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Author's note: Started for a school assignment, this piece took off in my mind and became this story.
“Beware the one you love the most.”
It was a warm spring afternoon. Flowers no bigger than quarters covered the ground; it seemed as though they and the sky became as one. Larks were singing, crickets were playing, and a smell of apples wafted about the ancient trees. Somewhere, in the near distance, a train whistled.
“Beware the one you love the most.”
“What does that mean?” A handsome man was hunched over a cloth-covered table, its size diminutive in comparison to his form. Upon the table rested a crystal ball, and next to the ball lay a golden spindle. He thought it looked like something out of Sleeping Beauty. It seemed as though it was glowing, but the man knew that was not possible. He ran his hands through his carefully mussed hair. “I – tell me what that means!” His voice carried the ring of someone who was used to being obeyed.
“It may mean nothing, it may mean everything.” A scowling old woman sat across from her client. “I’m not a magician, boy.” Her low, raspy voice was harsh and demanding. “Now, I believe you owe me something.”
The man sighed. “I suppose you must be right, old woman.” He stretched out as best he thought he could in the tent to distance himself from the spinster. He felt like the walls were growing closer together. Giving a wry laugh and holding out a wad of bills, he asked, “I don’t suppose you know where I could find a magician?”
Snatching the proffered money, the elderly woman smiled, looking as though it pained her. Her purple eyes glinted. “Magicians do not exist, my sweet.” She stood and wrapped her indigo cloak around her body.
The man took his cue and stood also, relieved. The woman’s body looked odd, smoky around the edges. “Have a good afternoon,” he said and he ducked out of the tent. He looked around, like a bear observing his surroundings. The air was quiet.
From inside the tent, the mysterious female watched the man scan the meadow. “I wish you luck in your life,” she whispered. She spun three times and cried out in a terrible voice.
The man heard a sound, like a thousand nails falling upon a tin roof. He turned; the field was empty. He was alone. He shivered.
“I must have fallen asleep,” the man muttered. He bent to pick up a blue coat at his feet and a quiet sound could be heard as something shiny fell out of its pocket.
“What’s this?” The man picked up a small charm that looked like an ancient sewing spool. A drop of blood fell from his ring finger where the ornament cut him. He shoved it into his pocket, staining his Armani suit. “Gods!” he snarled. The grass crunched as he began to walk.
“The one I love the most,” the man wondered. “Why would I dream that? I love no one,” he scoffed. A seagull screamed. The man jumped and bit off a gasp. He was surprised to find himself on a beach. Waves lapped at the dark sand and sounded like the scratching of fingernails on a wooden desk.
“Help!” The man looked out at to sea and struggled to locate the person who had cried out among the swelling waves.
It can’t be, he thought. “Where are you?”
There was no answer.
Must have been my mind playing tricks on me. The man hesitated, but then continued walking, cautiously, as if he thought he would be attacked at any moment.
“Beware the one you love the most.”
He spun, looking for the owner of the voice.
“Beware your love.”
He saw only darkness.
“Beware,” the voice screeched in his ear.
Voices joined his scream, briefly, left and returned.
“Hey, man, you okay?” A concerned voice broke through the man’s paranoid fog.
The man opened his eyes, only to see a glimpse of the sky before his head was whipped to the right and then to the left. He groaned.
“Dude, if you hate rollercoasters this much, you def shouldn’t have chosen the Hydra, man.” A teenage girl stared at the man, an incredulous look in her violet eyes. She was sporting low-riding, baggy jeans and a Metallica band t-shirt, and seemed completely oblivious to the way the man was dressed. A miniature ruler hung from her right ear, and, when she spoke, a glistening silver stud shone on her tongue.
“The what? What the…What’s going on?” The man coughed as the constraints around his body jerked tightly against him with the jerking stop of the ride.
“Really, man, are you okay? You seem a little…I don’t know. Maybe…” the teen cocked her head and waved her index finger around her ear. When the man simply stared at her, she sighed theatrically and said, “You’re acting a lot loopy, man.”
“Yeah, uh, no,” the man sputtered as the girl guided him from his seat. “I’m fine. Just a little shaken up by the, uh, Hydra.” He grimaced at the teen’s clothing and inched away from her gentle hand. “Don’t worry about me, girl.” They were by a bridge. The ride the two had just vacated flashed under them, water spraying up. The man leaped back. He thought he had seen the lead car’s painted eyes roll at him.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” the girl chuckled. “It’s my job to worry about you.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” The man swiveled his head. “Did you hear that cry?”
