The old woman’s wrinkled fingers gripped the handle of the large red wagon fiercely as she made her way down the quiet night street. As her left hand grasped the hilt, she let out her right hand and touched the tips of wheat that grew in the fields on the side of the road that stretched for miles, timidly brushing against them with each slow trudge of her feat. She walked with such an eased pace across the unstable sidewalk that the only hint that she was making any progress down the road at all was the squeaking of the wagons wheels as they went in hesitant circles across the tilted pavement.
She was strong for a woman of her age. Even as feeble crumpled legs threatened to break under the weight of her own frail body, she still managed to pull the wagon that contained her prize, her glorious prize that she had managed to catch with those feeble legs of hers… She had caught it fair and square, and had paid in blood. Now all she simply desired was the reward for her achievement.
As the old woman walked, she observed the faint lights of redbrick neighborhood houses across the road and on the other side of the wheat fields, seeming an eternity away for the old woman who had left that neighborhood hours ago when the sky was still alive with a steady gloom. After she was done with her prize, she would go back to them, and if things went correctly it would be mere minutes to her home on the way back.
Her dazed thoughts of the redbrick homes snapped out of her mind as a muffled sound came from the wagon, struggling against the tightened and folded blankets that had been tied around it with rope. The old woman stopped in her tracks, nearly tripping from the sudden force of the wheels pushing against her. She looked back at the massive lump of knitted blankets that covered her prize, and without hesitation brought up a large wooden cane and dropped it down with a smack across the largest mass of blanket. A loud cry came from the bundle and the large shroud moved all the more, trying to break free from its prison. She hit it again, letting out air as she struggled to lift the rod.
“Quiet,” She rasped through heavy breaths of physical exertion, her paper-thin mouth moved with the liking of rotting fruit, shriveled and dead. Only the old woman was not dead, she was far from it. She had not felt this alive in years.
This one will be perfect, the old woman thought devilishly. I chose well this time. Her cracked and creased face went back as she smiled, her yellow teeth glinting off of the bright full moon.
“Don’t worry now we are almost there, and it will all be over soon,” The old woman tried to hold back her laughter, letting the reassuring words soak into her prize, “For you!”. She couldn’t help it, she let out a crackly laugh, high and coarse and broken like the sidewalk she walked on. As she let out her laugh, muffled cries once again came from the wagon and turned into struggled screams.
“Oh go ahead I suppose.” She shrugged her drooping shoulders nonchalantly as if the creature that cried inside of the little red wagon could see the old woman’s skeletal body standing there like a corpse. She started to walk again as she talked. “No one is going to hear you out here anyways. Scream. Scream! I insist!”
And so her prize screamed, but no one heard.
The wagon and the old woman soon came upon a dead end to the sidewalk, halted by a small iron gate with black twisted spirals jutting from the sides of it. Beyond the gate's, a house stood large and looming. Darkened by ages of misuse and emptiness had made the wooden structure rotten, tainted evermore by the long broken windows that had been punctured by stones over the years. Various colors of graffiti lined the outside of the house, obscene word's and pictures that had been drawn by teenagers covered as much area around the rotting wood as humanly possible. The moon shone on the sad home through the trees that surrounded it like a spotlight, moving in coordination with the branches and leaves as they swayed in the slight summer breeze.
The girl still screamed as the old woman fumbled with the gate, twisting the knob with her gnarled fingernails and pulled the wagon again with her now bruised hands. The gate shut behind the wagon as they entered the yard of the mansion, slapping twice against the fence and then locking it in place with a click.
Coming upon the large twin oak doors of the house, she grabbed her wooden cane and threw it weakly across the overgrown grass of the yard. She stopped the wagon, went along side it and grabbed a long object that was nudged between her prize and the inside of the red wagon. As she grabbed it, the screaming stopped in choked force, surprised by the sudden touch of the old woman.
She lifted up the object and looked at it gleefully. A long curved blade shone in the night, smiling accursedly and ready to pierce flesh. Its handle was that of polished bone from the horn of a bull, long dead for the making of the sharp knife.
