Three Favors

Outside the door, Ashley paused with her hand on the cold steel of the knob. She knew the lonely, dark silence that waited for her inside the house. The modest looking brick two story was once a home, but now it was just an empty space. It was going to swallow her whole.

The city of Chicago was covered in a frosty November drizzle that had soaked her during the long walk form the cemetery. Ashley regretted not starting a fire before she left and would now have to wait for the house to warm up. At least she had enough money for the coal today.

A sound from the kitchen caught her attention. Someone was in there, but she should have been alone. With her heart beating wildly, Ashley crept into the kitchen and stopped in the doorway. A woman she never met sat at the small kitchen table in the corner but a woman she knew well was at the sink washing dishes. Her sister, Miranda was wearing the same dress she wore when Ashley buried her a few hours earlier, but had the sleeves rolled up past her elbows.

“Come, warm yourself.” Said the woman at the table. “The fire from the stove feels so much better from here.”

The woman extended her arm in the direction of the other chair. The two girls had only needed two seats for their meals. They never had any company and preferred it that way. Still rattled by the shock, Ashley took a seat in the chair.

“You took longer to get home than I anticipated.” Said the woman.

“I wanted to say good-bye.”

“Now don’t you feel foolish?”

Ashley was feeling a lot of emotions at the moment. She had to drag her eyes away from her sister, but she needed to get a closer look at the woman. Dark auburn hair was wound up under a dainty hat with roses dripping from it. Everything she wore was red, from the expensive walking dress to the long lace gloves on her hands. Years of working as a seamstress meant Ashley could spot high end fabrics and knew the clothes she saw cost more than she made in months.

“Who are you?” Ashley asked.

“You can call me Madame.”

No last name, just that one word and the sound of it made Ashley’s skin tingle.

“I’m dreaming. I must be dreaming.”

“Would you be so cold and trembling if it was a dream?”

“Then I’m going mad, just like the rest of my family.” That had always been her biggest fear.

When they were young, Miranda and Ashley had watched their mother spiral into madness. It drove their father away and almost put them in the streets more than once. Only the hard work of her sister and patience kept the family together for as long as it did before their mother took her own life. Then the two of them had continued on.

“You are perfectly sane and this isn’t a hallucination.” Said Madame.

“Then what is it?”

Ashley went back to watching her sister again. The glow of the gas lamps gave her an ethereal appearance. Miranda looked like she did years ago, when the two of them were happy in this house. That was before the nightmares began and she became miserable. Watching her sister go down the same road as their mother had been agony. As hard as she tried, Ashley wasn’t able to bring joy back to Miranda.

“This is an offer.” Said Madame, her voice was a low whisper.

“You bring my sister back from the dead. That is going to end badly.”

Ashley was now thinking about the last few months at the house. Miranda had stopped speaking and refused to get out of bed. Ashley had gone to the market to get something for dinner, hoping a delicious meal might coax her sister out of the room. The dinner plate had made a mess when it slid across the bedroom floor as she discovered her sister’s dead body. Miranda had used the same poison as their mother to leave the world and it was only painful for those left behind.

“I’m not just going to bring her back.  I can make her happy, make sure she never wants to leave again.” Madame whispered in her ear.

At the sink Miranda began to sing the song she used to put Ashley to sleep with. It hadn’t been heard in this place for years. The happy melody reminded Ashley of how much her sister loved her once, before the madness. Having that sister back would be worth almost anything.

“What do you want from me?” Ashley asked, already she knew she would agree to it.

“In exchange for this gift, you will owe me three favors to be named in the future.”

“A favor implies I have a choice.”

“You do have a choice. You can choose to say no at any moment.”

“What happens to her is I say no?”

She returns to where I found her.” Madame pulled a mirror from her drawstring purse and checked her reflection. “There is a special place in the afterlife for suicides. It’s not very pleasant and I doubt she would want to go back, but it is still always your choice.”

