I'm a romance writer, but this is a horror story inspired by a quote from The Merchant of Venice that popped up on my iPhone Shakespeare quote of the day app. Sooooo...I'm posting my first fiction in a genre I don't write and a form I don't write. What could possibly be wrong with that? :)
Something Gained. Something Lost.
“Light thinks it travels faster than anything, but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” ~~Terry Pratchett
A shadow flitted across Mina’s peripheral vision, but when she turned her head, nothing was there. She peered out from her hiding place. Traffic was sparse, but a kaleidoscope of light strobed down the block. Club-goers milled outside the entrance.
In between, darkness wove a pattern around a pair of streetlights. It filled the space she occupied, surrounding her. When she had ducked into the recess just a few minutes earlier, the darkness had seemed welcoming, an ally. Now, it felt heavy.
As if fueled by her fearful thoughts, the darkness grew deeper, suffocating her, suffocating the sounds of the city. She imagined herself underwater as even the pounding bass from the nearby club was silenced. A chill worked its way down her back, and she pulled her jacket tighter around her shoulders. It wasn’t much help.
She dropped her cigarette, stepped on it, and quickly emerged from the recessed entryway of the closed shop…the same secondhand shop in which she’d found the cute little bolero jacket. She smiled ruefully.
Should have bought the leather bomber. Would’ve been warmer.
Her heels clicked on the concrete in time to the steady thump escaping the club down the street. She reached into her bag and pulled out a stick of gum.
Or maybe I should just quit smoking.
She followed the gum with a small bottle and spritzed a light perfume over her clothes and into her hair. Jasmine and sandalwood.
Jack loved it. To date, she had been stealthy enough that he hadn’t noticed it masked Eau de Marlboro Light. After three dates, four counting tonight, she was getting dangerously close to lying to a guy that had potential long-term written all over him.
He’s never technically asked if I smoked.
She rolled her eyes. Even she wasn’t buying that crap. Inventing a phone call and sneaking out to smoke was not the way to start an honest relationship.
She fumbled the perfume bottle while putting it away, and ended up dumping half the contents of her bag into the street.
Her voice was strangely muted, and she looked around for the first time since leaving her hiding place. The street was empty. The lights still strobed outside the club, but everyone had gone inside. Not a single car moved up or down the long stretch of asphalt.
Mina knelt down nervously and threw her stuff back into her bag. She felt around for stray items she might have missed. A hand closed over hers, and she rocked back on her heels, then fell on her ass with a shriek.
“I’m sorry.” The voice was behind her. “I did not mean to startle you. I saw you drop your things, and I wished to assist you.”
She scrambled to her feet and backed away from the hand at her elbow offering to help. Caught between the two streetlights, those golden pools of light were miles away.
She turned on her heel, heart pounding, to get a look at her Good Samaritan. The darkness was so thick, she could only see his silhouette. He reached out, and she instinctively backed away.
“I believe this belongs to you.”
Her cell phone lay in his outstretched hand. She snatched it up without regard to good manners and found it in two pieces.
“The battery fell out when it hit the ground.”
His accent was thick and unfamiliar.
“Thank you.” Her own voice sounded strange, like she had cotton in her ears.
Her fingers were thick and uncoordinated as she forced the battery back into place.
“Why were you hiding in the dark?”
She looked up sharply. “I wasn’t hiding.”
She couldn’t make out the features of his face, but she felt his amusement, heard it in his voice. “Why, then, did you seek shelter in the darkness?”
He had obviously seen her sneak out of the recessed doorway. Realizing he had been watching her, a new frisson of fear kicked her pulse higher.
“I stepped out of the club for a smoke.”
“You walked all the way down the block to smoke?”
Adrenaline already poured through her, and fear morphed into anger.
“Yes, and I don’t think it’s any of your business.”
She turned and stalked toward the club, toward the streetlight, toward that golden pool that seemed to get farther away with every stride. He fell in step beside her, a shadow superimposed on the darkness.
“Smoking is a common habit. Why are you ashamed?”
“I’m not ashamed.”
“You hide to smoke. You mask the scent.” He shrugged. “You are ashamed.”
Mina whirled to face him. “I’m with this guy, okay? And he doesn’t approve, and I haven’t figured out how to tell him or even better, how to quit.” she crossed her arms. “So there it is, Mr. Nosy. Happy?”
Mina leaned in, trying to see his face. His hair was shoulder-length, and judging by its silhouette, unkempt, ala Kurt Cobain. The contour of his jaw line suggested he was clean shaven, and the sudden flash of white teeth suggested he was smiling. Beyond that, she couldn’t see a thing.
“Yes. I am happy. Thank you.”
She shook her head, convinced he was crazy, but harmless. If he was going to hurt her, he would have done it already. He had given her phone back and watched her replace the battery.
