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ValentineDavis21

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  1. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 12

    “Hey, Johnny!” Gwen says. Before I can say anything she raises a Kodak camera and points it at me. The thing is big and heavy looking in her long-fingered hands I’m wondering how she’s able to lift it. “This is for my yearbook,” she says. “Smile!” There’s a blinding FLASH! and I find myself blinded. My head’s reeling and my stomach twists. Oh no, not this again, not the nausea. Before I can stop it I lean over and vomit. There are several groans from the students heading to their next class and a few laughs - not the first impression I want to give on my first day at my new college. “Oh God,” Gwen says, making a face. “Johnny, are you alright?” “I-I d-didn’t know that was going to happen,” I blurt out defensively. I’ve never been so humiliated in my life! I want nothing more than to disappear. “I’m sorry.” “No I’m sorry. I should have turned the flash off. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone just throw up like that.” “It’s okay. I’ve been having really bad spells of nausea lately. I’m taking anti-nausea medication but it’s not helping.” Of course I don’t tell Gwen why. If she knew I would die of humiliation for real. She steps carefully over my puddle of vomit and reaches into her knapsack. She pulls out two textbooks, a tube of lipstick, a Ziploc bag of sunflower seeds, and finally a pack of napkins and a tin of Altoids. She hands me the tin of Altoids. She smiles but does not offer any explanations which I’m grateful for. As I pop a couple in my mouth she suggests we go to another bench. We find another one on the other side of the court yard. We have another half an hour before we have Peter Russo’s class. She studies the pins on my jacket intently: the Coke bottle, the Snoopy pin, and the Popeye pin. “Where did you get those?” “The bottle cap I just randomly I decided to keep one day...the other two a friend of mine gave me. His name was Tony.” Just saying the name makes my heart drop. “You look sad,” Gwen says. “He must have been a close friend. Did something happen between the two of you? Did you guys get into a fight and stop being friends or something?” Then she slaps her head with the palm of her forehead. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked...I didn’t mean to ask. My mouth has a tendency to get away from me sometimes.” “It’s okay. We...” We were split apart, I want to say, but instead I say, “just went our own separate ways as friends often do. “I” - was his lover - “will always consider him to be my” - first real love - “brother. I loved him.” Suddenly I have to hear his voice. I have to know what we had wasn’t a dream, wasn’t all made up in my head. Even though it was only a month ago, our last day together, our day at the movies seeing Invasion of the Body Snatchers, feels like a half forgotten dream. I don’t want to forget what we had - I don’t want to forget him. I spot a bank of payphones just across from us. I ask Gwen if I can make a phone call just for a minute. She says she doesn’t mind. I go over to the pay phones, rooting through my pockets for change. I have just enough change to be able to make a phone call to New York. I punch in Tony’s phone number. My heart gallivants at the very idea of hearing his voice. Will he be glad I called? What will we say to each other? The operator patches me through. The ringtone beeps three times and then- “Hello?” My heart drops. It’s not Tony: it’s his mother. What’s she doing over at his apartment? I remember the day I went up to his apartment, the day after I’d been suspended from NYU. It was his mother who had answered the door. I remember the complete look of loathing she’d given me as she said, You defiled my son - you won’t be seeing him again, and slammed the door in my face. I want to forge ahead. Fuck her, fuck my parents, fuck my aunt and uncle. So what if I end up going to Hell? I love Tony, the only thing I’m for certain of is my love for Tony; it’s the only the thing that is real. I want to say these things to Tony’s parents, my parent, my aunt and uncle, to God. But I don’t say these things because I’m a coward, because I’m already broken. So I hang up. I walk back to Gwen. “Is everything alright?” she asks. “Yeah,” I say, smiling - I’ve gotten good at smiling when I really feel like screaming. “Let’s go to class. If we get there early maybe we can grab some good seats.” … The room can seat up to five hundred people - which seems a little excessive to me considering the size of the college. Gwen and I decide to sit at the very top where we can get the best view of the front. We are not the first in the room. There are five other people. One of them is a girl Gwen knows, Allie. They hug each other and chatter happily as if this is the first time they’ve seen other in years and Gwen introduces me to Allie. Gwen asks me if I mind if Allie sits with us and I tell her I don’t. As the time for class to start approaches more students trickle in steadily; when the professor finally steps in there are thirty-something students. I look at the professor and suddenly feel woozy. I’ve never experienced anything so strange before in my life. He’s tall, very tall, well over six foot, broad-shouldered, thick in the middle but not in a way that suggests being overweight. He appears to be in his mid to late forties. His hair cut short, streaked with grey, showing early signs of beginning to recede. His eyes, dark and almond-shaped scan something he was reading. His skin is tanned, as if he’s gotten a lot of sun. And I’d seen him somewhere before. I was sure of it, so sure it was frightening, because I also knew I’d never seen him before. The feeling creates a schism within me. Suddenly my head was pounding, pounding so badly that I have to close my eyes, because if I didn’t I was going to faint. Gwen, who’d been conversing happily back and forth with Allie, turns to me. She asks me if I’m