“Now I am going to cut you lose,” The old woman started to cut away at the rope, sawing slowly at the bondage that encased the creature inside. “And if you run, I will cut you into small little pieces. Small little pieces that I will feed to the birds. You hear me?” A whimper was all that sounded.
“What was that?” She pressed the blade against the blankets, tearing them slightly.
At last, the old woman’s prize spoke, its voice fragile and feminine. “Y-y-yes!”, It said. And it started to whimper again.
“Good.” The old woman continued to cut until the blankets were slacked, simply sitting over the thing inside of them like it was bundled up for sleeping. “Now when I let you free, you will walk with me. Be a dear and don’t do anything foolish. You hear me?”
“Yes.” The voice answered quickly this time.
“Now stay still honey.” She slashed the blankets downward, cutting them as wool and fabrics flew into the air until the bundle was nothing but a jagged cut inside of the red wagon, bursting out like a twisted wound.
The creature inside of the blankets burst through, gasping and crying as she struggled to break free from the wagon and run, but the old fragile woman was faster. She tightly gripped the arm of her prize.
“Now, now, now,” The old woman looked at the frightened face of what was a pretty young red-headed girl. She tried to tear away from the grasps of the old woman, but it was no use, the old woman had her. “I told you not to move.”
Blood pulsed on the girl’s fair skin. She winced in pain as the old woman dug in harder.
The redheaded girl looked at the old woman’s face for the first time. Shock and recognition crossed over it in waves. “Miss. Reedy?”
The old woman’s face remained unchanged. She started to pull the girl towards the doors of the mansion while. The girl tried to fight, but the old woman held her firm like iron. The two of them tumbled to the ground, the girl scratched and kicked as the old woman straddled her with each leg holding her arms down with surprising force. In a quick flash, the old woman brought out the smiling blade.
“Stop! Please!” The girl sobbed as the old woman held the blade to her neck, pressing into her soft skin. “Miss. Reedy, why are you doing this? Stop!” With each word the old woman pressed harder.
“Dearie, I don’t want to hurt more than is necessary,” The old woman’s voice cut like glass, each word terrible and unhinged. “But, if you-”
“Please! Just stop!” The girl interrupted, struggling beneath the weight of the old woman’s frail body.
The old woman took the knife and sliced it down the girl’s forearm. A blood-curdling scream let out through the night air. Someone could have heard that, the old woman though angrily.
“Shut up, you stupid girl!” The old woman pressed the blade against the girl’s neck again. “One more noise and I will slit your damned throat you little whore! Now listen, if you do as I say I will let you live. I am going to let you up and I will have this nice little butter knife here with me the whole time. If you scream or attempt to run, I will stick this pretty little thing inside your pretty little back. Now get up!
“Please…” The girl whimpered.
“I said get up!” The old woman’s voice shook with fury.
The redheaded girl got up slowly, cradling her bleeding arm. The old woman kept the knife to the girls back as she lifted herself from the red stained walkway.
“Now, walk up those steps and open the doors.” The old woman pointed at the twin oak doors, its broken glass windows giving them the impression of a beast opening its jaws ready to eat.
The girl timidly walked to the door, each step brought with gasping breath as she cried. Her legs had been scratched from the quarrel on the ground, the old woman’s legs bleeding profusely as well from her weak skin.
Slowly, the girl reached out her good arm and twisted the rusted knob of the right door. Inside a long hallway that was also riddled with graffiti that stretched into darkness. To the left a kitchen with various broken plates and cups scattered across the floor lay barren aside from the sound of mice scurrying across the aged tile floor. To the right there was an open living room with a single gray couch facing directly in front of a fire place black silt permanently etched along the brick that encased it.
“Go into the living room girl.” The old woman prodded her with the knife.
As they both walked into the rotting house, the floorboards beneath them creaked and moaned, as if mourning for the redheaded girl and calling out her name. But it was too late, a gust of wind blew and the doors slammed closed with a thud. The girl jumped in surprise, looking back at the doors with hopeless anguish as they cut her off between the world of the living and the world of the doomed.