She turned once again toward the strobing lights of the club.
“Would you like to quit?”
Her eye roll was evident in her tone.
“I can help you.”
She stopped again and sighed. “I tried the gum. Nothing. I tried the patch. Smoked while I was wearing it and got so dizzy, I passed out. I even tried hypnosis from a guy doing a demonstration at the mall. Nada.”
His voice grew deeper and softer, as if he didn’t want to disturb the silence. Almost hypnotic. More so than the guy at the mall anyway, and Mina smiled.
“If you will agree to payment terms, you will be cured before you walk back inside.” He nodded toward the club.
Mina threw her head back and laughed. “Let me guess. You came out of a magic lamp?”
“I do not grant wishes. I make bargains.”
His voice held no humor, and her amusement faded as well.
“And I don’t make deals with the devil. Sorry.”
“I am not the devil.”
No shit, Sherlock.
Out loud, she said, “Who exactly are you?”
The R trilled exotically off his tongue, and Mina shivered. She had never heard the name before.
“Ariboos?” she repeated, mimicking his pronunciation.
“You sought shelter in the darkness, and the darkness can provide…for a price”
“Erebus,” she repeated again, this time with recognition. She raised her eyebrows. “You’re the god of darkness?”
“I am the darkness.”
Something in his tone stifled her laugh. He believed what he was saying, and they were still alone on a dark street. Probably best to play along.
“Okay…and you’ll cure my smoking…in return for what?”
“Something you have temporarily lost in this time you spent with me.”
Fear again. This guy was crazy. What had he done? Who had he hurt?
Seeming to read her mind, he continued, “What you have lost you carry with you all the time. It affects only you. You gain something. You lose something.”
“And you’re not going to tell me what it is before I agree to it?” She crossed her arms. “I would be stupid to make that bargain.”
“You would give up something you have lost and have not even noticed.” His voice dropped, hypnotic again. “And look at what you will gain. You will no longer have to sneak away from this man to do something you do not enjoy.”
She hated smoking. Even worse, she hated lying about smoking. Jack was a great guy…funny, smart, hot as hell. Everything she wanted, and she knew, she just instinctively knew that smoking would be a deal-breaker for him.
She stared at the pulsing lights of the club, then shrugged. This guy was full of crap anyway. She felt exactly the same as she did when she snuck out into the cold ten minutes ago. Nothing was different. What did she have to lose?
“Okay, Erebus.” She grinned when she said his name. “You have a deal.”
“You must be sure, Mina. Once the bargain is struck, it cannot be undone.”
Her name sounded foreign on his lips, and her grin faded. She peered into the dark, suddenly desperate to see his face. A man-shaped ink blot stood in front of her. Only his unkempt hair blowing in the wind gave him depth. She reached out to touch him, to assure herself he was real and solid. He reached out simultaneously and grasped her hand.
“Do we have a bargain?”
His hand was warm and strong, and her childish fear evanesced.
No guts, no glory…
“Yes. We have a deal.”
She saw a flash of white, and his smile made her shiver.
“What was yours is now mine. What you wished to lose is gone. Goodbye, Mina.”
A horn blared, and Mina jumped out of the way of a city bus she hadn’t seen coming.
“Damn, buddy! Slow down!” She looked around. “You okay, Erebus?”
She turned in a circle.
She was standing alone on the street. Well, not entirely alone. There were people outside the club again. Traffic moved along briskly, and she hustled over to the sidewalk.
She stopped short of the streetlight. The pool of light had lost it’s golden quality, only marginally brighter now than the street around it. The suffocating darkness was gone, almost as if a blanket had been lifted off the block.
The light did not cheer Mina. Erebus’ parting words still rang in her ears. Everything about them was wrong. Even the way he said her name was wrong with his emphasis on the second syllable.
Bile rose in her throat.
When did I tell him my name?
Never. She had never told him. She had a hard and fast policy regarding her name. She only gave it to a man after she decided she liked him. She had disliked Erebus from the moment she met him.
She stumbled through a small group of smokers outside the doors of the club, breathing in a lungful of secondhand smoke as she passed. She coughed until she gagged and, in that moment, knew she would never smoke again.
No joy came with that knowledge. Dread lay on her chest like a lead weight.
The club was crowded, more so now than when she stepped out. The lights pulsed and strobed wildly, rhythmically. She stopped just inside the entrance.
People leaned in close and shouted at each other. Couples gyrated wildly on the dance floor, grinding against each other in time to the pulsing lights.
Mina heard their shouted conversations, felt the vibration of the bass in sync with the lights, and Erebus’ words echoed in the awful accompanying silence.
You gain something. You lose something.
The music was gone.
“The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.”