Death’s Bargain by Tumike-John Adisa

It washed as though it was yet another storm crashing against the steel roof, like the gods were furious about something the city did wrong—like they wouldn’t forgive; not even to the face of a pleading, bleeding infant. Terror, of course, was an understatement.

The alarm of another death in the palace streaked up a blade of panic to King Baas’ chest. If not for his ribs, fear would have plunged into his heart faster than a cheetah catching a sloth. Perhaps if he had taken this seriously after the third death, there wouldn’t be so much blame on his crown. In no time, the intricate gold would fade into plain iron—that is, if the people didn’t gaze at him like a king anymore. As if they ever did.

King Baas’ was noble, thank you very much, and he definitely had the eyes generations wouldn’t dare see. If you looked at him well enough, his beauty would radiate instantly, and if you weren’t careful, it’d choke you from the filthy thoughts you probably would have swaying in your head. With skin smoother than buna and bolder than bronze, he didn’t have too many competitors.

As he balanced on the throne, a goblet placed on the table, he watched Wéna slowly take her steps towards him. Her hair had braids of grey and ash fibres, each one speaking of the years she had lived. Wrinkles barbed itself from her forehead to her cinnamon jaw. Wéna held a staff; vintage curls on the wood with a fistful of topaz atop. Whenever the gods spoke to her, you’d see the bright lavender colour filling the vintage lines.

Wéna smiled, the wrinkles on the face taking different turns. “Seven chiefs have died, so I heard.”

“Seventeen, actually,” King Baas corrected. “Your old eardrums may not be so well at mornings.”

The joke, or the insult, didn’t tickle a muscle in Wéna. She kicked the immaturity off and swerved back into the conversation. “And the queen? Is she still breathing?”

The king gulped. “Dead.” He arose from the throne and walked to meet with the woman, just a few inches separating them. “That’s why we need you, Wéna.”

Wéna let warm air twist off her lips. After taking a brief look around, she said, “It’s been long, little Baas. You know that. The last time I set my feet here was—when?—fourteen years ago and nine moons. I can still remember that day. I guess my old brain, dear, is working so, so well. Why do you need my help?”

“The queen is dead, as you know,” he paused and took a step back, “and we need her back.”

The old woman scoffed. “What makes you think I can help?”

“You are the best sorcerer in all the West. You’ve beaten the greatest wizards with your eyes closed and hands tied. You were the only one who survived the Black Creeks. Wéna, you are the only one around here whom the gods listen to.”

Wéna gripped her staff firmer. “Stop with the arse-kissing; you know well it’s not a good look on you. Why should I help you?”

“Because I’m the—”

“King?” she interrupted. “I thought as much. That is the word I’d hear from a proud crook.”

The king went down on his knees immediately. He clearly was bathed in blood and submissiveness. “I beg of you. I need to see my wife again, please.”

The sorceress thought for a while, then her mind fell back into the palace. “Very well. I will do it,” she retorted. “However, there are rules for this.”

“W-What rules?”

“To bring a life, one must take a life. The body of the dead cannot be restored; instead, the spirit will be transferred to another,” Wéna replied.

The king knew this was not an issue as he let out a scoff, a little grin stretched on his left side. “I have a thousand men who would die for her, and the kingdom has countless, beautiful dames that her spirit would fit in.”

Wéna shook her head. “Even for a king, you are very unwise.” She took a braid in between her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. “I don’t decide for the gods, little Baas. They choose who they want. They can decide to choose your son’s life for a trade and place the queen’s spirit in the ugliest pauper’s body. If you think clearly, there are two lives that will go. It is the balance of life. Nothing is for free, Baas.”

“How can we start?”

“Bring me the body. The ritual starts now.”

After several hours of waiting for the moon to set in, a holy time for rituals perhaps, the sorceress and the king had travelled into the woods, a lifeless being laying on the dirt. They could hear the bushes rustling and the chirps breaking the peace of the moonlight.

Finally, it was time. Indeed.

A dozen candles were lit around them as Wéna danced around the dead queen, speaking words so new even the most legendary generations would fall at the voice of this confusion. Her legs hopped, performed pirouttes, and hopped again. The beads hanging on the ripped cotton gown she wore shackled and rattled to the chants of the night.

Then, she stopped, total silence following. Even every life in the forest obeyed, as this sorceress had made her point clear.

The wind started to howl, the fire sitting on the candles disappearing. A shrewd cackle crawled from the depth of her lungs.

The body on the dirt twitched.

It twitched . . . again.

But reincarnation was meant to be in another body, the king thought. At least the sorceress said resurrection wasn’t in her power. “I thought—”

“Silence, little one,” Wéna interrupted, her staff shining a twisted purple colour. “You must not talk when the gods are talking. They are deciding who’s best for the trade.”

A few minutes passed before Wéna took in a deep breath. The decision, made.

“It is done,” she said.

“Who is the t-trade?”

Immediately, King Baas fell on the ground, blood dripping from the corners of his eyes. Soon, more of the crimson liquid trickled from his nostrils. His heart was running cold and crisp. Life tore from his sight bit by bit.

Wéna dug the bottom of her staff into the dirt and shook her head. “Unfortunately,” she smirked, “you.”

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6 Replies to “Death’s Bargain by Tumike-John Adisa”

  1. This is an awesome piece👌… Not really surprised, I’ve always known you were a good writer… #virus… 😄😄. I’ve a lot to learn from you 😊

    1. I actually came for someone else’s book, but I stumbled on this story. This writer did an amazing job here! Finally, a book around here with no punctuation errors and accurate dialogue tags. I like the plot twist at the end. Who knew King Baas would be the one to be taken? Unexpected plot twist. There’s this dark voice the narrator has; a nice use of the third person omniscient! I want to see more.

      There’s a mix of royalty. A mix of thriller. A mix of fantasy. Even Wena is not trusted, I think she knew all along. I only wish this story can be stretched into a novella or a novel. It will have my money! Sad I couldn’t vote by the way 🙁

      1. Yeah. The plot twist! That’s a boomerang. Yes, the sentences are constructed brilliantly and the flow is remarkable. You need to have an open mind (and be a part detective 😂) to be able to read his works.

  2. Wonderful piece, as always ⭐. This story took me about five minutes to read, but it’s the best five minutes I’ve had this week.

    Can I just say how much I love the the names Wéna and Baas? Although I’m not sure what tribe this is, I’m guessing East Africa, but the names are so lovely and easy to remember.

    Your use of metaphors, TJ, is amazing. Original and complex. You used storm, cheetah, buna, bronze — such brilliant foreshadowing of the theme.

    Death’s Bargain is a complete story: plot, setting, climax, stakes, voice, and characters are in great positions. Effective use, I must say.

    And the end! OMG! So it was Baas the gods chose? That’s cruel…

    You definitely have my vote in this 🙂

  3. This is one of the best short stories in the competition. What a story. Kudos to the writer. His use of language is top notch. I’m blown away

  4. Hooking from the very first sentence. The story starts with a bang! You always leave me impressed by your rich skill of handling words. Your word choices give me goosebumps. Wonderful ending with the cliffhanger. Who will rule the kingdom now that the king is also dead?


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