“Hear what cry?” The adolescent pulled the Chapter 4man to the side of the bridge.
“A child just – never mind.” Not again.
The teen pushed him onto the bridge rail. Flailing for balance, the man gasped, “What do you think you’re doing?”
The girl stepped back as if she hadn’t heard the question. “C’mon,” she coaxed. “Don’t be a wimp. Time for you to go.”
“I could just go out the gate!” he screamed as the teen pushed him off the bridge. He curled into a tight ball as he fell.
“Are you okay, sir?” A concerned hand touched the man’s arm. He jerked, and opened his eyes slowly. He was lying beside a crystal clear pool. All around him, beguiling females in bikinis smiled and winked at him, offered him a cocktail, with the classic miniature umbrella, a soft towel to wipe his forehead.
“I don’t know,” he muttered. He watched a pretty young woman glide past him, into the water. Her dark purple cover-up tantalizingly hugged her slim body. She turned her head, nodded at him. He swallowed. She seemed too familiar.
The man felt a hand on his shoulder and looked into flashing green eyes, mirrors of his own, though years younger. “Do you need help, sir?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” he brushed off the lifeguard’s concern. “Who is the girl in the purple suit there?”
“Who, sir?” The lifeguard looked straight through the girl. “I don’t see anyone in purple.”
“Yes, there is,” laughed the man. His hands trembled as he accepted the drink offered to him. “See there, boy, you’re looking right at her. The girl in the pool, there, by the fountain of the three nude women.”
The lifeguard turned his head slowly. “Sir, there isn’t a fountain of three women. Are you sure you’re alright, sir?”
“I’m fine!” he snapped. “Find the girl!”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.” The lifeguard hurried away from him. He turned to look at the man, and as their eyes met, he tripped and fell into the pool. The man leaped to his feet and made a move towards the sputtering lifeguard, but stopped. Too familiar…NO!
The young woman in purple raised herself from the pool and walked slowly towards the lifeguard. She touched the lifeguard’s shoulder, looked into his face and nodded. The lifeguard, just a kid, cried out and pulled away from her, but her grip was too strong. She touched the lifeguard four times, at the shoulders and at each hip. The lifeguard sagged into the girl’s arms, but terror was still obvious in his eyes.
“Please,” the lifeguard whispered, his gaze begged the man to help, told the man if he would just say a word, everything would be alright, but the man was frozen.
The lifeguard turned his tortured stare onto the girl holding his own life in her hands. “He’s not ready,” the lifeguard pleaded. “Not yet.”
The girl looked at the soul in her arms, cold resolution in her violet eyes. “He has been offered thrice. His time is here.” She then touched her lips to the lifeguard’s forehead. His mouth opened wide in a silent scream, and his back arched with pain. The man watched with horror as the lifeguard, his almost exact copy, slowly dissolved, until there was nothing left in the girl’s arms. The man gasped for the air he could not find, stumbled back as the girl moved towards him.
“Don’t touch me!” he shrieked, fear coursing through his body. He fell back and stared up at the girl. Her purple covering flowed around her body in a wind existent not to the world.
“You have had your chance.” Her voice was beautiful, was terrible. In her hand she held a pair of glimmering shears.
“Do not fear me,” she rasped. “I am fate.”
As she advanced toward him, her body wisped into a fog of greens and yellows and blacks. Her violet eyes turned dark and hard, small and squinty in her oval face. Blond hair grew and grew and turned an unearthly yellow-green, the tips stretching towards the terrified human.
Panting, the man sat up in his bed. Sweat poured off his body; he wiped his face with a corner of his silk sheets. A window had come open sometime during the night, and the sweet scent of lilacs drifted through the small bedroom, calming him.
As soon as he was able to catch his breath, he gave a weak smile. “Some dream,” he muttered. He was surprised when his voice came out hoarse. “I need water,” he managed with a cough. He stumbled into the bathroom, his legs weak. -Why am I talking to myself?-
The man looked into the mirror and stumbled back, crashing into the wall behind him where slid down to the floor. Soon though, his fear of the unknown gripped him. Cautiously, he stood and glanced into the mirror again, expecting to see the phantom faces of three that haunted his memory.
His memory. -Oh gods.-
He remembered. -“You’ll never know true pain, son. You love yourself too much.”-
The man slumped to the cold tile floor as the memories he had struggled to forget flooded his mind.
