So as I’ve mentioned, I’m part of a writing club at uni. Bi-annually we publish the top entries from our short story competitions throughout the year, and I’m lucky enough to have a few of my stories published! So here’s one of my favourites for you to enjoy. The prompt was ‘Through the Eyes of the Damned’ and the word limit was 300 words. I had one week to write! Any feedback, good or bad, is welcomed.
Rain poured down, turning the streets to mud. There were few carriages out, the horses plodding along, the coachmen in great raincoats and hats, crouched over as they attended to their dirty work. No one in their right mind would be out tonight, those few that had no choice sticking to doorways, staying as dry as possible. All but one.
A lone figure walked in the rain, the hood of their cloak casting their face in shadow. Unlike the coachmen, the cloaked person walked with back straight, strides long. The few others in the street got out of their way, sensing whatever their business was was something not to be interfered with.
The figure turned to a door at the darkest part of the street. They rapped on the wood in a practiced fashion. After a pause the door swung open, revealing a long and empty passageway. They walked in, the door swinging closed by itself. Striding down the corridor, the cloaked figure reached another door at the end. Again, there was a required knock. This time the door opened to a room full of people.
The room was full of small tables, two or three people at each, drinking, chatting, engaged in a game of cards. A thin layer of smoke coated the room from those higher end few who could afford the cigars. A man standing by the door took the newcomer’s cloak. The figure underneath was a young woman who was, inexplicably, completely dry. The doorman looked between the dry woman and the soaked cloak but said nothing.
The woman regarded the room with a cool gaze, sensing nothing untoward. Smoothing her already perfect braid she walked towards the bar. A few patrons gave her side glances, lingering on her unusual attire; breeches, boots and a cotton shirt, not at all what a lady would wear. But this was a place where you would find all sorts, so not one stopped her.
The barman gave a grunt at her arrival. When she ordered a glass of water, his sour face turned even more so, until she slid over a card. It was plain white except for the coiled snake in the bottom right corner. His eyes widened.
“You can sit over there miss,” he said in a hushed voice, sliding her water over quickly and pocketing the card.
The woman took the empty corner booth the barman had indicated, sitting in the darkest part so she could keep an eye on the room but no one could keep an eye on her. She put her glass down, adding a sprinkle of herbs to the water and taking a long gulp. She then took two orbs out of her pocket. They were white, with a small black dot surrounded by a band of blue. She could fit both in her hand.
She placed a handkerchief down on the grimy table before her, and after giving a kiss to the two balls, set them down atop it. A light projected from the two black dots in each ball, a scene forming in front of the woman.
First appeared a young man, an iced lake forming around him, frozen trees at its shores. He skated across its surface through the lightly falling snow towards a young woman who was forming. Her hair was not in a braid in the projection, and she wore a long woollen dress instead of the breeches and cotton shirt. When the young man took her hand her face lit up, the two skating slowly together.
As the woman watched, the young man twisted his hands in the air, mouthing words she could not hear. The snow began to form shapes; bunny rabbits, puppies, fawns. The snow animals ran around the young woman in the projection, making her laugh. The woman reached a hand out towards the projection of the young man, who was smiling handsomely, her eyes glistening.
The woman quickly pocketed the balls, the projection disappearing. She looked up to see a man walking towards her with a slight limp. She put a smile on her face.
“Matthus,” Aurelia said, she offered him the seat in front of her. He slid in, with some difficulty from his knee. “How are you?”
“I’m good, good,” Matthus said.
“And the family?”
“Willa is keeping well, the kids are growing up.”
“Does Willa know you’re here?” Aurelia asked with a wry smile.
“Oh this? This is all fun. I play a card game, hear the local gossip.”
“Smoke a pipe without your wife knowing.”
“Once in a while won’t kill me. Besides, what are you doing here?”
Aurelia played with water glass in front of her. “To smoke a pipe once in a while.”
“Alright, don’t tell me,” said Matthus with his good natured smile. “But you must come for dinner. Why, we haven’t seen you for … three years now. Not since …” He trailed off.
Aurelia nodded, knowing she was lying. However tonight turned out, one way or the other she wouldn’t be going for dinner at Matthus’.
“How is your knee going?” Aurelia asked.
“It plays up every now and again,” he said.
“Do you still apply the ointment I gave you? You know you need to do it every-”
“Morning and evening. I know. It ran out a year ago. I went to the new apothecary in town, but she’s not half the healer you are. You should come back.”
The barman was signalling for Aurelia. She stood to leave but Matthus grabbed her wrist.
