Just one more, one more pinch of salt. Where was the damned werewolf’s claw? He knew it had been on his desk yesterday, but where was it- There, it had fallen to the floor. When had that happened? That would be no good, no good at all! He needed it to be clean, in perfect condition! What kind of spirit accepted a filthy, dust-covered werewolf’s claw? No spirit! There, he had another, now he just had to grind it to a fine powder and-
“Daddy? Daddy, come on! The cake’s ready and everything!”
Ashton scratched his head, lost in thought. What had he been doing again? Ah, yes. The werewolf’s claw. His mortar and pestel were right there, he just needed to-
“DADDY!” Ashton looked down at his beautiful daughter’s face. Why was she in here? She knew she wasn’t supposed to enter his study, he had told her time and time again it was dangerous if she ate the wrong thing. Kids were like that, sticking everything into their little mouths. And what was it she had said about a cake? There was something there, in the back of his mind… What was it again…
Ashton’s heart sank. It was her birthday, and he hadn’t even noticed. It had crossed his mind a few times, but something else had always seemed more important. More imminent. Had he even gotten her a present? Fuck, he had forgotten to get her a present! And it was her big birthday, too! She would finally be a teenager, and his promise to Alba would finally be fulfilled. He could finally try again.
He wouldn’t fail again a second time. He wouldn’t let Irine down like he had let Corrine and Alba down. He’d lift the curse – finally lift the curse – and his daughter would be free of the same torment he had had to endure.
“Daddy, are you even listening to me?” He forced himself to smile, despite having a grisly task ahead of him. He already had the dog, it was locked up in the basement. A stray. No one would miss it.
“I am. I’m sorry, Irine, daddy’s been busy with-“
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Can I blow out my candles now?”
“Of course, sweetheart. Let’s go.” He hoped his attention would be enough of a gift. He hated himself for what he had become, for the kind of father he was to his child – the only family he had left – but he was doing this for her sake as much as theirs. She’d understand once she was old enough.
“Yay! Come on, Daddy, this way!”
She led him into the kitchen, their awfully empty, quiet kitchen, and brought him straight to the cake.
“Careful there, Irine! You’re gonna cut yourself!” Slowly, careful not to make things worse, he took the knife away from her. “What have I told you about sharp objects?”
“I know, I’m not supposed to touch them… It’s fine, daddy, I’ve been using it for weeks.” His heart sank. Had he really been this distant from her?
“I’m sorry, baby girl. I promise you after tonight I’ll have more time for you. We’ll do whatever you want starting tomorrow, I swear it.” He knew it wasn’t good to spoil a child, but she had earned some spoiling. He owed her.
Ooooh. Just give me a second, please. Everything’s spinning, I- I’ve never had that happen before, so many visions at once! And my Grandpa… I had no idea. I mean I knew, of course, I have read his notes, but this… Seeing it, I had no- I’m sorry. Just give me a moment, please. I’ll be fine, I just need to-
Everything was ready. There was no reason for him to fail again, no excuse to fail Irine, too. His family had suffered enough – and to think that part of it had been his fault! No, Ashton would succeed. This time, everything would work out precisely as it was supposed to, and then he could finally give Irine the attention she deserved.
All components were in place. The powdered werewolf’s claw, the dog pinned down by magic, the candles all lit in just the right order – It had to go right. It just had to.
Nervous, Ashton took his place in the middle of the circle, taking a deep breath in before beginning the summoning.
“Hear me, spirits! With this spell I summon thee! With this spell I beseech you! Grant me your aid in lifting this curse which has been cast upon my family, and protect me from evil! I summon thee, Geraldine May!” A soft breeze rolled through the room, flickering the candles as it did. Geraldine was in the room, Ashton knew. Her presence was what caused the breeze.
“I offer you this creature in return, Geradline May, that you may lift this curse from my family for all eternity!” Very unceremoniously, Ashton sliced the dog’s throat. He wanted to apologise to the poor thing, hold it in comfort as its life bled out around him, but he knew that any words which weren’t part of the incantation would have tainted the spell. He couldn’t risk that. He had lost too much to get here to risk it.
Nothing happened. It was exactly what had happened last time, but this time Ashton could feel that nothing had changed. The curse was still there, and somewhere, beyond oblivion, Geraldine May sat laughing to herself at his foolishness.
“No. No, it can’t be! Geraldine! I command you, lift this curse at once!” He was going mad, he knew it. There was no one else in the room with him, yet he was sure he could hear the laughter of a mad spirit.
Defeated, Ashton sank to the ground, warm blood soaking his clothes and staining his skin. He had failed again. All this time he had spent studying curses, this curse, and it had been for nothing. He was still cursed. Irine was still cursed. Maybe it was time to face the truth. There was nothing he could do about it, no matter how hard he tried.
“No, I won’t allow it! Do you hear me, Geraldine? I won’t allow it!” There was only one more thing he could try. One last thing he could think off that might have been wrong before. The dog hadn’t been enough. Like his family it had died for nothing. The vengeful witch would not be satisfied until his own blood was spilled, it seemed. He loved Irine. She deserved happiness.
This was for her.
A surprised, pained gasp escaped his lungs as the dagger pierced his flesh. He had believed that, after all the pain he had experienced already, nothing else could hurt him as deeply. He had been wrong.
“I’m sorry, my love. I’ve failed all of you.” Breathing was difficult, but he had messed up. Once again, he had made a mistake, though at least it was to be his last one. There was some solace in that, at least. “Irine… I’m sorry. Daddy can’t keep his promise to you.” All his life he had spent studying this curse. All her life. He had been denied a lasting love, happiness, and a family. Everything he had achieved had been torn away from him brutally, and now he had wasted his daughter’s life trying to clean up his mess, too. It was for the best that he was dead.
She deserved better than him.
The room went dark as his eyes slowly closed. Above him, two floors up, his daughter was sleeping soundly. Soon she’d wake up wondering where her father had gone, assuming that he had lied once again and was still neglecting her after all. Ashton knew she wouldn’t be wrong.
The darkness around him expanded, swallowing everything, and somewhere within that darkness the vengeful witch laughed at her newest victory.
“Shit, is she okay?”
“I don’t fucking know! Fuck, she’s not breathing! Go get a wet cloth, now!”
“The hell is that gonna do?”
“I don’t know, okay? Just do it! Gods, her nose is bleeding. Why are you still standing there, go!”
Their voices… To think that I would die like this. I never even got the chance to… I didn’t die alone, Mum. I had them with me, at the end. Can you believe it? Me? I don’t know if I can consider us friends, but they were the closest I ever had to that title. They were with me, they listened to me.
And now they’ll never know just how much that meant to me.