a short story by anonymous
The Amulet of Beatrice Walker gleams unnaturally in the moonlight, casting soft green shadows onto the ground. Frantic hands scrabble to climb up the mound of loamy dirt, scattering dust into the air, scattering dust into the thieves’ lungs, scattering coughs into the air—all muted with a signal from the small black cat seated at the foot of the mound.
Silence reigns, sprinkled throughout with awkward coughing.
“Cocoa, what is it?” asks one of the thieves at last.
The cat, Cocoa, stalks to the door of the old warehouse, and gives one pointed meow, glaring at the thief. He shrinks under her gaze, murmuring a small, “Sorry, sorry,” under his breath. He turns away and stares at his muddy shoes, not daring to lift his eyes to meet the eerie green of Cocoa’s.
A taller thief with an air of authority steps towards the cat and bows down lowly, nervously counting to twenty in his head before he rises. His smooth movements betray none of the anxiety in his mind. Duty, perhaps, and a sense of responsibility, requires him to set a good example and perform the proper rites, as he is the most senior member present. Right, his name is Jacob, now I remember… anyways, Jacob holds out his hands, palms up, beseeching. “Cocoa, our supreme ladyship. High priestess, heavenly vessel, and immortal soul, none on earth is above thee! I speak on behalf of us who are gathered here. Bestow on us your mighty wisdom”—he raises his arms and eyes to the heavens—“and SPEAK!”
Electricity shoots out from behind a pile of crates, into the air with a spattering of booms, crackling and fizzing about. Some of the gathered nod with appreciation for the appropriate theatrics, some with wonderment, all in awe of their supreme Spirit’s power. “Just like the first time,” one murmurs, shaking her head in amazement.
Unnoticed, a young girl of ten scampers out on quick feet from the cloud of smoke to kneel beside her cat, who purrs when the girl scratches it behind its ears.The thieves quiet down at the appearance of Amy, eager to hear the divine message.
By now you must be thinking: they can’t really expect the cat to start blabbing—
Amy stands abruptly, turns to the gathered band of thieves, and closes her eyes. “The Amulet of Beatrice Walker,” she intones lowly, “will be touched by no one but me and Amy. Anyone who dares think otherwise will perish on the fifth moon of the new year, strangled by their own hand.” Amy pauses in her speech, considering, eyes still pressed shut. She hums tunelessly, a sweet smile upturning the corners of her mouth. Her voice whittles away to its bare bones. “No one will find you.”
—No, although it wouldn’t be too far off the mark. They rely on the girl Amy, the Messenger, the Divine Whisperer, to relay their sacred commands.
Amy finishes her speech and drops to the ground, appearing disoriented. Five thieves practically trip over themselves to help her.
“Here’s a hand! Up you get!”
“Right this way, miss, right–”
“–okay? Didn’t take too much out of you?”
She smiles up at them winningly. “Not at all.”
Look at the ground. Would you believe it? Look at it—Their hearts have melted and dripped into that puddle right there, oozing like the insides of burnt marshmallows.
Amy picks up the amulet, a flimsy thing with plastic beads shaped like stars, filled with glitter. She drapes it on her cat, who wears it proud as a pharaoh. The thieves leave, fleeing silhouettes against the night behind their priestess, silent as the dawn. They’re surprisingly competent, all things considered; they are dedicated. That’s one thing you could say about them.
The second is that they are loyal and obedient. Servants, they call themselves, set loose into the world to carry out the universe’s wishes. Loyal to power above, loyal to the small cat Cocoa, loyal to each other. Loyal to Amy, because what at first began with asking for Cocoa’s command has gradually become asking for Amy’s command without anyone really noticing.
All of them are surprised when word gets out that someone went against her wishes. Someone, yes, someone has tried to steal the amulet! Shocking. Appalling! They are simply aghast. Then the whispers start: “Who would dare do such a thing?” “What does Amy say about this?” “What does this mean for us?”
Theo, a new recruit, remarks easily, “Guess we’ll find out when someone ends up dead.”
That shuts everyone up in an instant.
A crash of the door being thrown open breaks the silence. “Go back to your jobs, scoundrels,” Jacob shouts, entering the room, “an’ stop your gossiping. We’ve got important work to do, not to be distracted, us!”
The people cheer, and scurry back to their positions. It lasts for all of five minutes, too, before a buzzing sound, swelling, starts up from somewhere outside the room. Ominous. Some nervously exchange looks. They all look up to listen, knowing something is wrong. One shriek of “code demon!” from somewhere outside and the thieves are off, coals on their feet. I would call it a stampede, a herd of hurtling buffalo, except the buffalo would be put to shame by this single-minded terror and chaos. This is the terror of those who remember the sting of a thousand yellow jackets raining down from above with the fury of terrible suns and only murder on their little minds.
“Wasps!” a child cries out for those who might be stupid enough not to know.
The stampede runs faster, if that is at all possible. Down the winding tunnel—up the staircase (last time, some took the elevator—we speak of them no more)—to the light of day and the salvation of open air. The chase is still afoot! Run to the woods—no, to the nearby town—no, you buffoons, to the river!—OH JUST RUN FOR WHAT’S LEFT OF YOUR MISERABLE LIVES! EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF!
Later, the thieves will gather for a council. All will agree, in hindsight, that the last voice was the wisest.
For now, though, they run. Usain Bolt would be proud. Einstein, not so much. You see, they run with their hearts in their throats and fear pounding apart their ribcages, but, well, 30 miles per hour doesn’t do you much good when you’re running straight into a tree. Or a wall. Or a boulder.
Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
All of them will agree, in hindsight, that there are people who just could not be saved.
In the moment, their numbers dwindle down to a fraction of what they had been. Darwin would be ecstatic. That is neither here nor there, and I am aware it is not helpful in the face of certain death, yes. Run, run, run, run like the wind! You are the last survivors!
“Over here! The river!”
No one needs any more instruction than that. Natural selection has weeded out the weak, you see.
In the valley, there echoes nine splashes and a scream.
Soaked, shivering, and relieved sit nine thieves under a birch tree. They look around.
“I guess we’re the only ones who made it out alive,” whispers one grimly. The others hum in agreement.
The youngest of them, Jessie, picks at the grass. Her older sister Pauline rests her head on the tree’s trunk. Both stare out into blankness, recovering from the memory of their lives flashing before their eyes.
“Time flies and so do you…”
“What? Oh, I meant, we made it, I guess.”
They hear a loud splash and thump. A form lumbers into view, stumbling and sporting painful-looking stings that have already begun swelling rapidly. “‘M heeeere, guys! Told youuuu…” The person sways and lurches to the ground. “Man, I am on fire.”
He vomits. The others watch in disgusted fascination. No one moves, too bone-tired to even think of it.
A blur of black appears, running down from the tree. It’s Cocoa.
“Cocoa… what are you doing here?” Jessie asks blearily. Suddenly, her whole countenance changes and she jerks into alertness. “Where’s Amy?”
Everyone frantically wracks the recesses of their memories, and one by one, the color leaves their faces. Amy was… Amy was… where? In her room? In the kitchen? Raiding the pantry? No, no, no…
“Mon dieu,” breathes Pauline, “we’ve left Amy at the mercy of the demons.”
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