“I know it’s been hard,” said Matthus. “Losing Jonas was a blow for all of us. But you still have friends Aurelia, we still care for you.”
She gave his hand a squeeze. “I know. It was good seeing you. Send Willa and the kids my love.”
Aurelia followed the barman behind the bar, through a curtain, up a narrow staircase and into a very cluttered room, with a fireplace in the corner. There he left her.
The room smelt strongly of smoke, of a burning that never went away. The floor was a deep carpet, the shelves filled with ingredients, instruments, pots for cooking. Some things Aurelia found in her perusing were banned, outlawed for their dark nature. Not that this type of person would care.
Aurelia took a seat at the round table in the centre of the room. The table had scorch marks, gauges and wide slashes. It had been well used, for projects Aurelia would rather not know. The door opened, Aurelia turning to it. But no one was there. When she turned back to the seat in front of her, an old lady was looking back at her.
The old lady was wearing a deep blue silk dress, her fingers coated in precious rings. She fixed her perfectly curled grey hair, giving a smile to Aurelia with a full set of teeth. “Hello Aurelia.”
Aurelia wasn’t going to be impressed by this woman seemingly just knowing her name.
She gave a curt nod. “Madame Ophidia. Good evening.”
“I expect you know my payment?”
Aurelia handed over a bag of coins. Madame Ophidia weighed it in her hands, then with a snap of her fingers it was gone. Aurelia was still not impressed.
“So why are you here my dear?” Madame Ophidia leaned forward with a knowing look. “A love potion perhaps? With skin like that it can’t be a youth potion. Or good fortune? You seem in need of cheering up.”
“Why Madame Ophidia, a woman of your supposed powers should know what I seek.”
Madame Ophidia’s eyes flashed darkly, before she composed her face into a toothy smile.
“Of course I know. But a girl so beautiful as yourself should not be seeking something so dark. I merely wanted to persuade you into taking a … lighter path.”
Is that really true? Aurelia looked into Madame Ophidia’s eyes, so bright and sharp in her wrinkled face, so out of place. But they revealed nothing.
“I cannot be persuaded,” said Aurelia. “It is a time potion I seek.”
Madame Ophidia nodded solemnly. “I feared as much.”
With a grand sweep of her hand, two teacups appeared, steaming with a dark fluid. Aurelia inclined her head in thanks, taking a sip. The drink was sweet and warmed her insides up pleasurably.
After a long sip from her own drink, Madame Ophidia began pottering around the room.
“You know the dangers involved in time travel?” She picked up a jar, looked at its contents, put it down and chose another. “You know you can only go back and never return?”
“Yes I know,” Aurelia said, admiring the detail on Madame Ophidia’s cup.
“You know you will take the place of your past self? You cannot choose just any moment.”
Madame Ophidia got a fire blazing in the fire place, placing a large iron pot atop it. Aurelia put the tea cup down.
Aurelia watched as Madame Ophidia added flies’ wings and moose urine, poured in powdered raven legs and fish eyes. She added other things as well, things Aurelia didn’t know the name of but had seen Jonas use many a time.
“You know what the main ingredient for time travel is?” Asked Madame Ophidia when the potion as coming to a bubble. “It’s not very common.”
Aurelia walked over to Madame Ophidia and took the two balls out of her pocket. “A magician’s eyes.”
Madame Ophidia’s eyes widened ever so slightly. That’s right, you recognise these eyes don’t you?
“How did you come across something so rare?” Madame Ophidia reached for them but Aurelia threw them in the potion. She would never let Madame Ophidia touch them.
“They belonged to my fiancé,” said Aurelia. She watched for the other woman’s reaction. “Before he was murdered.”
Madame Ophidia’s face gave nothing away. “How tragic.”
She set to stirring the pot, the potion becoming a blue the same colour as Jonas’ eyes. Aurelia wandered about the room. She knew this certain potion would take a time to be ready. She had all the patience in the world. She had spent three years after all devoting every waking moment just so she could find Madame Ophidia.
“He was a brilliant magician, you know?” Said Aurelia as she aimlessly picked up and set down objects. “Very talented. And very compassionate. If you couldn’t pay for his services all he required was that you gave back to the community in some way and he was happy. He was a good man, my Jonas.”
Madame Ophidia turned from the fire the smile no longer there. “Shall we have our tea while we wait?”
The two sat at the table again, each watching the other over the rim of their cup as they drank. They both put their cups down at the same time, the china clattering, not a drop left in either.
“You didn’t just come here for a time potion, did you?” Asked Madame Ophidia.
