Sandy is a writer. She is also a wife and a mother, a daughter and a friend. You can find her on her blog, An Honest Sinner, where she writes about her addiction and other character flaws as well as the things that make her life unexpectedly amazing. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
You may know Sandy from her amazingly frank autobiographical writing, but when she puts her mind to fiction, she knows how to cast a spell.
Living is the Best Revenge
The shadow was great and frightened Vanessa so that she actually tucked into the steering wheel. That must have been an enormous bird, she thought to herself as she straightened and drove on.
A chill ran down her arms, odd considering the heat of the late summer day. This happened frequently when her mind was tired and she yearned for a solid twenty minutes to close her eyes and shake off the weariness settling in. The thought of meeting her girlfriends later tonight for a drink to celebrate her new position at work made her even feel more sapped.
Deciding a quick cappuccino was in order to get her through the remainder of the afternoon; Vanessa veered off course for home and pulled into a coffee shop she spied on the other side of the street. In eight minutes she would still be waiting patiently for the steaming cappuccino that would likely salvage her day. She barely batted an eyelash as she heard the sirens scream by. She would be forever oblivious to the collision a mile and a half up the road that claimed the life of the driver of the car that had been behind her.
“To Vanessa!” her friends cheered, lifting the shot glasses into the air for the fourth (or was it the fifth?) time this evening. Celebrating her new promotion at work was turning into a drunk fest and Vanessa was uneasy. There had been a fuzziness to her thoughts all afternoon and well into this evening. Claiming a need for fresh air but really just wanting to cut the night short and head home to bed, she suggested they leave the club and perhaps walk to another.
Hillary and Selina reluctantly followed but continued their giddy chatting as the three of them wandered down the street, arm in arm, enjoying the lightness that only twenty-six and tequila can bring.
As they continued down the street, Vanessa found no other place appealing and was preparing to claim her head ached in order to cut out and head home to her bed. In truth, she wasn’t feeling well. Not sick. Just off. Anxious at the edges she did her best to convince herself it was nothing but fatigue. She had after all been working insane hours to secure her new spot in the company. This was just an adrenaline crash, she was sure.
“Ness! Look! Oh, we have to!”
This was Selina’s cry as she spied a fortune-teller; open for business at the late hour, no doubt keeping the doors open for opportunities just such as this — drunken fools willing to spend twenty dollars to hear some ridiculous fortune cookie prediction.
“I don’t think so,” said Vanessa, “you know it’s a crock of shit. Not to mention a waste of money.”
“C’mon,” slurred Selina. “Just for a minute and then we’ll catch a cab and go home.” She emphasized the plea with a tilt of her pretty red head and a pout that moved mountains of men to do her bidding but only made Vanessa want to slap her pretty face.
Only wanting to go home and making her point in the tone that Selina and Hillary both knew well enough by now not to argue with, Vanessa relented with a condition. “Five minutes. That’s it.”
Holding hands, the trio crossed the street and stepped through the fortune teller’s door.
Vanessa pulled the blanket over her head to shut out the light. She knew she would have to get up and move. She would need to eat and drink and pee. She would have to keep living. She had no choice.
It had been sixteen years. Vanessa had moved seven times, no longer an up and coming executive but working now as a waitress in the odd diner in small towns, isolating herself from as many people as she could. She couldn’t bear caring. She couldn’t love.
If she stayed long enough in one place, the men would begin to notice that her boobs didn’t sag, and the women would began to talk behind their hands about how she must have had work done. They’d notice that she never got crow’s feet, never looked tired, never got grey hairs…
She had stopped trying to fight what she now knew was inevitable. She was damned.
She lay in the darkness under the dark green blanket covering the twin bed she claimed as her own in this next nowhere town and thought about what used to be. These thoughts always led to the night of the fortune teller.
The three girls opened the door and entered the shop. Vanessa couldn’t help but note that it was exactly what she had expected; red curtains and dimly lit, a beaded doorway that no doubt led to the den of doom. She stifled a laugh but rolled her eyes at Selina when she saw the look of absolute delight on her face.
“Please. Come in.”
Again, the voice just as Vanessa imagined, damaged by too many cheap cigarettes. The girls all stepped forward to make their way through the beaded entrance.
“No. Just you. The dark-haired one,” rasped the voice of the still unseen seer. “Just you.”