alright. I give her a fake smile and tell her I’m fine, I just have a little bit of a headache. Our professor clears his throat, voice deep and resounding; it’s all it takes to catch everyone’s attention. Thirtysomething pairs of eyes immediately focus on him. Some students look confused, as if an elephant stands before them and not their professor. “Good morning,” he says. “I’m Phillip Russo. Welcome to English class.” He holds up a sheet of paper and goes through the names of those who are in class, marking off those who are not in class. When he calls my name, “Johnny Duplesis”, and I say, “Here”, he looks up at me - and stops. Slowly his face draws into a look of puzzlement: his mouth droops into a frown and his eyebrows knit together and he pushes his glasses back up so he can get a better look at me. I can only stare back. For five seconds, five seconds which feel more like five minutes - five very tense minutes - something passes between us, something I can’t name. Somehow I just know he feels it too. Other people can feel it too. They’re starting to crane their neck around, looking for whatever it is he’s focused on. Then, just like that, the moment, the connection, is gone. He puts the paper back down and moves onto the next thing. He gives a large stack of papers to one of the students sitting down at the very front and states that we will be going over the syllabus; the syllabus goes over all the homework assignments, tests, projects, and exams we will be doing throughout the semester. Next to each item is the date which he will assign these things and the date in which they are to be turned in. “Next, and quite importantly,” he says, “are these...” He holds up a composition notebook; there are a large stack of them on his desk. “This is an English class and part of English is writing: writing every day for practice. It gets your thoughts flowing. I want you to write - every day - even if it’s just a paragraph or two or day. It can be whatever you want - stories, poems, or just your thoughts. If for whatever reason you want to share it with me, you can. I will read it and keep it between us if that’s what you want. If you write something I feel the class should hear and you’re alright with it, I will read it to the class.” The composition notebooks are passed out. When I finally get mine a sense of exhilaration floods me: This notebook represents my salvation, or at least a key to it. Journals are private things. No one can read them because they’re sacred. Here was a chance to get my thoughts out, to get them externalized. This was the first good thing to happen to me since arriving at Adermoor Cove. … After class Gwen asks me what I thought of Phillip Russo. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man who’s so...big. You’d think he’d be coaching football or some sport, not teaching English class.” “I liked him,” I say. “What was that weird moment between you two about? It was almost … I don’t know, as if you knew each other, the way you were looking at one another.” I try not to blush and tell her I don’t know what she means and she looks back at me as if she doesn’t believe; and I know she doesn’t because I’m not a very good liar. “Everyone knows him,” she says. “Mainly because he owns the lighthouse here on the island.” “He does?” I ask; we’re sitting on a bench at the bus station. I remember seeing a lighthouse when the ferry was pulling in the day I came to Adermoor Cove. I’d stared at it, transfixed, but given everything that’d happened to me since then I’d forgotten all about it. “Yep.” Gwen looks at me, shielding her eyes from the sun with the palm of her hand. The bus stops at her house first. Before she gets off we make plans to go out for lunch the day after tomorrow. The first thing I do when I get to Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda’s house - I can’t bring myself to think of it as “home” just yet and hope I never do - is go to my room. Neither of them are home: Uncle Bo is probably still working at the factory where they make glue and crazy things like that, and Aunt Bo has probably gone out grocery shopping. I dig a fountain pen and the composition notebook out of my bag, stretch out on my mattress, open the notebook and began to write. Sometime, an hour or so later, I hear the front door open, and Uncle Bo’s heavy quick footsteps enter the house. “Johnny!” he calls from the bottom of the stairs. “Come help your aunt bring in the groceries!” My fingers are sore from how hard I’ve been holding the pen. I’ve been so lost in thought I’ve lost track of time. Before getting up I read the first sentence I wrote: I came to Adermoor Cove March 3rd, in the year 1959. … On the way to the bus stop I spot a sign taped to the window of The Treasure Cove. Curious, I walk over to it; written in pen, it says: TABLE-BUSTER NEEDED - SPEAK WITH BUDDY IF INTERESTED!!! I glance at my watch. I have an hour before I have to be in class, which is plenty of time for me to be able to poke my head in and inquire about a job. Having a job would mean more time out of the house and some money in my pocket. During weekday-work-hours the diner isn’t so crowded; tourist season hasn’t started yet because it’s still quite chilly outside. I ask the woman at the front counter - her tag reads Darlene - if I can speak with Buddy about the job posting. She scans me up and down once, probably sensing I’m not from around here, blows a pink bubble of gum, and then steps through the double doors leading back into the kitchen. Seconds later she comes back with a man, who I can only assume is Buddy. Buddy appears to be in his early thirties, black hair cut short. A toothpick pokes out from the corner of his lips. He wears a grease-smeared apron that ends at his ankles. He’s short and scrawny and feisty looking. “You the one asking about the job?” he asks with a heavy downeast accent. “Yes,” I say. “You a college kid?” he asks. “Yeah.” He nods, as if this is exactly what he expected. “You look like a college kid. I’m sorry but I can’t hire another college