“Dinner was absolutely divine, Matilda.”
“Thank you, Felix. That’s very kind of you.”
Felix reached for Ama’s hand across the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Perhaps you’ll be kind enough to share the recipe with my wife before we leave? I think she can do it justice!”
There was no dispute that the soup was delicious, and Ama didn’t mind being used as a pawn to get the recipe. It would be a hit at the restaurant she managed. Felix was a shrewd man, and several of his suggestions had already helped her aunt’s business run smoother. If she was right, he was thinking about turning this soup into a signature dish on the menu. She smiled coyly and took a sip of water. Best not to interfere when Felix was working his magic.
“Oh, it’s nothing really,” Matilda replied. “Just a bit of goat, some tomatoes, and a few herbs Silas and I grew in the garden.”
The mention of the herbs sent Silas into a coughing fit. Matilda glared at him before enquiring if he’d like some water.
“I think I’d like to lie down,” he said weakly. “I’m not feeling very well.”
Ama noted that the old man, who seemed the picture of health – for his age, at least – was looking rather peaked by the conclusion of dinner.
“Don’t let us hold detain you, Silas,” she said kindly. “If you’ll point us in the direction of the kitchen, Felix and I can clear the dishes so that Matilda can look after you.”
Silas choked a little harder. Matilda’s eyes were like arrows of ice. The man needed to gain some composure, or all would be lost! She softened her stare and waved Ama’s suggestion away.
“No, no. Never,” she insisted. “The pair of you get up the stairs and do whatever it is that newlyweds do. I’ll take care of this old man right here.”
Matilda’s tone was so sharp and shrill that both Ama and Felix took to their heels and sprinted up the stairs like punished children being sent to their room. At the top of the landing, they doubled over in laughter, holding onto each other for support. A sudden disorienting wave of fatigue struck them both. Heady, Ama lay on the bed and rubbed her temples. Felix snuggled next to her.
“I feel strange,” she whispered. “How much wine did you have?”
“Only one glass,” he murmured. “I can’t get drunk off of one glass of wine…”
“It must have been something we ate…”
“The soup. Oh my God, we were drugged by the soup…”
A puff of purple smoke wafted from the couple’s parted lips as their bodies went limp and their gaze turned to glass. Concealed behind the ornate two-way mirror, Matilda beamed wickedly as she watched her prey succumb to their drugging. Silas’ breathing had become more labored, his shoulders slumping further as he struggled with each inhalation.
“Hold on, my love. It’s nearly time,” Matilda whispered hoarsely.
She rapped the frame of the mirror twice, opening a secret door that led into the lavish honeymoon suite. Dragging Silas behind her, Matilda propped him on Ama’s side of the bed. Sweat was pouring down her aged, wrinkled brow.
“You have to take the girl, and I the man,” she commanded. “Just as we did sixty years ago. Got it?”
Using what little strength he had reserved, Silas wheezed and nodded that he understood.
“Good,” said Matilda, breathless in anticipation. She rose and wriggled her arms as she chanted her séance. “Ancient spirit of Lagba! Transform these decayed forms to fresh bodies so that we shall be ever living!!! Now, Silas…on three. One…two…three!”
That’s when the weathered inn-keepers plunged their slippery tongues into the mouths of the newlyweds and began sucking , slobbering and ushering in a malodorous soul transfer.
Something slammed into the windowsill. Its body lay motionless, its silhouette drawn against the louvre panes in the dawn light. A stabbing headache plagued Ama as she struggled to open her eyelids. She groaned and rubbed her temples. A foul taste clung to the walls of her mouth. If this was a hangover, it was the very worst she’d endured. Ama planted her shaking legs onto the floor and fought to steady herself. She whispered Felix’s name, but he didn’t respond. He was wrapped up in the silken duvet, still. Ama tried to stir him by rubbing on his back.
“Ughhh…what a night we must have had! I can’t recall any of it though.”
Ama slipped her feet into her heels, and then cursed when she remembered that one of them had broken. It wouldn’t do to go hobbling all over the estate. She begged Felix to take her home. This honeymoon had held all the excitement she could handle so far. He remained motionless. She seductively slid the covers off the bed, anticipating that the blast cold air would jolt her husband awake.
