Sharon J. Wishnow
Claude and Maurice shouldered through the door to the abandoned root cellar. The moon’s glow was the only light to witness their fight. It was 12:01 a.m., the first minute of the last day of the year. This is the year it would end, the year the family prophecy would be fulfilled.
Claude threw an elbow at Maurice’s nose. Blood spurt forth sending him against the wall. Claude reached the 200-year-old bottle of brandy first.
“Don’t fight me,” he shouted. “It belongs to me. I’m the last of the family line.” He unwrapped an amber wine goblet with a gilded rim and tossed the sheepskin cloth to Maurice. “Wipe your nose.”
“Give me the glass!” Maurice said, his voice hissing between his teeth, his eyes narrow feline slits.
Claude poured the amber liquid, a leathery, fruity aroma hovered under his nose into the glass. The empty, dusty bottle topped with creamy dripping wax lay on its side like a wounded soldier.
Claude’s crooked smile revealed teeth that glowed in the moonlight. “We could share?” he said, not meaning it.
“No!” Maurice slammed his palm against the worn mahogany table, the only furniture in the musty cellar. He felt his way in the dark around the table but misjudged the edge. Claude rammed the corner into his side, knocking the wind out of him. The bottle rolled on to the dirt floor with a clink.
Maurice regained his breath and shoved the table up against Claude pinning him against the wall. Claude covered the goblet with his palm to protect the inch of liquid. He pulled it high away from Maurice’s short reach.
“Ah, dear cousin, you wouldn’t want me to spill.” Claude tipped the wine goblet almost onto its side, the last remaining celebratory brandy from Napoleon’s victory at Fleurus kissed the rim of the glass.
“Don’t!” Maurice backed away. “Today is the last day. The last of his line to drink the last of the wine on the last day of the year will receive his reward,” Maurice quoted the family legend.
For two hundred years, on this day, this bottle of brandy was drained an inch at a time. Napoleon had bartered with a fortuneteller who cast the spell that promised the French victory.
Maurice was orphaned and raised by his aunt and uncle, Claude’s parents. Claude was the youngest. Neither had children. They both claimed to be the last of the Letort de Lorville line, the French General who led the conquering army in the Victory of Fleurus, one of the last battles of the Napoleonic Wars.
Claude placed the glass on the table and stepped away. Maurice snatched it before he could change his mind and swallowed the brandy without tasting it. He collapsed, dead.
“Your eternal reward. Cheers.”
Claude shoved the table away and stepped over Maurice’s body. He climbed the stairs. “It’s done.”
A woman stepped into the moonlight. Her long hair was plaited down her back in a single stalk. She pulled a thick sweater tight over her thin shoulders and looked down into the valley of the dark cellar. She held a hand to her swollen belly and nodded her approval at the dark outline of Maurice’s body.
“How did you know it would kill him?” Claude said.
“He wasn’t the last of the line. But it was the last of the brandy. It needed to be finished tonight or our child would be still born in the spring. He only had half of the prophesy. Now, we don’t have to hide.
The last of his line to drink the last of the wine on the last day of the year will receive his reward. The bottle must be emptied, or there will be no children forever more. I won’t be the last of the line of fortune tellers. We will go on for eternity.”
Sharon J. Wishnow is a writer from Northern Virginia. Her work has appeared in The Grief Diaries, UC Denver -The Human Touch Journal, Everyday Fiction, and forthcoming in Chroma. She has an MFA from George Mason University and has completed her first novel. You can find her online at www.sharonwishnow.com and on Twitter @sjwishnow.