This story is by Nick Jensen and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The block was silent and dark; shadows danced across the walls, foreshadowing the arrival of the reaper. With a stoic look etched across his face, he looked out of the bars of his cell into the night. Tomorrow was December 24 and Jack Ridley, an inmate on death row, was due for execution.
Jack Ridley’s incarceration had come about when he stole a ring from an old antique shop in Castle Falls, a New England town, fifty miles from Portland. A harsh punishment for a petty crime, one might think, but it was the significance of the ring and the malevolent forces around it, that led Ridley to lose his grip on sanity and commit murder.
When he stole the ring, he had been under the influence of alcohol and ignored the little girl called Samantha when she warned him of the potential consequences of his actions. His downfall which led to these events was the loss of his mother; he wanted more than life itself to see her one last time.
It was his hope, but that hope would be used to weave a tapestry of fear around him and manipulate his unrequited desire, where he would sell his soul to the Devil to have his pain, anger, and resentment eased. He thought back through the drunken haze, and with vagueness and uncertainty, he remembered he told the little girl in slurred words, to “beat it! scram! I ain’t listenin’ to you.”
Eight-year-old Samantha had told him: “Mister, that shops got ghosts. You can’t buy from there.”
He knelt in front of the little girl, before his dismissive outburst, his breath reeked of Johnny Walker.
“Listen, junior there ain’t no such thing as ghosts and I ain’t buyin’,” he laughed.
As he walked into the shop, he was greeted by a tall man. The man’s eyes were hypnotic, but as Ridley stared into their depths, they appeared to be black and cruel as if no conscience existed behind them.
The man smiled: “How may I serve you, Sir?”
“How much is that?” Ridley asked. He pointed in the direction of a gold ring adorned with a red jewel.
“That’s not for sale,” the shopkeeper said. “It’s a priceless part of my personal collection. It-”
“I never said I was buyin’,” Ridley said. He pulled a gun on the man. “Hand it over.”
The shopkeeper scrambled to grab the ring. Ridley pocketed it and ran out into the street. The shopkeeper smiled a nightmarish grin, his features contorted into hideous vulpine shapes. He spoke in a voice that was not his own.
“I told you, it wasn’t for sale, Sir. Now your soul belongs to me.”
A thin mist enveloped the figure which dissipated into black smoke.
“Never steal from a demon,” the disembodied voice chided as the mist exited the shop and spiraled up into the air.
Jack Ridley returned home later that night and placed the ring on a table, near the side of his bed. He began to dream, and his dreams were far from pleasant. He found himself surrounded by a thin veil of incorporeal mist that wound its way through the long shadows as they waxed and waned through the passage of time.
He heard a noise from the inside of his walls. Perhaps mice clawed and scratched their ways through the network of tunnels in the apartment complex? The vagaries of sleep caused fact and fiction to blur into an amalgamation of confusion.
The mist parted outside of his bedroom window to reveal his mother. She wore the cerements of the grave. She rapped on the window as gentle as a kitten and Jack stirred and rubbed his eyes in confusion.
He knew his mother was dead, her cancer had struck, like a sledgehammer against fragile glass.
“Hello, Jack. How’s my boy?” she said.
“Mom? Is that you?”
“Yes, waffles. It’s me. Are you in trouble?”
He remembered the time when his mother was alive. She nicknamed him waffles, as that is all he ever wanted to eat as a child. “I try to get by, mom. But you left me and now my life is beyond difficult. I can’t even sleep without having a drink.”
“I’m back now,” she said. “Just let me back into your life and I know you can be happy again.”
“Mom? I remember when cancer took you. Worst day of my life.”
“I’m here now though. Try not to worry.”
As Jack slept the figure of his mother sat on his bed. She hummed a lullaby and played with his hair. She did not breathe. He didn’t seem to notice the eerie silence, he was just glad she was there.
The next few days were uneventful and then the infestation of his home had begun, and the manifestation which masqueraded as a benevolent haunting was about to take a turn into realms where darkness dwelt. One-night Jack’s mother disclosed that the spread of her cancer was brought on by several people.
“You must make these people answer to a higher power. That of the coldness of indiscriminate justice.”
As his thoughts became clouded and erratic he fell back into the circadian rhythms of slumber. He awoke with a start and noticed three long scratches on his back. They burned. Tears began to form in his eyes. It was excruciating pain.
Ridley was confused. What’s happening to me?
Samantha knew that oppression was the second stage of possession. He should have listened to her. She knew the scratches on his body were related to the holy trinity being mocked – father, son, and holy ghost. Odd knowledge for an eight-year-old, but Samantha hid a secret of her own.
She knew what would happen next, but Jack was oblivious to the danger he was in. After he had committed the murders, he was incarcerated. The demon attempted to convince him to commit suicide. Either way, he would die, as he waited for the electric chair on death row.
The suicide option would be a better outcome for the demon as if Jack took his own life the demon would possess his soul, but either way, it would get what it wanted. The demonic whispering ceased and the atmosphere decreased to near freezing at the sudden arrival of an unknown presence. It had chosen the guise of a gentleman in a suit with aquiline features, but this presence was horrific even to the demon because the demon could see Death’s true visage and it was not that of the masquerade of an old man.
It turned to Jack and said: “You must embrace me to be reborn. I’m giving you a second chance. Christmas Eve is when miracles happen. Go to the chair and don’t be swayed by that thing,” it said and pointed to the demon. “In case you wonder why I’m here, a friend sent me. My name is Death.”
“You want me to die,” Jack Ridley called out in exasperation.
“You won’t make the same mistakes twice. But you must die.”
The warden arrived at Ridley’s cell with his final meal and a priest who was ready to perform the last rights, which would absolve him of sin. As the priest spoke with Jack he saw spirals of light as they glinted off the bars of the cell. When the time came, he was led to the chair.
As he sat down and was strapped in he was asked for any last words. He could almost hear Death stood beside him, “You need to trust and embrace me to be reborn. Do you trust me, Jack?”
“I embrace death. I trust death. I’m sorry,” he said.
A split second after his executioner threw the switch, the colors of life drained from his eyes, before his sentient awareness turned to darkness as black as a starless, midnight sky. He saw Samantha’s face.
“Mister, that shops got ghosts. You can’t buy from there.”
The sensation of non-existence was replaced by a bright white light. The old man reappeared. “I told you. It’s not your time yet.”
Jack found himself back on the street. “Mister, that shops got ghosts. You can’t buy from there.”
He turned to the little girl and said, “As its almost Christmas and not Halloween, I best not then.”
“Merry Christmas, Jack Ridley.”
The snow began to fall, all sin was absolved, and Jack Ridley experienced a new beginning.
“Wait,” Jack said. “How do you know my name?”
“I’ve known you since the day you were born. I know every hair on your head and you are chosen for a higher purpose, Jack.”
“For what purpose?” Jack asked.
“That,” his Guardian Angel said, turning over a gold ring adorned with a red jewel in it’s hands. “Is another story, for another time.”