“Felix, c’mon babe. Let’s get some breakfast and…. OH MY GOD!”
A nightmarish shriek hung in the air. Whether it came from her lips or not, she couldn’t tell. Her body had lost utter control as the sight of Silas’ rotting body lying prone on the mattress assaulted her. Had she spent the entire night in bed with a corpse? How and when did he get there? And where was Felix?
“Felix,” she whispered hoarsely. The force of her pounding heart nearly ripped her ribcage in two as Ama tore through the corridors in search of her husband.
The rest of the house was cavernous and dank. Gone was the charm that enthralled the couple just a few hours before. Now all she saw in the faded blue walls and antique accessories was doom and an ancient terror. Ama sprinted through the hall ways in a panic, her eyes darting in every corner, her skin bathed in the light of a red dawn. She had gone hoarse, screaming Felix’s name and gasping for air. Finally, she came to the kitchen. It was dark, except for a few glowing embers nestled under a black cauldron. A figure dressed in black trousers and a white shirt was hunched over it. It was Felix.
Ama’s slender fingers flew to her throat. “Sweet heart! Why didn’t you answer me when I called you?”
She scampered over to her husband and grabbed him by the hand. It felt cold, like frozen steel. Felix turned slowly to face her, a vapid look clouding his face. Finally he addressed her. His voice was not his own, but eerily familiar.
“Silas…you did it. Good. Now we will have many more years together…” A cruel smile curled around his lips, and premonition struck Ama in the gut with the force of a terrified herd.
“Yes, course.” Matilda’s voice was hollow, impatient. “Come and finish the rest of this soup to complete the transfer. And then we will burn the old bodies. Hurry! Lagba’s red dawn will soon pass.”
Ama grabbed a cleaver from the kitchen table and raised it above her head. She was quivering. “What have you done with my husband, you witch! Why are you in his body?”
Matilda cursed in an unfamiliar language, boring holes into Ama’s skull with that arctic stare. Silas had failed to take over Ama’s body! Enraged, Matilda’s maniacal screeches pierced the air. In an instant, the full force of Felix’s brawn was soon upon her, the hands that once protected her were pummeling her in the face. The lips that whispered sonnets of love were now damning her to eternal hell. They swore that if Matilda was to be parted from Silas in eternal life, then Ama would join her husband’s soul in eternal death.
In vain, she covered her face to protect herself from the hail of blows, but Ama was no match for the crazed being that now inhabited Felix’s body. Exhausted and prepared to meet her end, she whispered one word before she accepted her dark end.
Felix’s fist was suspended in midair. Matilda screamed.
“Wh—what name did you say?”
“Yeshua…” Ama whispered weakly.
The wedding night wraith scrambled to her feet and covered her ears, cursing and demanding Ama to cease the mention of that name.
“Out!” Matilda hollered. “Out, out, out! Get out!”
Clasping her bruised ribs, Ama stumbled out of the door and made for the rickety gate that concealed the inn from the rest of the village. Rays from the rising red sun glinted off its rusted surface. Matilda’s admonishment to Silas played in her head.
“…complete the transfer. And then we will burn the old bodies. Hurry! Lagba’s red dawn will soon pass…”
That was it. That was the answer!
“I can still save him. I can still save Felix…” Ama lumbered back up the path and crept back to the suite where Silas’ body lay. Knowing that she only had as much time before the sun went from crimson to gold, she gathered courage. “I can still save my husband!”
An eerie hush blew through the room. Ama took a quick glance around before lifting the covers. Silas’ necrotic frame was gone, vanished. Her knees buckled in defeat and she fell to the floor. It was his body that was to be used in barter for her husband’s. Now all the chips had been ripped from her hands. How could she live, knowing that she had left Felix to this doom? Her fist stifled an anguished cry as she gazed at the ceiling and calculated her next move. As her eye roved the room, she noticed the gilded mirror was out of place. She crawled towards it and snorted.
“A secret door.”
