough to raise my hand from my side with a sigh. My small hand paused in the air just above Lilit’s thin, wrinkled one as I watched her carefully. “First—was it your music that led me here?”
“No,” Lilit replied quietly, those hard eyes softening into liquid gold. Gesturing to my sleeping mother with her gnarled walking stick, she told me, “It was hers. A pure soul, lamenting her child’s folly.”
I drew in a shuddering breath at that information, glanced one last time at my statuelike family, and laid my hand atop Lilit’s. “Take my soul. Free theirs.”
“As you wish.” Her fingers curled around mine and tightened briefly.
The last thing I saw was Lilit’s grin. After that, my sight disappeared into a burst of light, and I somehow knew darkness would follow. But before I could lose consciousness, I heard a pair of giggles and a few broken words that I couldn’t quite catch, and I knew that they were, finally, freed from Lilit’s curse and my own mistake.



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Megan.J.B said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm
Very orginal and deeply entrancing! Very very nice :) 5 out of 5!
 
CarrieAnn13 said...
Jul. 11, 2011 at 10:33 pm
Great story!  I especially loved the ending. :)
 
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