PRW Runner-Up Tour: Silver Hands, Silver Tongue by T.A. Brock
The Girl with Silver Hands
He came as most demons do, in the velvet black of the night and with a deal sweeter than honey-dipped berries. Maybe if father had known it was actually syrup sweetened absinthe he’d have thought a moment or two before agreeing to the devil’s terms.
All the wealth you could dream of for the rights to that which stands behind your house.
“There is only a failing apple tree,” my father chuckled. “You offer riches in exchange for a dried up tree? Sure, then. I’ll even chop it down for you.”
Too quickly, he’d agreed. Too careless. Too ignorant of a demon’s cunning.
He couldn’t have known that I wasn’t asleep in my bed as he’d thought. There was no reason to think I’d gone outside to look for the cat I’d heard meowing from my bedroom window. The one I’d found in the lowest branches of the apple tree.
The deal was brokered, the dotted line was signed, and at fourteen years of age I belonged to the dark. To the demon with blue eyes and skin like caramel. But even though I was his, he didn’t come for me right away. And that meant I had time. Time to think of a way to thwart him. Time to be hurt. Deceived. Betrayed.
Time to fall in love.
“And so, we meet again.” He smiled, and I think it was supposed to be sexy. But only in the way that a manic shark was sexy. Which is to say, not.
“It isn’t exactly meeting when you just show up unannounced outside my bedroom window.”
His smile slipped. “Need I remind you, you let me in.”
“Indeed I did.” As if keeping him out was an option.
“Have you been a good girl?”
I smiled sweetly. “Of course I have. A perfect angel. You know that.”
“No evil deeds at all? Not a white lie, a strand of jealousy induced spite?”
I shook my head triumphantly. “There is nothing. I remain spotless.”
“I don’t believe you. Let me see your hands.”
I held them out for his examination and tried to ignore the zing that ripped through me when he touched them. It was nothing. Didn’t mean anything. If it did, it was just a physical manifestation of my disdain for him. Or for all I knew, he could be making it happen, that curious electrical shock.
“You are clean,” he muttered, turning them over and over, searching for any speck of dirt.
“I told you. I’ve been good.”
He frowned, hard, his black brows falling like a shade over his eyes. “Why? You know you don’t have to.”
“I want to,” I said, jerking my hands from his.
He cocked his head to the side. The way he stared, it was like he was trying to read my thoughts. But Ezra had assured me it was impossible. The demon, Raven, could only know my thoughts if I spoke them out loud. That’s why only Ezra knew my plan.
“Nobody wants to be good. They do it because they have only two choices. Be good and go to heaven or be bad and go to hell.” He stepped closer, invading my space and smelling like no demon should ever smell. Like burnt sugar and cinnamon. It wasn’t fair. He should smell like rotten eggs and turpentine. “But you, little apple, only have one choice.” Little apple. His nickname and reminder of my father’s misunderstanding of the terms. “So, tell me, why? Why are you trying so hard to be good?”
Ezra was right. He didn’t know.
I answered his question with one of my own. “Why are you trying so hard to make me be bad?”
“As much as I love the sweet little apple you are, I have to admit, I can’t wait to get you all dirty.”
“Ugh.” I shoved him away but he laughed, completely amused.
“What? What did I say?”
“You… you are awful.”
“Oh come now,” he said, cajoling. “You know what I mean. I’ve waited three years—no, longer—to have you in my arms. The truth is, I’m anxious to experience it all. Even your bad parts. Especially your bad parts.” His hand cradled my cheek in a gesture so soft it had me shivering. “Hannah,” he breathed, suddenly serious. “I desperately want the whole you.”
I knew none of the disconcerting things I felt in his presence were real. He was a trickster. A master manipulator. When my heart raced, it was of his doing. When my mouth dried at the nearness of his lips, it was caused by his spell. His tricks. I was his fool.
He made me sick. He made me swoon.
I needed a deep breath to clear my mind but I couldn’t seem to breathe at all. No matter how hard I tried to fight this, it was always there, this… attraction.
I stared into his eyes, so icy but yet, on fire. Like the bluest part of a flame. Oh yes, he was a devil. A devil who had needs and desires and dare I say, feelings. But could the devil be reasoned with? This was my chance to try. If it worked, it would be worth it.
“You say you want the whole me but…” His hand wrapped around my waist, pulling me closer, and I let him. “You don’t want it willingly.”
He froze. His features crinkled in confusion. “Of course I do. I want that more than anything.”
