The loss of Grzegorz was an everlasting wound upon my heart that could only be tempered by drowning myself in alcohols intoxicating embrace. Day in and day out the tender kiss of the bottle to my lips was the only affection that stirred my soul and as the vodka sluiced warm in my mouth, fiery in my mouth and scorching in my stomach my mind raced with inhibitionless respite.
I do not know where in the mansion the devil child prowls, but I can feel her presence wafting through the old timbers and hallways like a miasma. I can feel her in every pocket of shadows, every minute sigh of the house, every downturned glance of the maid staff. She was a stain upon our lives and there was no telling when her hunger would grow again, who she would feed upon next.
I intended to make sure I wasn't the next victim.
I made my way to the parlor room, machinations churning in my inebriated mind. Even before entering I could hear the carousing from the other side and smell cigarette smoke. I slipped inside a den of fog like smoke that reeked of Malbaro and sweat. Seven men clad in black like a murder of crows were perched around a circle table decorated with playing cards and bottles. Upon seeing me a hush fell over the men like a cloud. I couldn't help but smile at their piety. These men, more like dogs still obedient to the memory of Grzegorz and all he held dear.
Obedient to me.
"Pawel, a word please?"
If there was any surprise from the big man he hid it well behind a poker face as he rose from his chair and followed me out into the hallway. Pawel was one of Grzegorz's oldest and most trusted 'lieutenants', a physically imposing cutthroat who carried himself with the icy professionalism of a shark. His storm grey eyes beseeched me for a flickering moment, the hard lines of his poker face faltering slightly but I led him down the corridor, away from the listening ears of the others. At last I spoke.
"Pawel, you've known Grzegorz a very long time, longer than even me. Tell me, what inspires such loyalty in a man?"
A shrug of his massive shoulders. "Mr. G was always cool with me. Even before all the big houses and fancy cars he kept his head and looked out for his own."
"And your loyalty, it extends even after his death?"
"Of course, I'll do anything for you and his daughter –"
"And that is where the problem lies. Just what do you know of the circumstances surrounding Grzegorz's death?"
A break of his poker face. A calloused hand running through slicked back hair. "I don't know really, something about a rare blood disease."
I moved a breath closer to him. "Lies Pawel. Lies to cover up the truth of what really happened to Grzegorz. Our Grzegorz!"
"What are you getting at?"
"The child. She is the reason for his death. She will tear down everything we took so long to build!"
Pawel's icy countenance finally melted into an incredulous grin. "You're saying his kid killed him? C'mon lady that's bullshit!"
"You have not seen the things I've seen, felt the scars on his body. After all these years, what do you know of the child?"
"She's a…uh, skittish little thing, never in one place for long. Doesn't come out during the day. Strange…"
"The child is cursed Pawel. The blood of meshuggener runs through her veins. She killed her mother during childbirth, killed her father in his own bed and it's only a matter of time before we're next!"
A look of trepidation clouded his storm orb eyes. He laughed, a joyless mirth born of fear. "This is crazy, she's just a kid!"
"We are family, all of us living the dream Grzegorz created. That little thing, that jedza is trying to tear down everything he has built. You hurt one of us you hurt all, and blood or not the debt must be repaid in full."
"What are you suggesting we do?" Ice in his words. Right where I wanted him.
I reached out and caressed his arm, a comforting yet calculating move. "When you have a rabid dog the best thing to do is to put it down. The girl is just not of this world. She will most likely be committed or worse when she is older. Taking care of it now would be a mercy compared to the life she would have to endure."
A second passed. An eternity. "What you're asking me to do, it's some real heavy shit. Grzegorz loved her."
"And she killed him, her own father. Think not of what Grzegorz would have wanted, think of where your loyalty lies and know that what I'm asking of you will not go unrewarded."
Closer and closer, my gaze piercing through the squall of his eyes to reveal piqued curiosity beneath.
"What kind of reward?" He asked, voice barely a whisper.
"I still have resources at the club, any woman you desire is yours for the taking."
He grabbed me then and pulled me closer, the smell of cigarette smoke and cheap cologne overpowering.
"Any woman?" He breathed.
