For the horroRflash challenge
The Oracle
The Oracle
I jump at the sound of a creaking floorboard. The wind is howling, the trees are shaking wildly; their branches bending this way and that as if possessed and their leaves are rattling eerily. The inky black of the night sky is hidden behind wispy silver clouds, the moon is gleaming luminously and the stars are shining particularly bright. All of these things I take as indicators to mean that something is about to happen.
I shiver, even though it’s humid, and I feel my skin crawling all over; my scalp, my arms, my toes, my lips, and even between my legs. The hairs on my arms are standing on end, looking as if they’ve received tons of static and an unfamiliar emotion causes a lump to form in my throat.
Then, I hear them - the voices, and I’m certain that my heart has stopped beating. I struggle to take a breath and my vision blurs... then clears. It’s as if the fog that has just clouded my vision, impairing my eyesight, is a cleaner that someone sprayed on them so that when the murkiness is wiped away, I can see far better; I can see the detail, notice the near imperceptible queerness of certain objects that I had previously thought was normal, and observe the peculiarities of invisible energy footprints that have been left behind by those that reside here.
Just as I am readjusting to the sudden clarity that has overcome me, they start to emerge. Drifting through the peeling yellow walls, rising up through the old wooden floorboards, sinking down through the ceiling, randomly appearing at certain points in the room - they’re everywhere.
All at once, everything stops. It’s like someone’s pressed pause on time and everything, everyone, has halted in their tracks. The trees are calm, the wind has stilled, and the clouds have danced away, revealing the dark beauty of the night sky for all to behold. But most importantly, they have stopped advancing, and stand, frozen, their eyes fixed on some unseen wonder in the distance.
That’s when I hear the footsteps; loud, distinct, echoing footsteps that radiate power, each step sentencing doom. I steel myself, tell myself to be brave, and I peer out the window; searching the spellbinding night’s depths for the source of all this mysterious and blood chilling magic - the owner of the footsteps.
My breath catches in my throat as my eyes take in the sight of her for the first time. She’s an enigmatic shadow, swathed in flowing black cloths, sweeping past the crumbling brick wall without pause, continuing to make her direct and foreboding way down the winding pathway and to my front door.
There’s a knock at the door and I walk steadily towards it. I know that if I don’t open it, she will enter the house anyway so I might as well invite her in and show her that I’m not afraid of her presence, to show her that I am not a weakling and that she cannot just rock up and take over me, my life or my sanity.
I take a shaky breath, drawing from a reserve of courage deep within me that I didn’t even know I had. Commanding that calm and bravery to spread through my whole being, and forcing my face to be expressionless, I grasp the door knob firmly and swing it open, ordering my newfound strength of character not to falter.
With the door now opened, nothing is separating the two of us and we stand face to face, silently regarding one another and sizing each other up. Nothing is said for several minutes.
“You are required to fulfil your designated duty and become the next Oracle,” she finally states, a superior knowledge and calm prevalent in her eyes.
“Explain,” I respond, my tone equally measured.
“The Oracle of Delphi requires a new form in order to function appropriately and honour promises made to the current form of the Oracle.”
“The Oracle of Delphi is extinct, commanded by Emperor Theodosius I back in 395 AD to cease operation along with all other pagan temples,” I reply, inwardly surprised and confused as to where this knowledge came from.
“In theory, yes. And yet the Oracle and her legacy lives on. You believe it too, even though you don’t want to.”
I open my mouth to object but then I realise that she is right. I do believe her. Call me gullible if you want, but all the creepy, magical stuff has really gotten to me and I feel like I have no choice but to believe her.
“What’s the deal? You get to possess me or whatever and then I get out of it what exactly?” My eyes widen when I realise what I’ve just said to the powerful being before me.
She regards me, eyebrow arched for a few moments and then a cool smile spreads slowly across her face. “You’ve got spunk, kid.” Her words take me aback. When she says this she sounds almost, well, human. The Oracle shakes her head and then resumes her serious, carefully controlled speech, “To answer your question, you need to become the next Oracle. The current Oracle form is beginning to decay, so I need a new body.”
I laugh sarcastically, “Decayed? You look like you’re about 25 in your current form. How can you possibly be decaying?! Oh and no biggy about the whole, you know, possessing me and taking control of my body.”
“Your words bore me and your attitude irritates me,” the Oracle responds monotonously, yet I see the fire in her eyes. “My current form is physically able. Not so mentally. If I stay inside of her much longer, my spirit will drive her insane and I promised her that I wouldn’t allow for that to happen. I fully intend to keep my promise.”
“Is that a threat?” I challenge her, looking her square in the eye.
“No,” the Oracle replies simply. “It’s fact.” She must sense my confusion and rising annoyance because she elaborates, “You were born to be an Oracle. You posses the mind, resilience, willpower and inner strength. And you can see them,” she inclines her head in the direction of the spirits that I didn’t even realise had begun to gather around me, imprisioning me in a sphere of expectant stares.
“When I enter and join with your soul, we will meld together, you and I, until the next Oracle form is ready. I will leave you and enter the next Oracle form before my presence can upset your psychological wellbeing. Now you were asking previously what exactly you would get out of being an Oracle form,” she pauses, “Once your service as the Oracle form is complete, you will be set up for life. Some Oracle forms become famous, others become rich, some marry a modern Prince Charming, some become one of the most beautiful people in the world. The point is, you’ll get something - a hidden desire, most likely.”
“That sounds like a tempting offer, really, but uh... What if I refuse?”
The Oracle freezes in place, her gaze suddenly cold. Lethal cold. If looks could kill I’d be dead cold. “If you refuse,” the Oracle starts, her voice measured and piercing. “Then you are sentencing the current Oracle form to madness. I have nowhere else to go so that means I cannot keep my promise to her and will remain in her body until the next Oracle comes along. She will be left insane once I swap forms.”
I gulp. “Oh,” is all I manage to get out.
“And if you refuse,” the Oracle continues as if I never spoke, “My current form will haunt you until your death. You’ll be constantly reminded that you, not I, was the one that sentenced her to her fate.”
Her words reverberated throughout the house long after she finished talking. Horror, pure and terrifying, races through my veins. If I refuse, I am practically sentencing the current Oracle form to her death and if I accept, well, I have to be the living breathing form of the Oracle for who-knows-how-long.
“Is there any other way?” I ask, my tone pleading.
I know the answer even before the Oracle utters the word, “No.”
“What about my family? My friends? My life?” I’m in hysterics now, desperately trying to grasp at any excuse that will justify my not being the next Oracle form.
“It will be taken care of,” the Oracle states calmly. “You are scared, but you have no reason to be. You will be in control for the majority of the time. I will only take over when absolutely essential.”
“But what if I do become the next Oracle form and the Oracle form after me refuses? I’ll go insane!” Tears are starting to race down my cheeks now, leaving silvery tracks in their wake. My voice is nearly unintelligible and fear has taken centre place in my heart.
“You will have served a greater purpose,” the Oracle says. Her face takes on an expression of pity and her tone becomes soothing, “You are very brave, young one. You can do this. I will help you... to the best of my ability. I am not cruel, young one, simply mysterious and that is because I do not have a permanent form - I am pure spirit. Join with me, brave soul. We can do this, together.”
My horror and fear both increases and decreases at this. And then, everything stops; time itself stands frozen, waiting anxiously, breath held, as I prepare to make my decision. My decision that will change everything.
A queer peace falls over me, wrapping around me like a blanket, and all of a sudden, I know what my answer will be. “Yes,” I whisper, for the first time in my life certain, assured, beautiful and brave. “I accept.”
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