|The Taylight Zone - Anthology Two
08 - Fire's Curse - Violet
She hadn’t meant to... It had all been a bet. Just a bad, horrible, terrible bet. No one was supposed to get hurt... No one was...
She hadn’t felt the bag slip from her hands, or the sound of it collapsing in on itself, spraying cat food all over her white linoleum floor. What caught her attention was the grip on her arms, the gentle shaking, the desperate pleas for her to “snap out of it”. But she couldn’t, she felt trapped. And she hadn’t meant for it to turn into that. She didn’t think the fire would climb so high... Was fire really capable of turning that color? No... It couldn’t...
“MOM!” The scream shattered whatever dream world she had been hiding behind, and Diana’s eyes shot up to meet the concerned gaze of her eldest son. Isaac seemed near tears with worry, but he relaxed once the glazed over look in her eyes changed to one of curious confusion.
“Isaac? What...” She looked down to her feet, finding the cat food covering her once spotless floor. Her hand went over her mouth in shock. “Did I...?” She looked to him with a frightened and questioning gaze. Isaac could only nod, but he managed to stop her before she went to her knees to clean it up.
“Mom, why don’t you go to bed? I’ll take care of down here, okay?” He still looked worried, poor kid. But who could blame him? His mom had been having these strange episodes for the past week or so, and they were really getting out of hand. Had she not denied it so adamantly, they would have taken her to the doctor long before it went any farther. Still, she swore up and down that nothing was wrong, that she was “just fine”. But something told Isaac, and the rest of the brood, that her words were far from the truth.
Diana nodded, smiling weakly. “I’m fine, Isaac... But I think I’ll take you up on that offer...” Her voice was barely above a whisper, as if she were still caught between the world of dreams and reality. As she turned to the stairs leading to her bedroom, he watched complantively. There was nothing he could do, now, except for tell dad. He shook his head, still concerned, a frown etched in his golden features. Without a second thought, he went to his knees and cleared away the fallen mess.
Cold, now. Sleeping was next to impossible. It was the dead of summer... Why was it so damned cold? Still, she refused to open her eyes. She didn’t want to see the world, she didn’t want to belong to it. Something was wrong, and she didn’t know what. Suddenly waves of fear, depression, and paranoia were overriding her good sense and her ability to reason. She couldn’t control herself anymore... She had even destroyed Taylor’s stereo the other night. And why? She wasn’t even sure anymore... But he had been so frustrating, and he was so adamant in ignoring her... He simply wouldn’t turn down the stereo... And so she had chosen to do it for him, hadn’t she? She didn’t mean to scare him. God, she didn’t mean to do anything. And she had apologized, but the fear in his eyes had broken her heart. Maybe she should get checked out. She just didn’t know any more.
Finally, sleep came as a welcome release from her turmoil. She didn’t expect to dream. It had been so long since she had actually slept that she had forgotten what dreams were.
But as her consciousness slipped away, she became trapped in a web of visions and darkness. Fire licked at her, surrounded her, making it impossible for her to bring anything into her lungs but smoke. She coughed and strained, but she was tied to something... Something... A stake? No... She knew this place... She remembered... Suddenly a searing pain went through her head in the form of a memory. What was happening? She couldn’t be here again, not after so much time had passed... And the flames were so hot, they were burning her flesh... She could feel blisters rising on her skin, filling with puss and water... And her hair, her long hair was burning up...
The flames vanished, and she was staring into a pair of eyes. Not human eyes. They didn’t have eye lids and looked... Reptilian... Snake eyes. She tried to scream, but her vocal cords were restricted. Something was coiled tightly around it, squeezing harder, harder...
And then a woman with hair as dark as a raven’s wing and eyes the color of midnight was dancing around her, clothed in black veils. She danced to a deep drum rhythm which seemed to resonate from Diana’s very head, a maddening beat which just grew faster, louder, feverish.
“And I curse you, child, for the fires you have wrought, by bringing fire into your womb...” The woman of Midnight’s hand closed over Diana’s young stomach, not yet touched by child... But the moment the woman’s hand touched her, her stomach felt full of life. As if someone, or something, were alive within it...
“And the child most like you will be your greatest burn... I am your fate, child...”
Sweat dripped from her brow, soaking the nightgown she didn’t even remember putting on. Cool moonlight slipped through her sheer curtains, and her husband lay beside her, fast asleep. What time was it? She couldn’t believe that she had slept this long, but evidence proved her wrong. The digital clock flashed 2:30 am beside her. The moonlight pouring through the window was at its zenith, and tiny stars shimmered through into her dazed eyes. It had all been a dream... But the more she thought about it, the more she realized that it wasn’t. And the memory flooded over her, crippling her...
She had only been 16. It had all been a bet. Karen had bet her $15 dollars that she wouldn’t walk up to the Gypsy encampment that was passing through town. She needed the money... Her mother’s birthday was coming up soon, and she was flat broke. After all, how bad could it be? They wouldn’t do anything to a passing teenager, after all. She would be completely safe.
But she hadn’t been safe. In fact, all of her assumptions had been wrong. From the moment she stepped onto the camp, she knew it was a bad idea. Especially at this time of night... Karen watched her from a distance, an excited glint in her eyes. How could she actually be enjoying watching her best friend squirming with fear and discomfort? She didn’t expect the voices to call to her directly... She had hoped they would just ignore her, but they didn’t.
A firm, solid hand gripped her arm. She tried to break free, but only succeeded in being dragged into darkness. She had never been so scared. She tried screaming, tried doing anything to get away. Her last sight had been that of Karen’s eyes wide with fear as Diana flailed against her attacker.
And then there was darkness. When next she was able to see, she was greeted by the black, unblinking eyes of a great black python. Diana jumped back, screamed, but the python never did strike. The light brightened, an oil lamp in the hands of a caramel skinned man, and she was now staring into midnight blue eyes of a strangely mysterious woman.
