Streetlights Shattering on Essex Street
Short story — fantasy/adventure/thriller/mystery
This was originally published on Airborne Orange
The streetlights flickered out one by one, starting with the one furthest from Jade. She stopped dead in her tracks as the one directly above her shattered, immersing the whole street in darkness. An eerie, cold chill descended onto Essex Street, making it much colder than it had any right to be, even for late autumn. A pile of leaves, collected at the foot of a tree, rustled and began to whirl around like a tornado. Jade’s head began to spin; she clung on to the nearest streetlight pole to steady herself. She didn’t want to fall to the ground. She knew what was coming, she had experienced it before. She couldn’t let herself be found slumped on the ground in front of him.
Suddenly, the leaves picked up speed and all turned crimson. Dust joined in in the swirl and a draft began to blow. The elements bundled into an eddy of blood red and orange, then exploded, the leaves and dirt flying around in all directions. A man now stood next to the tree. He wore a well-ironed matt red tuxedo and a black shirt underneath. A white tie added an extra splash of colour to his attire. In his right hand he carried a cane that bore a skull for a handle. It was sleek black, save for one scarlet line running down its length that matched the colour of his tux. He rapped it on the ground as he proceeded towards Jade, but didn’t seem to be using it for support.
“Hello, Jade,” he said heartily, raising a gloved hand. Jade, however, didn’t shake it. She kept to herself, not wanting anything to do with this fiend.
“Whatever it is, I don’t want any of it.”
“Ever so cold, Jade. A little niceness won’t kill you, you know.”
“No, but you might.” Then, shaking her head, “What do you want, Samael?”
“Nope. No more deals with the devil. No more bullshit that I’ll surely lose out on.”
“That’s why I’m giving you your soul back — so you won’t lose.” Jade had sold her soul to Samael years ago in exchange for his help in fighting tuberculosis of her lymph nodes. She learnt that she should have just taken her chances on her own the hard way.
“Why, so you can just take it again? I’ll pass, thanks. Besides, I’m doing just fine without it.”
“Are you, Jade? Are you really?” Samael waved his hand through the air, causing yet another cold draft. Jade’s body shivered and doubled over itself, but somehow, she avoided falling to the ground. Slowly, her skin peeled back to reveal a fleshless skeleton, with mere sockets for eyes and no nose.
“I wouldn’t really call this doing just fine,” he mocked. “You’re scheduled to die, you know. Reaper’s been notified and everything. Samael feigned pity and worry. “I could delay that though. Give you a few more years.”
“Again, pass.” Samael clenched his fist in fury. Jade began to choke, even though he hadn’t made any physical contact. “Go ahead, kill me,” she managed through forced breaths.
“You never were too bright, Jade,” he sneered. “You’ve been dead for a long while. Your sister, Catherine, though. Well she’s quite the other, isn’t she? I could visit her with the snap of my fingers.” Samael raised his hand and pushed his middle finger and thumb together.
“What do I need to do?” She’d fallen for the devil’s snare once more. Suddenly, Jade could breathe freely again.
“Knew you’d come around!” With that happy remark, Samael set the street right, and gave Jade her human appearance back too. “But telling you is much too hard. Let me show you instead.” Samael conjured a ball of red smoke and sent it hurtling towards Jade’s chest. When it reached her, no physical damage took place, but her mind had become permanently unhinged.
A powerful lust for a strange woman flowed through her, making her feel a passion like no other. She had thick locks and mesmerising green eyes. Her body swayed perfectly in time with the wind, as her chocolate brown hair swept across her face, the sunlight creating a glistening interplay of glowing wisps. Around her neck, she wore a tiny, rusted key that had some words engraved on them. Jade couldn’t quite make out what exactly they were. Her whole world was centred around this person she couldn’t even remember seeing, let alone actually meeting. But then it all came crashing down. Love turned to angst. Passion, to hatred. Jade screamed in pain, but her body stayed still. There was no relief after the pain. Torture, worse than before came bearing down on her. When it was done, all it left was a gaping hole, leaving her with nothing but a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Just before it ended though, the key appeared again — this time, ablaze.
At that moment, Samael called the smoke ball back to him, and touched it to his head, the ball disappearing once again. Jade gasped for fresh air, bending over and grasping the pole for support. It felt as if her guts had been ripped out, poked holes in, then stuffed back in — all within a second.
“What the fuck was that?”
“My memories. A few of them; just the ones I needed you to see for you to understand.”
“That woman, she meant something to you, didn’t she?”
“Yes. I suppose you could say that.”
“But then she left you?”
