The True Cost

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A man with nothing to lose but his soul seeks revenge on his ex-wife and her new lover. When Yuri buys a cursed artefact from a strange little shop to punish his wife and her new lover, he realises more than his soul is at stake.

4.5 2 reviews
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Short Story

“I’m begging you- make it stop!”

“I already told you, I can’t do that.”

“Please! I’ll do anything!”

The gaunt owner of St. Knick’s Knacks drew back his thin, black lips in a sneer. “That’s what they all say when they realise the true cost.”

Every artefact served a different purpose. Some caused heartbreak, some caused sickness, and others caused financial ruin. But the most powerful ones caused death.

Yuri Dreyer had picked one such artefact and gifted it to Andros De Kocke. The man who’d stolen his wife and daughter.

“What pretty pictures, daddy,” Arika said, tracing the old clock’s engravings in fascination. “Do they mean anything?”

Yuri proffered a big, fake smile under his unkempt beard. “They mean good luck for your mother and uncle Andros. Put it in their room for me, will you? But keep it a secret, just between you and me. And don’t forget to say the magic words when you do! What are they again?”

“Mmmmmm…Tick tick, tock tock, Andros is in a race against the clock!”

“That’s my girl!”

“Is that some kind of prayer, daddy?”

“Yes darling, that’s exactly what it is.”

It was a bizarre thing to do, but Yuri had been out of his mind with desperation.

And anger.

It was one of the reasons his wife gave the courts for the divorce. His terrible temper.

He couldn’t even argue about that. Admittedly he’d lost it on more than a few occasions recently.

After a robot replaced him as surgical assistant at the hospital, he couldn’t afford to pay for the education required to become a qualified surgeon. As a result, he was forced into an underpaid menial job essentially assisting said robot. That same month, his mother was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. She died nine weeks later. And despite Yuri being the one to care for her as her health deteriorated, she left her house to his unmarried, emotional wreck of an older brother who still lived with her and Yuri got nothing. Lilah didn’t even wait until the body was cold in the ground before telling him she was leaving him for his best friend and taking their baby daughter with her.

Up until that point, Yuri had been in a sort of trance. Breathing, but not quite existing. Present but inconsequential. But Lilah’s crass presumptions snapped him of it. There was nothing quite like the sting of humiliation to make you feel maddeningly alive.

She simply didn’t have the right. He’d always been a good father. And now Lilah said he was lucky to see Arika once a month for a few hours.

Said she could have lied to the court and told them all kinds of stories about the abuse they endured. She still could if he didn’t agree to pay out alimony he couldn’t afford.

Was he just supposed to bend over and take her shit?

He wanted to see some fucking justice. He wanted see her hurt. And the only way to do that was through her precious Andros.

Yuri was not a religious man, but he believed in God. He also believed that God had abandoned him, so he abandoned Him back.

Arika did as he instructed, like the good little girl she was, and didn’t tell a soul about it. He’d raised her well.

But a year passed and nothing happened. At his behest, Arika showed Yuri photos of a laughing, healthy Andros on her camera phone every time she came to visit. Yuri almost gave up on the whole sordid revenge tactic.

Then Arika’s nightmares began. Frequent and terrifying.

She dreamt of storms in her bedroom, plagues of insects, and wild-eyed banshees.

And the hallucinations followed.

She insisted there was someone in her cupboard, whispering terrible things to her from the darkness. Things she couldn’t quite understand.

Of course when Lilah and Andros opened the cupboard, there was no one inside. But Arika confided to Yuri that she could feel invisible eyes burning into her, like someone was watching her every move. She’d even seen her cupboard door close by itself and the mattress on her bed sink as if someone had sat down.

But it didn’t stop there. Soon Arika was sleepwalking.

Lilah and Andros would find her standing at the foot of their bed, her mouth wide open, pointing to something behind them they couldn’t see. More recently, she’d been found wandering the halls at night with a kitchen knife in her hand.

