Just Desserts: Weird Tales Entry
|Colonel Johnson cut a handsome figure in his starched shirt and red uniform. His back was straight, his shoulders broad, and he drank slowly, his steel-gray eyes dancing above his cup at the maiden before him. She was a pretty thing, lithe as a spring willow, and growing bolder. Her cheeks were reddened with excitement, and her hands were clasped before her in wonder. Her once-coy sapphire gaze burned, and her lips were parted. The sheets she had come to change lay forgotten at her side.
"The campaign has been long," he boasted, "but the war is all but won. The savages have been pressed back into the jungles where they belong. Why, in a few years' time, this coast will be the jewel of the empire."
She gasped softly. "Oh, but sir, what about the magics of the jungle peoples? Have you no fear?"
Johnson smiled crookedly, with all the superiority he could muster. "A King's officer plans ahead. There is no need to fear for a man who makes certain arrangements against witchcraft and superstitions. I had to make a pact, it is true. But it will soon end and you need not worry about it."
"What kind of pact?" the young woman asked curiously.
"Such things are better unspoken,' Lohman whispered, at once teasing and pompous. "The rites I had to undergo you would not believe! But they will be forgotten soon, lost in the bin of history where pagan peoples and their fool ideas are forgotten."
Many miles away, the crone's breath rattled feebly in her chest, stirring bones old before their time, stretching sallow and unsightly skin. Nestled between the cracked and darkened nails of both hands rested a little marionette of birchwood. It was no masterwork of art; ragged grains were left exposed by ancient, shaking hands. Hands and arms protruded awkwardly from a pale torso, crude and organic. She turned it slowly in her hands, rocking gently in her chair, and stared through the clear glass before her, as if into the low crackle of flames beyond. Her eyes, unfocused, matched the simmering coals beneath, bearing a deep pain as she watched. She lowered one hand to lift from a bowl a single copper needle.
The serving woman continued her tale. "Oh, but sir! I've heard tales of a young woman, of lovely olive skin, that you once kept at your side, and of her necklace of bones."
Lohman smiled sadly. "Oh, how the tales of the idle may grow! But I will not deny it: there once was such an exotic beauty, the daughter of strange peoples. Sadly, that woman is dead."
The lovely maiden's eyes widened. "Oh! You must tell me more."
The officer's left arm twitched slightly, and he placed his right had upon it. "Foul insects! How I desire to remove us from these dark lands to more hospitable places. No matter, it is the duty of an officer of the crown to suffer them. Miss, there was a woman known to be a practitioner of the dark arts of the southern folk, infamous among the locals. So feared was she among the superstitious that while she resisted I could recruit none to face her."
"Sir, what did you do?" the maiden asked, hands clenched hard upon her knees.
"I wooed her, of course," the officer proclaimed proudly, pausing only to wince briefly at a pain. "I married her and the land, promising myself the good of both. With her invaluable assistance won, we pursued the war vigorously, claiming wide swaths of the new land for the empire. Whether her magic carried any puissance, I cannot say, but we won victory after victory against the savages and in return, I offered our allies wealth and honor, and shared our civilization and saving religion with them. Alas, many of these proud and noble jungle folk fell to a wasting sickness, including the witch-priestess of the tribe. All that remained was to pray for their souls."
"Your love is lost, then?" the maiden asked, placing her hand gently upon the officer's arm.
The officer jerked suddenly to the left and placed a hand on his side, but his gaze never lowered. "Alas, love never dies, though we labor hard to forget."
"Is there, perhaps, any way that I could help?" the maiden offered, lowering her hand to his thigh, liquid eyes drawing close to his.
The officer grinned hungrily, though again the expression was interrupted a by a twitch and flash of discomfort. He pressed his lips to hers, and wrapped his arm around her. She moaned, and returned the kiss greedily.
The crone, wasted in a few short years by her disease, lifted the copper needle high above the wooden doll, eyes flashing angry and red. That was when his real pain began.