Notes: The name of the deceased child, Anastasia Hope Mallory, translates literally to unlucky resurrection of hope. The name of the mother, Rebecca Cecilia Malory, translates to unlucky, blind snare.
It was an act of God that killed my daughter. Therefore, I refused to turn to him to bring her back.
Everyone says the same thing, when something unbearable, unsurvivable happens. They shrug their shoulders, give a sad smile, and say that it's God's will, that God gives and God takes away. They say that God's ways are mysterious and it will all work out for the best, one day. They say a lot of things, and maybe they even believe that it helps, or that it's true. Maybe I was even one of them, once.
Everyone is wrong. God killed my daughter, and that makes him the last being I would ever go to for help, let alone worship.
I thought differently, once. I was raised the same as most white middle class children, with the general concept of a benevolent deity creating humanity and looking out for them. I said my prayers at night until I was too old to be escorted to bed, and I attended church on occasion, if my parents felt the inclination or social pressure. I assumed the good in my life to come from the God that people spoke of and the bad to be simply bad luck, or perhaps due to my own mistakes.
I have lived forty years more or less content with my life, and the last seven years blissfully happy. Anastasia's birth shifted my life off its even kilter, forever changed, and so much better for it. What supposedly loving diety would give me such a precious gift, unasked for, and then take it away?
No God I would acknowledge. No God I will ever speak to again.
I admit it, I had not wanted Anastasia when I discovered her presence in my womb, not at first. She was not part of my plan for my life, and how could she have been? I was forty years old, unmarried, not even involved in a long term or stable relationship. I had considered the possibility of conceiving children long past, with my age and my usual adherence to birth control. I had long ago adjusted to my life as a single woman and was satisfied with it, because I was used to nothing else. How would a child fit into the easy, comfortable routine I had grown accustomed to?
But I stalled making a too final decision, and much faster than I would have thought, Anastasia became far too real to me to detach from, long before her birth. I could not dissociate myself from the tiny life moving inside me, from the being I already felt instinctively to have her own personality, her own unique soul. I knew long before any sonogram told me who Anastasia was, but even so, I could not have known how deeply, how fiercely I would love her. I could not have known how vital she would become to me, how empty and strange my life before her would seem to me in retrospect.
You see, although I had lovers, acquaintances, coworkers, even people I might have thought of as friends, I understood immediately when my daughter's face became known to me that they did not matter, that they were nothing to me in comparison to her. Never again would they enter my thoughts as people important or even closely involved in my life. That status was reserved for Anastasia alone. Even before her, I was limited in my relationships- my parents both deceased and distant to me emotionally even before their deaths, my only brother long estranged, going about his life in his own way and leaving me to go about mine. But this independent state of being stopped from the moment I heard my daughter's first whinnying cry. When I looked into her blurry infant eyes, Anastasia became the center of my world, and I felt with sudden, exhilarating clarity that I now understand the reason for my existence. My purpose had been to bring Anastasia into being, as no one else could have done. My life, now, was hers and hers alone.
I had seven years with her, seven years of watching her grow and become a child of unique talents and quirks, a child brimming with generosity and joy, intelligence and life. I had seven years to love her more and more deeply, to dream of the future to come.
But then she was gone. Struck down by a freak bolt of lightning in a day of clear skies and fluffy white clouds, while she played in her own front yard. She died convulsing on newly cut grass, her rainbow sneakers as blackened as her formerly pale and unblemished young skin, when moments before she had been beaming, calling out to me that she just knew she could make it to 100 jumps without one single trip.
God gave me my daughter, only to kill her when I loved her most. I would ask nothing from him, would not even acknowledge his existence. Instead, I turned to the being who hated him as much as I did, the only other I could think of who declared him an enemy. If God took my daughter, I would ask for Satan to bring her back.
I wasn't sure how to summon him. Somehow, setting up pentagrams and candles, goblets of blood or elaborately carved knives seemed silly and pretentious, as though I were not serious or intent in my request. Besides, I knew no one who would assist or join me, who would be able to instruct me in any specific steps or rituals, and furthermore, this felt like a private contacting, just as my loss was a private suffering. And so I began to reach out to Satan each morning, just as my childhood self had prayed to God in the evening so many years ago. I stood, rather than kneeling, when I spoke, and I directed my eyes up to the ceiling rather than bowing my face to the floor. It seemed important to use gestures in opposite of those to God, when addressing his enemy.
