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She had traveled down this road more times than she was willing to count. Surrounded by forest and wild life, the long, narrow, dusty road offered a safe route from Tara’s home to the grocery store where she worked. Under paid and overworked, Tara had been there for years with no end in sight. Five, sometimes six days a week, Tara made the forty-five minute walk to her dead-end job, only to return home to her unemployed husband every night. At 16, Tara left her abusive father into the arms of an abusive boyfriend. His words were unkind, his touch was not gentle, yet without a diploma, Tara was left without many options. He promised her stability and a home, and her fear and naivety let her believe him.
On her long walks to and from work, she often thought about the last ten years and the events that resulted in her broken life. The mistakes, the lies, the desperation; all of it lead her to him. Tara hated her husband in a way she never knew was possible. The mere thought of him sent nauseated pangs to the pit of her stomach. When the thought of returning home to his drunken embrace became too much, Tara would fantasize about what she felt was her only escape; his death. An electrical fuse short-circuits engulfing the sleeping drunk to ash. An earthquake demolishes the rundown home crushing all within. He always died of an accident through no fault of her own and in the end, she would gracefully be whisked away in the embrace of a kind hearted rescuer. When her journey came to an end, still smiling she would turn the door knob to reality and endure the nightmare that awaited inside.
Tara had no idea how profound her seemingly harmless fantasies were, but she was destined to find out. On that long stretch of road, damp from the midday showers, Tara walked along the muddied path. She was exceptionally lost in a fantasy involving a hurricane and a sympathetic firefighter, as she tried to ignore the throbbing of her bruised ribs. While she floated in the arms of her fantasized hero, Tara suddenly realized she didn’t recognize her surroundings. The road stretched for miles in either direction and there were no road signs in sight to help pinpoint her location. She pulled out her phone only to see there was no cell phone service. The sun was beginning to pass the tree’s skyline, and with the dusk, Tara began to panic. He would never believe she had gotten lost, and the last time she was late she was punished in a way she tried to forget.
As she began frantically darting back and forth with her phone in the air, hopeful for a connection, a soft voice called out to her from behind a tree. Tara froze from fear, not knowing what the voices intent could be. “I’ve been waiting for you child,” the voice said again.
Tara watched as a shadowed figure emerged from the darkness. A crippled, hunched over elderly woman hobbled towards where Tara remained still. Despite her decrepit and unappealing appearance, the old woman seemed fragile and harmless, and so she decided to speak to her. “Uh, hi. My name is Tara. I live off of 70th street, but I think I made a mistake somewhere on my walk home. I’m kind of lost. Any way you can point me in the right direction?”
The elderly woman smiled exposing the few rotted teeth she had left. “I assure you child, it is no mistake you are here. You see, you know what you want most in life, but you are unable to obtain it. You came here because I can give you what you desire.” The old woman’s voice was icy which caused Tara to shiver. She couldn’t justify it to herself, but she felt uneasy in her presence. Confused by the old woman’s response, Tara sought an explanation; “I’m sorry miss, I don’t know what you mean.”
Shrill and raspy, the old woman explained, “I can see inside your heart, child. I hear your pain everyday you walk this road. I have listened to the stories you create inside your head to pretend you have a chance at happiness. I can feel your hatred for who you feel is to blame for your misery. You are here because you can’t possibly want something more, and I’m here to give it to you. All you have to do is decide if you are willing to pay the price.”
Tara’s curiosity began to pique, and so she humored the old, daft woman. “And what exactly is it that you think I want? And how much is this going to cost me? I don’t have a lot of money so I don’t really see where you’re headed with this.”
“You want freedom,” the old woman hissed. “You need money, you long for happiness. You desire him dead.” Tara stared with an open mouth, dumbfounded by the woman’s accuracy. Surly this is all a trick, Tara thought to herself. All general statements. Who wouldn’t desire money and happiness? But wanting to believe, she continued to listen.
“I can give you everything you’ve fantasized about. All I ask in return, is in one years time, you allow me permission to enter your body for two hours.” At this Tara scoffed. Why had she been nervous about this woman? She was obviously crazy. “OK,” she antagonized, “but how do I know you’re telling the truth and can really give me these things?”
At that, the woman materialized a goblet full of liquid. She motioned for Tara to come closer. As Tara looked into the goblet, she saw her husband asleep in front of the T.V., an empty whisky bottle at his side. Frightened and intrigued, Tara gazed at the old woman. “You really can change my life? And all I have to do is allow you two hours inside my body one year from now?”
“That is all, child. Permit me to use your body as a vessel for two hours in one year, and everything you’ve ever wanted will come true.” Tears filled Tara’s eyes as the visions of a better life filled her mind. The concept of relinquishing her body was odd but after a life of constant disappointment and sorrow, she was willing to agree to more than she was willing to admit. She feared if she questioned the old woman’s intent that the offer would be tarnished or taken away. And so, without much consideration, Tara blurted “yes!”
A smile began to creep across the old woman’s face as she hissed, “and so it is done.”
