Delicate Things

by Aviendha Francisco

“You cannot have something for nothing.”

It grinned at me, a smile devoid of emotion and full of teeth. It scratched its mangy fur and stared at me with eyes white as milk, wide as saucers. The green velvet divan underneath its cracked hooves provided an interesting bit of visual contrast that my father would be embarrassed I had noticed. He was of the opinion that I was at court far too often for a young man of my age, as I could not as of yet be ‘in want of a wife.’ As if he could not fathom that there was more to court than young women to claim and deflower.

“I know that,” I snapped back at the creature. I could not take my eyes from the unassuming cup sitting on the table between us. My reflection in the black glass was warped and twisted, giving me a skeletal appearance.

The creature spoke again, seeming to want to fill the silence that followed my statement. “A life,” it tutted, still scratching its wiry black hair, “is no simple thing. Expensive, too, come to think of it. But delicate things usually are, aren’t they? For example, I saw this lovely tea set embossed with golden-”

“You still haven’t told me the price,” I interrupted. It sounded too much like something I would have noticed, and I didn’t want to even think that I was anything like this creature. The wine-dark liquid, as yet still unnamed, glinted from the electric lights in the chandelier above us. It felt far too much like it was taunting me.

“Price is different for everyone.” Its voice was dismissive. “My deals are a gamble, more fun that way, you understand, and I dearly love a bit of fun. You desire this life very much, I can see that. People generally do not come to me unless they are truly desperate, and there do seem to be a lot of truly desperate people in this world, believe you me.” It cocked its head, and its stare became even heavier. “Are they worth it?” Its voice was genuinely curious, if detached. It wanted to know.

I swallowed past the lump in my throat, answering the thing even though I was almost certain it wouldn’t, couldn’t understand. “She’s my sister. She’ll always be worth it.”

A thousand fragments of memories poured past me. Her laughing, shoulders thrown back and mouth open like mother always chastised her not to do. Her frowning over a chessboard, her knight in her hand. Her sewing demurely before mother and father in the parlor, a smile shining behind her eyes as though we shared a joke between the two of us. Her penning correspondence at her writing table with delicate flourishes of her pen. 

I wiped at my eye and took a shaky breath as I looked the creature in the eye.

“She will always be worth it.”

It blinked at me once before righting its head with a swift jerk. The tip of one horn almost crashed into the chandelier – the other was broken, half the size of its twin. “Then I don’t see the problem here. Just drink the drink and be done with it. I have places to be, I’ll have you know.”

“Where could you possibly have to be? A pressing social engagement?”My face contorted into a sneer that disappeared when my eyes lowered to the wine-colored liquid before me. It was a pathetic counter, a bargain for time I didn’t have. Time that my sister didn’t have. And the worst part was, I knew it was useless. I could only play so many word games tonight.

The empty smile never left its face. “You’re not the only one making a Faustian bargain this night, dear boy.”

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I had no other choice, if I wanted her to live. “And you swear she will live?”

“There is nothing you have asked for that I cannot accomplish. Your sister will live.”

My sister would flay me within an inch of my life if she knew what I was doing. But she didn’t know, so I nodded and wrapped my fingers around the glass. The words came out of my mouth like shards of ice, sharp and cold. “You have yourself a deal, then.”

Its smile stretched wider, a feat I hadn’t thought possible until now. “You need only to drink, dear boy.”

With a shaky sigh, I picked up the glass and tipped it back. I realized after the first sip that it was poison. 

I kept drinking.

Category: Featured, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student