“She left me, yes. She left me and took everything from me. Even my ability to grieve for my losses.” Silence ensued, both unsure of what to say next. But then Jade remembered,
“And the key? I saw it repeatedly. What does that mean?”
“Good job, Jade! Good job! You cracked the case.” Suddenly, he was all jumpy. “The key is what you have to get. Go to Sammirah and get back my key.” Jade assumed Sammirah was the woman she had seen.
“Why can’t you get it yourself?”
“Let’s just say it’s a little bit out of my reach.”
“That’s not enough. If you want my help, you’re going to have to tell me everything.”
Evidently aware that he had no other option, Samael began with a grudging, “Fine.”
“After our dispute, Sammirah took a few of my magical artefacts, the key included, and ran away. When I found out, I went to confront her about it and to take back my things. However, she used their power against me, and came very close to killing me. I barely managed to get out of there alive, but still demanded my property back. Her response was to set up powerful magical barriers all around herself that prevent me from coming within fifty meters of her.”
Jade laughed, “So you got your ass handed to you and then got a restraining order. Real smooth.”
“What’s so special about this key, anyway?”
“I need it to keep up my end of a deal. If I don’t deliver it, I could be in a lot of trouble.”
“I’ll never understand how your world works. All this fuss over a small, rusted key?”
“Not your world, our world. We inhabit two sides of the same world, Jade. Whatever happens in one heavily influences the other.”
“Yeah, yeah whatever.
How do I get to this Sammirah?”
“Finding her is the easy part. Getting the key from her is the hard bit. You’ll have to be sharp, cunning, agile, and smart to get past that girl.”
“You’re still in love with her, aren’t you?”
“No, Jade. I am not.
Now, if memory serves, which it does, you obtained certain magic powers when you traded your soul, did you not?”
“One or two, yeah.”
“Good. You haven’t neglected them entirely have you?”
“No. They’ve helped from time to time. But mostly I’ve kept them suppressed.”
“Well it’s time for you to show them the light of day once more. You can’t face Sammirah without magic — that would be suicide.” Samael began to walk in the opposite direction to which Jade was going, leaving her no choice but to follow. All this trouble over little Katie. That girl had always been a pain in the ass.
“Now, unlike a lot of us inherently magical beings, Sammirah likes to dwell in this side of the realm, posing as a normal human. She owns a liquor store down the street — ”
“The Whisky Garden?”
“You know it?”
Jade nodded. “I’ve been there once or twice. But that was a long time ago. A bottle hasn’t touched these lips in years.”
They walked in silence until they rounded the corner to the store.
“Ah, here it is. I’ll leave you to it, then.” With that, Samael vanished in a puff of red smoke, leaving Jade standing in front of the store, the neon sign flickering on and off. Some letters were gone entirely. The place seemed shut.
“That’s weird.” It was open just minutes ago when Jade crossed it, before Samael arrived. “Hello? Anyone?” The door creaked open noisily, and a short, waddling figure came out.
“What can I get ya?” She wasn’t anything like the woman in the memories. No slim body, no wonderful curves. Her eyes and hair were the wrong colour too. The key was there, though. Hanging around her neck, on top of her white work shirt. Maybe she used some sort of magic to change her form. A bell ringing snapped Jade out of her thoughts, bringing her back to the present. A present where Katie would get killed if she didn’t complete this job.
“I’ll take a Bunnahabhain 35-year-old whisky.” “…uh, please,” she added on hastily. Best try and put her in a good mood for what’s to come. The woman disappeared into the store and Jade followed her in, waiting at the counter. A little while and a lot of noise later, she returned with a bottle in her hand.
“Here you go,” she said, reaching over the counter.
“Yep, this will do brilliantly.”
“It’s a very fine bottle of malt scotch whisky. Quite expensive too — that’ll be eight hundred.” Jade forked over the money, making a mental note to get at least a thousand from Samael.
“Speaking of fine…that’s a really nice necklace you’ve got there.” The woman raised her hand to it in response, covering it almost protectively.
“Yes, my uncle gave it to me when I was ten. Told me it was a very valuable family heirloom and that I should look after it.” What a lying little bitch.
“Hmm, can you tell me anything about it’s history? These kinds of things are sort of a hobby of mine.”
“It’s supposedly an ancient mystic totem, passed down from generation to generation through my family. Some say the oldest to possess it was part of the Devil’s inner circle.”
“You know, that’s funny. I know this guy — Samael. Some even call him the Devil. He said that that necklace, specifically the key, is actually his. Sent me in here to get it.” Suddenly, the door swung shut and the blinds were pulled across. No one did anything though. Neither of them seemed too stunned either.