kid.” “W-what, why?” I stammer. “”Because the last college kid I hired showed up to work a few days and then didn’t show up again - didn’t give me a notice or anything like that - and he wasn’t the first.” “I really need a job,” I tell him desperately. “Why?” he asks, cocking his head. “I need something to do...Something to take my mind off things.” “School not keeping you busy enough?” “Not really.” He gestures for me to take a booth at one of the counters. I do so, feeling nervous. People like Buddy make me nervous - people who are overly straightforward. He strikes me as the type of man who could lose his temper very easily, who would yell at you if you were to make an easy mistake. He looks me over again. “You ever had a job before?” I have to think for a second. Actually, as a matter of fact, no I never had a job. My parents, who’d never had a shortage of cash, paid for everything. It wasn’t until I came to Adermoor Cove that I realized just how dependant on them I’d been - just how spoiled. This moment is a reminder. I tell Buddy, “No I’ve never had a job before. But how hard can it be to clear off dishes?” And I can feel myself starting to grow emotional. I need a break, just one break. I need something good to happen, I need more than just a composition notebook if I’m going to survive my time at Adermoor Cove. “Look,” I tell him. “You’re in need of a table buster and I’m in need of a job. Either you decide to give me one or you don’t.” “What days can you work?” he asks, after studying me for a moment. I tell him I can work Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have classes and the weekends I need off so I can study. “Other than that I’m completely available.” “Would you be able to come in the day after tomorrow and knock out some tables?” “Yes,” I answer without hesitation. “Come in at noon, then,” he says. He reaches into the pocket of his apron and pulls out a pack of cigarettes; he lights one, takes a long drag, and blows the smoke up towards the ceiling. “If you do well and I like you, you’ll have a job. It only pays minimum wage.” I tell him I don’t care. I shake hands with him, tell him I’ll be there on time, and thank him for giving me a chance. I feel as though fireworks are going off inside and I pump my fist in the air and shout, “YESSS!” Several people look in my direction, frowning, but I’m too elated to care. Assuming I impress Buddy I’ll be making money of my own. Maybe things are finally starting to look up. … The next night after my interview with Buddy, Gwen and I go to the movies. Gwen says she wants to see something scary so we get tickets for Attack of the Giant Leeches. We get a big container of popcorn and two Cokes. There’s no one else in the theatre; apparently no one has time to see movies during the week. As the movie begins to play, Gwen turns to me and says, “I hate leeches - worms too. I hate anything that’s real slimy.” “Me too,” I say, smiling back at her. The movie starts and the lights dim. Reaching into the popcorn bucket, Gwen leans against me. I have to will myself to keep from cringing. I know Gwen likes me, it’s not like she’s done anything to hide the fact. I tell myself this is good for me, this is just what I need. If he can see this moment Dr. Lloyd Berry would be proud, I think. He’d see I’m trying, really trying. For the first half an hour we watch the movie mostly in silence except for when the scary stuff happens and then Gwen will lean into me as if I’m her protector. I laugh and tease her but really I’m tense as hell. I can’t stand the feel of her bony elbows knocking into mine, the way she’s literally invading my space. But another part of me tries to muster through. Isn’t this what a normal life looks like, taking a pretty girl to the movies? And yet the whole time I think, This was what Tony and I used to do. This was our thing. At one point Gwen looks at me with such an intensity I can feel the side of my face burning. I try to pretend as if I don’t notice, try to keep my eye on the screen. She takes the bucket of popcorn from my hands and sets it firmly in the seat next to us, and then leads forward and kisses me on the cheek. I look at her, too shocked to say anything. She has the gown of her dressed pull up so I can see a hint of her panties. Oh God, I think, not now, not here - I’m not ready for this. But it’s happening. She’s leaning towards me, her warm breath caressing my skin, so close I can smell her Chanel Number Five perfume. I’m paralyzed, unsure of what to do. I can only stare into her eyes, her gleaming green eyes which reflect the white light coming off the screen. She has cat-eyes. She leans closer, closer, closer. Suddenly, all too soon, her lips are mine. Her face blocks out the rest of the world so it’s all I can see. I mime her lip movements and try to make myself get into the groove. I try to make myself like it. I wish I did like it. But I don’t feel anything but revulsion: this is all wrong, this whole situation. Kissing her is not like kissing Tony or kissing any of the other boys I’ve been with; I can’t describe the sensations I’m feeling I just know in my gut it doesn’t feel right. Gwen takes my hand and sets it on her leg, smiling as she does so. She pushes it up under her skirt, so I can feel her flesh. I jerk my hand back. The heat in her eyes dies, like a bucket of water pouring over a flaming fire. She literally looks as if I’ve slapped her or called her something derogatory. “W-What’s wrong?” she asks. “Did I do something wrong? D-Do y-you not like this?” I get to my feet and run my hands through my hair. “No, Gwen - I don’t like this. I feel like I’m about to crawl out of my skin.” Her head bows down and she starts to weep. I look at her and feel a mixture of disgust and shame. I hate her, I hate my aunt and uncle, I hate my parents, I hate my doctor and the drug he has me on, and most of all I hate myself. If I stand here for one second longer I’m going to go supernova, so I shove my hands in my jacket pocket and duck out of the theatre, into the rainy night.
