It all started when I lost my keys. I had to backtrack on the trail in Center Moriches, Long Island. Knowing my luck, I probably lost them when I was wading through the beach at the end of the trail.
I moved forward, shoving away the brush that I encountered as I walked. Gritting my teeth, I tried putting my despair away as I knew I was essentially looking for a needle in a haystack. A squirrel zoomed past me, almost causing me to trip while I made an effort to not harm the little rodent by stepping on it. After regaining my balance, I let out a sigh, and walked forward once more.
At the end of the trail, was the beach I waded in earlier. Cursing myself for not being more careful with my keys, I stripped off my boots and socks and rolled my pants legs up. Stepping into the water, I bent down and ran my hands through the shallow depths. Hoping to find any out of place object, I was rewarded with sand in my fingernails and loose pebbles scattering. Annoyed, I kept up my search and eventually my fingers ran over what felt like a key.
I picked it up, standing up straight, holding the key in my hand. Smiling and filled with relief at my prize, I looked at the key. My color drained. This was not my key. It fit in the palm of my hand but it was an old key, a skeleton key, with a frog head on top. Shoving the key in my pocket, I bent down and continued searching, digging up more muddy earth. It was a fruitless endeavor.
Sighing, I stood back up and turned around. That’s when I saw her- a beautiful young woman that couldn’t be any older than my own twenty-five years of age. Heart pulsing, my breath caught. Her raven hair shined in the sunlight, her white dress making her appear to glow. Walking over to her, I didn’t view her as a threat. I should have at the time, but a beautiful woman has always been my weakness. My hormones got the best of me.
“Hello,” she offered in greeting.
“Hello, my name is Jackie,” I said. “And you are?”
The raven-haired woman smiled a pure, incandescent smile. I was transfixed.
“My name is of no importance, but you can call me Belle,” She answered and waved her hand dismissively.
Skepticism ran through my brain and red flags were signaling at this response. Leave it to me to be attracted to crazy women! Did she just escape some psychiatric ward? Thinking better of the thoughts that ran through my head, I figured we were both strangers to each other and that was enough. I let my thoughts go.
“By any chance, have you come across a set of keys?” I asked her.
Belle stood there a moment, deep in thought. Her arms crossed, she tapped a finger on her chin. I waited.
“I hate to say I haven’t,” she replied. “I can help you look?”
“That would be great. Thanks.” I said and walked away.
Continuing my fruitless search for my keys, I scoured the ocean banks but to no avail. My keys were gone. Belle walked over to me. Staring into her dark gray eyes, I got lost in them. Peace flooded through me followed by a strong sense of unease. My gut started having that bad feeling.
“Yes,” I squeaked.
Belle chuckled softly but it was a mirthless laugh. Shuddering, I knew I should have run, but I stayed glued to the spot. Transfixed by this beautiful woman that was also causing my uneasiness.
“You may find the key you are holding to be of great use,” she suggested.
Eyes widening, I knew I was definitely in trouble. How could she know about the key? Unless she did see me scoop them up earlier?
“This key is useless,” I said and shrugged. “You can have it. I just need to find my bike lock keys.”
I took the key out of my pocket and handed it to her. She snatched it from my hands and began cackling. Frozen to the spot with fear, I watched as took the key and stabbed herself in the chest with it. Blood didn’t spurt out of her chest as I expected. Instead, golden ropes fell around her feet.
Immediately, Belle transformed into an old man with a long gray beard and gray robes stained with dirt and possibly blood. The man looked at me with hard, cold gray eyes. I didn’t dare speak not that I could at the time anyway.
“Thank you, young lady,” the man said. “You have freed me and in return I shall reward you. You shall be my apprentice from this day forth.”
“Wh-What happened to Belle?” I stuttered.
“She was my last apprentice,” the man said and grinned. “She imprisoned me so many years ago to prevent me from practicing blood magic. She succeeded for a while but her spell was broken when someone with fledgling magic found the key to release me. Someone naïve enough to believe magic didn’t exist and would unwittingly unleash darkness to the world once more.”
Terror ensnared me. I couldn’t believe it. Yet, the proof was in front of me. Despair became my best friend.
“What have I done?”