Magic

The Tragic Tale of Agnes and Stephen

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“You’re not supposed to be here.”

Standing at the foot of the stairs with her hands on her hips, Agnes stared at the man she’d killed almost thirty years ago.

“My dearest Agnes, did you really expect to get rid of me so easily?”

Face pale, lips blue, Stephen descended from the second story landing donning the same faded fedora Agnes had known when she was young.

“What I expected,” she said, standing her ground, “was for you to have the decency to remain dead.”

Stephen shrugged.

“Decency is not my strong suit.”

Agnes snorted.

“It never was.”

Stephen paused on the third to the last step and Agnes’s breath caught in her throat.

“Oh, I have missed you.”

Stephen removed the hat from his head and pressed it close to his stillborn heart.

“And I you.”

“I wish— If only—” But there Agnes stopped and could go no further. The memory was too painful to articulate, so instead, she just stood there in the tomb-like silence of her ancestral house, tears brimming at the corners of her eyes.

“You did what you had to do.”

“Did I?” Agnes turned away, shaking her head.

“You did.”

“I could have found another way. I could have tried…something, anything. You shouldn’t have had to die.”

“There was nothing else you could have done.”

“But Stephen, look at you. Look what you’ve become.”

“I brought it on myself. I was arrogant to think I could claim such powers for my own. The magic twisted me from the inside out, and every day I became a little less human. If I’d completed the ritual, if I’d allowed that demon into myself…” Now it was Stephen’s turn to shake his head. “You saved what little of my soul remained.”

“But Stephen, what will become of you now?”

Agnes’s late husband approached her from behind, brushing cold fingers against her too-warm cheeks.

“I will atone for my misdeeds in life, and when my penance is complete, I’ll move on.”

Agnes closed her eyes in a futile attempt to stop free-flowing tears.

“On to where?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will we meet again?”

Stephen came around to plant his lips against Agnes’s own.

“My dearest Agnes, I can assure you, our tale is far from over.”

“I love you, Stephen. I—”

But when she opened her eyes again to meet his gaze, he was gone.

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Soldier

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“A weapon of incredible power,” they said. “A technical marvel. It will crush the enemy, and in so doing, bring peace.”

I was young and idealistic and I believed them.

“Help us,” they said. “Your country needs you.”

And so I packed my bags, and when the sun set and the dark of night set in, I left everything behind and followed after them.

“Let us change you,” they said. “We’ll make you stronger, faster, more agile. With your enhanced abilities, you can wield this new weapon of ours and help us usher in an age of peace.”

Once more I believed them and, without hesitation, offered myself in service to my country.

They gave me injections to change the way I see, cast spells to alter the appearance of my skin, summoned deities to transform the way I think. One by one, they deconstructed every aspect of my being until I was no longer human, no longer a person of free will at all but a slave, and when it was done, they cast me back into a world that could no longer accept me.

I see things differently now.

Among all the people in the world, there are only strangers and enemies. The former I shun as reminders of my former life, and the latter I stalk from the shadowy underworld that’s become my new home with a terrifying clarity of purpose that haunts me whenever I close my eyes and dream of what it was like to be human.

My enemies never see me coming, not until my eyes have filled with their terrible blue light, and by then it’s already too late. I see their fear before the power inside of me is unleashed, and in those dark and desperate moments, I am forced to come to terms with what I’ve become.

I was never meant to wield their weapon.

I am their weapon.

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Hero

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This story is dedicated to my newest patron, Taunya. If you’d like to become a character in my next piece of flash fiction and get other cool rewards, become a patron!

A sword, glowing in the dark. The demon advances and Taunya strikes. Sparks fly when enchanted metal meets thick gray scales, and the demon, cursing in an unknown tongue, is shoved into the concrete wall of an abandoned building. Sweat rolls down Taunya’s neck and shoulders, and she struggles to catch her breath beneath the muted light of a cloud-covered moon.

The demon sniffles, steam pluming from its nose like dragon’s breath, and Taunya crinkles her nose in disgust. A foul odor, one she’s never gotten used to in all her years as a hunter. She tells herself it must end soon, that since they cannot reproduce and are limited in number, they can’t keep attacking the city forever. But her mother was also a hunter, and her mother’s mother before her, so on and so forth for at least nine generations, and still, a fresh terror stalks the streets each night in search of human prey.

Taunya wonders, How long can this go on? The wizard who first gave her family the sword promised that one day they would find salvation, but all Taunya has ever known is damnation. Slowly, like a creeping vine, despair climbs the chambers of her heart, suffocating her from the inside out.

She knows she must deliver the deathblow while the demon is still cornered, while the sword is still charged with the wizard’s magic. But she’s unable to summon the will necessary to strike again. She can already feel the energy within the blade dimming. The superhuman strength it provides has already started to recede, like the ocean at low tide, and for the first time that night, the demon is able to press its advantage, pushing her back.

Taunya thinks of her mother, the greatest hero she’s ever known.

I’ll never be like her.

The sword grows dark.

The demon swipes at her, and for a second she thinks, Fine, let it end me. Then, at least, I won’t have to deal with this.

Then she remembers something else about her mother, something the woman said only a week before breast cancer claimed her for its own.

“A true hero fights even when she doesn’t have the strength to go on.”

Her mother devoted her life to fighting demons, and in the end, when the cancer came, she fought that too, even when it was clear she couldn’t win.

Tears trickle from her eyes, and Taunya realizes she can’t give up, that if she wants to be like her mother, she’ll have to go on, on and on and on, struggling and fighting until she can’t go on any longer. Taunya’s admiration for her late mother burns the despair in her heart to ashes. The sword bursts to life, blindingly bright, and the power it provides surges through her once again.

The demon shrieks, shielding its eyes. Spittle flies from its deformed lips, and Taunya takes advantage of its momentary weakness. She lifts the sword, gleaming like Excalibur, and with all her strength, plunges it into the demon’s heart.

The wounded creature’s cry is deafening. Taunya wants to cover her ears, but she only presses the blade deeper. The demon throws back its head, looses one banshee scream after the next, and Taunya hangs on through it all, twisting, slicing, until its blazing eyes dim to smoldering embers. She pushes the sword again, and finally, its eyelids close. Its stony body crumbles to the asphalt beneath her feet, and Taunya slumps down beside it.

In the aftermath of the demon’s death, the night is quiet and still. Drenched in sweat, she stops to catch her breath, then removes the sword, which now glows with a softer, warmer light that offers her a different kind of strength, the sort that imbues the calm serenity necessary to continue her work.

“Thanks, Mom.”

Taunya slides the blade into her hilt, then steps back into the night to hunt again.

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