  2. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 11

    Today is my first appointment with my psychotherapist, Lloyd Barret. I’m tearing myself up with anxiety. I try to stop myself from imagining what might happen but I can’t stop. Sweat drips down my forehead; my fingers tap rapidly on the arm of the chair, almost perfectly timed with the pling-pling of the nurse’s typewriter. On the stool beside me is an issue of Reader’s Digest. I’m tired, I haven’t slept all night, or for the last couple of nights for that matter. I glance at the clock. 12:58 A.M. Any second now, I think, eager to get it all over with, eager for this nightmare to end. A door opens and a tall middle-aged man steps through. He’s dressed professionally in a suit: white dress shirt, black slacks, tie, dress shoes that have been scrubbed to a shine, hair slicked back. He holds a clipboard in one hand, which looks clean; I can’t help but notice his nails have been clipped. He has bright green eyes. He’s very handsome. I wonder what it would be like to feel his hand on the back of my neck. And then I remember why I’m here and what he does and what will happen and I feel something shrivel up inside me. I feel myself shrink back in my chair. If he shows any signs of noticing my discomfort it’s hidden behind his perfectly white teeth, his charming smile. “Johnny?” he says. I nod, somehow managing to stand. “I’m Dr. Lloyd Barret.” We shake hands. His hands are soft and warm while mine are undoubtedly clammy. He leads me out of the room via a long white-walled hallway with wooden flooring. His office, he says, is the last room on the corner. I step in nervously, expecting the door to slam shut behind me, to lock itself so I can never get out. Of course no such thing happens. His office is moderately sized. There’s one armchair on one side of a wooden desk, where he undoubtedly sits, and two more across from me. On the wall behind him there are several plaques with awards and a diploma. To the left, over by the door, is a wooden shelves full of leather bound books. Other than that the room is utterly blank. There is nothing in this room that comforts, that makes me feel as if I’m in a safe place, as if I’m about to do something positive, something that will push my life in the right direction. Instead the room seems cold, formal; it does not match the man who led me back here, the man I just shook hands with. “You look nervous,” the doctor says, pulling out a drawer in his desk. “It’s okay. You wouldn’t be the first.” I’m not nervous, I want to tell him. I’m scared shitless. But I can’t find the words. I glance momentarily out the window. From two stories up I have a perfect view of the beautiful property the Adermoor Institute sits on: its beautiful lawn, the trimmed rose bushes, and trees. It looks like a happy place, not the kind of place where they do shock therapy and lobotomies. Fortunately for me, for the moment at least, I’m outpatient not inpatient, which makes my visits with Lloyd Barret a special matter. I don’t understand all the rules and stipulations behind it, but I’m glad I’m not being kept in a white-padded cell. “I’m going to jump right into things,” Lloyd Barret says; he steeples his hands together. “You already know why you’re here.” “Because I have a problem,” I say. “Because I’m broken, right?” He smiles. “You’re not ‘broken.’ Homosexuality is not a permanent disease. It can be cured through psychotherapy. Through hard work, dedication, and consistency you can live a normal, happy life. You can have a wife, kids.” “How?” I ask. “There are several ways but the one I want to try is a mixture of psychoanalysis and a drug called stilboestrol, a drug that will decrease your sexual libido. Through those two avenues of treatment I think we can get you back on the right path. The path God wants you to be on.” I look down at my hands, stiffly folded in my lap. I know I’m getting ready to cry: my throat works, my eyes burn. I can still hear the dean of New York University expelling me from the school for “indecent behavior.” I remember leaving my apartment the next morning and finding my car, my beautiful Plymouth Fury my parents had bought me, gone - just gone. You can get it all back, Dad said, looking at me with a mixture of disgust, shame, and love. You can fix it. Your Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda say they know of a specialist where they live, a psychotherapist, who can help you with your condition. They also have a college you can go while you live there…I remember going to see Tony’s apartment, needing to be with him, needing his comfort, needing his love. When the door opened it was his parent that had been there and they’d slammed the door in my face. We were both being treated like naughty children even though we were adults and could do whatever what we wanted whether God deemed it a sin or not. Within days it’d all been taken from me, sucked into a black hole. There is no getting it back. Not really. Because if this works I will come out on the other side a completely different person. Somehow I manage to keep the tears back. “Alright. I’ll do it.” At first it’s not so bad. Dr. Lloyd starts by asking me questions: When did you first notice you were attracted to men? “I was eight. Yeah, I think I was eight.” Tell me about this epiphany. “I was going to this day camp that was through my parents’ church and there was this counselor. He was seventeen and I was eight...and I had a crush on him.” Did you know what you were feeling back then? “No. I was eight. But I know what it is now, and I know it’s wrong.” When he’s done, Dr. Lloyd gets up out of his chair, smiling. He looks pleased. “Thank you, Johnny, for being honest. I know it mustn’t have been easy but honesty is a crucial part to this journey you and I are undertaking together.” There’s a knock on the door and a nurse in a white gown comes in, pushing a little metal table on wheels. She gives me a sweet smile that only makes my heart beat all the faster. It gives me the chills. Dr. Lloyd explains to me that the nurse is administering the stilboestrol; he also tells me he’s writing me prescriptions to help with diarrhea and nausea, which were common side effects of the drug. The needle stings a little going in but doesn’t hurt. All I can think about as I walk towards my aunt and uncle’s car, prescription in hand, is of the drug coursing through my veins like a plague. … The Sunday following my first appointment with Dr. Lloyd Berret I go to church with Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda. I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone to church - it’s at least been a couple of years. Mom and Dad were constantly