Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenges return! This week: Roll For Title.
Shelby couldn’t stop hearing her doctor give the diagnosis. Six months. Six months of surgery and chemo and radiation and living in hospitals and shitting into bags. Her first appointment was in two days, and she was taking today to find something, anything else, that would fix this.
Wandering the streets wasn’t helping, but it was better than sitting at home. She kept her coat closed against the strong winter wind, glancing only occasionally at the bright neon around her. She’d told her husband that she needed a walk, time to clear her head. Jack seemed to understand, kissing her forehead and telling her to call if she needed anything. How her feet had carried her downtown, she didn’t know. Yet here she was, avoiding eye contact with others and trying to ignore the people around her, the joy and the despair alike, lost in her own desperation.
When she did look up, her eye caught the neon sign that flickered like a dying candle and read, simply, “Magic & Fortunes.” She wasn’t particularly superstitious or religious, but something pulled her through the door, staring at the candlelit interior as the chimes on the handle rattled and sang. A stooped old woman emerged from the shadows.
“What can I do for you, dear?”
She said the first thing that came to mind. “I want to live.”
The old woman nodded. “Sit down, and tell me everything.”
She did, as the old woman poured her some tea. When she was utterly spent, tears rolling down her cheeks, gnarled yet soft hands patted her wrist.
“Don’t you worry, dear. I have just the thing.”
A few minutes later, the old woman was bustling about, setting up a small black cauldron on the table over a tea light, taking things from various unlabeled jars and muttering softly to herself as she mixed the ingredients together. When she was done, a small glass vial, slightly steaming and filled with a liquid the color of mucus, was set on the table.
“Drink every drop, dear. It will add ten years to your life.”
Skeptical yet somehow unable to resist the urge, Shelby took the vial in both hands and poured it down her throat. A violent tremor went through her entire body and she collapsed out of the chair. She came to her senses a few moments later, slowly getting to her feet, finding the old woman smiling at her.
“There, now. Let’s talk about payment, shall we? All things for a price.”
It was more than Shelby thought she’d spend, but as she walked back out into the street, she felt less desperate and alone. The wind that had felt so cruel and cold instead seemed to be whisking her back home. Jack was waiting for her with a hot meal and a roaring fire, and the sex they had that night was the best either of them had experienced in a long time.
Shelby made an appointment with her doctor the next morning, and went in to have everything double-checked before the procedures began. She sat in the exam room, not daring to hope for what something told her was the inevitable answer.
No cancer. Not a trace.
She rushed home after that, eager to tell Jack. It was her turn to make dinner, and she was planning the meal in her head. Something sweet and succulent, and maybe after she’d try on that negligee Jack had bought her that she’d always been too timid to wear. The thought had her smiling as she started making the turns towards home.
She had to pull over briefly to let a fire engine speed past. And then another.
Her heart crawled up into her throat when the ambulance passed her.
She sped around the corner towards her house. Firefighters were already hosing down the walls as flames crawled through the windows into the night sky. She stumbled out of her car, screaming Jack’s name, barely able to see through the tears of panic as she tried to scramble to the house. A police officer grabbed her and puller her back, telling her firefighters were already inside.
What they pulled out of the fire didn’t live long.
Through the sleepless night and blurred days that followed, Shelby tried to focus on the arrangements, the family visits, the friends who let her sleep at their place until the insurance company sorted things out. But her thoughts kept drifting back to the old woman with the knotted hands, and the way her doctor had said the word ‘miracle’.
Finally, when she couldn’t stand it anymore, she went back downtown. She tried to retrace her steps. Nobody seemed to know the shop she was talking about, and the more she asked, the more desperate she became.
She came around a corner, and recognized the neon signs. Breathing heavily, she ran down the street, skidding to a halt in front of the store she’d visited, remembering that cold night when she’d wished for something, anything, to give her hope.
The building was boarded up and dark. It looked like it hadn’t been occupied in years.
Shelby stared at the store. Her shaking hands closed into fists. Screaming, she flew at the door, clawing at the boards, pulling off one, and then the other. She kicked the door in, uncaring of the eyes and pointing fingers around her. She bolted inside, hunched and angry, ready to fight.
“Come out, you old hag! You’ll pay for what you did to Jack!”
There was no response. Wind and silence. Shelby went from room to room, upstairs and down, looking for anything, anything at all. When she returned to the foyer, a clean, unblemished paper was resting in the dust that hadn’t been there before.
Shelby bent towards the note, her fingers on the paper, ensuring its reality.
All things for a price.
Shelby looked up to see a policeman holding a taser in her direction. Slowly, she stood, her hands in the air.