………….Seated opposite him at the small round table within his tent, she shivered involuntarily.
“What I am doing, is searching for his soul.” He said whilst gazing through the side of the square based bottle of absinthe. A candle flicker behind it, and she was able to see the size and shape of his eye distort, magnified by both the bottle and the wormwood brew it contained.”It is not so easy a soul to find I am thinking. He has not sold it or giving it away to somebody? I am thinking it may be ‘lost’? Have you another soul you could be trading for payment perhaps?”
“I have the soul of my despair to offer, if there is such a thing? Otherwise, I have no other soul available to me.” Morag said, butterflies of nervousness filling her stomach.
“No, that is not a soul that I can take. Despair is everywhere, and I can not be taking only a part of it. It is too big, and too necessary for life on our Earth. Without despair, rage will fill its place, and the world will be perishing within days.” He lamented. “But, do not be worrying just yet, I have many more places to look.”
Minutes dribbled into hours. Her left buttock had become numb, and her mouth was now chip dry. Her eyes not wavering from the greenish liquid within the bottle he was fixated upon.
“Ahhhhhhh, I am thinking I am finding it.” the Hurdy-Gurdy Man said quietly. “Yes, yes I have him. We can be doing business now. From here we must be making haste before it moves. First, we must be signing our contract; I have quill and parchment ready. You will start reading, and then I am making tiny nick to the ball of your thumb, and we are signing.”
She did not feel him cut the back of her hand. It was a small cut, yet it bled freely. Placing the nib of the quill against it, he slowly drew up her bright red blood.
“Now, you have read that for services rendered for expelling Jock Hardy from the world and its memory of him, you are paying me one soul; in this case, his. We are in an accordance?”
Silently taking the quill from him, she deftly signed her name in blood beside the ‘X’ the Hurdy-Gurdy Man had pre-marked. Handing him the quill and balling her fist, he drew again from the flow of blood, and signed with a flourish of his own.
“We go now. For this to work you must witness my taking of his soul. It will not be a pleasant experience, and it will probably hurt you for a few seconds. However you will not remember it. I will have another soul, and you will be rid of a no good husband.”
They arrived at the pub Jock worked in, just as the front door was being opened. With a polite nod to the staff, a little man with a violin case, and a tall woman walked through the empty bar, into the room beyond it. Ornate royal blue carpet covered stairs came into view, the pair scaling them with ease. Once at the top of the stairs, a passageway stretching to the left and the right greeted them. The Hurdy-Gurdy Man reached into the inside pocket of his emerald-green velvet coat, producing a small bottle of absinthe. Intensely staring at it for half a minute, he abruptly placed it back inside his coat, and marched off up the passage to his right. Old styled, brown wooden doors lined both sides of the white-painted hallway. Moving slowly, quietly, down the blue carpeted passage, the pair stopped at the fifth door on the left; an eastern facing room.
Placing his left forefinger to his lips, signalling silence to Morag, he wrapped his right hand around the brass door knob, and began to twist. Finding the resistance of a lock, he closed his eyes and began to rhythmically chant in hushed tones. Mere seconds later, there was an audible ‘click’, and the door unlocked of its own accord.
“Before we enter, you must know somethings.” He said, locking his gaze firmly with hers. “Firstly, you are about to see your husband in a compromising position with another woman, although they are still both asleep. Secondly, when I begin to play, you must focus all of your attentions on your husband, no matter what you will see, hear and feel, including the experiencing of pain. No one else except for you, Mr. Hardy, and my good self can hear the tune. The harlot will not know we are here. She will not wake. She will not remember him when he is gone. Lastly, the tune is a jig, a jig of death, but he will not dance for us. I play and his heart beat matches my rhythm, the pressure inside him increases, and the heart will go ‘pop’. Then, once he is dead, I am pulling his soul from him into my fiddle, and like his heart, he goes ‘pop’, and is gone forever. You will remember none of this. Your life will be your own once more, do not waste what I am giving you.
On tip toes they silently entered the hotel room. It was an old hotel and the rooms had been maintained in the style they were intended to be when first built. The first thing she noted was a snoring, naked, overweight woman laying atop the sheets and blankets. The woman looked to be in her late fifties, and her grotesqueness was enhanced by the sagging yellowish skin of her body. Her hair was thin and greying, lank and repulsive, and long, clinging to her body in memory of the sweat that had held it. Her toad like face was a perfect match to her toad like body.