His tongue snaked its way into my mouth, slick and sour. Our lips glided over one another's with unconscious grace, his hands stroking the curves of my body that no man had touched since Grzegorz a lifetime ago. He held me close as if I were a prize he had won but it was I who had won, this man's will bent to my whim like a child's toy. He fixed me with a shit eating grin that carried all the warmth of a predator barring its teeth.
"Once I kill the girl you and I are gonna run roughshod over this city."
Visions of her severed head flashed in my mind, her tiny heart ripped from her chest, raw and still beating.
"When you do it, do it fast, no pain. For Grzegorz."
That night I poured a glass of vodka for myself and proposed a silent toast to the future. Men were such fools, easily swayed by silent promises and carnal rewards. Pawel may have been a trained killer but it was I who excelled in the art of mental warfare. My body was my weapon, my bed the battlefield and as I turned the glass to my mouth and drunk the sweet taste of victory my apprehension was swept away like wind born ash.
I sunk into an ocean of splendid silk sheets, nuzzled against the mountain of feather soft pillows and plunged into the dreamless sleep of the righteous.
The morning brought the promise of new beginnings and a hangover. My eyes fluttered open to warm grey light spilling from the window. The vestiges of sleep still clung to me like a scorned lover refusing to let go. I rolled over to my side and there he was, gun metal grey eyes wide yet unseeing and mouth open in a tiny 'o' of surprise. I thought myself still asleep for a fleeting moment before my mind finally caught up to me and I was able to truly see what lay before me…a bloody and ragged stump where his head should have been, the tinge of iron in the air from the crimson stain across the sheet.
His head…Pawel's head.
The scream tore through my mouth like a caged animal being unleashed, bloodcurdling and full of terror. I do not know how long my lament lasted but by the time the bedroom door burst open and the bodyguards gazed upon the gore with bewildered eyes my throat was battered and raw. I grasped a fistful of the decapitated heads slick cropped hair and held it up for all to see.
"This is what Anastazja and Grzegorz died for! This is what you protect!" I snarled, voice thick with hatred. "I don't care if you have to tear the whole house apart, find her!"
As if the sight of the decapitated head didn't spur them into action fast enough I tossed it at their feet with an undignified thud that sent them scurrying like rats. All of their whispering, curiosity and pity over the little girl was now washed away in a tide of blood for they now saw it too, the veil of living nightmares that had become my life finally uncovered for all to see.
Come one come all!
Raw adrenaline pumped through my veins, coalescing inside my bones and urging my legs forward. Something primal had awakened inside of me, born of bottomless rage and endless suffering, as if Jedza had leeched away my sanity as potently as she did blood. Throughout the house guns were given out and the maid staff questioned. The hunt was on.
If these walls could talk they would whisper of living shadows and the sacrifice of blood. We searched throughout the house like a pack of wolves, hackles raised and guns at the ready. Around every corner, behind every door we searched where the pale devil may lurk but found nothing, not even a trace of the girl living in the house.
It was then that I heard it.
Queer scutterings from the ceiling. The attic. They were faint, as if made by a cornered animal that did not want its presence known but there was no escaping what was coming. We gathered beneath the trapdoor leading to the attic. The frayed rope of the opening hatch was much too high for Jedza to reach but I knew she was up there, nestled in the darkness of her impending doom.
I stayed back as my men opened the ceiling hatch. The wooden staircase slid from the enclosement with a shriek of rusty nails before crashing to the carpet with a muted thud. The darkness of the attic yawned before us. One by one we ascended into that maw of darkness, careful of any movement amongst the shadows. I was the last to enter, the seven of us perched high in a land of time immemorial surrounded by a maze of dusty cardboard cartons of various sizes, old furniture and trinkets from Grzegorz's parents. The air smelled like time itself wafting beneath the rafters of the steeply pitched roof, the staleness of old cardboard, the lingering scent of wood, mildew spores and something else, a fetid, musty odor festering in the vast attic. The bare bulb above the trap door was not lit, the only light coming from the southwest corner towards the front of the house.