hounding me to go back to my dad’s church. I always told them - and myself - that I was simply too busy with school to go but in truth I couldn’t stand the idea of sitting in the front row and listening to another one of my father’s sermon; or that I had drifted away from God and was lost out at sea. When I wake up in the morning I shower and put on the clothes Aunt Tilda had set out for me: a pressed white dress shirt, black dress pants, and black dress shoes. She tells me they might be a smidge big on me since they belong to my uncle - “It’s the best I can do until we can get out and buy you church clothes of your own,” she says. I shower and shave (I haven’t shaved in a week), and put mousse in my hair. The church my aunt and uncle goes to sits on a hill which overlooks the dock and the ocean; I remember seeing it when I came off the ferry to meet them. We get there half an hour before the service begins. Parents lead their children up the cement path, stepping in through the double doors of the church. Everyone is dressed up: The men wear suits, their hair slicked back just like mine is; the women wear dresses, their hair curled or put up by hair pins. Tulips in full-boom line both sides of the entrance. The church itself is made out of wood and painted white, the trim around the windows and the witch-hat roof painted brown. The stain-glass windows reflect the morning sunlight. Seagulls swoop overhead, greeting the church goers with throaty squawks. The inside of the church smells like polished wood. An elderly woman hands my aunt and uncle a program. The church’s agenda was written in white on a chalkboard neat, loopy handwriting. Aunt Tilda introduces me to several couples; I can’t help but think most of them are older than God, their veins pressing up against doughy flesh. Old people love God, I think. Aunt Tilda tells them, “Johnny has come from New York City to live with us while he goes to college here, at Adermoor Cove.” She doesn’t tell them the rest of why I’m really here and to her I’m grateful for that. Despite her religious view and the resentment I’ve been feeling towards her since I arrived to the island, Aunt Tilda is at least compassionate unlike Uncle Bo. They’re so different from one another that I often wonder how in the world they got together. Everyone’s polite: They shake my hand, make sounds of interest when Aunt Tilda tells them I’m from New York City. But I can’t help but feel as though their politeness, their interest is superficial. People in Maine are cold, Johnny, I remember Dad telling me once. You either have to be from there, or have lived in town for twenty years before they warm up to you. Then we meet Mr. and Mrs. Dowager and their daughter, Gwen, who is just a few years younger than myself. She’s a pretty girl with blonde hair and hazel eyes and high cheekbones. As Aunt Tilda informs me that Mrs. Dowager works at the elementary school and Mr. Dowager is a lawyer, Gwen keeps flashing me smiles. Her persistent gaze makes me blush no matter how hard I try not to. “You must be a Yankees fan, being from New York and all,” Mr. Dowager says. “My dad took me once, when I was six,” I tell him with a chuckle, trying to ignore Gwen’s burning gaze. “Well we don’t have anything like the Yankees here in our humble Adermoor Cove but we do have a college baseball game. I get free tickets to the game and the best seats. Perhaps, with baseball season coming up, you would like to join us for a game or two. We three are huge baseball fans.” I tell him I would like that even though I can’t think of anything I would want to do less...except maybe another appointment with my psychotherapist. … I used to think I was pretty close with God. I’m a pastor’s kid and during my childhood there was not a time where I didn’t feel like I wasn’t surrounded by God. I was taught to say grace every night at the dinner table and before I went to bed; I’ve knelt before the altar and prayed to God; I’ve fasted; I’ve been baptized. When my father saw I had an aptitude for writing he would let me write some of his sermons. I would write them after dinner, right before I went to bed, flipping through the Bible, picking out the verses I thought to be relevant to the sermon. When I was done writing them by hand I would type them out on a typewriter and hand them to my dad. He’d read them over. For me the greatest moment, and the moment when I think I loved my dad and God the most, was when he’d look up at me and smile, tears in his eyes, and tell me, “You write beautifully, Johnny.” But listening to Michael Jenkins, the pastor of Adermoor Cove Baptist Ministries I feel like an angel flung out of heaven. I don’t feel the presence of God like I used to: that strange tingling sensation that let me know He was there, He was listening to me and He cared. The pastor starts by reading an article printed just yesterday: On April 9th NASA had announced its first military pilots who would become the first astronauts of the United States. “Some may see this as a fathomless miracle,” says Michael Jenkins, pausing for dramatic effect, looking at the crowd before him with wide eyes. “That exploring the abyss beyond our planet will somehow take us closer to God. But I fear it will take us further away from Him as we continue to make advancements in science and technology.” Always with the doomsaying. What most people were too afraid to admit was how depressing going to church could be. After the service, Uncle Bo, Aunt Tilda, and I meet up with the Dowagers again. Mr Dowager chides my uncle into having the three of us join them for dinner. “They just opened up The Treasure Cove!” Gwen tells me excitedly. “They have the best milkshakes in town!” I’m actually glad to be going with them: I want nothing more than to be away from the church. It will also be good to get away from the house; I’m tired of looking at the same blank four walls of my room. We follow the Dowagers in their Cadillac; Adermoor Cove’s square is rather packed as churchgoers search for somewhere to have lunch. One thing can be said about church: It makes everyone hungry. To my relief Gwen and I get our own booth. We sit across from each other; she sits on the side closer to the window so that the sunlight catches her hair. She really is quite pretty. “Adermoor Cove must be quite different from New York,” she says. “Very,” I say. “You must hate it.” I shrug. “Hard for me to say. I haven’t been here for very long.” But the truth is I do hate it - I’ve never felt so homesick. And yet I don’t want to be negative in front of Gwen. Though we’ve just met she seems like a nice girl. “So you’re in college?” she says. “Yes.” “What are you studying for?” “Liberal arts. I want to