Ama leapt to her feet and tiptoed down the passage way that led to the kitchen. There, Matilda had lined up Silas’ remains next to her old body, still clad in brown. Using Felix’s strength, she lifted Silas’ bony frame and held it over the boiling cast iron pot, calling on the demon of old once again.
“Ancient spirit of Lagba! Receive this body unto your realm in exchange for eternal life!”
A rush of cyclonic wind enveloped the kitchen, shattering pots, plates and anything else in its destructive wake. A hooded figure with skin of neon green appeared in the wreckage. Its eyes glowed as red as the light that bathed the visage of the inn. Hissing, it demanded an explanation for Matilda’s treachery.
“There is no soul in this body…only a shell…”
Matilda pled for mercy. “Yes, Lord Lagba. I know! My Silas was too weak to complete the transfer.”
“Either that…or the girl was too strong…”
“I beg you to accept his body as a sacrifice nonetheless!”
“Are you willing to accept the penalty, wench?”
Ama watched in horror as Felix’s body was stripped bare by an unseen force, his arms outstretched to the heavens as the hooded figure raised a sword of flame to his flesh.
Matilda made a declaration of surrender. “I am ready!”
As the beast prepared to swing, Ama yelped, “Yeshua!”
The beast raged. “Who dares to speak that name in my presence?”
Ama emerged from the shadows, tears streaming down her cheeks and fists clenched. Taking determined steps that crunched on shattered glass and ceramic, she faced the demon down and took a deep breath. What she was about to do was crazy, but no more bizarre than everything else that had transpired in the past 24 hours.
Both Felix and Lagba clutched their ears, but the cadence of Ama’s voice was so piercing it penetrated their defences. As she yelled the hated name repeatedly, Matilda’s body began to take life and rose to its feet. Through the body clad in brown Felix’s voice spoke her name, just once. His spirit was still trapped inside! He had not disappeared in the soul transfer.
“Baby,” he gasped. “You must…throw me…into the pot.”
Ama shook her head, signaling her confusion. Which body was she to destroy she asked? Felix’s or Matilda’s? The break in her chant gave Lagba a moment of relief, a moment he did not waste. He drew his sword and prepared to plunge it into Felix’s exposed flesh.
Realizing that her husband’s body was the key to completing Matilda’s sinister pact with the green devil, Ama summoned all her strength and pushed him into the pot, chanting, “Yeshua-Yeshua-Yeshua-Yeshua!”
Matilda screamed as Felix’s flesh was consumed by the boiling goat soup in the cauldron. She cursed Ama, cursed Silas for being so weak. “And curse you too, Lagba!”
The muscular body disintegrated into tiny pieces of meat.
Furious that he had been denied his sacrifice, Lagba growled and ran towards the frightened young woman, his sword drawn and blade pointed downwards. She gasped and cowered, waiting to be pierced. Suddenly, his charge was halted by the grip of Matilda’s firm hand on the hem of his robe.
Felix’s spirit was weak, but determined as he proclaimed: “In the name of Yeshua, I demand you release me Lagba…or be held in this world for all eternity.”
The sun had begun to change color rapidly now; its rays glowing gold and spreading through the louvers in the kitchen. Lagba knew he had been defeated. Rumbling and hissing, he granted Felix’s soul its freedom.
“I release you…now loose hold of my robe…you cur!”
The old woman’s hand unhanded the coarse material, a weary sigh escaping her lips. Lagba disappeared in a cyclone, but not before leaving this warning: “Never return to the Paradise and Comfort Inn, mortals…or I shall have my vengeance.”
And then it was still. Lagba was gone.
Ama rushed to Felix’s side and helped him to his feet. They had to go…and now.
Matilda’s body was fat and awkward. Ama’s grunted and buckled with the effort it took to get her old-lady-husband down the stairs and into the back seat of the car that was still parked in the front of the building.
“I have them, baby. Just sit back!”
There was still a lot her husband had to learn about her. Ama smiled wryly as the engine roared into life and she put the car in gear, bursting though the iron gates of the Paradise and Comfort Inn at breakneck speed. As the old building got smaller and smaller from view, she exhaled and began to cry.
They had their lives.
They had each other.
They had survived.