To the left of the trapdoor was two paths leading into the maze of boxes. I signaled for three of my men to take the right hand path while I trailed the remaining three down the left aisle. Jedza knew we were here now, knew that we were coming for her so the best course of attack was to flank from both sides at the source of the light and catch her by surprise. The air in the attic was oppressively hot, sweat beading into tiny rivulets across my body but we crept onward as silently as we could against the gloom towards the light. We came to another intersection, the muddy yellowish light brighter now, just around the next corner. Despite the humid air I could barely suppress a chill snaking down my spine and coiling inside of my stomach. We stalked forward, two in front of me and the third trailing behind and turned the corner, the muzzles of their guns hungry for blood.
The light came from an oil lantern resting on the floor, its stained glass illuminating the source of the rotting odor. Jedza was nowhere to be seen but the evidence of her existence was strewn before us in all its horror. All manner of food waste littered the floor; apple cores and discarded wrappers, half eaten cans oozing their contents and bones chewed down to the marrow. Amidst the waste was a wreath of wilted flowers with a small, dark object inside. Forcing our way through the rank smell we inched forward slowly, my eyes locked on the thing in the halo of flowers. It was about the size of a fist, its shriveled surface a darkened shade of crimson.
A heart. Oh my God it's a heart.
The interior of the attic seemed to grow smaller, constricting and suffocating. Beneath the scent of rot and decay I could smell the sweat upon my body, the palpable fragrance of fear born of my own anger and pride. We should have never come here, now we were trapped like sweaty rats inside of the vipers den.
The whisper of floorboards…guns raised in panic…ice in my veins –
-and the two bodyguards emerged from the right hand path of boxes, faces flushed and noses wrinkled in disgust.
Two of them…
"Wait! Where's-" before I could finish the quietude of the attic erupted in violence. A marble bust, impossibly heavy, shot through the darkness and smashed into the head of the guard next to me, showering me in blood and skull fragments. He was dead before he hit the floor, the other guards momentarily shocked before springing into action. Gun fire roared in the confines of the attic as I cowered to the floor, heedless of the rotten food, the blood, the only thought in my mind of survival.
A blur of white skin, the whisper of black hair trailing her head like shadows and she was straddling the shoulders of one of the guards, her claws digging into his face. With a brutal crunch she almost snapped his head clean off, his neck lolling like a broken dandelion as she leapt off, cat quick and struck down another guard with a powerful swipe of her claws, his face vanishing beneath a tattered mask of blood. The onslaught continued as she dove between the legs of another guard and eviscerated him at the crotch, his innards flowing from the gaping wound like a deluge of serpents. The last guard suffered a fate worse than the others. Jedza pounced, her fangs tearing into the soft flesh of his neck. They crashed to the floor in a mangled heap of flailing limbs, his manic thrashing becoming less frenzied, arms and legs succumbing to a rhythmic twitching that sent his body into convulsions. The smell of gunpowder, evacuated bowels and blood so thick you could taste it clung to the stillness of the air, the only sound now the gluttonous squelching as she fed on the dead man's neck.
I dared not move an inch in fear of rousing her from the feeding. Not a sound escaped my lungs, the scream forever entombed in my throat and my sanity stripped and laid bare before me. I dared not move a muscle, even as one of the pistols of a slain bodyguard lay within arms length. Useless against Jedza as she oozed brackish blood from multiple gunshot wounds but maybe if I was quick enough, brave enough, I could scoop up the gun, place the cold barrel in my mouth and finally be reunited with Grzegorz. I could decide how my story would end.
Jedza looked up from her feast, twin pools of blackness boring into my soul. The gun was so close yet 1,000 miles away.
I would not scream.
With an arachnid grace she crawled towards me, her once snow white skin gore splattered and mouth twisted into a bloody sneer. I would not scream as she embraced me in her death slicked hands. She was so close I could see myself reflected in her glossy eyes, a dead woman who would not give her the satisfaction of my suffering. The claws were like knives digging into my breast, a plunge of icy numbness which seized my heart in a vice grip and tore it from my chest. The scream buried in my throat finally erupted in a feeble death rattle as Jedza brandished my heart as if it were a trophy, the ruby fluid of life still beating in her grasp.
This is the way my story ends. My heart belonging to the witch as I sank into the bitter pit of death.