Yuri felt the flesh on his arms begin to creep and he shuddered when Lilah told him. Said she wanted him to foot half the hospital bills. The good doctors were working tirelessly to figure out what was wrong with their baby.

“She doesn’t need a doctor, she needs a priest!” Yuri insisted.

“Stop this superstitious nonsense at once!” Lilah hissed. “You know I don’t believe in curses, sigils, or demonic possession. I don’t care what you did over a year ago. You were angry and you were bamboozled by some con artist who played to your vulnerability. I hope you didn’t pay too much for that clock. I rather like it. It’s on the mantel piece in the kitchen.”

“By the knives?”

She exhaled in exasperation. “Yes the knives are close by, but stop grasping at straws!”

What else did he have to grasp at? He was trying to figure out what the Hell was going on. The curse had been meant for Andros, not his darling daughter.

She was innocent.

Of course the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. How could they? The science of evil had yet to be discovered by human eyes.

So they sent Arika home with a tonne of sleeping pills to help her get through this “phase” she was going through.

It seemed to work for a while.

She stopped complaining about nightmares and voices, and went back to being a regular seven year old. Playing with her friends and eating chocolate cake.

But it didn’t last.

Soon Arika stopped being herself completely. It was as if she’d developed a split personality. Her eyes would roll into the back of her head and she’d have a kind of seizure, writhing and contorting her body on the floor. Then she’d call her mother a whore for leaving her father. Call Andros a shameless coveter who would burn in Hell for his sin.

And she would throw her head back and laugh hysterically, her pigtailed hair matted to her forehead in sweat and her eyes wild with contempt.

But then, quick as a flash, she was Arika again, with no memory of saying or doing any of those horrifying things.

Lilah couldn’t stop crying and Andros was terrified. But how could Yuri enjoy their suffering when his daughter was being manipulated like some sort of mortal marionette?

Didn’t you manipulate her too, Yuri boy? His inner-voice taunted him. And now look what you’ve done.

Lilah begged him to keep Arika until they figured out what was wrong with her, but Arika refused to go. Her reason chilled Yuri to the depths of his soul.

“The man said I have a job to do. I can’t leave until it’s done, and neither can he.”

That’s when he realised Arika was the vessel the spirits had chosen to kill Andros. He’d condemned his own baby girl to Hell.

“There must be something you can do,” he whimpered to the shopkeeper.

“As I explained when you purchased the item,” the shopkeeper replied, his long fingernails tapping impatiently on the counter. “I can only tell them to do what you asked. Not how to do it. That’s entirely their decision, and you can’t stop them once the curse has been activated.”

“But she’s just a child!”

The shopkeeper smiled a filthily ecstatic smile. “You didn’t think of that when you made her implicit in your little plan. Maybe you should have done your own dirty work.”

Distressed, Yuri exited the macabre shop to the frantic sound of sirens. The ambulances looked like they were heading in the direction of Andros’ house.

Or maybe they weren’t.

Until his former best friend’s street was finally visited, every oncoming siren would incite terror in Yuri’s heart. And for the rest of Arika’s life afterwards, she’d wake screaming and weeping about the blood on her hands, never understanding why she did what she did.

The sins of the father. This was how it had been since time began.

Yuri felt the weight of the world on his back and fell to his knees.

“My God! What have I done?” He roared at the darkening sky. His breaths came out in short, asthmatic rasps, condensing into clouds that disappeared into the cold air like ghosts.

Everything felt dead to him now.

He wished he could turn back the clock, and a manic laugh gargled in his throat like percolating blood at the irony.

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Devashree Acharya: Really good story. Kept me on my toes till the very end. Looking forward to reading the next one- Wanting the Doctor- very soon!! Keep up the good work.

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janemoniq07: A fabulous mini series... i loved reading them all. Its simply amazing. You are a wonderful writer. Keep on the great work 😍😍😍

Littlelyrebird: This was a beautifully written story. The plot flowed beautifully through the length of the novel and the author is able to keep the reader engaged through the entirety of the story. There are a number of clever literary devices which have been executed perfectly, and some interesting twists thro...

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