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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Mastering Grief

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“Let’s make a deal.”

Two eyes beamed in the shadows of the night-darkened alley, each a bright arctic blue. The demon’s cold reached me from the other side of the street and I took an involuntary step back, mist pluming from my mouth like pipesmoke.

“Some sort of trade, perhaps?”

I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the way its whisper filled the hollow spaces of the world. I could feel that unholy voice reaching into my ears, curling icy fingers around my mind. A dangerous entity, and one whose tricks I knew too well.

“No,” I said. “No deal.”

“Are you sure? I can be persuasive.”

It stepped into the moonlight then, a slender, masculine creature with skin the pale blue of an Alaskan glacier. I moved across the lengthening shadows on the wall, already growing cold with frost, and the demon followed with unblinking eyes.

“I sense within you a terrible grief. You had a daughter, Cindy, but she died when she was…seven? Tell me, what would you do if I could bring her back?”

Despite knowing what it was capable of, my breath caught in my throat and I almost tripped.

“How do you know her?”

I circled around to the alley’s opening, keeping the demon within my sights.

“I know many things. You humans regard the world with your poker faces and believe your secrets are safe, but your mind is an open book. I can feel your pain. She must have meant a lot to you.”

“She was my whole world.”

I approached the opposite wall, shivering now that the air between us had dropped to subzero temperatures.

“Yes,” the demon said, “and you would do anything to get her back. I understand. I would consider it fair trade for leaving me alone. I suggest you take the offer. You know I can do it, and it’s not every day one has the opportunity to reunite with those they’ve lost in death.”

As we continued our dance across the dark length of the alley, as I peered into those cold and calculating eyes, I thought of my sweet Tinkerbell, so nicknamed for her love of all things Disney. I pondered her last moments on Earth, overshadowed by terror moments before a demon much like this one reached into her body and pulled out her still-beating heart, moments before it sucked the warmth from her drooping, failing body, moments before it dropped her blue and frozen corpse onto the kitchen floor, where it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.

The demon sneered.

“I’ll bring her back tonight. All you have to do in exchange is allow me to continue on my way.”

At last, I came full circle and reached the wall where I’d first met its eyes. My circuit around the perimeter was complete. I could sense my newly formed ring of protection, thrumming with ancient unseen power. The demon sensed it too, and its smile finally faltered.

“What is this?”

The air was growing warmer, and I could see that the frost on the walls had already started to melt.

“You tell me. You’re the one who said I was an open book.”

The demon snarled, at last showing its true colors.

“This is impossible! How could I not see this in your mind? How could I not know your true intention from the beginning?”

“Grief is a powerful emotion. Some are consumed by it. Others hide behind it. I bear mine in the open, and in so doing have learned to master it. You sensed my pain and were unable to see past it. You thought it would give you the advantage, and I used that to my advantage.”

I pulled the ring of protection closer and the demon thrashed, its soul wriggling in my hands like a worm.

I peered into its fading eyes and said, “This is for Cindy.”

Then I pulled the ring into a knot and sliced the demon in two.

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Moving abroad, so no blog this week

My wife and I are now boarding a one-way flight from the Philippines to our new home in California. Check back next week for a new story 🙂

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