The stench of the room the was most overpowering. Stinking of sweat and sex and sour alcoholic fumes mixed with cigarette smoke. Light barely prevailed against the darkness and the fugg, fighting to make its way around old heavy curtains. And then there was her thirty year old husband; a contrast to the grotesque abomination on the bed beside him. Naked, snoring, flat on his back; a syringe, bent spoon, and burnt out candle stub lay in between empty stubby’s; an ashtray overflowed, its vile contents on the bedside table and the floor.
Handing her the room’s only chair, she placed it beside the bed an arm’s length from her husband. The Hurdy-Gurdy Man took up his position at the foot of the sagging double bed. He crouched and gently placed the violin case at his feet, opened it and withdrew a battered, much worn violin from within. The bow came out next, and he began to rosin it in preparation for the jig. Satisfied, he placed the fiddles base on his left bicep, bending his elbow, his left fingers hovering over the fret board, and without ceremony he began to play.
At first Morag didn’t think he had started his jig of death. Even though she could see him playing from the corner of her eye, no sound came from the fiddle for at least a minute. She remained transfixed on her husband, silently cursing him for the damage he had caused. Slowly, like some vehicle in the far distance coming toward her, she picked out the jigs rhythm at the extremity of her hearing. Within a minute, it was at the noise level one would expect from a violin played beside them.
The longer the Hurdy-Gurdy Man played, the redder Jock’s face became. His breathing quickened, and she saw a blood vessel in his neck begin to stand out proud from his skin, pulsing in time with the tune. The music made by the fiddle was not an unpleasant melody. It was fast and technical, filled with jumping minor notes and keys. It reminded her of gypsy music she had seen on children’s television when she was young. Her focus remained unwavering from the man she had once loved, the father of her children. Slowly it became louder and louder, to the point that she had to cover her ears with her hands. Her husband’s mouth had opened, sucking in air. His right eyelid fluttered and she could see that the white of the eye had turned blood-red, the blood vessels bursting within the sclera. And yet the jig moved faster and faster, louder and louder; blood began to drip from his left ear onto the grubby white sweat stained pillow. So loud was the music that she felt as though she was vibrating, and she fought to maintain her focus on him, forcing her eyes open against their subconscious willing to be shut. Another minute passed, dust and paint chips fell from the ceiling, and on he played, faster and faster; noise louder than anything previously experienced batted against her. His hands and fingers became a blur.
Jock’s left eye was the first to burst, followed closely by the right. Blood from his ears had given way to a watery, straw coloured fluid, a substance known as cerebrospinal fluid; the fluid that cushions the brain, laying between the brain and skull. The same fluid that supported the spinal cord to its very end. It flowed quickly, steadily from his ears, she heard him cough as it pooled in his throat and he inhaled it. Frothing bright blood now coated his mouth. Arterial lung blood, and he gurgled as he breathed it, drowning in it. His pulse was beating so quickly in his neck, that she could no longer count it. She was in physical pain, the noise and rhythm hurting her; the focus on him so fierce her head ached with the effort. Finally, he screamed. The sound was inhuman, loud and wet and mournful.
And then there was silence.
Not willing yet to avert her gaze, she maintained her eye contact. A blue, almost indiscernible light, translucent and smoke like flowed from his bloody eyes, into the head of the violin. On contact it slithered languidly down the neck, sliding across the violins body, and into the ‘f’ holes. Taking no more than 30 seconds to empty his corpse of its soul, the blue light vanished, and for the first time since she had entered the hotel room, she looked back at the Hurdy-Gurdy Man. Her blood ran cold. A maniacal smile, far too large for his face now covered it. Huge and brilliant white teeth, surrounded by crimson gums and blood-red lips. On closer inspection she saw that his teeth were gently glowing. His eyes, wider than possible and sinister to behold, shimmered the same blue as the soul he had extracted from Jock. Disturbingly his face appeared to have darkened almost black. Morag, for the first time in her life experienced true terror. Unable to tear her horrified gaze from him, she ‘felt’ more than ‘heard’ him say, “The time has come for me to complete the bargain. It is time for you to watch him go. Forever.”
Standing in an upstairs hall of the Commercial Hotel, Morag Hardy looked about herself, wondering why she was standing there when she had a million things to do at home. Plus she needed to get ready for this afternoon’s job interview.
With a spring in her step, Morag briskly strode down a set of royal blue carpeted steps; a small man with a battered violin case and shimmering blue eyes watched her go.
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