“You worthless bast—”
Victor Mason grabbed a handful of Mercy Blackstone’s moss colored hair, kicked open the screen door and flung her into the night air. His blue claws scraping her neck as he let go. Mercy skidded down the porch steps, a cloud of dirt whirled around her as she landed on the ground.
“Now, now” —Victor stepped down to the bottom step of the porch— “don’t be so un-lady like. You lost fair and square. And a deal is a deal.”
“You cheated!” Mercy spat.
A chorus of crickets and frogs led the background melody as she picked herself off the ground and dusted off her skirts.
Victor shrugged. “What kind of man cheats a lady at cards?”
“The kind of man you are.”
The other card players emerged from the house and stood behind Victor just as distant howling joined in the chorus. Mercy eyed them carefully. They were his friends, and while she didn’t know them well, she knew they wouldn’t back up her story. Victor cheated. He used magic in a no magic card game. That was the only reason she lost. Her reluctance to participate in Victor’s weekly card game melted away after she won her first three hands. She had never been invited before. In fact, although Victor had been her neighbor for years, she didn’t have much interaction with him.
“This was a trick. You just wanted my land.”
“You signed it over Mercy. A deal is a deal.” Lee Hart’s voice was as calm and cool as always. He moved next to Victor and held up the deed to Mercy’s property.
“You know he cheated!”
“You can’t prove that.” Lee stepped down from the porch into the dirt. His hooves clicking against the wood with each step. “Mercy let it go. Go home and—”
“Take one last look around because you need to be out by the end of the week,” finished Victor.
“You—” Mercy lunged at him. Just as she reached out to grab him by the collar, Lee darted in front of her and pushed her back.
“Come on Mercy. Just go home.” Lee stood between them.
“Yeah go home. While you still can,” teased Victor.
Mercy shoved Lee. “You’ll pay for this. You all will.”
Blackstone Manor sat on twelve acres of land next to Victor Mason’s six acres. He had coveted her father’s land for as long as she could remember.
What made her think she could beat him at poker? How could she have been so stupid?
It was all her fault. She had been playing Victor and his friends all night and won every hand until the last one. That was his plan all along. Make her comfortable and sure of herself so when he suggested the bet, Mercy would say yes because she was on a winning streak.
Where will I go?
Mercy was the sole caretaker of the manor. Everyone else had either died or moved away. What would she do with her belongings? Her family heirlooms. There weren’t many, just a dining room table that had been in her family for generations, some antique glasses and a painting of her great-great-grandmother. A house full of things and nowhere to put them.
As she closed the front door behind her, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She lit the candle that sat on a gilded table by the door. As she looked around, her sadness was replaced by anger. Mercy sat in a red velvet chair by the window in the parlor. Victor knew everyone in town. Everyone important. Even if she tried to fight him for the deed, none of the men that were a part of the game would admit Victor cheated. Lee Hart, Wilson Gallows, Henry Lovetts, and Levi Long were all a part of the game, and they would all pay.
Mercy stared at the fireplace. She wanted to remember it. Every smell, every room. How three of the floorboards in the foyer always creaked under her feet. Sitting in the sunroom and watching the sun rise and set. Or smelling flowers from her garden through the length of the house when the windows were open.
If she had to leave she would, but Victor Mason wouldn’t get off so easily. She packed a small bag with the essentials, some books, and a knife. She was on her way out the room when something caught her eye. Mercy turned around and saw the music box on her dresser shimmering in the candlelight. The box, silver with three rubies on the lid, was a gift from her mother on her birthday. She wished she could take it with her, but she had no need for it.
Mercy opened it. The whimsical tune brought back memories of lavender, jasmine, the laughter of her sister, the slowed breaths of her mother, and the sobs of her father. Her mother had been sick for months and had been confined to her bed for three weeks. What started as a fever turned into her mother’s inability to breathe properly and then at all. It was a rare disease not yet named as it only affected a small percentage of firebirds. Although her mother was only half firebird, she still contracted the highly contagious disease. Mercy and her sister were forced to stay as far from her mother as possible. Except for her birthday. When Mercy turned ten, she was allowed in the room but only for a few minutes. It was then her mother gave her the music box.
