Past Lives: The Price

The first time they find her, she thinks it’s an accident, an isolated incident; they try and bargain with her, smile with pointed teeth. She’s just young, then, barely more than a girl – a frightened child with bare feet and ragged hair, clothed in rags. She doesn’t have the name for them yet, can’t call them what they are: demons. However, she remembers what her instructor told her –never trust; never bargain. There is always a price, and it is always too high. She shakes her head, turns and flees.

She tries running, but they always seem to find her, wherever she goes; whatever name, whatever accent, she’s sporting today; wherever she calls home. She runs, and occasionally she cries.

“Why me?” she asks one of them one day, after it has tried once again to bargain with her.

It laughs, long and loud, and the sound of it makes her nauseous. It’s still wearing a human face – that of an impossibly beautiful woman. It raises an eyebrow. “There’s a price for the things you do, you know.” It speaks strangely, using words and sentences she has never heard.

She frowns, confused. “Things…?”

“The magicks, the little rituals and things you sprinkle. For luck, for happiness, for sleep. How many others do you think can do that?”

“I… there must be others,” she tries, all but gasping for air with the realisation, the possibilities that come with it. All gone, the druids, the elders, all gone… No, inconceivable… It must stop.

It looks at its fingernails, a gesture she has never seen before and has no idea how to interpret. “Dead, most of ’em,” it drawls. “Time, or superstition, or us.” It looks up at her, smiles impossibly widely, and she gags. “Your skills, they call us. Moth, flame… I think you see.”

Now she does.

They find her again. Again. Again. The poor slave girl escapes with her master’s sword.

One finds her on a day she is with a man she thinks would offer her a home, and peace. She wants to settle down, rest her feet, and she stops. Just a pause, a moment of consideration; she wants security, she wants safety for herself and for him – all the things it promises in soft, soothing tones. She decides. He gives her a kiss for luck, a smile of reassurance. She steps forward, begins to bargain with the smallest trace of a smile.

It asks for a trade. There is always a price, it says, for such things. She nods, agrees.

She finds a moment too late that the price is saltwater, the tang of iron on her lips. The price is him.

She gives him a kiss for luck as he dies, for the After. She feels it when he stops breathing, and straightens. The demon only smiles, as if it has done her a great favour.

The sword is raised, and used, and there is one fewer demon in this world. She doesn’t even step into the house it offers her.

When she is poor, they find her and offer her fame, a roof over her head, sweets and candies, all the money and men she could ask for. When she is rich, they find her and offer her fulfilment, travel and loves – past and future, could be or will never be.

Centuries pass, and time and time again they find her. Time and time again she raises her sword.

This time, it promises her all the lost loves, all the easy smiles and strong wills taken by time, illness, murder or them. List looks at her, puzzled; he can’t hear what it’s saying, the word for her ears only. Her hands shake, and she grits her teeth, trying to steady herself as she reaches for her hip.

She raises her revolver, and tells herself that she will not pay the price. Not today.


I think I found hell,
I think I found something

I think I found out, that I have nothing
That I have nothing in this place for me

I watched it all in my head,
Perfect sense,
They’ll take me from my bed,
Leave everything that is worth a single cent and just take me instead.

Anything,
Anything,
Don’t tell them anything,
Anything,
Please.

I think I can tell,
I think I can tell them,
Tell them they were made for me.
I’m thinking they’ll know,
Know it already,
I’m thinking they’ll know just about everything.

I bet they planned it all out,
Like the shows,
Went everywhere I go.
Walked in the store right behind me,
Stood in line right beside me and followed me to my home.
I’m sure they figured it out,
Early on,
That I would never run


Anything,
Anything,
Don’t tell them anything,
Anything,
Please.

– “Female Robbery,” The Neighbourhood


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