"I, Rebecca Cecilia Mallory, ask you to come into my presence, Satan, to speak with me, to heed my respectful request. Bring my daughter, Anastasia Hope Mallory, back to me, back to life. Heed my request, Satan, and I will heed any request you may have of me in return."
I waited, my breath cold and heavy in my lungs, my skin prickled with anticipation rather than fear. It was not that I did not believe that my request was impossible, or that the entity I addressed did not exist or possess the power I assumed. Rather, I dreaded the possibility that he would simply choose to ignore me, that I had too little to offer him in return.
I didn't know what he might require of me, but it didn't matter. I would do it. Murder, mayhem, malevolence of any kind, it would be worth it, no matter how much it might tatter my soul, if Anastasia was brought back to me, whole and well. My soul had already been shattered irreparably by her death; I did not care what further damage his request might do to it.
Only silence answered me in my wait. I sucked in another breath, then threw back m shoulders, pulling myself up to my full height. Thrusting my voice up and out through my diaphragm, I spoke again, with all the conviction I could muster.
"Hear me, Satan, your new and respectful servant, Rebecca Cecilia Mallory, and heed my request. I am ready, willing, and eager to give you or do in your name anything you may ask of me, if only you bring me back my daughter, Anastasia Hope Mallory, alive, whole, and well."
I saw no change around me, no swirling of fire or smoke, no flickering of lights, and certainly no figure swathed in shadow, tall, dark, and horned. There was nothing of the legends associated with the devil, but I was nevertheless aware of his presence before he spoke. A heavy chill fell into the air, and yet I could not move; my body felt so still and stiff it could not even shiver in response. The voice which spoke to me came not from outside of me, within the room, but rather spoke into my mind, directly, to me alone. I knew without it being explained that even if another were to enter the room, Satan's response would be heard by only me.
"Rebecca Mallory. You have asked for my services."
I swallowed, my heartbeat stuttering not with anxiety, but excitement. This was truly happening- I could make this happen. I could bring my daughter back to me, without the fickle interference of God. I had every bit as much power.
"Yes," I responded, taking the time to make sure my voice rang out clear and confident with my intent. "Yes, I have. My daughter is dead. I want her back, alive, well, and exactly as she was before. I believe in your ability to do it, and I am willing to do whatever you require. I will give anything, do anything, if you will grant my request."
The voice caressed its chosen words, making them silky, almost sensuous with its relish of my offer. My chin tilted upward, I nodded firmly, emphasizing my words with force.
"Yes, anything. It doesn't matter, I'll do it. Anything, if it brings my little girl back to me. Anything."
The voice delayed its response to me just long enough for me to grow uneasy, to wonder if something of my words, my tone, had already determined that I was not worth its effort. My shoulders sagged in relief when it spoke at last.
"I do not take such a promise lightly, Rebecca, nor such an action on my part. Great gifts require great sacrifice, and you will sacrifice greatly to be granted this one."
"Anything," I whispered, hearing the word tremble with the desperate ferocity of my emotions, feeling a single tear well up and streak down my cheek. I didn't wipe it away; perhaps he needed to see it, to understand how much I loved Anastasia, how sincerely I meant my pledge. "Anything. Say it, and it's yours. Please."
"The request you ask of me is very personal to you," the voice stated, and I nodded mutely, another tear escaping, my hands beginning to tremble at my sides. "Its fulfillment will bring you great personal joy, which can be balanced out only by great personal suffering. But you state you are willing…and so, I accept your offer, Rebecca Cecilia Mallory. Let your sacrifice begin."
I heard no footsteps towards me, nor did I see anything approach me from any direction. Nevertheless, a tremendous force struck against my face, swooping in and around my eyes. With a brutal scrape, it dug both eyes out of their sockets, and I could see nothing more.
I screamed in a volume and pitch I would have not thought myself capable of producing, and my body recoiled sharply, legs giving out with the intensity of my shock and pain. My eyes and the skin around them gushed fluids down my cheeks that I could only dimly imagine to be blood and tears, if I was capable anymore of producing tears without any eyes to do so. Collapsed on the floor, I twitched and whimpered with sharp anguish of wounds left to bleed unchecked.