He remembered. -He was sitting on a beach. It was night, dark. He was alone. He was thinking about his failures. He heard the screams of his dying comrades. He saw his strong leader fall under a hail of gunfire. He took a drink from the bottle beside him, tried to lose himself in the strong drink. He saw himself running away. He heard the cries of his friends begging him to come help. He heard an all too real scream, a scream too close, too scared to be in his thoughts. He remembered jumping up, spilling his bottle, looking for the girl who had screamed. He heard her scream again. Her cry came from the ocean. The angry, ominous ocean, full of hate, like himself. He walked away.-
“Why did I walk away?”
He remembered. -Picking up the newspaper the next morning. The blaring headline “Girl Killed by Shark, Alone?” It reported the empty Bourbon bottles found strewn around the beach, mere yards away from where the attack had occurred. He remembered collapsing; promising himself things would be different from then on.-
He remembered. -Happy people, too happily screaming on their various rides surrounded him. He pushed through them, had to get away from their contagious happiness. He passed the tent offering to “tell you your life.” His eyes met a little girl’s pale blue eyes. She was blind. He saw the rough hand that shot out and grabbed the girl. She screamed. She was yanked backwards, disappearing into the crowd. He ran after her, wanted to get to her. He saw her talking with a large man, nodding as he wiped her tears away. He walked away.-
The man cried, and beat his head against the wall.
He remembered. -Three days later, hearing on the radio the parents of a “blond haired, blind girl, age five,” begging anyone who had seen something, anything at the fair that day to please report it to the police. It must have been a coincidence. She knew that man! He left for home that day. She was found four years later, dead, her body terribly abused and disfigured.-
He remembered. -Walking by an alley, his soul drunk away like it had been for the past seven years. He heard the groans of someone’s pain. He turned; his eyes met a masked man’s cold stare. He saw the man curled at his feet, moaning in pain. “Leave if you value your life.” He didn’t. But he still walked away.-
The man straightened, bracing himself against the wall.
He remembered. -The screams of the dying man echoed into the night, haunted the tortured soul until he drank more to forget. The businessman had been married, had two young children, and a third on the way. He had been young, the same age as the man, then.-
“Why didn’t I help?”
“Because you love yourself too much.”
The man whimpered.
He watched the three females from his dream advance toward him in the mirror.
He couldn’t turn around, yet he could feel their presence behind him.
He knew they were real.
The model from the pool spoke first. “The old woman told you to beware the one you love the most and you didn’t listen. Of course you would not listen. You never listen.” Anger laced her voice as her contemptuous gaze took in his well groomed body slumped against the wall.
“Sister, he is only human,” murmured the teen from the amusement park.
The old woman, who had first warned the man, pushed between her sisters. “Why did you not listen, foolish mortal? Thrice I offered you the way out and thrice you ignored the cry. Surely you knew that you loved yourself the most. Surely you knew the one you heard was your own soul!”
“I do now, I do,” moaned the distraught man.
The teen smiled sadly at the man and turned him around to face her and her sisters. Her touch, though gentle, burned like a thousand suns, but the man hardly felt the pain for the fear that coursed through his veins.
The model stepped forward and touched the man at his shoulders and hips. He fell against the sink, limp, and he knew what was to come. The oldest sister pulled her spindle from the man’s pocket. It grew in her hands, and shone so brightly that the man could hardly bear it. She spun it expertly three times, and tugged at the golden thread. It flowed smoothly from the spool, resting near the man’s feet. She nodded at the youngest looking of the three, the one who looked like a teenager. The girl removed her earring, and it grew until it was about a foot long, like a ruler but blank. She held it in her left hand and touched her other hand to the man’s chest, where his heart would be. She counted a rhythm only she could feel: his life thread beating, beating. “02, 14, 12,” she whispered, nodding. The numbers appeared on the rod in her hand, and she laid it by the thread.
The sisters began to sing together, harmonizing in a horrible melody. The eerie, lilting tune reverberated off the ceramic tiles. It enchanted the man.
The women lifted their hands and waved them over his body. He felt droplets of water sprinkle across his face and hands.
He watched the water hit his smooth skin and curve down across his fingers.
He watched as the water running across his hand turned red, slowed, thickened, left a crimson trail on his skin.
The model lifted her shears and cut the thread.
The man knew nothing.
“I wish you luck in your death,” murmured the old woman reverently.
The women wrapped their cloaks around their bodies, still singing. They spun three times and vanished, leaving only their parting cries to haunt the night.
“Moirae, Moirae, Moirae!”