A Song in the Attic
Thin lips set in a sunken, gaunt face, twisted into a parody of a smile. His eyes hid from the pale candlelight beneath the folds of a gray cowl. Just one candle, he had said. Marel complied, as he always did.
Gloved hands lifted the goblet of vintage red shiraz to the mocking smile. Cale tested the bouquet. He upturned the goblet and spilled the crimson liquid on the table. Rivulets ran to the edges and dripped on the stone floor, disturbing the perfect silence of the great hall.
"All I have done for you, Marel, and this is what you offer me?" Cale asked.
Marel blanched. "It is my finest. I--"
"Never mind. I have come to collect payment, and then I shall leave you in peace."
Marel nodded. "The gold is counted. The chests--"
"Forego the gold. I have another request. That is, if you are inclined to grant it."
The grim smile remained, as chilling as before.
"Of-- of course, Cale." A bead of sweat rolled down the side of Marel's face. He willed himself from wiping his brow in front of Cale.
"This village that sleeps outside your castle, Baron," Cale motioned with his hand, "Fetch me a child from it."
"A child? Why?"
"Do not concern yourself so needlessly. Will you grant me this one small request?"
Baron Marel bowed his head and ran tensed fingers through his hair. The single candle cast ghoulish shadows on the wall as it burned.
"Willem!" Marel shouted.
The sound of far off feet resonated through the silent chamber. The door swung open and a guard bearing a pole arm rushed through the doors.
"Baron?" he asked.
"Go into the village. Fetch a child."
"A child? Baron, it's the middle of the-"
The guard hesitated then marched out the door, shutting it behind him.
Cale sat in silence, his eyes unwavering from Marel. Marel stared at the patterns of the wood on the table. He clutched wild locks of hair between his white-knuckled fingers, unable to lift his gaze.
The candle burned in tortured silence. Twisted shadows played upon the seated figures.
Footsteps approached from beyond the great ironclad doors. The hinges protested with a groan as they opened. The guard led a young boy, bleary eyed and still in his nightclothes.
"Tell him to leave," Cale said.
"Leave the child."
The guard stiffened, and then backed out. The massive doors closed.
Cale rose and approached the boy with slow, deliberate steps.
The boy retreated against the door, his face consumed by fear. He wailed; his voice was like a cleaver through the night. Cale bent down and the child swooned, falling silent and unconscious into Cale's arms.
Cale walked back to the table where Marel quaked with his eyes shut. Cale dumped the child's body on the table. The red wine soaked through his gown, spreading scarlet. In the candle light, it looked like blood.
Marel pushed away from the table. The chair scraped against the stone, echoing Marel's growing terror.
"Take him," Cale said.
Marel shook his head, again and again.
Cale stepped forward and gripped Marel's jaws with an unnatural grip. He pulled Marel's face inches from his own.
"Open your eyes," Cale said.
Marel squeezed them shut with all his strength until his face twitched from the exertion. They opened anyway.
The darkness swallowed Cale's face. The candle burned behind him on the table.
Marel moaned like a dying animal.
Cale's voice was cold and calm.
"Are you ready to go back to a peasant's life? Are you ready to give her up?"
Marel shook his head like a marionette, commanded by something that gnawed inside him.
Cale released his grip and backed away.
Marel shook in his chair, then rose, walking the miles between his chair and the table on wooden legs.
The child's breath was warm. The wine's dark stain had spread over most of his body.
He won't feel anything. Marel nodded to himself.
He placed his hands on the child. The child's eyes fluttered open and his mouth opened to scream, but only a hiss of air flew forth.
Marel slumped. Tastes and senses flooded through him, a wave of euphoria and energy. He sensed he was laughing, though his ears heard something like the crying of crows. The feeling faded quickly, replaced by a warm glow of power. He felt sated.
Then his gaze met the child's lifeless eyes. The body had turned into a husk, dried and withered. The eyes bespoke a horror that still echoed from the agape mouth, frozen in eternal silence.
Marel's hands still clutched the corpse. He screamed and did not stop. The sound echoed through the hall and carried far into the night. Cale watched, his smile still affixed to the shadowed face.
The door crashed open and the guard rushed in. He took a few hurried steps into the hall before he halted. He stared in surprise and shock at the child's corpse on the table. Marel still screamed.
The guard spun and tried to flee. The doors groaned shut in front of him. Cale pointed his glove at the guard. He fell to the floor, writhing. Flames leapt from the grooves in between the stones on the floor and consumed the guard. Black smoke and ash whirled in a tornado of furious hellfire.
The guard's body remained a charred mass. It split open in a fissure of flame. A black and red canine emerged. Its malevolent yellow eyes darted back and forth; tiny flames flickered from its lips.
Marel stared, his screaming voice reduced to rattling in his throat.
"You may keep the gold, Marel. I have only your wishes and success in mind," Cale said.
Marel fell backwards against the ground, tears streaming from his face.
Cale left him on the ground, crying and trying his best to scream without a voice.