“No,” said Aurelia.
“You’re a bright girl, you seem to know a lot about magic. You know that there’s nothing I can do to bring back someone from the dead.”
“No, that’s what the time potion is for. Jonas won’t die twice. I just came to see how his murderer is faring after all these years.”
Madame Ophidia drew herself up in her chair. “That is a strong accusation to make.”
“Cut the bullshit. You can make your hair grey and your skin wrinkled, your enchantments always were your best piece of magic, but your eyes can’t lie. I know those eyes, Nora.”
A cat’s grin crossed Madame Ophelia’s face, and like wax melting down a candle her enchantment began to slip. Her hair became long and brown, her skin tightening to its youthful state, until Nora sat before Aurelia.
“My brother taught you well, something he never bothered to do with me,” said Nora.
“Jonas taught you plenty,” Aurelia said disdainfully. “You lacked the talent to apply it.”
Nora drew her silk gown around herself. “So where did you find his eyes? I thought they burned with his body.”
“Of course you did. Or else you would have come searching for them yourself.” Aurelia needed to waste time, the potion needed a few more minutes. “When he heard the guard were coming after him, that he had been accused of being a magician and unlawfully practicing magic, he put a protection spell on his eyes. So that I could have them, could make use of them. It was the only thing the guard left of him.”
Nora inhaled sharply. “A protection spell…”
“You didn’t know you could that, did you? You always were a pathetic magician in comparison to your brother. That’s why you handed him over to the guard isn’t it? To get rid of the competition. Looks like you’re doing well for yourself now Madame Ophidia. Got a nice underground business going? Took me a long time to find you, but here we are.”
She didn’t deny any of it.
“Yes, here we are.” Nora leaned back in her chair, regarding Aurelia. “You know, having my brother gone has done you good. You’re stronger, wiser. You were too chirpy for my liking before but now … Stay with me, work with me. There’s a lot we can teach each other.”
“As if I would ever teach you anything. I came for the time potion and that’s all.”
“Too bad, I could have given you the antidote.” Nora looked down at the cup before Aurelia. “In a few moments the poison in your tea will reach your heart and you’ll die. Leaving me with the potion, with which I can retrieve my brother’s eyes and use them for his knowledge. I am so glad you dropped by.”
Jonas’ eyes. Not just good for a time potion. Magician’s eyes held their memories, what they saw, what they experienced. That’s why Aurelia knew Nora would make the time potion, to see if she had Jonas’ eyes. Nora was so predictable.
“Yes, I guess that is exactly how it would go,” said Aurelia, unfazed. “Had I not already taken the antidote downstairs in the bar.” Nora’s eyes widened in rage. “Wolfsbane? Deadly for a mortal, while it just incapacitates a magician’s abilities. That’s what you gave Jonas isn’t it? Before the guard came. I saw it in his eyes.”
Nora gaped. “But you’re not a magician. How did you-”
“Love is stronger than magic, that’s what Jonas told me. We loved each other so much his eyes allowed me into their memories. I saw everything. I knoweverything. I know what you did.”
Nora flipped the table, the teacups shattering. Both women stood, Nora’s eyes blazing, Aurelia calm.
“I don’t need poison,” seethed Nora. “I’ll kill you myself.”
She raised a hand, muttering under her breath as she cast a spell on Aurelia. But nothing happened.
“You’re not the only one who can acquire wolfsbane,” Aurelia said with a smile. “You should be more careful, customers can put anything in your drink.”
Aurelia took a knife out of her pocket. Nora backed away, realising she had no more up her sleeve.
“Now, do you want to keep the left or the right?” Nora didn’t understand Aurelia’s question. “The left eye or the right? I guess it won’t matter, because when I change time you won’t be here. But I need an eye to show Jonas, so he will believe me when I tell him you’re about to betray him.”
“Aurelia,” Nora pleaded, “we can talk about this. We can work something out between us. What do you want? I can give you anything you want, I’m powerful now.”
“But I only want Jonas.”
Nora screamed as Aurelia descended upon her, taking her left eye. Aurelia bagged it and tied it to her breeches securely. The potion now ready, Aurelia scooped out of the pot the one mouthful that was left.
“I just wanted to be seen,” said Nora, holding the bloody hole in her face. “I just wanted to be known as something other than Jonas’ incompetent sister.”
Aurelia had no sympathy. “He would have helped you. Jonas would have done anything for you. But once he sees this,” Aurelia patted the eyeball, “I doubt he’ll feel the same way.”
Nora gave a sob.
And Aurelia took the potion, vanishing from sight.