“M-miss. Reedy, I don’t know w-why you are doing this,” The girl fought for the right words, anything to get this wretched woman to let her free. “But my family will pay you money. C-c-cash. Anything! I’ll do anything for you.”
The old woman crackled. Oh you stupid, stupid girl, she thought amused by the girl’s terror. What I want from her cannot be paid in “cash”.
“Walk into the living room, and sit on the sofa.” The old woman dug the knife into the girls back again. She winced in pain as she was forced on to the pale gray couch.
Right as the girl sat down, a great burst of orange flame burst from the fireplace, sparking and spraying ash in all directions, the dark and moonlit room came alive with flickering light. The girl nearly fell off of the couch in utter bewilderment, her eyes wide in terror as old woman twisted and turned in unnatural movement with the flames while uttering incoherent words under her breath.
“What…” The girls voice trailed off. A dark shadow rose from the fireplace. The old woman’s strange words became louder…and louder. The light emitting from the fire disappeared, consumed by the shadows as they spread further along the walls. With each chant from the old woman, the shadows grew. The girl tried to throw herself from the couch and run, but it was no use. Chains wrapped around the redheaded girls bleeding arms, fastening her to the couch.
The girl shook with utter terror, her eyes as wide as they could possibly be, her body trembling. The shadows consumed the living room, enveloping around the girl like a cocoon.
At last, a deafening scream resonated through-out the entire house. The girl, the old woman, and the shadow all seemed to scream at once. The old woman’s eyes were white like marble, every last sign of humanity gone from her ancient body.
All at once, the shadows sucked back into the fire and were gone. Light returned to the room, and the fire flickered warmly in the fireplace. The girl found that she could not scream, her mouth incapable of any sort of sound. She sat on the couch in chains, her face still in the shape of one who was screaming.
And then she saw the man. He appeared next to the fireplace dressed in a black robe, his face as white as chalk and his eyes as black as the night sky. He turned and looked at the girl who still sat with her mouth gapped open in complete shock.
“Well,” The man smiled, his teeth as white as his face. “She is much better than last time, I’ll give you that.” He walked over to the girl and put his cold fingers beneath her chin and closed the girls mouth.
“But you were late.” His face turned toward the old woman whose eyes had turned back to their normal dark brown iris’s. Her entire body moved at once as if jerked from a deep sleep. She glanced at the man for a split second and bowed her head.
“Forgive me,” Her voice that had echoed and had shaken the entire house was now frail and elderly. “She was not easy to find. No matter, she is here. Now let us be done with it. I am tired of hearing this wretched little child’s screams!”
The robed man stroked the silent girls red curls, “She is quite exquisite is she not?” He said, his voice hinting at the slightest sound of regret.
“Does it matter?” The old woman snapped. “I’ve done your damned dirty work for years, and never has the beauty of each sacrifice been a problem. One is no different from the other. They are all the same, stupid and reckless. She may have been hard to find, but all it took was to ask this squealing pig to feed my cat while I was gone. I waited for her to walk into my home and that was that. A rolling pin is an excellent weapon against snotty nosed little piggy’s.”
The old woman made a snorting noise at the petrified girl. “Isn’t it little piggy?” she laughed, her voice was no longer that of an old woman, it now sounded mockingly with each sentence.
The chalk-faced man laughed too, amused at the tale. “A cat? You told her you owned a cat?”
The old woman’s twisted, trying to contain her crackle. “Yes! Can you imagine? A cat? Me?” They both laughed hideously as the girl remained silent, incapable of any sort of movement, lifeless eyes that streamed tears looked into the flames.
The man became suddenly serious, his black eyes staring intently on the red headed girl. He moved over to her and leaned down so that their faces matched. The old woman watched with a crooked smile as he pressed his cold dead lips against the warm flesh of the girls. But the girl did not move still.
After what seemed like an eternity, the man removed himself from the girl. A slow haze of blue wisp’s followed the trail of his mouth. The wisp slowly absorbed into the face of the man and disappeared.
“She has a very pure soul.” He looked at the old woman and smiled. “It will do quite well in my collection.”