She passed through the hallways, singing and smiling. Marel avoided her whenever he could. They met, despite his efforts, for they were only half-hearted. At night, he would find the darkest corner of the castle to hide in, afraid of what he might do. She came to him, no matter how he hid.
The hound delivered her nightly, despite his protestations.
Baron Marel looked out from his balcony as the sun set in the mists of twilight. The barony shrouded itself in mists and fog, as if it were ashamed to show itself to the outside world. The village outside the castle lay in ruins, its buildings fallen into disrepair. Signs of life grew fainter as the days passed on. The villagers who first tried to flee found themselves hunted down by the hound. Those who remained fared a far worse fate.
Marel considered jumping from the balcony. The first time he had done it, the pain had been exquisite. The hound had dragged his broken body back into the castle and delivered two meals for him. He walked by the following morning. The second time, the hound delivered four meals. Then it gnawed at his broken legs until he finished taking all of them.
The jaws still locked on his legs in his memory. When he had tried to leave the castle, the hound had torn off chunks of him. Then like a demonic nurse, it had fed him until he healed.
A trail of smoke and red flame blazed from the outskirts of the village. The hound was returning home.
Marel cursed his hunger. The eyes still haunted him. They always opened before they died.
He tried to stop. He had almost lost everything. He never tried again.
The hound bayed behind him. Marel turned and froze. The hound was alone.
"Where is my meal, beast?"
The hound bayed and growled.
Marel whirled around, scanning the village. No lights. No fires. It was dead. They were all dead.
The hound padded off. Like a ghostly voice in the castle, a song approached.
Horror welled up in his throat.
Marel backed up against the balcony's rail. The song grew louder.
He leaned back and pushed off with his feet. The railing cracked and gave. He studied the sky as he fell. The moon peered sadly behind a veil of mist and fog.
He blacked out when he hit. The impact jarred his body. Things snapped and broke.
Please, don't let me open my eyes.
Through the haze of pain, his eyes opened. The hound growled angrily at him, venemous yellow eyes boring into his own. It took a hold of his hand and sunk cruel burning fangs into it. It dragged him back into the castle as he cried.
The song approached again.
She knelt down next to him, her eyes brimming like the ocean under a clear blue sky. He hadn't seen a sky like that in so long.
"Run, Angela," he said. His eyes pleaded, and his voice begged.
"I love you, too," she said.
She paid no heed to his broken legs. She began to sing a love song she often sang.
He swallowed a sob.
"By the gods, Angela, please run!"
She paused a second, and smiled a dazzling smile.
"Of course I'll always love you, Marel."
Marel screamed, sobbed, cried.
"I'm not Marel! Marel is dead!"
She started singing again, smiling as she always did.
"I love you, Angela," Marel said. He sobbed at her singing, but she did not stop.
She reached down and caressed his cheek. She leaned forward and kissed his lips though they had long since shriveled away.
He reached up and grabbed her hand with his one good hand. Her eyes fluttered open, shock flooding through them. She recoiled; her mouth opened to scream. Only Marel's sobbing disturbed the silence.
He rose on his mended legs and bore her up the stairs. Her eyes were dry, and the azure hue fled them. He placed her in her bed. She rested in the folds of the satin like a child slumbering in a wide, white coffin.
Marel dropped to his knees and wept.
"You look the picture of wealth and power, Marel."
Marel turned his head. Cale stood petting the hound by the doorway.
"That's what you asked for, wasn't it? Love, wealth and power?"
"You took her away from me."
"I gave her to you. You've squandered her."
"What do you want from me, Cale?"
"I don't want anything from you. I've always wanted you to have what you wanted."
Marel rose and leapt over the bed. He grabbed Cale and slammed him against the wall.
"You've taken everything from me!"
"Just tell me what you want, and you shall have it."
Cale's voice was soothing. Marel's grip faltered and his voice became a whisper.
"I want the hunger to stop! I want to see the blue of her eyes again. I want her to sing again. Please."
Cale removed Marel's grip from cloak.
"Done. You had only to ask."
Soft singing filled the room, coming from above them. Marel rushed past Cale and up the stairs.
Cale followed behind him.
In the attic, a bauble twinkled on the ground. Marel hunted for the source of the singing. He rushed at the bauble and lifted it. It was a ring, blue diamonds. The blue of her eyes. Her voice filled the attic. It was a love song she often sang.
Marel dropped the ring. It clattered on the ground, but the singing mourned onward. He stumbled down the stairs. Her corpse still rested on the bed.
He fell backwards against the wall and slid down. He buried his face is his hands, clawing at what remained of his skin. Cale stood above him, shaking his head.
"All your wishes granted. All your dreams come true. Why so sad, Marel?"
His voice was weary and defeated.
"Who are you?"
Cale lifted his hood. Red eyes, and small red horns glared at Marel.
"I'm Cale. Some call me Caleneezer. You wished, and I have granted them. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
Marel shut his eyes, squeezing the tears from them. He shook his head.
When he opened his eyes, Cale was gone.
Only the hound remained.
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