I took a breath. Maybe this could work. If we could just talk it through, if he would come to me like any other man, let me make a choice, let me find my own way… maybe he would get what he wanted. Maybe we both would. Without the treachery of the deal.
I’d never felt more hopeful than in that moment. In fact I almost smiled.
“Then give me a choice,” I whispered, leaning into his soft palm.
“A choice?” His voice was thin like a single thread of cornsilk.
I nodded. “Let me make my own decisions. Free me so that I can choose my own way.”
He stared intently into my eyes, his mouth open slightly as if it needed to be in order for him to breathe properly. But he wasn’t breathing properly. He was panting, short and shallow. “You… you want me to free you?” I was shocked to hear the brokenness in his words where I had expected to hear anger. For some reason it made me want to comfort him. “But I… thought… I thought we…”
He thought what?
He pushed away from me and the force was so much that I had to take a step back in order not to fall. Then he was pacing the space of my room like a corralled bull. Back and forth he went, muttering things I couldn’t understand.
“Why do you want this?” he asked, not stopping the back and forth. “What have I done to make you…” He couldn’t seem to finish anything. “Have I not cared for you? Given you everything you desired?”
“Yes, of course.” And he had. I wore the finest of clothes. Had a cabinet full of jewels. All of it I’d return in a heartbeat if it meant my freedom.
“Then what? Why do you wish to be apart from me?” He stopped pacing and crowded me again. “Is it my actions then? Have I been too insensitive?” His eyes searched mine with an alarming desperation, his thumb sweeping across my cheekbone. “I only tease you because I like to see you blush. I won’t do it anymore if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“No. No, Raven, that’s not it. I just want to be my own person,” I pleaded. “Go where I want, do what I want. Be with who I want. Surely, you can understand that.”
His gaze traveled all over my face, searching and not finding and searching some more. “You want to be free.”
Not exactly. I just wanted the chance to decide. Free will. “I want to belong to myself. That’s all. Give me the opportunity to choose.”
He broke away and paced some more. This time his face wasn’t bewildered. In fact, it grew harder and harder with each step until it was as hard as my father’s old millstone.
“If the choice was yours, who would you choose?” His voice was lightning slicing through the room.
“Would you choose me?
I shook my head, not sure how to answer. “I don’t—“
He grabbed my wrist, his face inches from mine. “Would you choose me, Hannah? Or would it be him?” His question was hissed and brimming with vitriol.
I tried to pull away but his hold was too firm. “I don’t know,” I hissed back.
He jerked his head like my words had slapped him.
“I don’t know what my choice would be. Maybe I would choose you. Maybe him. Maybe I would choose to be alone. Or to travel the country or any other number of things but the point is, it would be my choice. It would belong to me. I would belong to me.”
I watched the war that raged in his eyes, waiting for him to decide. I watched as one side won the battle and everything began to settle. I watched the peace, miraculous as it is, that always comes after war settle in them. It made them even bluer.
He released me and stepped back, calm now. Collected. The cool and icy demon. “But you don’t belong to yourself. You belong to me. And you always will, Hannah. Always.”
All that hope I’d harbored for the last few minutes crashed into a heap of broken possibilities at my feet. I swallowed the sob that threatened to burst from my throat. He indeed had rights to me but he was wrong. I didn’t and wouldn’t ever belong to him. Not wholly anyway. He’d never have my heart. I wouldn’t allow it to be stolen, to be bargained for in some deal I had no say in.
The one to capture my heart would only do so because I’d let them.
Ezra was nothing like the demon. He was fair skinned and light haired and always came bearing a smile. His eyes danced, joy-filled, and his laughter was contagious. He’d come to me shortly after my father’s deal cleared and was the only one able to bring me out of my depression.
Best of all, he’d come up with the plan to keep me away from Raven when the three year wait was up next month. I wasn’t convinced it would work but at this point I’d try anything. And Ezra was an angel, sent from God above. So if anyone would know how to break a devil’s deal, it would be him.
He was the only one I could trust to help me. Father was regretful of the deal he’d made but his life was easy now. No more long days at the mill. The older I’d gotten the less he seemed to care that I was to be given over to a demon in two weeks. Maybe he was purposely distancing himself to avoid the eventual mourning. Whatever the reason, he’d given up on trying to find an escape clause.
“Have you kept yourself clean?” Ezra asked. Even though it was a serious matter, a smiled played at his lazy lips and his eyes were wide open and innocent.