“What’s he got on you? Why’re you doing his bidding?”
“That matters to you how, exactly?” As she said that, Jade thrust her arm forward, sending a pulse of pure energy that she had been accumulating since entering the store towards Sammirah, knocking her backwards, giving Jade a few seconds on her.
She vaulted over the counter, and was about to deliver a second burst, but her luck ended there. Sammirah sent her flying back, crashing through the window and out onto the street. Sammirah emerged through the rubble, floating dauntingly in the air in front of Jade. The body of the shop owner had been shed, with the one from Samael’s memories taking its place.
“You know-” began Jade, before she had to roll to the side to dodge a blast of fire. The ground where she had been moments ago now bore scorch marks.
“-that whole floating in mid-air thing? Doesn’t intimidate me.” She managed to complete her sentence amidst two more blasts. Finally, Jade found an opening, and unleashed all the energy she had been building up in one, concentrated stream of the elements. Sammirah went crashing back, causing part of the liquor store to cave in due to the sheer level of brute force of the blast. This time Jade wasn’t about to stop.
No longer needing to concentrate for a long time to build up her power, Jade took this opportunity and hurled ball after flaming ball of fire at Sammirah, striding confidently towards her fallen body.
“Shame, I thought you would be stronger,” she chided, now standing directly in front of Sammirah.
“Oh, I’m just getting started.” A smile snaked across Sammirah’s face as she smashed her palms together, unleashing a multitude of sound pulses towards Jade, sending her flying back onto the street outside. Then, the pulses paused, and retreated with an even greater force, overlapping and flowing back inside Sammirah. Sammirah shot a taunting look at Jade, who got up and made a mad dash towards her, leaping most of the way. When she was upon Sammirah again, ready to burn her face off, Sammirah spoke, “Shame, I thought you’d be smarter.”
With that, she released the sound pulses with a force that made the initial blast look like a cheap knock-off, not only flinging Jade back harder than before, but also demolishing the shop. Sammirah rose out of the rubble, floating above it for a minute before proceeding towards Jade, now crippled and lying on the ground in immense pain.
“Did you really think you could beat me?” Sammirah dropped to the ground. “Did you really think someone as puny, as worthless, as weak as you, could beat me, a seasoned warrior and hunter?” Jade smirked in response. Sammirah kicked her in the stomach.
“And how, pray tell, do you find this funny? You know I’m about to kill you right?”
“Because…I…did…beat you,” Jade croaked in between feeble gasps for air. She opened her fist to reveal they key, lying comfortably in the palm of her hand. Sammirah’s face filled with fear, confusion, and horror, all flashing by one after the other. She raised her hand to put an end to her, but Jade’s form began to quiver and pulsate.
“See you around, bitch.” Jade looked to the sky and gave it a little nod. She then vaporised into thin air. The only proof of her ever having been there was the destruction their fight had caused.
Jade reappeared, coughing out blood in her living room, where Samael stood in greeting. He waved his hand and Jade’s pain vanished, her injuries beginning to heal. That allowed her to stand upright.
“Nice little trick you got there.”
“Which one — pulling you out of the way of practically assured death, or healing you instantly?”
“Either. Both.” Samael gave a little chuckle. “Well?”
“Where’s the key?” Jade raised her fist to his outstretched hand and opened it, dropping the key.
“Well done, Jade.
Now, like I said, here’s your soul back.” Samael pushed his hand through the air, and a tiny, smoky sphere materialised in front of him. It floated slowly and deliberately towards Jade. She wanted to run into it, to reclaim what was hers, but she didn’t. She didn’t know what could happen to her if she messed with the process.
Finally, after what seemed like eons, the ball of smoke came to her, and flew straight into her chest. Jade inhaled sharply and fell to the ground due to the pain searing through her body. Years of lost connection was being made up for as her soul latched onto every part of her body.
When it was done, the pain subsided instantly, and Jade could stand upright again.
“Get back to living, Jade. The world needs you.”
Jade breathed a sigh of relief.
“I had almost forgotten how good having a soul felt.
Also, you owe me a thousand bucks.”
“For the money I had to give your deranged ex for a bottle of brilliant whisky I didn’t even get to drink.” Samael sighed.
“Fine.” He nodded, then told her to check her pockets. Sure enough, there was a ten hundred-dollar notes in there. “The two hundred extra was the least he could do,” thought Jade.
“Until next time, Jade.” With that, he vanished into a puff of red smoke.
“There better not be a next time…”