Tara turned around to find her door right in front of her. The road had disappeared along with the elderly woman. She began to think she had gotten lost in her imagination, that the whole interaction was a fantasy. She stood at the door breathing deeply as her heart pounded. Still In a haze, she turned the door knob and stepped lightly through the dark house. Her blood grew colder with each step towards where her husband sat. And then, in the glow of the T.V., there he was. Peaceful, motionless, and not breathing. Tara touched him and jolted at his cold skin. Tears began to flood her eyes as she looked up and thanked the mysterious woman from the road. Finally, Tara was free.
A coroner’s report ruled Tara’s husband’s cause of death a heart attack. The paramedic who answered Tara’s emergency call turned out to be an old friend from high school that she had forgotten. It wasn’t long before the two began dating. While receiving two weeks off from the grocery store to mourn, Tara was approached by a lawyer who informed her that her husband had a life insurance policy which left her with two million dollars. Because the death was deemed natural, Tara received the money within a month of her husband’s funeral. It all happened so fast, and none of the good fortune made any sense, but she didn’t care how surreal it all was. Tara finally had the life she always wanted, the life she felt she deserved. The joy empowered her so much that she soon lost track of time. It seemed like only a blink had passed when the old woman came knocking on her door.
Tara was alone the day the old woman returned for her payment. She was so happy from the life she was now living that she greeted the old woman as she would a long lost friend, embracing her in a warm and genuine hug. “You know, you are a miracle maker,” Tara gloated. “I never knew a person could be this happy. And I have you to thank.”
The old woman looked Tara in the eye, and through her rotted grin she asked, “then are you ready to repay me, child?”
Lost in her own happiness, Tara smiled back and shook her head yes. She trusted the old woman who had brought her such amazingly good fortune. “Well then, it’s time,” the old woman hissed as she grabbed Tara’s face and brought it to her own.
Tara saw a blinding white flash, and then it was as if nothing had happened. The old woman was no longer in front of her and it seemed like she had dreamed the entire encounter. That is, until she tried to move.
Trapped inside her own body Tara cried out “what is this? I thought you would use me as a vessel, that I wouldn’t remember any of this.” “Oh no, child. You will remember every moment I have with you, I can assure you of that,” the old woman responded out loud in Tara’s voice. Feeling Tara’s fear and confusion, the old woman began to explain.
“For centuries I have been plagued with the thoughts and emotions of the broken hearted. Always tormented, always crying out for help, never making a single effort towards helping themselves. Until I come along and offer a solution. A solution that only requires an agreement. Two hours of their time to receive all of the desires and dreams the bleeding hearts were too lazy to achieve themselves. Not once has any of the disgustingly entitled brats inquired as to how I do what I do, or even why I need to use their body as a vessel. The offer is just blindly accepted and they greedily enter their new lives unappreciative. Well, these two agreed upon hours are used for harvest. You think you were so tormented and your life was so tragic? Lets see how you fare after this.”
Tara watched helplessly as her body approached the festively decorated house. Entering the sleeping home, Tara felt as her fingers gripped the handle of the knife taken from the kitchen. The home was dark and quiet but the old woman glided Tara’s body effortlessly to her intended destination. Without making a sound, Tara’s body positioned over the woman asleep in her bed. And with a swift motion, Tara’s hand slid the knife into the woman’s stomach. Piercing screams filled the home, pain and terror emanating from the victim’s eyes. And with a flick of the knife to the helpless woman’s throat, Tara listened as the wails began to gurgle. The warmth of life faded to cold in Tara’s arms as her mouth wrapped around the gaping slit in the woman’s throat. She tasted copper as the blood slid down and coated her stomach. Tara’s cries and screams of horror could only be heard by one, and in response, she felt her blood soaked lips curl into a smile.
Standing over the mauled woman, shrill and cruel, the old woman began to speak; “For every soul I take before it’s time, I must sacrifice an innocent soul to appease the disregard of deaths plan. A soul not promised to him, one destined to a greater eternity.”
From a darkened corner came a child’s whimper. The old woman turned Tara’s head so she could see the terrified girl violently crying as she stared at the grotesque figure that was once her mother. “You thought you were in hell but oh how wrong you were. Your laziness to wait for rescue and your selfishness to ignore consequence has cost the life of this young, widowed mother. Look into the eyes of this child and see what real tragedy is. This orphan will live tormented for the rest of her life and there is nothing that will remove her misery. Although unlike you, she will try. Remember, you did this. Enjoy your reward, because the cost was immense.”
And with a flash of white and a searing pain, Tara collapsed to the ground. Tears streamed down her face as she began to scream, clenching her blood drenched hands, finally able to express her shock of what she had been forced to do.
Tara never heard the police sirens, never felt them as they put her hands in restraints. And she would never remember being taken away from the sacrificed woman and the child she had damned. After a short trial, it wasn’t long before she was committed to a mental institution. Despite desperate attempts from people trying to understand why she had committed such an awful act, Tara never spoke to anyone again. It was as if she were trapped inside her mind. But late at night, when the halls were quite from sleep, Tara could be heard whispering, “I just wanted to be happy.”