“Who... Who are you?” Diana asked, trying to keep her voice from shaking. This was all too unreal.
“I am your fate, child...” The woman’s voice and words were too much. Diana didn’t mean to startle, but she did, and the oil lamp tipped over on the woman’s black veils. Diana didn’t have time to see the flames burst around her. She was running, doing anything she could to get out of the trailer.
She did manage to escape, only turning when she was safely in Karen’s arms. Karen held her tightly as she sobbed, but her eyes didn’t leave the cacophony that Diana had left behind. And a shadow moved from the mists, muttering words and extending a long, inhuman hand...
Diana shook out of her thoughts. A curse. It couldn’t have been real. Nothing like that was ever real. Curses and hexes and spells didn’t work. They never came true. Diana slipped from under her covers, unable to stand the stifling heat any more. Hadn’t it been cold when she had gone to bed? Now she was dripping with sweat, and yet she was shivering. She opened her bedroom door, slipping into the hallway. Without thought or direction, she opened the door at the opposite end of the hall... The boys’ room. She was a silent as a spirit as she approached her son’s bed, kneeling beside him and placing her cool hands on his hot forehead. Now she didn’t know what to do. She had been striking out at him like she never had before, and she hated herself for it. All she wanted to do was take him in her arms and beg for his forgiveness. She hadn’t realized it, but she was crying. Her son’s soft blue eyes cracked open, staring up at her with sleepy curiosity.
“Mom?” He asked, his voice cracking slightly with sleep. Diana couldn’t help herself. She began sobbing uncontrollably, taking her baby in her arms. Taylor awoke fully with a start, alarmed by his mother’s behavior.
“Mom! Mom... Oh, mom... Please say you’re okay...” Taylor’s arms quickly went around his mother, holding her tightly. Diana couldn’t speak, could barely move with the exception of her powerful sobs. It was enough to awaken Zac, who stared up at his brother and mother with barely concealed wonder.
“What’s wrong with her...” He asked, frowning. Taylor shook his head.
“I don’t know, Zac. I don’t know...”
But the next morning, things were back to the way things had been. A morning filled with angry screams and furious uproar.
It had started out well, as all things did. And Diana hadn’t meant to scream. It had been a moment of anger and frustration that she couldn’t take back. But before she knew it, Taylor was screaming back at her.
“It’s not MY FAULT!” He shouted back at her.
“Then Who’s fault IS IT?!” She shouted back with equal emphasis. It was so stupid. They had been practicing in the garage, and their mom had come in. Taylor had left a cup of coke on the floor near the door, and Diana had knocked it over. Now they were screaming down each other’s throats, the issue being taken way too far. And from the look on Diana’s face, blood was about to be shed.
“Forget it, okay?!” Taylor yelled back, turning away and going back to his instrument. Diana turned in frustration, ready to stomp out the door. But she made the mistake of turning one more time, just to see Taylor’s hand upraised, his middle finger protruding upward...
Isaac’s jaw dropped. Had he not been so curious, he would have left. Of course, that hadn’t been the case. He simply couldn’t pull his eyes away. Diana was walking towards Taylor, absolute fire in her eyes, fire that Isaac was sure would burn her...
And Diana felt herself burning. She felt her flesh blistering, her throat clogging with smoke. She stopped mid-stride, her eyes glazing over. “no...” She muttered. The curse. “And the child most like you will be your burn...” Of course. Taylor WAS the most like her. Just as she was ready to argue every little point, so was he. And he had just as much fire and brimstone in him as she ever had in her spirit.
“Mom, what are you talking about?” Taylor ask, his anger melting away, as if her fiery heat was enough to do it. Was she really burning?
“The curse... Taylor...” Diana extended her hand to him, and he reproachfully took it.
“Mom?” He asked, confused. She pulled him towards her, holding him to her. And she felt herself cool, the fire melting away.
“Taylor, I love you. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for everything. Please...” Taylor couldn’t reply to his mother’s impassioned words. He could only stand there, holding her, wanting to cry. Still, he held back, knowing it would do no good.
“Curse... Mom, what are you...” She shook her head before he could finish.
“Come with me. Please. I can’t... I don’t think I should do this alone.” She said softly, taking his hands into hers. Taylor was scared. He didn’t know what to say or what to think. He only knew that his mother was in trouble. How could he deny her? For all of her anger and fury, she was like him.
He hadn’t expected the drive to the old gypsy encampment. He had heard that it had been burned a long time ago, but no one knew who did it. Supposedly some prankster teens. But his mother had brought flowers... Mostly wild flowers consisting of heather and daffodils, but it still looked beautiful. She didn’t even hesitate after she parked. She simply strode out of the car, and Taylor had no choice but to follow her.
They reached a scorched part of the ground, where a trailer had once been. Here the Woman’s spirit lie, the Gypsy woman who’s spirit she had brought upon her own. And with it, the curse.
Diana went to her knees, closing her eyes.
“I’m sorry... I never even knew your name... But I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just scared... I was just a kid... Please... please forgive me...” Taylor stood behind her, watching her carefully as she placed the flowers over the scorched area. “I’m so sorry...” She said softly, trying to stifle tears.
Diana didn’t expect any great fanfare. But she did feel as if a great weight had been lifted from her spirit. Her soul felt cleansed, and she no longer felt her flesh searing with angry fire.
Her eyes were closed. She didn’t see the flowers burst into flames as Taylor did, with his eyes wide as saucers. Nor did she see the smoke rising as they diminished into ash. She opened her eyes just in time to see the fire extinguish, and vanish into the charred earth.
Diana stood up, extending her hand to her mirror image of a son.
“Come on, Taylor. Let’s go home.”