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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The Bridge

Bridge in moonlightI rubbed the scratchy stubble on my chin as I leaned my elbows on the wooden railing of the old bridge. I couldn’t remember what prompted me to stop here. I vaguely remembered playing in these woods as a child but that felt like a lifetime ago. Below me the expanse of river reflected the engorged moon as the water moved almost soundlessly over the rocks. It wasn’t the first time I contemplated jumping.

Exhausted, I bent my head and massaged my aching temple. I tried to think about all the clues that might have added up to this night, all the ways I’d gone wrong that had led to my broken heart. In my pocket still rested the ring box. I’d been planning to propose to Amber but I didn’t get up the nerve and then before I had the chance, it was all over.

On the soft breeze, I heard a whisper that sounded like my name. I looked up but of course, I was alone. After two in the morning in a rural town like mine, I’d be lucky to see a car pass even if I spent the next several hours standing on the bridge.

Maybe it was the fact that she’d never liked my job. I wasn’t ambitious enough, she’d told me once. I liked my job though. It didn’t make me rich. What I could afford was humble in contrast to what she was accustomed to receiving but I thought we could find a way to make it work. I thought she loved me for the person I was on the inside. Isn’t that the way that love is supposed to work?

Amber had accused me of messing around with some girl I didn’t even know. She told me she had proof of it, that others had admitted to seeing us together but I shook my head sadly to the night, acknowledging the conspiracy that had been set up against me. None of her friends had ever liked me. Was I destined to be alone forever, I wondered?

The breeze wrapped around me and I shivered. The seasons were changing so quickly now. At this rate, winter would settle over us before we knew it. I pulled my leather jacket tighter around me to try to keep the chill from settling into my bones but it was no use.

A scratching sound distracted my ruminations and I quickly looked behind me, not sure what I was expecting to find, but the bridge was still void of any sign of life, except for my own. My heart sank and I looked down at my cell phone at the last text message I’d received from Amber asking me to never contact her again. I contemplated responding, asking her what happened, asking for some sense of closure. She owed me that much at least, didn’t she? It wasn’t fair to leave me like this. No matter how many times I went over the past six months in my memory, I couldn’t put the pieces together to come to a conclusion for why she might have turned so cold. I deserved to know the truth.

My fingers hesitated over the keys as I remembered the look in her eyes. Ordinarily her eyes were a bright blue but the sadness had dimmed them to a murky gray as the tears threatened to spill. She hadn’t wanted to say goodbye. I was convinced of it, but yet she had insisted, and after all the arguments, there was nothing left to say to try to change her mind.

For better or for worse, my relationship with Amber was over.

I reached into my pocket and fished out the ring. It wasn’t anything special but it had taken me several paychecks to finally be able to afford it. I’d picked the beautiful blue Sapphire to match her eyes. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wearing the ring other than Amber so although it may have seemed crazy, I pulled back my arm and pitched the ring as far down the river as I could manage. It fell with a plop that almost seemed to echo through the quiet night.

I dug my hands into my pockets and stepped back from the edge, giving one last look over the river before turning my back and moving toward my beat up old car waiting for me at the side of the road. As I shuffled along, I could have sworn I heard the sound of a woman crying in the distance. I stopped and double backed, listening intently for the sound again. At first it didn’t come. Even the lonely crickets had given up and returned to wherever it is that crickets go when summer has ended and fall begins. Around me was only silence.

That’s it, I told myself, turning back toward the car. But something didn’t want to let me go, some strange nagging tugged at me, urging me to look closer.

Under the bridge, the wind whispered in my ear. I shuddered involuntarily. It would be a dangerous climb down the steep hillside in thick underbrush to reach the overgrown woods under the bridge. It was unlikely I would find anyone there. But then I heard it again, this time more distinct and without reservation I knew, it was the sound of a woman crying.

…. to be continued