be a writer.” “That’s what I’m studying!” she says excitedly. Then, sheepishly, she adds, “I want to be a writer too.” “Really? What do you want to write?” “Poetry mostly. But I think I might want to write a novel too, I’m just not sure what about. Sometimes I think I’d like to write a memoir but then I feel like that would be boring, you know. Interesting things have to happen in your life and nothing interesting has happened in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Adermoor Cove and all, but nothin’ interesting ever happens here.” “Nothin’?” I ask. “Well I guess if you’re into fishing...or baseball. But who’s into that? Since you’re into writing you must like reading.” “I do.” “Have a favorite author?” Gwen asks, peering down at her menu. I think for a minute. I have so many favorites I always have a hard time picking. “Daphne du Maurier,” I say after a moment. Gwen looks up, frowns. “Never heard of her. What does she write?” “Mystery and romance - a mixture of the two mostly.” I didn’t add that du Maurier’s novels were often grim and depressing and rarely had happy endings, which made her work more outstanding in my mind’s eye. While, before moving to Adermoor Cove, I never saw a therapist or took medicine of any kind, I’d always struggled with changes of mood, flitting between giddiness and depression. The last few years it seems I’ve experienced more bouts of depression than happiness. “Are you younglings behaving over there?” Mr. Dowager asks from the next booth over, tipping us a wink. “We’re fine, Dad.” Gwen leans forward so only I can hear her. “Even though I’m only twenty-one he treats me like I’m twelve. Daddy’s little girl and all that.” Our waitress finally comes over and asks what we want to drink; the diner, between it having just being opened and the church crowd, is full. I’m glad we arrived when we did. We both order milkshakes. Every once in a while Mr. Dowager glances over at us, me in particular. Does he think I’m sitting over here hitting on his daughter? Ludicrous. If he only knew I was incapable of hitting on women; I wouldn’t know what to do if I was in bed alone with one. And then I feel something nudging against my leg, rising slowly towards my crotch. What the hell? It takes me a moment to realize it’s Gwen. She’s biting her lip, trying to hide a smile. I scootch over to the right. I can’t believe she’s doing this. Not only did we just meet but she’s supposed to be a church girl. Suddenly I’m not so hungry anymore. ... Four days before my new classes start I meet with Dr. Lloyd Berret for the second time. I tell him about meeting Gwen at church. He leans forward, seeming to be very interested. “And do you like her?” “Yes, I guess,” I say. “We both like reading and writing. We’re both studying for the same thing. I think we’re enrolled in the same writing class.” “Wow. It seems like God has put the perfect match in your path,” Lloyd says. “Don’t you think?” I feel the urge to tell him, I can’t think about God right now. I can’t even masterbate right now. But instead I say, “Yeah, I guess.” “And do you find her attractive?” “You mean sexually?” He grins and spreads his hands. The gesture appears friendly but I feel stupid all the same. “Of course. What else would I mean? That’s why we’re here, right, to get you liking girls?” I nod. I tell him about my reaction to her nudging me at The Treasure Cove; I tell him about my reaction. Looking sad, he nods. “It saddens me greatly to hear that. However, this is only our second appointment together. Unless God were to intervene, which I would say at this point he already has, we’re not going to experience results immediately. This could take weeks. Months. A year at most.” A year, I think. I don’t think I can do this for a year. A year of taking the strange drug he gives me, a drug that makes it impossible for me to masturbate, that keeps me up every night because I’m vomiting my guts out despite the nausea medication he prescribed me. But I nod, I tell him what he wants to hear, anything to get out of his office, away from him faster. This is a temporary situation I tell myself. I hope.
  3. ValentineDavis21

    Midnight Excursion

    The stone doors opened and Skold entered the audience chamber. The walls of the chamber were high, thick and made of stone; torches, held in place by brackets grafted into the wall, cast dancing light. Three pulpits stood on a small uprise in the center of the chamber; Maeglin stood at one of the pulpits, General Gendimoth Cevna at another. An elven scribe stood in the corner of the room, scribbling notes down on a scroll of parchment with a quill. On a platform at the front of the chamber, King Yaldon’s counselors sat in three thrones. Althon sat in the middle, Alagossa on the left, Viktor on the right. Skold had been summoned to an audience, where they would most likely catch up on events. He stepped up to the third pulpit, coming up on Cevna’s right. “Skold, good morning,” Althon said brightly. “Maeglin has just finished telling us about his side of things. Normally we would have waited for your arrival, so that you too could hear what he had to say, but time is of the essence as I’m sure you can understand.” Skold said he did and took no offense, but inside he was relieved: he had no patience for politics or formalities. “Perhaps you could shed some further light on what we’re dealing with,” Alagotha said. “I know you and your troops had a few run-ins with Paladin’s troops.” “Yes, I believe I can,” Skold said, starting with the run-in at the edge of the Pannonian Plain and ending with the battle at Boar’s Head. He brought up details he thought were important, particularly noting how the orcs had come out of the woods before the village where Skold and his troops would have no doubt traversed through. “It appeared as if they were waiting for us, as if they knew we were coming.” “Yes, that is strange,” Cevna said, frowning. “You would think the brutes would have rode straight for the Keep but instead they cut you off.” “Perhaps they were just having a bit of fun,” Viktor said, the reverberating echo of his voice magnifying the ill-concealed laughter within his tone. “It matters not,” Skold said. “We’re fortunate we made it here.” “Thank you, Commander Skold,” said Althoth. “Your testimony will prove to be very valuable, I’m sure. Cevna, how are we with reinforcing the Keep?” “As best as can be expected,” Cevna sniffed. “As I’m sure you know we are low on resources. Due to Paladin’s alliance with the orcs it has been impossible for King Yaldon to send supplies. Consequently we’ve been working day and night, rushing to make sure we have proper provisions-” “Spare us the details,” Viktor