I don’t do all that much horror, but sometimes that’s just how a story turns out. Not that my horror is all that horrifying, but this story very clearly veered towards that genre about a third of the way through the writing process, and there was no clawing it back after that.
At about 1350 words, it’s pretty short, so it’s quick to read and easy to digest. I hope you like it.
Here is “Rare Gifts”.
The shop is not easy to find. A different place every time, and only there for those with the means to pay its prices, which are not measured in coin.
To find it takes time, and to find time I have to lie to her. After several years together, we have our habits and any deviation is quickly remarked upon. Subterfuge is difficult.
So I lie, and I mask my lies with truth. I tell her I have found an establishment that has three bottles of 1953 Chateau Leoville Barton. Priceless, and one of the few things in life that give me true joy. She will happily indulge me three nights to allow for this private and very innocent little decadence.
She can detect a lie more easily than most people detect sunlight, that is part of her Gift. Therefore I tell only the truth. It took me months to find the restaurant, the bottles, the amenable sommelier. All to ensure that she is none the wiser.
The lengths we go to for love!
I drink my wine while examining the map of New Orleans. I’ve searched the old quarters and after three days I’m beginning to worry that the shop does not wish to be found. There are few places in this world that stock the gift I mean to give, only one that I know of, in fact.
I am a member of the community which the shop serves, and I know the tricks that must be used to find it. I make a decision. Tonight, I will search the most obvious places. The very same places I searched on the first night. I will ignore the less likely, but as yet unexplored streets and wander aimlessly through the French Quarter’s darker alleys, letting my feet guide me.
I make sure I’m suitably intoxicated and meander through the streets, passing first tourists, then locals, then shadows. I find the shop down a small side alley that I do not remember from my visit two nights ago. I know what it is as soon as I see the light from its dirty windows and the damp-warped door that will not shut.
The door opens on rusty hinges and I am once again in the Emporium, for the second time in my life.
The owner looks the same as when last I saw her, although so do I, so perhaps that is not so surprising. You get used to everyone else growing old and dying, it’s so rare to meet our own kind.
“Welcome back, Mr. Aberyst. Are you looking for anything in particular this evening?”
I spent days looking for her shop. Of course I’m looking for something in particular.
“Your elixirs, please.”
“Of course. As you know, they must be mixed to order and consumed immediately for the required potency to be achieved.”
She shows me a book, handwritten. I turn to the index and run my finger down the page until I find what I’m looking for.
“I see. The same as last time. Will you be making payment yourself on this occasion, Mr Aberyst?”
She turns to the page to examine the ingredients and considers for a moment before explaining her price, both now and later.
I do not want to pay it, but know better than to say so. This is the price of companionship, the cost of love, the burden of affection. I was not made aware of the price last time, and much that I did not understand then is now clear to me.
“It is only nine-thirty,” says the woman, with no watch and no clock to refer to. The tattoos on her face defy any attempt at reading her emotions.
“By midnight,” she finishes.
I incline my head and leave by the door.
My beloved is in the bathroom when I return. She is preparing herself for a sortie of her own. She will perhaps go to a party and seduce someone, or visit the opera and wallow in the emotions of the audience. This is her routine, her pastime.
She does not hear me approach. That is part of my Gift. The blade slides silently between two ribs and into her heart, staining the elegant clothes and destroying the beautiful stitching. All this can be replaced. She cannot.
The shop is in a different place when I return, but I find it – or it finds me – without a search. We have a transaction to conclude, after all.
The heart is bloody in my hands, and my hunger pulses in my throat as the metallic smell arouses the rest of my Gift. My teeth click together as I work my jaw, unwilling to retract until the hunger is sated. The self-control I must exercise is challenging, but I’m aware that this too is part of the price demanded by the shop.
The woman plucks it from my fingers with a deft touch, examining it carefully, turning the heart of my beloved in the faint light, nodding at the neatness of the stab wound that marked its final beat.
“Good heart. And a witch. She will make a strong partner for you,” she says.
I know she will, if she can forgive me.
A few drops of my blood, a sliver of flesh from the heart, items unknown and unknowable from containers that may well have remained unopened since my own making so many decades ago. A mortar and pestle and the smell of corruption. Words are spoken, but I don’t understand the language. The mixture catches fire and is extinguished just as fast. Finally, a liquid, thick and viscous, is poured into a vial, which she extends to me with youthful fingers.
I hold out a coin, ancient and difficult to find, remembered from this same ritual a very long time ago. Behind me, inelegantly draped over a chair, my beloved’s open and lifeless eyes witness the ritual in turn, to be remembered later.
The exchange complete, I turn to her, putting the vial to her cold blue lips, letting enough of the potion into her mouth for it to touch her tongue.
Her hand grasps me suddenly, lifting me off my feet and against a glass cabinet filled with fragile relics, but the glass does not break and no relics fall. Not here.
She is stronger than I am, as I was stronger than my maker. Her eyes burn blue-white with shock and power and unnatural life.
“What have you done?” she rasps, her vocal cords not yet revived.
“Bound us together for all time,” I reply.
“The gift you received from your maker?”
“The very same.”
“But you killed him.”
“As you will me, in time. It is our way. But first we will have a century together.
She could destroy me now, if she hates what I have done to her enough. She would then spend the next hundred years alone. She has the passion to do it, it is one of many reasons I love her.
Time passes, thoughts swirl behind her eyes as she considers her position. The shopkeeper looks on, impassive.
My beloved puts me down gently, my feet touching the floor almost gracefully, and smiles. Her fangs extend for the first time, and will not retract until she has fed.
“You smell hungry my love,” she says. “Show me how we hunt.”
The shop is no longer there when we turn around at the end of the small street. In its place is some rotten trash and a stone wall covered in graffiti. She will not find the shop again until she is ready to strike her own bargain, and by then I will be gone.
Together, we turn away and walk into the dark city streets, to revive old legends.