Fiction Features, Rising Phoenix - Spring 2021, Rising Phoenix Features

Fiction Rising Phoenix Winner – Spring 2021

“The Cost of Living”

Whisper McDonald

      I have full understanding of the sacrifice I am about to make and the gift it will bring the village. They won’t allow me to cry, which is very troubling since I very much would like to rain tears upon their pity filled glances. The Master tells me that this is what true strength is and that I am the most perfect of all those who could’ve been picked. He is wrong though; I was picked since no one would be willing to marry me. Out of the whole village, I am the only one who is alone. In other words, I am the perfect sacrifice since only my Papa would’ve missed me. His standing amongst the village was rather low as a simple blacksmith so, only a nothing, a man with no say. The thought of my Papa always seems to twist my guts and force bile into my throat. As much as I would love to fight and scream my way out of this, there is no point. The bonds that hold my wrists and feet only seem to tighten with my struggles. I have only till dusk to live out my final moments, but they won’t even allow that. They invited the next village over for the celebration and I am to be paraded around for all to see.
      “If you keep wiggling, I’m going to have to tie you to a pole. Putting this paint on is an art and
 shows your value in our village.” That was almost funny coming from Morg our well-known town whore. She was put in charge of my face paint and outfit since she’s been loyally ‘serving’ our village Master. I’ve already seen her crawl out of his manor at least a hundred times. What could she know about art?
      If I had a choice, they would paint me into a fierce animal, cover my lips in red like the blood
 from my prey. I wish they would make me look like a warrior instead of a bride. I want to look like I
 challenge death instead of looking this pathetic. Yet here I sit wearing traditional wedding clothes with only the thoughts of my death to guide me through the night. It only brings me back to the last full moon when I was told of my fate.
      “Yahna, this night that we have the eye of our god truly upon us, he has been decided that you
 will be our villages gift to give on the next moon. You must be very proud of yourself for being chosen.” His voice was like ice crawling down my back, and by looking at the face he was making, he knew my thoughts. Arguing with the master would be foolish and a mere waste of my breath. I must accept this; I have no choice but to accept this.
      “PLEASE, YOU CAN’T HAVE HER! SHE’S MY ONLY DAUGHTER, MY CHILD!” My father was hysterical, his face twisted in agony at the news. The goons that travel with the master noticed his manic behavior and chuckled. The largest brute kicked him down to the ground with swift movements and placed his heavy boot above my father’s heart. The movements stirred my heart and made me want to feel just as panicked as he was.
      “Please, I really don’t want to do this. I don’t want to leave my father-”
      “Shut up. If you don’t want to leave your father, then we’ll make sure you won’t have to.” With a
 nod to the brute, he started kicking and stomping my father into the ground. His cries quickly turned into hacks that splattered blood all over the floor of our house. My screaming was cut off by a cloth being forcefully shoved down my throat.
      “Be quiet you little bitch”
      If I had only known I was going to be chosen sooner, I would’ve tried to run away with Papa. I
 would’ve packed us up quickly and we would’ve made a way to survive the woods together. It was never meant to happen though. Maybe it was God’s will to have me suffer this fate, maybe this was the reason I was even born in the first place. It was strange to be the sacrifice, the last twenty moon celebrations have gone without one, so why now? It must be the lack of crops that is pushing the Master’s hand in  this matter. Idiot. The farmers told him we need to plow new land for better yields. He must truly think a sacrifice is the way to repair the damage that he has done.
      For weeks I have been perfecting the dance I must perform for the Master and his company. A
 dance that I wished to practice one last time, but with the ‘artist’ out of my way, the servants crowed me. It was their turn to spend time with me and to eventually transfer me to my death. They’re really just spies that made sure I didn’t do anything harmful to myself or others. In addition to making sure I didn’t try to escape. Their presence only slowed down the time I had left in this hell. My hours were turning into days with the inability to move and speak.
      When the sun finally started climbing down the sky, I was moved to a seat in front of a great
 fire. To one side of the table was my master and the village, to the other lay the overly friendly guests. I tried to seem oblivious to their looks and their conversations that were directed at me. It was proving to be difficult with the one sitting across from me. He was truly a handsome man with rougher features and eyes that unlike most, didn’t have a dark ring to hold in the color. The blue of his eyes seemed to leak into the whites, borderless and untamed. Every second I refused to look his way, the louder he began laughing. With the goal to finally silence him, I gave in and looked straight at him.
      There was something simply feral looking about the man. Unlike the rest of his people, he
 looked and sounded strange. He didn’t really seem to belong with them, but they didn’t question his presence at all. It wasn’t until I heard his voice that I understood just how attractive he was, it was deep and rich sounding.
      “You wouldn’t look at me and now you're staring nonstop. I feel as though I should be blushing
 with your hungry eyes roaming my face.” The audacity, he truly was a strange man. Who would even waste their time talking to a woman meant for death by the end of the party?
      “I’m staring because I’ve never seen someone need as much attention as you seem to need.” Perhaps I should’ve been nicer, but I am a person simply waiting for death, you can’t expect flirtatious banter at this time.