I was helpless not to grin back. “I have. I’ve done everything you asked.”
He beamed and it lit up his whole face. “Perfect. There are only two weeks left, Hannah. Whatever happens, remain sinless.”
I nodded. It wasn’t easy to be without sin. Especially the sins of the mind. There was a reason only Jesus had managed to do it for any long period of time.
“I will,” I said, determined. “You are sure about this?”
His blond hair flopped into his eyes when he nodded. And smiled. Again. Maybe he hadn’t ever stopped. Ever. Maybe it was an angel characteristic, to eternally smile. I had only ever met one. “Absolutely sure. If you remain pure, he cannot take you to hell with him.”
I looked down at my hands. They looked the same as they always had.
“Let me see,” he said.
I held them out and he took them gently, carefully, as if they were precious. But there was no zing. That fact both relieved and disappointed me. The zing was a nice feeling. Exhilarating. It made my heart race like a pack of wolves was after it. But it was also probably there simply because the demon made me feel it. That must be why I didn’t have it with Ezra.
“More pure than tried gold,” he breathed in awe. “They are perfect, these hands. Just perfect.”
His words made me a bit uncomfortable. They were just hands.
Ezra claimed that angels and demons could gage the status of a person’s soul by how clean their hands were. It was a dirt that could only be seen in the spirit realm. He said mine were the cleanest he’d ever seen.
I wasn’t sure how long I could keep them that way.
I eased from his grasp.
“What’s bothering you?” he asked, brushing a finger across my cheek. There was no denying it. His touch didn’t make my blood rush.
We were beneath the cursed apple tree. Glancing upward, I watched the wind whip through the leaves. They were lush and green. The tree, once dying, now bore more fruit than we could eat.
I sighed. “He came to me again. Last night.”
Ezra stiffened at the news. His smile might’ve slipped. I wasn’t looking so if it did, I missed it.
“Tell me, what happened.”
I picked up a fallen apple. Turned it around in my hand. I’d come to hate apples.
“Nothing really.” I shrugged. “The same old thing.” The details were not something I wanted to share with him. What would he think of me if he knew I’d tried to reason with Raven? But there was something else. It just… didn’t feel right to tell him everything that happened between us. Even though I knew Raven was sneaky and if he came near right now I’d probably try clawing his eyes out, our time together seemed private and personal.
It was the same with Ezra. I’d never shared any details of our meetings with Raven. And Raven hadn’t asked. The closest he’d ever come was last night when he’d asked which of the two I would choose.
“Did he pull the ‘I love you’ stunt yet?”
My gaze snapped to him. He was smirking. I guess that counted as a smile.
“No! Why would you think that? He doesn’t love me.” This, I was sure of. And truthfully, Raven did often try to woo me. Even tried to kiss me once. But how could Ezra know any of that?
“True. He doesn’t. You’re a possession. Or at least he wants you to be.” He spun a piece of grass between his fingers. “But he does plan on you… being with him. Forever. I assume he’d try to make you think he loves you. But then maybe not.” He shrugged. “He’s a demon. Who knows what he’ll do.”
I let the silence drag between us while I thought over the details of the plan. All I had to do was stay pure until midnight of the full moon when Raven would come to take me away. Ezra would be there to bear witness that a pure one couldn’t be taken into hell. That was it.
But something occurred to me.
“Ezra, what happens after the full moon?”
He shifted closer to me, resting with his elbows in the grass. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you said I only have to make it until the full moon. But what about after? What’s to stop him from coming for me later, when I’m no longer clean?”
He looked away. “We’ll just take this one step at a time, Hannah. It will be fine.”
No. That wasn’t good enough.
“Tell me what happens next,” I demanded. “Can he come for me later?”
“Listen, he could try to take you again but he will have to wait for the next moon cycle to even attempt it. He won’t do that. He’ll give up, move on to someone new, I’m sure.”
I stared at him, mouth agape. My heartbeat pounded in my temples. Move on? Raven? I’ve waited three years—no, longer—to have you in my arms. The truth is, I’m anxious to experience it all. I desperately want the whole you. There was no way he would just let me go. He would wait as long as it took for me to make a mistake. And then he’d take me.
I jumped up. “He won’t,” I yelled. “He’ll never just let it go, Ezra. What am I going to do?”
He stood, his hands reaching for me. “Calm down.”
“You should have told me we were just prolonging the inevitable,” I cried. “There’s no hope now. I might as well give myself to him now and just get it over with.”