snapped, cutting Cevna off. “We know you’re overworked, exhausted, and underappreciated. We all are. What defenses are you setting up?” Skold found himself searching for any signs of emotion in Cevna’s face and found none. Did it not anger Cevna to be interrupted, disrespected in such a way? Of course no matter how it angered him, if it did anger him, Cevna would not show it. He simply didn’t have the backbone. He was a military dog through and through. “Your Grace, I have set archers along the towers and walls. A barricade has been built to reinforce the gatehouse and keep intruders from getting into the Keep. We have two hundred and fifty barrels of oil and another hundred barrels of gunpowder.” “That’s all?” Althoth said. “I’m sorry your, Grace, I wish I could give you better news. Alas, I will be commanding things in the ward. Skold is my second in command. He will be topside with my archers.” Something inside Skold gave a twitch of excitement. “Also I will spare fifty additional troops to guard you my Graces, if you would accept their company. I’ve picked them out myself. They are very capable fighters and I could not trust your lives in less capable hands.” “If you can spare them,” said Althon. “Anything to keep you safe, my Grace.” “What about this mysterious force we all sensed on the way to the Keep?” said Maeglin. Five pairs of eyes switched to him. “What of it?” Viktor asked. If he hadn’t been looking for it, Skold would not have missed the minute bob of Maeglin’s Adam’s Apple, a sign of embarrassment. “Paladin’s troops are still days away. I say we send a few troops to investigate this strange force, whatever it is. I know with everything going on it isn’t overly important, but I know I sensed it coming from the hills. I did send out scouts and they never returned. Whatever it is, it is dangerous. I think it best if we knew what it was before it becomes another problem.” “I see your point,” said Alagossa. “But we simply cannot spare the time.” “But my scouts,” Maeglin retorted. Despite himself Skold blinked in surprise. He’d never seen Maeglin speak out of turn like this, for like Cevna he was another military dog. “What was said is what will be,” Viktor snapped, voice dripping with contempt. His eyes bore into Maeglin. Maeglin’s head immediately dipped towards the ground. Did he feel ashamed for speaking out of turn? “Are we done with the chit chat?” Viktor demanded. “I’m sure General Cevna and Commander Skold have everything under control.” When no one offered an answer he turned his head to the three standing before him. “You’re dismissed.” Outside of the audience chamber, once General Cevna was well out of hearing range, Maeglin pulled Skold to a stop. He looked up and down the hallway conspiratorially before leaning in. “I don’t care what those damn counselors say, whatever that thing is up in those hills, it’s dangerous. And my troops...” “You think something happened to them,” Skold said, an observation not a question. “Yes.” “What are the chances orcs got to them if anything did get to them?” “What are the chances it’s something else and not orcs...if something did get them, of course.” “You still want to investigate it...even though the counselors said not to.” “Yes, and I want you to come with me.” “What if I don’t want to?” Skold asked, crossing his arms. “But you do want to.” Maeglin smiled knowingly. “I know you all too well.” Skold scowled and looked away, trying to hide his frustration. He didn’t like the idea of anyone knowing him: what he thought, how he felt, or anything else for that matter. Though he already knew Maeglin was right and they both knew what his answer was, Skold pretended to think on it. After a while he said, “Alright. How do you want to go about it?” “I think we should wait until nightfall, when it’s completely dark. The hills aren’t far away. If we hurry we could be back before nightfall.” Skold scoffed. “And what, are the two of us just supposed to go and face off with this mysterious force by ourselves, you and I?” “Of course not. I’m not saying we fight the thing, I just say we go so we know what it is, that way we can prepare. Problem is there’s not a person I trust on my security team who wouldn’t rat me out to the counselors except maybe my squire, sad as it sounds and is. Can you think of anyone? Like your sister.” “I can think of a couple of people.” “Good, ask them and get back with me. Do it quiet.” Skold had no trouble convincing Sonja; like himself, she was always looking for something to do, never one to sit around in complacence. Konstantine on the other hand, he wasn’t so sure. He knew he’d wounded Konstantine when he spurned him, and it hadn’t been the first time. Skold, no matter how hard he tried, couldn’t make himself feel guilty. Like Skold and Sonja, as third-in-command, Konstantine had his own quarters. It was there Skold found him, sitting on his canopied bed, running a tattered, oiled rag over the blade of his sword. His shoulder-length hair hung down, was not braided, something Skold had only seen a scant number of times. He could tell from the way Konstantine’s shoulders were slumped he was in a mood; it hung around him like a shroud. Skold cleared his throat. “What do you want?” Konstantine said flatly. Skold did not miss the barbed undercurrent of reproach in his voice. Skold closed the double doors so they were alone, so their conversation could not be heard. “Is that anyway to talk to your commander?” he asked, trying to keep his tone light. “I’m in the mood for your condescending shit,” Konstantine said. “Ah,” Skold said, walking around the bed so that he was now standing before Konstantine. “So you are pissed about what happened in the woods.” “I don’t know why I bother with you,” Konstantine mumbled, looking up. “You don’t deserve me, you heartless fiend.” “You’re right, I don’t. I wish I could convince you to chase after someone you do deserve. But I’ve told you before, many times, what you’re getting into. We’re in the middle of a war; we don’t have time for adolescent romance. And furthermore, I’ve repeatedly told you what I want, what this arrangement is about.” He paused. What he said next took great effort: “I will admit, when we’re alone I enjoy your company. But I do not love you.” “Do you love anyone, Skold?” Konstantine said. Skold couldn’t find the words to provide an honest answer. “I’m tired of this one-sided farce,” said Konstantine. Skold could feel himself growing impatience. “You wanted this!” Konstantine sprung to his feet, sword in hand. “Aye, and I want more!” “Well, you can’t have more!” Skold shouted back. “I can’t give you what I don’t have to give!” They stood in silence, both trying to catch their breath. Despite