“If I do what you ask, how long do we have?” Ashley was trying to work out all the angles, knowing that evil liked to have a hidden agenda.

“I can guarantee she lives until you at least finish all three favors. After that, it’s up to fate.” The mirror closed with a snap. “But this time when she goes it won’t be with the burden of a mortal sin on her soul. She won’t have the same stigma as your mother.”

Their mother was buried in an unmarked grace at the edge of the cemetery because she had committed an unforgivable act. Ashley lied through her teeth to the officials about her sister being sick with a fever to avoid her from ending up in the same place. Ashley couldn’t help what happened to her soul and that was what kept her up at night. Knowing her sister was going to be tortured for all eternity was too much to bare.

“We both know I will say yes. I will do anything you ask for my sister.” Said Ashley, feeling the weight of the bargain settling in her chest and making it hard to breathe.

“Good, then wear this.” Madame removed a black pearl pendant from around her neck and handed it to Ashley. She noticed Madame had a bracelet of them wrapped around her wrist and wondered if they all belonged to people who had made a bargain with her. A collection of live bought.

“Is this to keep control of me? Ashley asked.

“It’s to let you know when I need a favor. “

Ashley let the necklace fall around her neck and felt like she was now chained. It was too late to say no, the offer was accepted. Madame stood and out o habit Ashley stood too. The evil woman pulled her in close enough to see her own reflection in those black eyes.

“Don’t worry about the future, but enjoy what you have now.” Madame slipped something into her hand and when Ashley looked, she found it was a banknote with a rather large sum.

“What’s this? Another offer?”

“No, it’s to help you leave the city and start another life. People here might get suspicious if she is seen out walking around. “

Chicago was their home their whole lives. It was the only home they knew.

“They would be frightened of her and frightened people can get violent.” Said Madame. “Besides, it’s better if she doesn’t know what happened. It might dampen her new found joy.”

“She doesn’t remember?”

“I thought it best to remove those memories and give her a fresh start.”

So many times Ashley had prayed for God to take her memories away, but he hadn’t, Now she had this less than divine intervention. Perhaps it was best if they both got a clean start from this.

“Does this mean you own my soul?” Ashley asked.

“Of course not. I just might need a little help one day.”

Madame pulled Ashley into an embrace. It was a brief, fleeting moment but Ashley could feel all the pain and despair inside the demon. She could see it for the miserable creature it was and realized how deep this bargain would go. When the time came for the demon to collect it would not be for something that had little effect on the world. Knowing it would be her choice only made it worse.

“Was that your friend?” It was the first time Miranda spoke and it followed the demon’s departure from the house.

“No, not a friend.” Said Ashley.

“She made me uncomfortable. I’m glad she didn’t stay for dinner.”

Ashley always loved Miranda’s cooking and knew it was roasted hen from the delicious smell in the kitchen. Her appetite was gone the last few days, but now returned fully.

“You could have told her to leave.” Ashley was drifting closer to where her sister stood.

“That would have been rude.” Miranda had never been rude to anyone in her lifetime, not matter how badly they deserved it. That made people think Ashley was the ill-mannered one. It didn’t bother her one bit.

“I’m sorry you were left alone with her.” Ashley was now close enough to smell the scent of soap her sister always had and lean her head on a shoulder. “I should have hurried home. I won’t do that again.”

Miranda turned and Ashley saw the joyful expression she had missed so much. “I know you did your best and I’m happy you’re home now.”

Before she became a weeping mess, Ashley hugged her sister fiercely. The pendant she had been given was pressed between them, reminding her that this was not for free. It didn’t matter, because her sister was her again and no longer belonged to the madness.

Amanda is a KU graduate who got a BA in English lit and then went to Emporia for her MLS. She reads and writes primarily historical romance novels. She has a dog that could fit in a lunch box and looks like an alien. Aside from books, her favorite thing in the world is food, especially Chinese.

1 Comment

  • Isabel Nee says:

    Very creative and intriguing! I want to know more about these three favors, if you ever write more in this world!

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