The puzzle was one piece short.
In the past 50 years, the final piece had never been added. The puzzle had been encased in glass, bordered by a simple pine frame, and depicted an image of two women embracing in a moonlit meadow. The missing piece would have completed the silvery-white center of the full moon, shining in the top left corner of the scene.
The owner had wrapped it in a thick cloth and stowed it away in the darkest corner of his attic, with the missing piece hidden away elsewhere in the house. I knew this because I had come into possession of the owner’s journal recently, and what I read within those pages… I wish I could erase from my mind.
The two young women in the meadow were not mere images. Their entire being had been trapped in the scene, and they were unaware of the passage of time or their surroundings. They couldn’t see me looking down at them as I lifted the glass cover of their prison, nor could they feel the fresh air that struck them for the first time in decades. The women were lovers, sealed within a cursed image by a jealous, scorned man. The journal, skewed as the perspective was, revealed that neither woman had ever accepted his advances. When he saw them together, he had been blinded by his rage and invoked the most vile of magic to get his perceived revenge.
I had spent an admittedly indulgent amount of time in denial. I couldn’t believe the man who had raised me with so much love could be capable of so much hate. And to do something like this… I just didn’t understand. I went over my childhood in my head, trying to remember if there had been any hint, but it seemed impossible. Yet I held the proof in my hands and read the truth written on the pages. I very nearly threw the journal into the fire. Eventually though, I came to the inevitable conclusion that I needed to right the wrongs of my father.
I searched for the final puzzle piece as I continued to read the journal. Besides the puzzle, none of it was dark sorcery. Mostly, it contained notes on green magic and mundane gardening. The book offered no clues to the location of the piece. I had begun to give up hope, but my father had made my work easy for me. As I flipped the final page, I noticed it.
I had run upstairs, heart of the moon in hand, and then I froze. I stood before the cursed puzzle, paralyzed, unsure of what to say. Lily and Aria were their names. How would I explain? How would they react? What would come after? I drew in a deep breath. What mattered was doing the right thing, I told myself. The rest would have to sort itself out later.
I placed the final piece into the puzzle and set the lovers free.