The air was thick with spirits.
"Poison apples! Poison apples! Get your poison apples here!" belted out an old man, shoving shrivelled, black apples into people's faces. A herd of tittering witchlings crowded around his kiosk, oohing and aahing with fingers crossed behind their backs.
Lilith didn't stay to see their trick. There was much to discover here. Trinket stalls shrieked and screeched when she approached, the owners shushing their displays with taloned fingers. The smell of pumpkin pie overpowered the streets and crude jack-o-lanterns smiled toothily as she walked by.
She loved Halloween. There was no greater time of the year to explore the Magus Market.
She skipped the fortune telling tents with their purple drapes and cursed incense. No sense in sealing your fate with a fortune. An undetermined future was a malleable one.
Lilith didn't know what she was looking for but everyone always came back from the Magus Market with something. Be it a boiled frog, a candy apple or a curse, one never left the market empty handed. So Lilith searched for something to bring back of her own will, lest something more sinister find its way into her pockets.
The cold autumn wind murmured in her ear, crooning sweet nothings dripping with dead man’s blood. It stalked her through the market, creeping behind her until she reached her destination.
The silver draped tent was small, almost inconspicuous, beside the cider-selling crones and try-on noose stall, but Lilith knew this was the one. This place had something she needed. She felt it in the rotting marrow of her bones.
It was musty inside, the scent of pepper and rotting flesh making Lilith scrunch up her nose. Chimes fashioned from human teeth hung from the ceiling, tinkling in an invisible breeze. The dim lighting made it hard to see but Lilith made out jars filled with oily liquids sitting on low tables. Each jar held a hunk of flesh, shaped like age-old organs from long deceased creatures. A ghostly whisper, soft as a kiss, guided her to the back of the tent where she found what she had been unknowingly seeking.
A beating heart.
It dripped with blood, pooling at the bottom of the glass bowl where it sat. Each pulse made her shiver, her skin prickling with gooseflesh.
Lilith had been dead a long time but never before had she felt so alive.
She wanted it oh so badly.
“Fancy this?” a honeyed voice asked.
She half-startled, looking up to see a handsome young man with golden hair and hollow sockets for eyes. He smiled crookedly at her, revealing pointed teeth almost too big for his jaws. But what caught Lilith’s attention was the gaping maw in his chest, a hollow cavity where his heart should be. Blood trickled down from the open wound and shredded flesh hugged his exposed ribs.
Lilith was speechless.
“My lady?” He titled his head.
“Is this your heart?” She gestured at the bowl.
"Ah. Yes. Yes, it is," he said wistfully, brushing bony fingers across the living organ. Even if she couldn’t see the emotion in his empty sockets, Lilith heard the longing in his voice. "Broken once too many so I ripped it out and thought I'd earn a penny. Scrawny little thing, isn't it?"
"No, it’s just the right size,” she replied, suddenly breathless. “I'd love to cut it to shreds and stew it."
Lilith wasn't usually so flirtatious but something about this boy made her rotten heart writhe with worms.
The boy gave her a scarecrow smile. It pulled up until it seemed as if his teeth would pop out of his mouth.
"My lady, you flatter me."
Lilith reached for his hand. He let her take it. His cold, dead flesh seeped into her skin.
“Will you give me your heart?” Her voice trembled with raw feeling.
The boy withdrew his hands, and Lilith’s heart rotted a little more, but he cupped his fingers around the bloody heart and presented it to her reverently. Blood dripped red between his hands.
“It’s yours, my lady, if you’ll have me.”
Yes, Lilith had never ever felt as alive as she did holding his beating heart in her hands.