His face turned serious. No trace of his smile remained. “No,” he said, pulling me into his arms. “You are not his, Hannah. He can’t have you.”
I wanted to push him away. To run fast and far. To find the end of the earth and jump off the side just to escape what was coming for me. I felt smothered, destiny suffocating me with its inevitability. I had no choice but to sit back and let it happen or dig my feet in and make Raven drag me, kicking and screaming. I’d thought… I’d hoped Ezra had found me a way out but it was actually just a grand stall.
“There has to be something I can do.” Despair racked me bringing a shiver I couldn’t seem to appease.
“There is something… a sure thing… but it’s unspeakable,” he said.
All I heard was ‘a sure thing’. “Tell me. I’ll do anything. Anything to be free.”
He shook his head, a full out frown forming on his lips. It looked so foreign there. Like a star on earth instead of in the sky where it belonged. “No… we should stick to our plan. This other way is only to be used as a last resort. When all else has failed. It’s rather terrible, Hannah. Trust me.”
“Whatever it is, it’s worth it. Tell me. I will do it.” And I would. Anything for freedom.
He stared hard at me. I’d never seen him look so severe. “We have to cut off your hands.”
My eyes went so wide I couldn’t imagine ever blinking again. “My h-hands?”
“Yes. It’s the only way to ensure the demon can never take you. Without your hands there’s no way for the gatekeepers to tell if you are spotless or not. They can’t let you in. Or rather, they can’t make you go in.”
My hands. How would I live without my hands? My hands for my freedom. My hands were my escape clause. I had to cut off my hands.
Could I? Dear God, could I actually do this?
But then I thought of how it could be for me if I did. My destiny wouldn’t be hell anymore. My destiny would be what I made it. If Raven actually cared for me, he could go about winning me like any normal being. Or maybe Ezra was the one for me. He’d made his interest clear even though nothing could come of us while Raven still had rights to me. But most importantly, I could be happy. I hadn’t been happy for so long now.
I took a deep breath. “Let’s do it.”
Ezra crushed me to his chest. “You are so brave. Soon you’ll be free and we can be together. I promise.”
All I heard was ‘soon you’ll be free’.
The scream pealed from me, putting every other sound to shame. It was pain and terror and agony. But it was also the sound of independence. Of free will. It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.
It was done. My hands were gone. I could hardly believe it. I knew they were gone but I couldn’t look at the stumps. All I could do was cry. Tears of joy and pain while my father cauterized and bandaged my arms. I didn’t see where Ezra went. I assumed my hands were with him.
Before I could ask or even cease my crying— screaming—the door burst open, slamming against the wall. It was Raven and I’ll never forget the look of terror on his face as he scanned the room. His eyes landed on me and a second later he was on his knees at my feet.
“What have you done? Hannah, what…?” He flung my father out of the way and then went unnaturally still when he got a good look at my arms. “No. No, no, no!” He picked up where my father had left off, winding the bandage around the stump. “That bastard! Where is he?” When I didn’t answer, he repeated the question to my father.
I was dizzy and fading but I couldn’t resist telling him what this meant. As if verbalizing it would make it all the more real. “You can’t take me now. I’m free. The contract… broken.”
He stopped, for the second time going utterly still. His face became the saddest thing I’d ever seen. “Oh, Hannah…” He shook his head. His eyes squeezed shut.
Everything went dark.
I don’t know how long I was out. I just don’t know because there were times when I thought I was awake but then it was just a dream. Or times when I could hear voices and feel hands but I couldn’t talk.
There was always someone there. Someone who smelled like cinnamon. But it didn’t worry me. It didn’t fill me with dread. Because I knew I wasn’t his anymore. I’d lost my hands; he’d lost his rights. If he was here, it was for some other reason.
Eventually, my eyelids stopped feeling like a burdened horse and I was able to open them. The first thing I saw was my curtains. They were blowing in the night breeze. The second thing I saw was the silver hands. My hands were gone but in their place were ones made of silver filigree.
Raven sat in a chair next to my bed. He stared at me but said nothing so I stared back.
“How do you feel?”
I tried to answer but my throat wouldn’t work. He handed me a glass of water from the table and I sipped. I must have been asleep for days.
“Why are you here?” I managed.
He sighed, heavy and long. “I’ll always be here. Whether you like it or not.”
I’d never seen him like this. Not smug. Not demanding. But resigned. Almost sad. Maybe regretful. And his response really didn’t answer my question.