Hillary was blonde, Selina a ginger. Vanessa had raven black hair complimenting her pale skin and grey eyes. Turning to Selina she whispered through clenched teeth, “Five minutes. And you owe me twenty bucks.”
Vanessa slid through the center of the beads and sitting on a chaise in the corner was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. The light was enough for her to see the long mahogany locks acting as a halo to golden, flawless skin that became unimportant and close to invisible when Vanessa met the deep indigo eyes.
“Darling girl, have you come to me after all?” The woman asked, her voice full of surprise. “And of your own free will?”
Vanessa now noticed the voice was not raspy at all but rather serpentine. She was thrown by the sound alone but the words confounded her.
With a half-smile, she responded, “I think you may have me confused wi….”
The fortune teller cut her off mid-sentence with a low, guttural sound that must have been a chuckle. “No. I am not confused. It is you I have been waiting for.”
As she sat up and stared into Vanessa’s own grey eyes, her gaze seemed to burn and Vanessa was suddenly terrified. She tried to turn and walk out but she couldn’t move. The woman — for that is what she seemed to be — rose and crept toward her.
“I came for you earlier. You cheated me. But for your whimsical desire for a cup of coffee, you would not be here speaking to me now. A car crash would have been quick and relatively painless. Instead, I took a soul of a young man who was not yet ripe. Do you have any idea how I despise eating souls before their time? Nourishing, yes, but wholly unsatisfying to the palette.”
Vanessa felt petrified. She tried to speak but couldn’t find her voice.
“I try to be….fair,” she continued, “but as I said you cheated me. Then you step into my parlor and scoff, laugh with your friends when I beckon you here. Do you know who I am?”
And she knew. As the woman-thing came closer, Vanessa smelled the sweet, sickening odor of rotting flowers and old flesh. Vanessa knew. She stared into the deep pools of her eyes and knew she was looking at Death.
“I don’t like my plans thwarted, you see. I have an agenda and you have muddled that for me. I demand a price. The silly puppets in the other room will do for a start. In your act of selfishness, a soul I was not prepared for was plucked before its time,” Death explained with a papery snap of her long fingers, “and you have caused undue suffering. I am not a monster, after all.” The sickening smirk as Death spoke these words made Vanessa feel as if she would vomit.
As Vanessa stood stock still, unable to move or speak, the beautiful reaper spoke again.
“The terms of your atonement are simple as well as non-negotiable. You shall live. “
The fortune teller — Death now — had simply turned and walked away. There was no puff of smoke, no magic, no gimmick. The otherworldly thing had just walked back to the corner chaise and resumed her position, settling in to watch her own brand of justice measured out. As Vanessa turned and walked through the beaded doorway she wondered silently if Death would stay in that chair forever.
She never spoke a word of any of it to her friends. She simply said she wanted to go home. Two weeks later, Selina was found strangled by a man she had met in the very same club the three friends had celebrated in that fateful night.
Vanessa could never be certain what fate befell Hillary, only that one day she disappeared without a trace. Vanessa simply knew without a shadow of doubt that her friend was dead.
“You shall live,” Death had said, and Vanessa had lived. And lived. And lived. And would go on living, it seemed, while others around her aged, or even died as casualties in the game Death was playing with her.
After ten years, Vanessa tried to convince herself that the curse had stopped. She had already moved several times by then. Not only did she go on living, but she’d stopped aging. She was a decade older but to the outside world she hadn’t aged a day. Rather than tell the strange tale, she simply kept on the move.
There had been other loved ones through the years lost to Death. Once, having met a man she tried not to but couldn’t help but love, she told him the story of death and immortality. He cried as he begged her to get some help. His tears had dried by the time he walked out the door. Sadly, Vanessa still loved him. He died in a fire six weeks later. She was careful not to love after that.
Vanessa rose from under the blanket and stalked to the kitchen. She poured a glass of water and pulled an apple from the bowl on the table. She still had to eat, though like so many other simple pleasures, she no longer enjoyed it. Even the smell of coffee made her sick to her stomach. She’d tried killing herself in every way imaginable, including starving herself, but that only made her weak, miserable and in pain — oh yes, she could still feel pain. And so she went on living, going through the motions, doing all the mundane things that the living do.
And she would go on living. And living and living. Until Death decided to end her punishment.
But Vanessa had more immediate problems. The women in town had started to gossip about her. It was time to move on.