Jezri's Nightmare Books

Friday, February 22, 2013

Eternity's Puzzle

Eternity’s Puzzle
By Lisa McCourt Hollar
 
“What’s it made of?”
Lorraine fingered the strange puzzle. The old man sitting across the table from her chuckled.
“I’m not sure you want to know, Miss. Fraley.”
“Oh come on, quit teasing me. It’s old… I can tell that much. But I’ve never seen one made quite like this. The base is wood, but the top, it almost feels like leather.”
“Close. Human flesh.”
Lorraine nearly dropped the piece she was holding. Catching it, she held it close to her eyes and examined it. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is it a Spilsbury? No… it can’t be. He never came close to anything this magnificent.”
“It’s older than John Spilsbury’s dissections.”
Lorraine laughed. “So you’re telling me, history is wrong, he didn’t invent the jigsaw puzzle?”
“You tell me.”
Lorraine lifted another piece. Painted on the top was the image of an eye. From the shape and color, she could guess that it was Egyptian. She smiled, pleased with the detail. “I heard that he traveled to Egypt, once. Perhaps his idea wasn’t so original?”
“Perhaps,” the man agreed.
“How much do you want for it?”
“More than you can pay.”
Lorraine laughed. “Name your price. You know how much my husband was worth. I can afford to buy you, if I so chose.”
“Yes… your husband. He died rather unexpectedly. Quite lucky for you, since rumor had it he was going to divorce you and leave you penniless.”
“My husband was a gambler. That’s the one thing we had in common… games. He gambled and lost.”
The old man nodded, pleased with her cryptic answer. “It’s not money I want.”
“Then what? Sex?” She looked him over. He was old, probably in his 90’s. “Sex with me would kill you…”
“Not sex. Something more personal.”
“What?” Lorraine was intrigued.
“The puzzle will decide. Put it together. Once you have finished, then you will pay the price. While you work on it, I will tell you a story.”
“And if I don’t agree to pay?”
“You will pay.”
Lorraine looked at the mysterious puzzle again. She wanted it. Jigsaws had been her passion for as long as she could remember. She’d married her husband, even though the thought of sleeping with him repulsed her, because of his collection. Picking up a corner piece she began searching for another that would fit.
“The puzzle is not a Spilsbury, although he did travel to Egypt. The dissection dates back further, to a time when the gods ruled Egypt. Their time was coming to an end though. There was a priest that served one goddess who didn’t intend to quietly fade away, so to speak. Her name was Ammut.”
“The devourer,” Lorraine said, sifting through the puzzle. “Part lion, hippopotamus and crocodile. Not someone I would want to judge my worth.”
“And yet, here you sit.”
“What do you mean?” Lorraine filled in a portion of the puzzle and picked up another piece.
“The jigsaw contains Ammut’s soul. She is judging you as we speak.”
“And what happens if she judges me worthy?”
“She will give you life and you will live for as long as it pleases her.”
“And if I am judged unworthy?”
“She will devour your soul.”
Lorraine paused. “You don’t believe this?”
“I put the puzzle together… two-hundred and fifty years ago.”
Lorraine looked him up and down, taking in his wrinkles and graying skin. “It looks like you’ve lost favor with Ammut.”
“She just requires another payment.”
“I see. I’m expected to be found unworthy.” Lorraine fit another piece of the puzzle, revealing a crocodile face with a goddess’s eye.
“You could be found worthy. I’ve been successful, finding souls for her to consume, but she may be growing tired of me and ready for someone new.”
“Two-hundred and fifty years? Spilsbury?”
“I introduced the puzzle four years after I sold my soul to Ammut. Eventually I had to fake my death… couldn’t have people talking. It does become rather tedious… living for so long.”
Lorraine snorted. “Trying to scare me away?”
“Never.”
Lorraine worked quietly, putting the puzzle together, while John watched. With each piece she fit into place, she felt a charge in the air. There was something at work and she grew excited as only three openings remained. She put in the two remaining puzzle pieces on the table and then looked around. One was missing?
“It’s here somewhere,” she said, bending down to look under the table.
“No,” John said, “it’s not. If she’d found you worthy, you would have the final piece.” He stood and moved behind her. “It’s time for you to pay.”
“You’re a lying shit.” Lorraine pushed her chair back, prepared to walk out the door. “This has been one big joke for you.”
“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” John said. “She becomes angry if you refuse.”
“And what am I supposed to do? Sign papers, giving her access to my soul? Isn’t that another mythological creature’s job, or is Ammut the devil too?”
Lorraine reached out to knock the puzzle to the ground and screamed. The skin rippled beneath her touch and she felt something pull at her, trying to draw her in.
“She has judged you. Your soul will feed her and then she will restore my youth.” John revealed a knife and pushed her back down into the chair. Lorraine gasped at his strength. He was older than her husband had been when she’d held him down and put a pillow over his face. She should be able to fight him off, but she was paralyzed, her hand still touching the ancient dissection.
John lifted the knife and brought it down, slicing into her wrist. As her blood flowed, it poured into the puzzle, filling the empty space. The rest of the puzzle drank in the fluid too, until it was one piece.
Ammut blinked and stood, embracing her lover. He was young once again and Lorraine’s body would now serve her.

Word Count: 999

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