When her mother struggled to take her last breath, the music box played. When her father screamed and sobbed as he watched the life leave her mother’s eyes, the music box played. Months later when her sister was the first one to laugh again and the heaviness that shrouded the house was lifted, the music box played.
And when Mercy Blackstone plotted her revenge and walked through her childhood home one last time, the music box played.
Victor Mason saw a shadow emerge from the woods. The closer it got the more it took shape. A woman’s shape. He watched it saunter across his property until he recognized the shape coming towards him.
“A deal is a deal, Mercy.”
There was something strange about her. No one had seen her for weeks. Not since the night of their poker game, and he won her land. Truthfully, Victor expected more of a fight from her. More of a struggle. A battle of wits or a battle of lawyers. She was so angry that night, and yet now as she stood in front of him, she smiled. A thin weird smile.
“Mercy, what do you want?”
The whites of her eyes turned black. Victor backed into the screen door as the wind whipped around him. Deeply rooted trees shook, branches slammed into the side of the house. Victor crouched to the floor as branches and rocks flew above him. He glanced in the direction he had last seen Mercy, but she was gone. Rocks crashed into the front windows raining glass all around him. Being half minotaur, Victor had no magic. His wife did, and had she not gone to visit her mother, none of this would have been happening.
Victor was lifted into the air and slammed into one of the posts on the porch. As he slumped to the ground gasping for air, she came in to view. A flash of lightning illuminated her face. Black eyes fixed on him.
“I hope you enjoy my family’s land, but you won’t be there long. I just came here to tell you that there are only two ways to get back what I’ve already taken from you. Leave or a sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice?” Victor’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Yes. And only one of your children will do.” Mercy turned to walk away. “And it will only last for fifty years.”
“What did you take?”
“Death of one or all? You choose.”
Mercy stood under the large tree in Lee Hart’s front yard. “Death of one or all. You die or your entire family dies. Your line will end in your lifetime. So, death of one or all?”
Lee could barely make out her face. There seemed to be a dark cloud over her. Distorting her before his very eyes. But her voice was the same.
“I’m sorry Victor stole your land but move on Mercy. If you—”
Mercy disappeared. Lee opened the screen door and peered out into the yard. She was gone. He inched further out on to the porch, looking from right to left. Nothing.
“What was that about?” he said to himself. “What happened to her?”
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He spun around. Mercy stood behind him. Her black eyes staring through him. Lee stepped back, lost his footing and stumbled down the porch steps. Landing in the dirt with a hard thud.
“Death of one or all? You die or your family. Pick.”
“I’m not picking anything. You’re crazy! Get off my land!”
“You will choose.”
Mercy disappeared in a cloud of black smoke. Lee sat in the dirt trying to catch his breath. He knew Mercy was going to be angry when Victor suggested his plan for taking her land, but it seemed to him she had gone past angry. She had become delusional. No one had seen her in so long maybe she had driven herself crazy.
A piercing scream jolted Lee awake the next morning. He sprang up, jumped out of bed, and ran to the source. Down the hall, to the room, his daughter Nora shared with her husband.
“What is going on?”
Nora was in bed writhing in agony as her mother, sister, and husband crowded around her.
Lee grabbed her husband by the arm and pulled him away from the bed. “Jesse go get the doctor!” He turned the man towards the door and pushed him out of the room. “What is happening?”
“I’m not sure. She just started screaming. I think it’s something with the baby,” his wife Mariel answered.
“It’s too soon,” answered Mariel. She took a white cloth and dabbed Nora’s forehead.
“What do we do?” Nina, his second daughter, sat on the bed next to her sister holding her hand.
“We wait for the doctor,” answered Lee.
“Oh no,” whispered Mariel.
Blood oozed from between Nora’s legs down the white sheets; like a snake crawling in the grass. A scream erupted from Nora as more blood snaked down the bed.
