The Price of Immortality – A Short Story Based on a Prompt #amwriting #asmsg

Happy Hump Day! For today’s post, I have decided to play with a story prompt. I have chosen the first one from an article on the blog Hobby Lark, in a post contributed by Moe Wood.

My little story is quick and rough but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on it so please share! Who knows, perhaps with your suggestions, I could turn it into a longer story?

**Doug stuck his hand in the box and immediately pulled it out. “Ow,” he said. He licked the side of his index finger as if it had honey on it…**

After nearly a decade of searching, he never expected his treasure would be quite like this. The box was smaller than he’d hoped but didn’t Cora always say the best gifts come in small packages? His frown deepened at the memory. She had said it just before he disappointed her with a box of chocolates for Christmas when she’d been hinting at an engagement ring.

He shrugged off the memory, rubbed his finger against his thigh, and carefully replaced the lid on the box. He’d made so many sacrifices to reach this goal. He knew it would be part of the price he’d pay so there was no sense in getting all sentimental over lost love. Besides, once he returned to Cora with the good news of his victory, she would surely forgive him. She, of all people, understood what was at stake which was precisely why he’d been so baffled by her reaction.

A single drop of water dripped from the roof of the cave. Doug watched it splash next to the ground, transfixed by its delicate beauty in the candlelight. He felt as if in his haste, he’d missed some important piece of the puzzle but he couldn’t imagine what? Perhaps it was the hollowness he felt at knowing Cora should be at his side sharing this moment?

With trembling arms, he picked up the box and began carrying it down the dimly lit corridor. Fatigue filled his body but he wasn’t in any hurry. Not any longer.

Now, in his hands, he possessed the secret ingredient to grant him eternal life. He’d slain dragons to obtain it. The only thing that remained was to deliver his prize intact to the witch in order to convert its energy to his gift.

Suddenly, a foul stench filled his nostrils and his belly threatened to empty. He sensed the presence of the demon before he saw it and he knew it was too late to shrink into the shadows unseen. The figure emerged from the darkness, its glowing red eyes the only hint at its inhumanity.

“What do you have in the box?” the demon said in a deep voice which bounced off the cave walls. Doug took a careful step back.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” He raised an eyebrow. “Such careful attention for nothing.”

“My… girlfriend requested this token, a symbol of my devotion…” Doug choked. Cora had always teased him for being a terrible liar so why did he believe he had any hope of fooling a demon? His chances were better of defeating the vile thing by more physical means except he couldn’t seem to muster the energy.

“Your girlfriend doesn’t seek immortality.”

Doug felt as if his body temperature dropped. His hands trembled so fiercely he could barely hold the box. Was it his imagination or had it become much heavier since his unwelcome companion approached? He considered the path ahead and wondered if he dared such a bold move, could he outrun the demon? Even though the entity appeared passive, almost bored, Doug wasn’t fooled.

The demon moved closer and Doug held his ground as he clutched the treasure close to his racing heart. With a long, lazy finger the demon stroked the edge of the lid in thoughtful contemplation.

“A mortal must work exceedingly hard to uncover the secrets we bury deep in the caves of the Cartid Mountains. The fact that you have managed such a feat gives me a reason to reflect on your worthiness of such a prize.”

“I… believe I am… worthy.”

The demon held up a hand and it was as if Doug’s legs lost the ability to hold him. He fell with a thud to the ground and watched in horror as the box toppled from his grasp, falling end over end until it finally settled at the demon’s feet.

He’d worked too hard and had come too far to give up now. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and attempted to summon the power within him to block the dark magic but it was no use. His hands quivered in exhaustion and dropped in defeat. Instead, he reached out to grab the box but the demon was already one step ahead of him and he planted a large black boot on his hand, mashing it into the floor of the cave. Doug sucked in his breath as the bones crunched under the demon’s weight.

“Writhing, sniveling snake in the mud,” the demon taunted, “Have you no brains in that head of yours? You cannot overpower me.”

“What do you want?” As soon as the weight lifted from his hand, he clutched it to his chest and fought to hold back tears. Immortality would bring the absence of pain. Until then, he must remain strong and resilient.

“What do I want?” The demon considered this as if it hadn’t occurred to him before that he should want anything at all. “What are you prepared to offer?”

“Anything…”

“Even the one thing you hold dearest to your heart?”

Doug didn’t answer. His breath came out in hollow rasps. He was fighting a losing battle. White spots filled his vision and with his good hand, he swiped at beads of sweat on his brow.

His life he’d lived simply with just one goal – uncover the secrets to gain eternal life. Because of this, he prided himself on a detachment to material possessions. Truly anything he owned, even of value, he could do without. This must be some trick. The dark figure loomed over him, waiting for a response.

“Anything in my possession to give you, it is yours. Take all of it,” Doug said. It was a fair trade for this precious gift of life when he’d have a dozen lifetimes to secure whatever he needed. He’d already paid his greatest price.

The demon snickered. “Very well then.” He kicked the box carelessly toward Doug who scooped it delicately into his arms, no longer concerned with his broken hand.

Spreading his arms wide, the demon muttered an incantation and vanished.

For a full five minutes, Doug did not dare to move. When he was finally sure the demon would not return, disappointed that Doug had nothing of value to trade, he mustered the strength to pull himself to his feet and complete his journey.

**

Doug could barely believe his fortune. By the next full moon, he’d secured his goal with the help of the witch and could barely contain his excitement in sharing his prize with his beloved. In haste, he journeyed to the old village he once called home and rapped eagerly at her door, impatient for an answer. In his pocket, he carried a small, velvet box containing the ring he’d carefully selected for this occasion.

No matter how many demons or dragons he’d faced, nothing prepared him for this moment and the agony he would endure in anticipation of Cora’s response. In order not to prolong the suffering, he fell to one knee the moment the door slowly opened. Except, he didn’t realize until he looked up that it wasn’t Cora who had answered. An elderly woman stood staring at him with wide, curious eyes. Sadness darkened her features and Doug wondered if he should remember the old woman from his past.

“Is Cora here?” He got up and brushed off his slacks, feeling a little embarrassed for rushing into his proposal.

“Cora? She no longer lives here.”

“Oh…” He felt it then. The heat surrounding him, the scratching at the back of his mind. If he listened closely, did he hear the demon’s laughter? “Where might I find her?”

“She’s gone,” the old woman said sadly.

Doug felt his throat begin to close, his heart racing. This couldn’t be true.

“Gone where?”

The old woman shrugged. “Simply vanished one day into thin air.”

He had so many questions but the old woman wasn’t interested in answering them. She closed the door and left him standing, broken and beaten.

Gone.

To his left, he caught a glimpse of movement. A dark figure disappeared from view just as he turned to face it.

The demon had taken her, he was certain of it. Anger raged inside him. Cora wasn’t a possession. He wasn’t free to trade her life for the box. The deal was unfair and Doug refused to accept it.

“Damn you,” he said raising a fist to the air, “I will find you and you will pay!”

Again, he heard the faintest of laughter in the distance. Taking to his horse in a hurry, he set off in the direction of its sound determined to free his beloved.

**

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