The Ultimate Test was the first horror story I've ever written. I recall having a long discussion about it with my long term critique partner supernatural horror writer Andrew Richardson, who gave me a tremendous amount of support and encouragement. I scared myself by embracing all those dark thoughts. Since then, I've dabbled on the dark side with "The Dhampir's Kiss"in Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires. And of course, Boulevard of Bad Spells and Broken Dreams is a very dark urban fantasy heavily based on Santeria. Mishmash Magick in Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft and "Dance With the Devil" in Seer: Ten Tales of Clairvoyance are short excerpts of Boulevard adapted to a short story format.
Of course, most of my fiction has a basis in real life—and I certainly have seen my share of real life horror riding ambulances and working in the ERs of hospitals in The Bronx, Harlem, and Washington Heights. I'll leave you to figure out what's real and what's not.
I'm very grateful to Nicole Kurtz of Mocha Memoirs Press, who accepted this story within a hour of submission. It had been shortlisted for at least two anthologies in the past that either folded or ran out of space.
Caution: This excerpt is mild but the story might be disturbing to sensitive readers.
The Ultimate Test
The sweet, floral essence of magic swirled through the botánica. Candles flickered in front of a riot of statuary.
"Muy buenas, mi amor." A shriveled woman hoisted herself from a chair in the corner and hobbled over.
"Hola, Señora." Aramis handed over a list of the herbs she needed.
"¿Tu eres santera?" The woman's gnarled finger traced down the list. Her eyes narrowed to read the tight English script.
"No. I study herbology. Las plantas."
"One who use these do more than study, mi amor." The lines in the crone's face deepened with a broad smile. "Una bruja, tu estas."
"Not only witches use herbs." If she associated with anyone who practiced The Craft, they would all be subject to discipline. Memories of wise women being brutalized and dragged from their homes tickled her brain.
"No ten miedo, mi amor. I no tell. Las santeras help las brujas. Somos hermanas. Sisters." She gestured Aramis into a chair and lowered herself into a seat.
Her attention focused on a bowl of cloudy water beneath the icons. She picked up Aramis' hands rubbed the palms. "Vengeance. You seek vengeance."
"Yes." Aramis followed as the woman wandered around the shop collecting several packets and tiny brown bottles.
A pencil scratched as the santera totaled the order on a scrap of paper. "To aid you, burn this candle until it's done, then return to me so I can finish it and give you further instructions. $75.00."
Aramis took the black jar. The wax pillar inside swam in murky liquid that bubbled at her touch. She left a $100.00 bill on the
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