“Petra. Kedvesem, Petra. Jó kislány. Köszönöm,” Őfelsége whispers in the empty void. Warmth spreads across my chest. My body tingles and I hear chattering, soft rhythmic beeps and shoes squeaking across tile. “Kedvesem, Petra. Éhség… Éhség.” I open my eyes under the bright lights of the emergency room. Cassandra sits beside me, rubbing my hand. “Őfelsége?” I ask, thirsty. I try to sit up, but the burning in my ribs prevents me from doing so.
Cassandra shakes her head. “When you slammed the jar down, no noise, no drama, no revenge.” Cassandra crosses her arms and sighs. “Őfelsége… she appeared or at least some kind of projection of her. That thing, Petra. I had no idea just how scary it looked. I can’t believe you’ve been living alone with that in your house. She looked like the nightmare version of an old zombie woman made from dead branches and rotten leaves.”
“Is the standard version not scary enough?” I ask, laughing and wheezing, clutching my aching chest. “So what happened and why am I here in so much pain if all she did was take off?”
“Good question. Ask her,” Cassandra mutters, pointing at a young woman standing in the corner. Despite the flowing air in the hospital, her dress and hair remain static. “Szófia, are you going to say anything to your great grandniece?” she asks. Cassandra rolls her eyes at Szófia’s silence. “Well, I’ll just leave you to it, Petra. I’ve been here for a few hours and I’ve gotta get home.” She hugs me and goes on her way. Though I can’t see them, I can sense her four guardians’ presence vanish when she leaves the room. The morphine kicks in and I stare at the ceiling. Szófia appears beside me and looks down at my face.
“Years,” she utters, low and weak. “I was in the jar for centuries, Petra. Or at least, this piece of who you see. The piece Őfelsége did not devour. She must pay for what she has done to me. To us.” Szófia mutters, her beauty overshadowed by her ghostly sunken eyes and the look of exhaustion. “Much of me has gone. You shattered my prison and freed me, but this freedom is a curse without purpose. If I remain, I too will become as these lost and confused spirits who pace the world of the living while shouting at their own ghostly shades of the past. I wish not to be a walking journal of the many who awaited Őfelsége’s hunger.” Szófia continues staring down at me.
I open my mouth, but my jaw quivers. If nothing else, at least the morphine is taking the edge off. “S z ó f i a, w h a t. d o. y o u. w a n t m e. t o. d o?” I ask, struggling to speak. She gawks at me as my eyes close. Fight it. Fight… it. I blink several times and repeat my question to Szófia. “W h a t d o y o u w a n t?”
Her cold, ageless face contorts into a scowl, twitching until she resembles a growling dog. “I want revenge. Revenge for my father. Revenge for my mother. For my sister. My sister’s children and grandchildren. I want revenge for your Helgae!” She screams. The lights flicker and EEKG monitor wails. “Your mother’s mother will have her vengeance! I will have my vengeance! The wooden witch will pay.” The glass encasing a florescent bulbs explodes. I pass out from straining to speak again.
“Petra,” Szófia says, sitting in my living room. Her voice is distorted and the lighting is a mix of nightmarish purple and blue. “Mayhap in this dream we can have a more productive exchange about our course of action.”
“Our?” I blurt out, shocked at the thought of chasing after Őfelsége. There isn’t enough motivation in the world to get me to do that.
“Yes. Lest you forget, as long as she exists, the deal stands. You will bear your father’s daughter and she will serve as Őfelsége’s caretaker when he comes to claim you,” Szófia remarks, her emotionless mannerisms exaggerated and angry.
“She doesn’t exist within the jar, Szófia. She isn’t bound to me any more. There’s no reason for me to continue serving her or servicing her needs. The deal that was made with the devil doesn’t hold valid. I’m free. Like, completely free. I don’t have a reason to chase after Őfelsége,” I respond, crossing my arms. I want no part in this. In fact, I’ll probably set up a ghost ranch and use ghosts to make money. Petra’s Eerie Adventures on YouTube. I’ll help ghosts make amends with their lives so they can move on. It’s the least I can do after years of feeding them to Őfelsége. I need to write that down when I wake up.
“I know not what courses through your mind, Petra, but you forget about the idol, you foolish girl,” Szófia snaps back, her eyes like burning coals. “The idol is bound to the chest matching its hidden runes. So long as the chest and the idol are intact, the demon cannot go beyond the roof that houses them. By breaking the jar, you freed my mind and my memories, but you have to bring the witch her food.”
“What do you mean bring her food? She’s gone, or at least she should be, shouldn’t she?” I ask Szófia. “And, if she isn’t gone and what you’re saying is true, then why would Őfelsége whisper to me by the lake? She said, ‘Shatter the jar. The jar is under the bed. End my sleep.’ I heard her. She wanted me to free her. She doesn’t need me.”
Szófia smirks. “What you heard was me. I used all of my strength to eat the few souls in the jar for more power. The energy let me speak to you from the jar. I do not know how it could have sounded like the witch when it was I who spoke, but stranger things do exist, I suppose.” She looks around the living room and examines the corded phone, the television and the scarce decorations hung on the walls. She studies the door to the basement and shudders when she stares at the knob. “As I said before, Petra, she is bound to our spiritual imprint, bound to the effigy made in her likeness, bound to the chest which binds the effigy, and bound to the roof of that home. With the curse placed upon you, you cannot live or sleep under another roof either. You are bound to Őfelsége as she is to us. Would it not benefit you to aid me in vanquishing her from this world? The world is wont to justice. Justice is wont to the annihilation of the profane.”