And yet, even with the undiminished shock of my injuries, I felt some measure of relief. Because now, I knew, my request would be granted.
But I was wrong.
"It is not enough," the voice murmured, still speaking within my mind, rather than directed towards my ears, outside of me. "There are millions who cannot see. There are not millions who receive what you have asked for. You must sacrifice more."
The same violent force that had removed my eyes suddenly grasped hold of the curve of my ears. Two exertions of vicious pulls, and they were extracted from their attachment to my head, leaving me with new and equally agonizing pain in their wake. The blood flooding my cheeks and soaking down the front of my blouse was now joined by the steady, gushing flow of blood drenching the sides of my neck and my hair. I could no longer hear my own shrieks, but I knew I must be making them; I could feel the vibration of their sound in my chest.
"This is more of a sacrifice, yes," the voice spoke, even as I shuddered and shook, unable to even think the words for a response. "But there are still many who can neither see nor hear. The sacrifice you give must be greater still.
I had no time to answer, even had I chose to. When my mouth opened, my tongue was seized with rough, fist-like gestures, twisted and yanked until it left my mouth bare of all but teeth, saliva, and blood. A second force clawed at what was left of my face until the bones of my nose broke and gave way, scraped apart from me in a handful of cartilage and pulverized calcium. What was left of my face, the face of a still reasonably attractive woman, was now nothing but gaping holes where my eyes, ears, and nose had been, but they must not gape nearly as much as my open mouth as I gasped for breath, choking too much on my own blood to form words or screams.
I could not form thoughts. There was nothing left but the endless, unyielding waves of pain seeped through every part of my face; indeed, pain, and with it the ability to feel sensation, was all that was left of me, the last part of me that could be called anything near human. I had been reduced to less than an animal, to a stripped down thing that could only shudder and squawk in suffering of each moment survived.
But it would be over soon; there could be nothing more. How could more be asked of me, when I could not move, could not speak, could not control any part of me? How much more could a person sacrifice before there was nothing left?
I underestimated Satan, then, and from the very start. There can always be more suffering. Always.
He spoke again, his voice soft, almost soothing in my thoughts.
"Tell me, Rebecca…even now, are you still willing to sacrifice? Are you still willing to do what I require, to bring your daughter back?"
It wasn't an answer I needed to think over. I could not speak the words, but I knew he could hear my thoughts, just as he could give his thoughts to me.
"Yes. Yes, I am. My very life, if need be."
"That won't be necessary…but I do ask one last sacrifice."
Until then, as much pain as I had experienced, as much as I believed myself to be suffering, I had known nothing. There is no comparison to the experience of the first layer of skin being peeled off each part of your body simultaneously, leaving you scalded raw and bare, every part of you screaming out, nerveless yet tortured with agony.
I could not move; I could not see, could not hear, could not speak, and even the act of breathing was a struggle. Yet I was alive. I was alive, and he had told me that this was the last sacrifice he required of me. Surely, it was all worth it, because now, he would fulfill his promise. Anastasia would soon be with me again, and that would override any suffering of my own.
"Very well, Rebecca, I see you are a woman of your word," he told me, the words barely understandable to me. "I admire that, and you will have your request. Here she is…here is your daughter, just as you wished. Alive, well, and whole, yours once more."
I thought there was a hint of a chuckle in his words, but disregarded them. Trying with all my might to summon control of my body, to fight the helplessness my pain rendered me, I tried to gather enough awareness to be able to at least sense Anastasia nearby, even without the senses to see or hear her.
And I was successful. I knew he had been truthful with me, although I could not look at her face or hear her speak, to judge her well. I knew, because the vibration of her horrified screams echoed with enough force to vibrate through my raw chest, and I could feel the impact of her feet on the floor, running away from my brutalized form in terror and lack of recognition.
It hit me then, the reality of my bargain. My daughter was alive again, back with me, as I had wanted so very badly…but I could not see her or hear her, could not speak to her or even feel her arms around me. To Anastasia, I was a monster, without any of the characteristics of the mother she had loved. I had brought my daughter back, but she would never understand it; there was no way for her to learn of just what I had done, just what I had given, for her life.