      “A truly fierce one, makes me wonder why you were picked.”
      “I was picked since no one wants to marry a woman who desires to be treated as an equal. If you listen closely enough, you’ll hear all of the bad things about me whispered around the table. It’s a waste of time to explain my worth or should I say my lack of worth?” It wasn’t a lie, almost everyone at the table was discussing just how great of a choice I was and how thankful all the other girls were that it wasn’t them. For almost a full minute the strange man went quiet, I almost thought myself rid of his voice.
      “I see. If you asked me, if you said please, I could take you away from here. You could come back to my village and no one would question it. I would keep you safe and you could marry me.” A trap, it must be a trap. Never in my twenty years has someone even looked my way let alone ask for my hand. I have already accepted my fate, I already know my answer, and it’s my father.
      “NO? What do you mean ‘no’? I just offered to save your life and you don’t want me to?” Although his voice seemed concerned and confused, his face betrayed his emotions. I would say he almost seem joyful that I refused. The eyes are truly telling and his were sparkling with the fires glow. Thankfully the conversation ended right there when the Master started to knock on the table to get the crowds attention. 
      “Thank you everyone for joining me on this celebration of our God. It is time for the final dance
 before we give Yahna the privilege of being a gift for him. Let the dance begin!” A twist and a turn, a leap and a shuffle, the dance is an easy task and one I decided to take seriously. I could’ve messed it up or made an attempt to run but, in the end, I’d rather join my father peacefully then in shame. The only thing that drew my focus away was the two blue eyes following every move I made. It was as if he thought his intense stare could make me change my mind and make me run to him. A part of me wanted to but I wasn’t so foolish that I would miss the danger that flickered in his gaze.
      With the dance completed it was time to be tied to the stone table that would soon be covered
 in my blood. Bonded once again, my wrists and ankles ached with the touch of the rope. They weren’t gentle in tying them, but they did seem joyful in the process. I’ve never had the pleasure of watching an offering, but I picked up a few details from the stories my Papa told me. Once I was tied to the stone, the master would let three drops of blood fall onto my face before retreating back to the village with the others. I would be left on the table to wait for the one who would take my soul and deliver it to the God. Basically, the being would either simply kill me or eat me, the details apparently depended on the
      “You’re in the hands of God now my child. May the heavens bless us for our gift.” One, two, and
 finally the last drop, the ritual was complete. The table felt cold on my back and the warmth of the torches faded faster than their light. I was hoping that this would be quick, but I truly don’t have much luck in this life. I found myself counting the stars and tracing the constellations with my eyes. Eventually I simply started feeling pissed off, how could this thing take so long to retrieve me? Was I not even good enough to be a sacrifice?
      “Hey! Asshole, could you hurry it up a bit? UGGGHHH.” Silence. What was I expecting? Maybe this whole sacrifice thing is a just an easy way to get rid of people with an excuse. It was no secret that my father and I were mere outcasts so maybe the Master simply wanted us disposed of. Nothing at this point could truly surprise me.
      “Why didn’t you accept my offer earlier? A sacrifice hasn’t refused my offer in a long time.” That voice! The strange man from the village, what was he doing here? “You should leave, you could die with me if you stay here.”
      “Foolish human. I am the one that is supposed to come for your soul. I can’t say I really want it
 now though. It’s much more fun when the soul is so willing and full of hope.”
      “They took away any hope I once had, there can be no hope left in my soul. I refused you since it would do me no good. I wouldn’t be able to be with my father for a long time if I went with you. Seems like I made the right decision.”
      Although it was definitely the man from before, his appearance was slightly different. His nails were now long and sharp, his canines poked out from his lips, and his ears pointed towards the sky like a fairy from Papas stories. The moon was shining brightly on the table and the trees that surrounded it, but he still remained cloaked in darkness.
      “How about a proposition then? Your village is starting to annoy me, and I grow tired of it. I should sincerely take a bride this time and I find your personality to be highly intriguing. How about I take the souls of your whole village instead of yours? All you have to do is agree to be my bride and be  the one who will forever be by my side.” His lips pulled into a dangerous smile that felt colder than the breeze of the night.
      “Kill the village and the Master, but at the price of never seeing my father? That’s a difficult
      “Which will it be?”
      With that one word the binds that held me were ripped with a flick of fingers. Rubbing my sore wrists, I shuffled off the table to stand before the man.
      “I knew I liked you, good decision. Had you said no, I would’ve killed you and the villagers. Now
 let us begin this journey as husband and wife, hold out your wrist.”
      One nail dragged lazily along my arm revealing a long trail of blood. Holding my arm with one
 hand and with the other he reached into a satchel attached at his waist. The vial he pulled out was
 pearlescent in the moonlight. With a pop, the lid was off, and the liquid was being poured onto my
 bleeding arm. I can’t say it wasn’t painful, but it didn’t exactly feel like pain either. A coldness swept into my heart and took a hold of my head. For the first time everything that I have ever felt was now clear.
      “Do I get to kill the Master?”
      “Anything for my wife”