Liz sat in her car in the darkness of the parking lot, angry that Fred had stood her up. She wondered why she had ever agreed to a date with him, when she remembered her mother’s words.|
“Don’t kid yourself, Liz. No handsome prince will ever come for you.”
Her mother had been right. She had to take whatever she could get. She took a last look around the deserted parking lot before turning the key in the ignition. This part of town had always felt creepy to her. There were rumors of strange rituals that took place here. A soft rain began to fall as, through the darkness, the headlights of an oncoming vehicle appeared.
Fred! He’d arrived! Maybe not! A man emerged from the car and walked quickly past. He wore a dark cloak with an oversized hood. She watched as he disappeared up a flight of old stone steps at the far end of the parking lot. She was sure he wasn’t Fred. Once again, she prepared to leave.
A strong wind sent a smattering of rain across her windshield and dead leaves whispered. Just then, more headlights appeared. Another figure in a long, hooded cloak emerged from his car and made his way across the parking lot. Liz watched as a succession of headlights cut through the cold, dark night, until the parking lot was full of mysterious hooded figures walking past.
I bet they all belong to a cult, thought Liz.
She remembered the strange glow in Fred’s silvery eyes and the way his stringy dark hair hung limply over his hollow features. Suddenly, she felt compelled to find out where all these men were going. Opening her car door, she braced herself against the cold rain. Her windbreaker flapped about her body like the torn sail of a wayward ship. The rain began falling harder. It lashed at her face as the wind whipped her hair.
Part of her wished she’d stayed home with her dog, Miffy. The other part of her relished this newfound adventure. She climbed the steep steps, which were straight out of the middle ages. Reaching the top, she gasped at the sight of an old stone castle. It reminded her of the fairy tales her mother used to read to her, where a princess with long, flowing hair was forever waiting for a handsome prince to rescue her.
“Now, remember Liz,” her mother would raise a scolding finger, “No handsome prince will ever come for you.”
At these moments, Liz would nod obediently. Mother was right, after all.
Now, as she stared at the castle before her, she was struck by how unromantic it was. It was dark and gloomy, and its windows resembled the empty sockets of once-haunted eyes. Somehow, Liz was drawn to its huge wooden doors. She banged on the heavy knockers once, twice, three times before the heavy doors heaved open. A cloaked figure stood in the gloom, his glowing silver eyes half-obscured by his hood.
“Fred,” she gasped.
“Enter,” Fred stepped aside.
She stumbled in, pulling her torn jacket about her in as dignified a manner as she could muster. Fred held up a lantern with one bony hand. With the other, he motioned for her to follow him down a long corridor, which she did, noting that the walls were oozing slime. At the end of the corridor, Fred turned, his face ghoulish in the green light of his lantern.
“Come,” he crooked his finger, and she entered a large, vaulted room, where hooded figures sat whispering amongst themselves on long, wooden benches. Fred raised his arms and addressed the crowd. “The sacrificial maiden has arrived.”
“Hey,” cried Liz, “I never agreed to be sacrificed.”
Fred ignored her. His glowing eyes remained focused on the now cheering crowd.
“What is going on?” She balked.
The hooded men stood up and formed a circle around her, all the while chanting in a strange language. Liz’s head started to spin.
“I’m going home to Miffy,” she said, but Fred was quick to grab her arm.
The circle formed more tightly around her, and skeletal hands reached out for her. For a bunch of hooded men who could just as well have doubled for cadavers, they were strong. She screamed as they lifted her and transported her along a dark corridor and down steep steps. A fetid dampness pressed in on her, and she shivered. From within the darkness of the dungeon, she saw a prison cell. Fred procured a key, and the cell door swung open on rusted hinged. After Liz was shoved inside, the door slammed shut with a loud clank. Fred’s glowing eyes stared at her through the thick bars.
“I thought you were a sweet man when I met you at the gym, Fred, but you’ve betrayed my trust in the most horrible way imaginable.”
“Your mother was your ultimate betrayer, Liz.”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”
“I can see into your soul, Liz, where all your memories are stored. What was it your mother always used to say?”
“No handsome prince will ever come for you,” Liz answered, as a tear trickled down her cheek.
“Guess what?” said Fred. “I am your handsome prince.”
“Am I supposed to find some cold comfort in that?” Liz recoiled. “Frankly, I would rather be sacrificed.”
“The choice is yours,” Fred smiled, exposing rotting teeth. “You have until tomorrow morning to decide.” With that, he turned and was gone.
Liz wrapped her arms around herself and rocked back and forth. From far away, she could hear the rain falling as dead leaves whispered their secrets to the howling wind. On the other side of town, Miffy barked dejectedly. Through the corridors of her past, her mother’s words echoed.
“No handsome prince will ever come for you, Liz.”
Her mother had spoken as though those words were prophecy. For the first time, Liz understood, it was really a matter of choice.