“I don’t care about the world’s justice. I just want Őfelsége to leave and I want you out of my life. You’re starting to scare me! Literally, everything was fine until I saw you in the cemetery! Leave!” I exclaim, shrieking myself awake and back into a drug-induced haze. Weak and unstable, I prop myself up and sit against the pillows.
“I was trapped with many spirits for centuries and had your grandmother, a great witch, teach me a thing or two about managing my presence. With all the spirits I consumed in the jar, I am essentially a living human that needs not eat, drink or sleep. I can traverse dreams, worlds, minds and memories. There is nothing you can do to rid yourself of me, save for acquiescing to my desire for vengeance, Petra. Absolutely nothing,” Szófia’s declares, her disembodied voice echoing around me and inside my head.
“Fine, I’ll think about it, but what did you do to me. Why am I so faint and frail?” I ask, forcing myself to speak through the morphine.
“When you shattered my prison, the force of my own power simultaneously exploded outward from the jar. The trapped energy of soul, spirit and mind jammed shards of runed, spellbound glass into your body. In that moment, what I failed to consume had become part of you. You are a walking jar. The weakness you feel is your soul and body adjusting to being an infinite void whereby souls are to be delivered. Hence why I said you would be the one delivering souls to Őfelsége, personally. Until you can adjust to the strain, you will feel weak, hollow and sick,” Szófia responds with a triumphant tune. She materializes next to me and waves a chair over, then sits. “But, if you help me eliminate the witch, I can eliminate the jar. Both of us will be free. As your last remaining relative, I can teach you the things your grandmother taught me, and undo the mistakes of our ancestors. Satan will not have your chastity, nor will he indulge himself in your daughter’s hymen. These things all sounds like a victory, Petra. Would you not give an answer right now? After all, your life does depend on it. ‘Literally’ as you are so want to say and I am so loathe to hear.” She crosses her arms. Her dead eyes burning with something sinister. An emotion I don’t recognize, but somehow understand. It’s like noticing a grin in the darkest corner of your bedroom on a weird night, or seeing a person wave at you then vanish. I remain silent and Szófia sighs. “Perhaps all you need is a little encouragement.” She taps my forehead and I inhale, then shoot up.
“What did you do?” I ask, clear and present. The nausea and haziness from the morphine are gone, alone with all my pain. I feel normal, or close enough to it.
“All impurities gone. You are healthy. Let’s be on our way,” Szófia says, standing up in an eerie, robotic motion.
I shrug. “I can’t. I still need a nurse or a doctor to clear me before I can leave. Hospitals don’t just let patients–” Before I can finish my sentence, Szófia disappears. Several minutes later a nurse walks in. Her mannerisms are jerky like a puppet on a strings controlled by an angry child.
“This one,” the nurse says with Szófia’s voice. “Petra Juhász, please state your full name, date of birth and last four. Then, sign these papers.” She hands me a clipboard. I sign and pass it back. “Thank you. Your clothes are in the locker by the window.” The nurse walks out of the room. Szófia separates from her when she crosses the door.
“What was I doing again?” the nurse asks herself out loud. “I, like, just had the biggest brain fart and completely forgot what the heck I was doing.” She turns and looks at me, absent to what just happened. Holding up the clipboard, she says, “Were these for you?”
I nod and smile. “Yep. I signed them already too. I just gotta get dressed and go.” The nurse smiles and leaves while I get dressed. Szófia and I leave the hospital and wait for my Uber. The driver shudders when Szófia gets in.
“Just got the chills,” he mutters, then verifies that I am going to Kruse’s. I nod and we go on our way.
When we get to the diner I get in my car and drive home, calling Cassandra on the phone. I tell her what happened. “One way or another, we’re bound to our ancestors, Petra. It doesn’t sound like you have anything to lose. If anything, you can finally have that guy – you know, what’s his name – You know, the cop from Chicago- come over and finally spend the night.”
“Maybe,” I respond, picturing Brad’s face. I glance over at Szófia, whose just sitting there motionless and staring ahead, then back at the road. “Thanks, Cassie. I just wanted to get your opinion and keep you updated since you’re, like, the only friend I can talk to about this,” I say, pulling into my driveway.
“No, problem, girl. We’re like the Bruja Breakfast Club. You know I got your back. I serious though, that Detective Gunn, is a dreamy guy. Imagine seeing him more then once every few months. A good man is hard to find, but a hard man is good to find, you know,” she says, with an audible smile. We laugh and end the call.
“What’s first if I help you, Szófia?” I ask, stepping out of the car. She appears beside me, then poofs away and appears by my front door.
“First, we remove the runes surrounding your home. Then, remove them from the chest and break the effigy. Then, we can do away with the disgusting abomination that killed me and my father,” Szófia declares. Though it sounds like good idea, I feel like this won’t be as easy as she makes it seem. I also feel like she’s not telling me something. I nod and walk into my house. Szófia stands at the threshold. “I no longer reside in the bottle. I must be invited in.”
I flinch. “With how close you were with my grandmother, you don’t need an invitation, unless there’s something you’re hiding. Also, you’re an ancestor of mine. These runes shouldn’t affect you,” I remark, suspicious and even less inclined to help her. Szófia looks at me. for a moment, my knees quiver and I almost buckle under the fear of her visible anger.
“You pestilent, ignorant child. Your mother, that filthy, conniving demon child, has reconditioned all of the spell work and runes in and around your home. Since before your birth, I was trapped in a jar that had free passage. Many changes have occurred since I had set foot in this house. Your suspicion will be the death of us, if you cannot learn to trust me. Now, Petra, invite me in.”
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