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All Trades Are Final

by  JohnnyA

Posted: Saturday, November 11, 2006
Word Count: 2079
Summary: A dodgy transaction. Cold consequences.

As frightening as it sounded, Lynda had made the decision to go. The man, who’d told her about the house, had also given her some photographs and a map. Apparently the old woman was only there once a year, every December twenty third.

Lynda’s friends had been around for her and Jack. Even her Mum and Dad had resisted the urge to say ‘I told you so’, and had been quietly supportive. She knew everyone meant well. Knew they cared and wanted her happy again. How could they understand the pain? The truth was, only George could make her happy. No one else could make her smile, make her laugh, make her feel special. That’s why she had listened to the man. That’s why she went to the house.

* * *

It looked empty from the outside. Covered with vines, encrusted with snow; nothing at all like the photos. Was it even the right address?
“This can’t be right,” she muttered.
“What’s that dear?”
Lynda yelped, falling sideways into a bush.

A short craggy old woman, wrapped from head to toe in a blue duffel coat, was standing over her.
“Sorry to startle you dear. I was just coming back from doing last minute Christmas shopping. You know how it is.”
“All too well,” Lynda replied spitting ice out of her mouth.

The old woman pulled her arms about herself.
“My bones feel the cold something dreadful! Join me for a cup of tea?”
Lynda nodded, scrambling to her feet, brushing bits of snow and twig off her coat. The old woman tottered off towards the front door, opening it quickly and disappearing inside. Lynda followed, trying to block out the squirms she felt in the pit of her stomach.

Tea was served up, in a tiny living room, lit only by a sparking fireplace in the corner. Lynda gratefully hugged the cup to her hands, breathing in the steam and her surroundings. The woman sat opposite, in an armchair several sizes too big, her duffel coat still on.
“What’s your name again dear?”
The woman nodded, pulling out a small notepad and pen from her coat pocket. She then retrieved a tiny pair of spectacles from another pocket, perching them on her nose.
“And are you aware of the price for what you’re asking?”
Lynda nodded.
“The gentleman I spoke with said I had to give you something valuable.”
The old woman chuckled.
“That’s…fairly accurate dear. You do understand that this isn’t like shopping at Sainsbury’s? I don’t offer twenty-eight-day-later refunds.”
“I understand.”
“Good, because once the deal is done, I cannot reverse it. It’s imperative you aren’t having second thoughts.”
Lynda sighed and leant forward.
“Trust me; I haven’t had any thoughts, except getting back what was taken from me.”

The old woman cocked her head to one side, regarding Lynda with eyes that glistened darkly in the firelight.
“Very well then. For a valuable of my choosing, I will ensure your husband returns to you by Christmas Eve.”
Lynda pursed her lips and nodded firmly. The old woman removed her spectacles and became all jolly again.
“Right then dear! Let’s get started shall we? First, I’ll need a sample of blood from your forefinger.”
Lynda shuddered, but held out her right hand. The old woman produced a thin needle and a small glass vial, again, from within her duffel coat. Lynda barely felt the prick, but saw the drops of blood slither their way down to the bottom of the tube.

The old woman then began taking more things from inside her coat. A mortar and pestle. Some strange looking dock leaves outlined in red. A small bottle of lemonade. She flung the leaves into the bowl, and tipped the contents of the vial after, mashing them together with the pestle. She then began to drip the lemonade in slowly, muttering unrecognisable words under her breath. Finally she spat into the bowl, mixing the saliva with everything else. Lynda watched it all, her face twisted in hope and horror.

After a few minutes, the old woman produced a wine glass from her coat, and tipped the contents of the bowl into it. She began stirring the liquid with a small teaspoon, until it reached a bright shade of fizzy red.
“Drink this dear, and your husband will return to you.”
Lynda gaped. The old woman rolled her eyes, sighing.
“It’s perfectly safe, I can assure you.”
“Right. It’s just, well; I saw what’s gone in it!”
“That’s why I added the lemonade. Besides, does it matter what the ingredients are, as long as it works?”
Lynda looked at the bright liquid spinning around in the glass. Slowly, she reached out and took it from the old woman.
“Bottoms up, I guess.”

It felt strange, as though she were suddenly aware of a million heart beats, pumping all at once. The noise clogged every cell in her body, and she could feel her own blood beating in rhythm. Then, the sound became manageable until she heard only two heart beats. She saw her husband George, laughing with the bimbo who had taken him away. The laughter stopped, and he became distracted, looking about the place as though trying to remember something. The old woman was also there, walking around the husband, studying him. Lynda felt a lurch, and it was over.

“Are you all right dear?”
Lynda was gasping, and saw she had dropped the glass.
“There, there, all done now. Your husband will be with you tomorrow evening. So, unless you want to help me bake some cookies, I’m rather tired.”
Lynda nodded, breathing deeply as she picked up her coat. She was about to leave when she remembered.
“Wait. You haven’t said what you want from me in return?”
The old woman’s smile deepened, making Lynda very uncomfortable.
“No need dear! It’s all been taken care of.”
“But I haven’t given you anything!”
“Dear, I’ve been doing this for a long time. Would you mind seeing yourself out? I feel like a little nap. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas,” she replied, feeling odd and wondering if the old woman was mad or just senile.