By the time the doctor arrived, Nora was pale and quiet.
“I’m sorry.” Doctor Peters kept his fingers on Nora’s neck. “She has no pulse. I’m afraid she’s gone.”
“What happened?” asked Lee as he took his daughter’s hand. It was cold and pale and so small compared to his own.
“Might have been a hemorrhage that caused the loss of the baby, and she couldn’t stop bleeding. I’m not sure.”
Mariel let out a sob that turned into a scream seconds later. She doubled over clutching her belly. Blood trickling down her legs.
“Help me get her to a bed!”
Lee swept his wife off the floor and into his arms. He ran to their bedroom and laid her gently on the bed.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“I’m not sure.”
When the doctor tried to listen to her heart, Mariel’s body began to shake uncontrollably.
As suddenly as she started shaking, she stopped. The doctor listened to her heart.
“I’m so sorry, Lee. She’s gone.”
“What? No!” Lee climbed on to the bed and shook her violently. “Wake Mar! Wake up!”
“She’s gone,” said Dr. Peters as he placed a hand on Lee’s shoulder.
Lee shook him off. Another scream turned his attention towards the door.
“Oh, what now?” Dr. Peters dashed out of the door ahead of Lee.
They ran down the hall and out the front door. Nina stood next to Jesse who was lying on the ground. The doctor felt for a pulse. He looked up at Lee and shook his head. Nina clasped a hand over her mouth and muffled a sob.
“What is happening here Lee?” The doctor stood up and shook his head.
Before Lee could answer, he spotted something in the woods. A dark figure in a dress stood between the trees. Even in the daylight, he struggled to make it out. As he strained his eyes to see what they wouldn’t, he heard it.
“Death of one or all.”
Mercy’s voice whirled around him.
She did this.
He looked at his daughter. Nina sat on the porch stairs sobbing into her hands. He looked back at the forest, but the figure was gone. He searched the woods in front of his house, but the figure was not there.
“Yes?” Lee blinked at the doctor.
“Maybe this was poison? What have you been eating lately?”
Death of one or all.
Lee looked from the doctor back to his daughter. And there she was. Mercy dressed in all black stood in front of Nina. Lee looked from the doctor back to Nina.
How is he not seeing her?
Mercy pointed at Nina.
Death of one or all.
“I’ll come back. In the meantime, don’t eat anything. I’ll send someone for the bodies.”
Lee blinked, and Mercy was gone. He nodded at the doctor as he searched for a clue as to where the woman would appear next.
Dr. Peters started to leave but stopped when he got to the bottom step of the porch. “Oh, did you hear about Mercy?”
Lee’s eyes darted towards the doctor. “What about her?”
“She hung herself. A while ago. They found her hanging from a tree at the edge of her property. She had been there for weeks. Shame, she was such a nice woman.” Dr. Peters sighed. “I’ll send someone right away.”
The doctor slung the strap of his medical bag around his shoulder and galloped away.
Lee walked up to his daughter and patted her on the head. “Nina go to your grandmother.”
“I can’t leave you here alone with—” Nina bit her lip as she stared at the screen door.
“I have to wait for someone to get them. You needn’t be here for that. Go to your grandmother’s and tell her what happened. She should know.”
Nina stood up, and Lee kissed her softly on the forehead.
“Are you sure?” her voice was weak and shaky.
“Of course. I’ll be there shortly. Go ahead.”
Nina nodded. Lee listened to the click of her heels as she trotted in the direction of his mother’s house. He sighed as he stared into the woods. He knew what needed to be done. To save his daughter. His mother. His uncle. Whatever Mercy had done to his family, he knew what he had to do to save the rest of them. He didn’t have the magic to break the darkness Mercy had cast over them.
Who would have that power? he thought as he grabbed some rope from the shed. He would do anything for his family. With the help of a ladder, he tied the rope to the strongest looking branch of the biggest tree in the front yard. Lee looped it around his neck. His hooves kicked away the ladder.
Mercy smiled from the porch.
One down three to go.