A Neglected Heart (Day 8)
The clock in the corner ticked past 1 AM as Aaron leaned over the kitchen sink and washed his hands, humming quietly to himself. Thin streaks of reddish-brown snaked their way towards the drain. He watched them until the water ran clear, unaware that at that moment a strange woman was standing behind him. When he eventually turned, he looked directly into the woman’s eyes with a contemplative look on his face, looking completely unperturbed by the stranger’s intrusion in his home.
“What are you doing in my house?” Aaron inquired of the stranger, still showing no signs that her presence upset him.
The woman smiled sweetly, showing two rows of razor-sharp white teeth. She wore a thick black fur coat, the hood of which she wore draped atop a wealth of startlingly red curls. Her hair cascaded outwards from underneath the hood and clashed brilliantly with the fair skin of her face, white as bone, the only skin visible amidst all the fur. “You invited me here. Did you not?”
“I did not,” Aaron replied. “But tell me, will I be reporting an intruder this evening?”
“You don’t want anyone else in this house.” The woman spoke in a slow metered voice that held a confident and sinister strength. “You just killed your wife.”
Aaron stared at the woman, then calmly proceeded to take a clean hand towel from a nearby drawer and dry his hands. Whether she’d taken a random but lucky guess or had actually witnessed the evening’s unusual activities, he did not know. But no matter. “What is your name?” Aaron asked the woman.
“Allesandra,” Allesandra replied. “And I’m here to offer you a choice, Aaron. Please join me in the living room.”
Without the least hesitation, Aaron took a step forward towards Allesandra and the living room. “Once...” Allesandra raised her hand. “Once you’ve changed your clothes. You don’t want to get blood on your sofa.”
Two minutes later, Aaron sat down on his couch opposite Allesandra who now occupied a supple leather armchair, looking like she belonged. Allesandra smiled at Aaron. “You committed a murder this evening, Aaron.” She began, speaking in the smoothest and most melodic of tones. “By doing so you did invite me into your home. I don’t usually accept such invitations, but I will openly admit that I find you most intriguing. I’ve never seen a man neglect his heart for so long... Which brings me to a choice that I am willing to offer you.”
Aaron smiled emotionless back at her, and sank deeper into the couch, crossing his legs and folding his arms across his tight button-down shirt. “I’m listening.”
“Since you don’t seem to have much use for your heart, I would be more than willing to take possession of it.”
Aaron still didn’t seem the least bit disturbed by such an odd statement.
Allesandra lowered her hood and leaned forward in her chair, revealing two small horns that protruded from atop her head, shining like the finest porcelain in the warm lamplight. “But I’m not here to steal your heart, Aaron. I’m going to give you a fair chance of keeping it. Ergo, you can either accompany me to Hell immediately, or you can gamble your heart and if you win, you’ll not only be allowed to keep it, but I’ll also grant you what you desire most.”
Aaron’s smile had vanished, but his composure didn’t falter. He continued to stare unblinkingly at Allesandra. “And if you win?”
“I get your heart,” Allesandra replied, her smile turning coy. She looked him up and down as if examining a particularly succulent steak and wondering where to take the first bite. “And though you may be inclined to believe that this is a joke, I assure you it’s not. I would be happy to demonstrate my abilities, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not risk burning all of this.” She gestured around the room.
“I believe you.”
“Excellent! That will save us some time, you’ll come to find that mine is precious. Now. The fun part. Which do you choose?”
Aaron didn’t have to consider his options for long and was already prepared to give his answer. “I’ll take my chances.” He said simply.
“This will be a much more interesting visit then!” Allesandra looked delighted and her eyes seemed to glow brighter in the dim light. “Would you mind retrieving it while I set up our game?”
Without speaking, Aaron got up and walked silently from the room, returning several minutes later with a glass box in his hands to find a chessboard laid out on the coffee table. It wasn’t his chess set. The board was black and gold, and the pieces were crudely carved from stone. He set the box down on the table next to the chessboard and Allesandra peered excitedly at the beating heart inside, levitating within its glass cage.
“Excellent!” She looked up at Aaron and gestured to the board in front of her. “I trust you know chess?”
“Then we play!”
Aaron sat down once more on the sofa opposite Allesandra and tapped her left hand when she held out two fists. She opened the hand he’d chosen and revealed a black pawn. Aaron took it. “I go first!” She said, tapping her foot on the rug with giddy anticipation, her sharp teeth glinting as she grinned excitedly.
They played in silence. Each taking their time to carefully calculate each move. Occasionally glancing up at their opponent, attempting to read their expression. This was easy for Aaron, as Allesandra kept making obvious facial expressions that often revealed the intention of her moves. When there were only seven pieces left, three black and four gold, Allesandra straightened in her chair, placed her hands on her knees, and looked up at Aaron, curiosity creeping across her face. “You have a lovely heart. Why did you abandon it?”
Aaron looked up into Allesandra’s pale face and replied, “I forgot about it.”
Allesandra’s hair burst into flames and her eyes glowed like the hottest embers, then the fire vanished completely, leaving her looking exactly the same as before, except she now looked incredibly angry. “Hearts aren’t meant to be neglected!” She snarled under her breath. “You don’t deserve it, but even more than I want that heart, I want to see you suffer when you put it back in!”
She reached down and moved her gold queen directly into the unprotected line of attack of the black bishop, leaving only a few sad-looking pawns surrounding a trapped king. Hardly believing his luck, Aaron captured the white queen. Allesandra knocked the king over, the game had come to an end.
Letting out a piercing scream, Allesandra raised her clenched fist and brought it down hard on the glass case. It shattered into a million pieces and in one swift movement, she grabbed the squelching heart and thrust it forward, ripping through Aaron’s shirt and plunging it into the hollow cavity within his chest.
And then everything changed. Aaron could feel everything. He could feel the love for his wife that had been missing from him for so long. He felt angry at the presence of this demonic creature in his living room, who had the nerve to force such a choice on him. He felt regret at having killed his wife. And most of all he felt terrified that he would continue to feel these things as long as his heart remained in his chest. But it was better, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“How do you feel now?” Allesandra snarled.
Aaron couldn’t speak. He couldn’t seem to catch his breath and simply sat on the sofa in stunned silence.
“Your insides are burning now, aren’t they? It’s so good to see you hurt. Unfortunately, however, that pain means you’re still human, but only for now. With all you’ve done, that glorious heart of yours will be a source of unbridled pain for the rest of your life. But if you crack. If you ever take it out again, then rest assured that I’ll be back to claim my prize. You will join me in the underworld eventually. How long will you delay the inevitable? Give in to the pain. I’ll be waiting.”
And with that, Allesandra seemed to glide across the room, her red hair and fangs gleaming in the lamplight. Aaron watched her go, and before she disappeared from his sight, he saw massive black feathers sprouting from her fur coat. A moment later, he heard a distinct “whoosh” as the demon flew off into the night.
Aaron sat there, taking in huge gulps of air as his mind tried to process the worst emotions imaginable. These terrible sensations were why he’d set aside the heart in the first place, but now it was so much worse. His wife lay dead upstairs. The image of her floated hazily to the forefront of his mind. He loved her. In agony, he reached up to his chest and pressed his fingers to the beating heart that was causing him so much pain. It pounded faster and faster. Slimy and pulsating. Fit to burst. His fingers closed tightly around it. It was too late.