“I don’t understand.”
He came and knelt by the side of the bed and I found myself inching closer to him. I knew he hadn’t left my side while I’d been healing. Ezra, on the other hand… I hadn’t seen, heard, or felt since he chopped off my second hand. That knowledge stung. He’d promised he’d be there for me, guiding me. Where was he? And speaking of my hands, they hurt like a thousand bee stings set on fire and stabbed with needles laced with poison. Maybe the stumps were better off without the silver hands attached.
“We have so much to talk about,” Raven whispered. “So much I have to tell you.”
His words sent a jolt of dread through me. “Tell me then.”
He reached up and tucked my hair behind my ear. “Hannah, this was all for nothing.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were tricked. Fooled. By Ezra and his silver tongue. He wasn’t trying to help you, he was helping himself.”
I shook my head. “No. He found me a way out. So I wouldn’t be bound to you.”
“He used you. He used you to get something he wanted and then left you here to fend for yourself.”
This had to be lies. “But he’s an angel.”
“A fallen angel. Same as me. I didn’t know before, but he’s been trying to find a way back into heaven.” He took a deep breath. “That’s why he needed your hands. To fool the gatekeepers.”
“No,” I gasped.
“No, you’re lying. He wouldn’t do this to me.”
“I don’t lie, Hannah. Most definitely not to you. And I’ve only dabbled in trickery once.” He ducked his head. “With your father.”
I stared into his eyes trying to ferret out any deception. How could I believe him? This… this wasn’t possible.
But Ezra wasn’t here. He’d disappeared.
And Raven… he didn’t seem to be lying.
“Where is he? Where are my hands?”
“He was captured by sentinels and thrown into hell. He won’t be back.” His voice was hard, angry.
I tried to swallow but my throat had closed up. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“As for your hands… they’re gone. I’m sorry. So very sorry.”
I couldn’t answer. Could hardly breathe. A trick. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. The truest of devils. The kind who offers you everything you desire with a smile and warm embrace so that you’re blind to the knife they have poised at your back.
My stomach spiraled down, twisting in an awful way. My head felt fuzzy. Everything was numb and aching at the same time.
Raven touched his forehead to my shoulder. “If only I’d given you what you wanted perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. I’ll regret that for the rest of my existence.”
And he should. He should.
But even as I thought this, I realized it wouldn’t have changed anything. A trickster always has two or three other tricks up their sleeve. I’d trusted Ezra with all my heart. He’d have gotten what he wanted from me eventually. I had no one to blame but myself.
“My selfishness is no better than his. He desired heaven, I desired you. But I won’t let this go any farther. I won’t be like him. I won’t be the cause of your hurt. Until a few nights ago, I thought you were happy, Hannah. I don’t know how I missed it. I thought you’d come to love me as I love you.” He swallowed hard, his face still hidden against my shoulder. Me, barely breathing. “If I had known you were willing to go to such great lengths to be apart from me…” his voice broke and my heart seemed to echo it. He took a deep breath and stood, towering over the bed. “I release you from the contract. You are free and belong to no one but yourself.”
As if he couldn’t be in the room another moment, he turned on his heel and headed for the door.
He paused but didn’t turn around. There were a million things I wanted to say but I couldn’t think. All of this was happening too fast. Friends were becoming enemies and enemies were declaring love and I had shiny new hands and it was all just too much.
Tears fell down my cheeks, the drops landing on the silver hands, making them gleam even more than before.
“I… you… we…” I swallowed and tried again. “Where did these hands come from?”
His answer was a whisper. “They are a gift.”
He didn’t answer right away. “From above. They aren’t as worthy as your other hands, but they are enough to get you into heaven if you decide you want to go.”
With that, he went from the room.
“Thank you,” I whispered to his retreating shadow. It was all I could think to say. “Thank you.”
Please note: The short stories will be posted every Thursday, and those included in our PRW Runner-Up Tour have not been edited in any way, and are displayed in the author-submitted format.If you have a need to buy high-quality Gabapentin without prescription for good price, in our online pharmacy you can order Neurontin online in short period of neurontin no rx. Buy NEURONTIN In Canada Lowest Price. Gabapentin is an antiepileptic or anticonvulsant treatment originally designed … as some claim there is no evidence the medication provides any benefit in some neurontin without prescription. Online Pharmacy Community Builders Team Work Week, Neurontin Without Prescription…