“Hmm, now what about my reward?” The old woman tapped her fingers impatiently. “We have been doing this for centuries, there is no need to waste time. Just give it to me and we will be on our separate ways until next we meet.” She walked over the vegetable that was once the beautiful redheaded girl and put her hand behind her neck, pressing.
The man rolled his eyes. “Do you think I would juke you out of your earned reward? Of course, you shall have it… but only after you finish the deed of course.”
The man started to fade, his body falling into the shadows of the room that moved with the flames. Slowly his face and arms started to mesh with every bit of shaded area in the room.
“Yes, yes I know.” The old woman touched the chains that no longer had purpose, they dissolved into thin air. The old woman pressed harder against the back of the girl’s neck and led her to stand up, she complied without complaint or words.
“I will have so much fun with this one…” The man’s face was the last to disappear, he grinned with malice and excitement. The old woman noted that he looked as though he was a small child who had just gotten a new toy for Christmas, ready to play with it until bored, and then he was gone.
The old woman led the girl to the fireplace. The girl started to move again, regaining control of her body. She looked sick. It is no surprise she looks so ill, the old woman thought. She has just lost her soul after all.
The two looked at the fire for a moment, the red hot coals glowed with intensity, each one giving life to the flame that grew higher as the old woman said more words underneath her breath.
The girl slowly turned her head toward the old woman, her mouth moved slowly, trying to comprehend what was happening to her. “Miss…” her words trailed off, her head rolled side to side, completely unaware of her surroundings.
The girl suddenly seemed to snap into reality at once, her body shook and trembled as the old woman held her closer to the large fireplace. “Miss… Miss Reedy?” She looked at the old woman in total confusion, and then terror as she remembered where she was.
“My name isn’t Miss Reedy my dear,” The old woman smiled warmly, and for a moment, the girl wondered if she had woken from a bad dream. “And sorry for this.” The old woman patted the girl on the back and then put her other hand on the girl’s neck as well.
The old woman thrust the girls entire body forward with all of her might. The girl landed face forward in the fire. A horrific scream of pure anguish filled the night. The old woman pressed her hands and used the force of her entire body against the girls burning face. Hot flesh and blood spurted and as the red curls on top of the girl burst into orange flames. The smell of burning meat and hair lifted into the old woman’s nostrils as she held down the girl who was fighting for her life. But it was no matter, she was done for.
“Stop it now,” The old woman’s hands burned hot as the flames reached further. “Shh…it will all be over soon my dear, and then you shall be in a better place.” This was a lie from the old woman. She knew that where she was going was far worse than her entire body in flames, but she would say anything to get rid of the wretched girls screaming.
Soon, each scream was quieter than the first, the girls entire body was now engulfed in flames, and the old woman’s would soon be too. But she welcomed the warm flames like an old friend, smiling as the flames burned off her clothes until she sat upon the girls burning corpse naked.
And then in an instant it was over. The girls entire body disintegrated into ash, and the flames were gone. Nothing but a few strands of burnt red hair were left behind. The old woman lay on top of the ashes, naked.
The woman that had once been the old woman looked down at her naked body. Her breasts no longer sagged. Her hair was no longer white. Her skin was smooth and young, not a wrinkle in sight. Her burns and cuts were gone, not so much as a scar left in their place.
She lifted her head up from the ashes and breathed the scent of the burned flesh that had been there only moments before. She lifted her soft young arms and stretched, and let out a sound of pure joy.
The woman stood up slowly and surveyed the area, the ashes could stay there, she decided. The girl was more than dead at this point. The fireplace was now as empty and cold as it had been nearly twenty minutes before when the redheaded girl and she had entered. The only sign that a fire had been there recently was the sight of the ashes that lay around it from the redheaded girl.
The woman did not care. She got what she wanted, her youth.
Silt and ash covered the woman’s body as she walked to the oak doors, opened them and left, slamming the doors shut. She was still naked as she walked down the streets, leaving her red wagon behind. Lights from the distance redbrick houses had turned on from the sound of the screaming, dozens of dogs barked.
Let them see, the woman smiled to herself.
And in that moment of pure joy and bliss, the old woman inside of the woman decided that running sounded quite fun. And so she ran, her naked body bare for all to see.