* * *

The next day, Lynda awoke feeling wonderful. George was coming home. She could feel it in her blood. There was another feeling too, but it was like a dream she couldn’t remember. She couldn’t quite grasp it. No matter, once George was back, everything would be great again. They would laugh, smile, go to the pictures, and do the millions of other little things couples are supposed to. She had even invited her parents round in the evening for dinner, mainly to tell them that everything was all right, and show George off.

It was five o’clock when the knock came. Lynda’s heart skipped a few beats, and she held her breath all the way to the front door.
“Hello peaches.”
George was standing in the snow, on her doorstep. He looked just as handsome as she remembered. He had even shaved off the beard. She had often commented it was uncomfortable when kissing him.
“Hello George. What do you want?”
After all, he had left her. It only felt right to play the angered ex.
“I, I didn’t know really until yesterday. Suddenly I felt, I mean, I realised that I shouldn’t have left you. It was…a mistake? So I came to apologise, and ask if you’d take me back.”

The words she'd dreamt of hearing, were stilted and kept tripping over as they escaped his mouth. It was like an unrehearsed script, but she didn’t care.
“Why don’t you come in, and we can talk about it.”
She smiled as George slowly stepped over the threshold. By tomorrow he would forget all about that bimbo. He would know that there could only be her and Jack in his life.
“How is our son? I haven’t seen him since Easter.”
“Asleep in his cot. He was a bit grouchy this afternoon, so I put him down for a nap. Would, would you like to see him?”
George smiled, his face looking unsure as to why he was smiling, and followed Lynda to the nursery.

As they walked in, Lynda felt a chill. That other feeling was back again. The one she couldn’t quite catch. George stood looking around a moment.
“It’s just like we talked about,” he whispered in compliment.
He stood there staring around the room, taking in all the decorations, his face still wrinkled in thought.
“Jack’s a popular lad. I see he’s even got a Christmas card!”
Walking over to the cot, he stared down at little Jack, putting his hand in to stroke the child’s face. Lynda looked on admiringly. The cold feeling was still there, but she reasoned it was just left over from the day before. Watching her husband stroking their son was more than enough. So besotted with daydreams of the future, she almost forgot what he had just said.

“What was that?”
“I’m sorry?” George asked not taking his eyes off Jack.
“Before. You said something about a Christmas card.”
George looked up.
“Over there, by the nightlight. Cute picture of a reindeer on the front.”
Lynda looked to where he was pointing. True enough, a Christmas card with a particularly drab illustration of a reindeer was propped against the nightlight, next to Jack’s cot. Walking over she picked it up.

She read it a few times, mouthing the words silently to herself.
“I don’t understand. What…? “
Her voice faltered as she looked up. George had a hand over Jack’s face. His eyes were wild with madness, and sweat was pouring down the sides of his face. Lynda screamed and rushed forward, but it was too late. Jack's face was blue, and he wasn’t breathing when George finally lifted his hand from the child’s face.

“What did you do? What did you do?” Lynda wailed, dropping to her knees on the floor. She placed her own hands into the cot, slowly picking up the lifeless body.
“What have you done?” she sobbed, looking up.
What Lynda saw in George’s eyes caused her to gargle a scream. The eyes looking out from her husband, were not his, but the old woman’s.
“What have I done? It's what you have done...dear!"
George backed away from Lynda kneeling beside the cot. As he drew nearer to the door, he blinked, and his eyes returned to normal.

“Lynda? What are you doing? Is that Jack…,” the words choked, as he saw.
“Jack! Jack!”
George rushed forward grabbing the child from Lynda, and shook him gently, willing his son to breathe.
“Somebody help!” he shouted, his legs crumpling, his shoulders beginning to shake.

She could hear footsteps, thundering up the staircase. Her parents, early for dinner, appeared at the doorway, presents under their arms. Their eyes took in the scene before them. George was cradling little Jack. Lynda was curled up against a wall, laughing manically to herself, shaking her head.
“What happened?” her father asked.
“Lynda, I found her with Jack, she…,” George’s voice broke as her mother put a comforting arm around his shoulders. Lynda’s father just stood there, trying to look at his daughter.
“What have you done? My God, Lynda! What have you done?”

Lynda wasn’t listening. She couldn’t hear anything. Nothing was real. It couldn’t be. It was all a dream. A bad dream. She just had to try and wake up that’s all. Click your heels like Dorothy Gale. Three times and you’ll be home, just like in the Land of Oz

She was still crouched against the wall half an hour later when the police arrived. She didn’t listen to them. She didn’t resist. She just drifted willingly along, as they led her outside into the snow, gently placing her in a patrol car. George and her parents looked on, their faces broken, as Lynda was driven away into the night.

Upstairs, in the nursery, lay the only Christmas card little Jack had received. Only it hadn’t been for little Jack. It had been for Lynda. Now it lay, open and forgotten for all to see.

“Seasons Greetings! It was a pleasure doing business with you Lynda. I hope you’ll recommend me to your friends in the future. But remember what I said. All trades are final. You and your husband have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!”

© John Allen 2006