the wintery chill in the castle, Skold felt hot. Already he could feel himself receding back inside himself, building up his internal ice-wall. “I don’t have time to argue with you. I’ve been honest about my intentions from the beginning and still you cannot get the truth through your thick head. You will never have my heart, and that is the end of this conversation. I came to ask for your help, not to have a lovers’ spat.” Konstantine nodded. “What do you need, Commander?” Skold told him. Skold waited until midnight, when the halls inside the castle walls were mostly deserted, when everyone would be down in the ward, preparing for war. He met up with Sonja first, sword sheathed at his side, wearing all black clothes including a black wolf pelt to keep him warm. He was reluctant to go without any extra protection but since they were sneaking out of the Keep against the counselors’ orders they would need the cover of darkness as to not be detected by the guards along the out wall. “We’ll have to be quick about this if we’re to get in and out without anyone noticing we’re gone,” Sonja said for the third time, dressed exactly as he was. “So you’ve said twice before.” Maeglin, Valyuun, and Konstantine were waiting for them on the top floor of the Eastern wing, armed and ready to go. Maeglin’s shoulders relaxed, a sign of relief. “Did you think we wouldn’t come?” Skold asked with a smirk. “Aye, couldn’t help it. The very thought of committing treason has my stomach all in knots.” “Then we don’t go.” “No.” Maeglin shook his head. “I want to know what’s in those hills, and furthermore, what happened to my scouts.” “Why did we meet up here instead of down below?” Sonja asked. “Because, except for a few guards, the top is lightly guarded with everyone working down below.” Skold, barely listening, glanced at Konstantine. As soon as their eyes met Konstantine looked away. He’s still pissed about our conversation in his quarters, Skold thought, amused. He has the temperament of a child. The group of five made their way up to the battlements. Facing the land below, there were eight guards, two to a wing. It wasn’t difficult to move undetected. The towers and structures of the Keep provided plenty of shadows for them to be able to hide behind. The idea of being on the move again and possible danger ahead made Skold giddy. He wondered what they would find, if anything, up in the hills. Would they find out what had happened to Maeglin’s men or was this excursion they were taking pointless? Maeglin, in the lead, clenched a fist in the air, signaling for them to take to the shadows as a guard climbed the steps along the outer wall. The group melted into the shadows. Skold and Sonja exchanged a brief glance before Maeglin whispered that it was safe to move on again. It was a seventy foot drop to the ground. Such a drop would kill most mortals if they were to try but an elves’ bones were far more durable. Maeglin made the first jump, then Valyuun. Skold risked a quick glance to make sure no guards were looking in their direction and then vaulted into the darkness. A dizzy rushing sensation passed over him as the shadowy ground came up to meet him, the full moon and a million stars hanging over his head. His pelt billowed out behind him like a cape. Waves of impact ran up his legs as his feet met the ground; a second later Konstantine and Sonja landed beside him. “Let’s move!” Maeglin hissed, waving a hand impatiently through the air. Skold broke into a run, at Maeglin’s rear. As the distance between them and the Keep grew farther and farther apart the world darkened, the sky seeming to grow more vast, to weigh down on them. It was on nights like this that Skold was reminded just how feral the world could be; the dangers within it could sneak up on you with the fury and sneakiness of a starving animal. The ground became steep and rocky as they made their way down the mountain, towards flatter land, and beyond the plains, the hills. Out of habit borne from experience Skold’s eyes searched the area, the shadows by the rocks or the thin copse of trees where orcs or any other threat might hide. At one point he felt his heart speed up as the blood-curdling howl of a wolf cut through the air some distance to the west, followed by a second and then a third. He wasn’t aware of his hand going to his sword until Maeglin put a hand on his shoulder, urging him and the rest of the group on. Halfway to the hills Maeglin came to a stop. Even in the dark Skold could see he was frowning. “What is it?” Valyuun asked, looking around nervously. “I can barely feel it,” he said. “The presence was stronger yesterday...but now it’s, it’s fading, barely there...I can barely feel it.” “I feel it too,” said Sonja, “but it’s weak. We best hurry.” An hour later they found Maeglin’s scouts - what was left of them - at the top of the hills. At first Skold wasn’t sure what he was looking at. His brain had all of the pieces - it was just a matter of putting all those pieces together. Maeglin said he’d sent out four of his men to scout the area, and here their corpses lay, around a campfire. From where he stood, Skold could feel Maeglin’s shock - and his anger that his men had been slaughtered, their bodies mangled, as if someone had feasted on them. He knelt over one of his fallen scouts, looking down at the corpses half-mawed face. “What could have done this?” he whispered, voice quivering with a mixture of sorrow and rage, sweat-matted hair hanging down in front of his face. “It wasn’t an animal,” said Sonja. “See the shape of the teeth marks just left of the eye. They look humanoid.” “I don’t like this,” said Valyuun, looking around frantically. “I don’t like this one bit.” “None of us do,” said Konstantine, shooting Valyuun an annoyed glance. Skold circled around the camp. He could see tiny idents in the snow. He dug the snow out with his fingers, revealing them to be footprints. He swore. The footprints told very little: They did not belong to an orc - their feet were considerably larger than elves and humans alike. No, the shape of the prints were humanoid indeed, but whether it was fae or human was impossible to tell since most fae and humans’ feet were exactly alike. Skold was facing the remnants of the campfire when something caught his eye, laying in the snow. He held it up so that the silver moonlight caught it: it was a strange amulet made of bone. The amulet itself was round and had strange archaic symbols carved into it. He glanced at the others. Maeglin, Sonja, Konstantine, and Valyuun were standing in a circle, talking over the possibilities of might have happened to Konstantine’s men, unaware of Skold’s latest discovery. He was getting ready to call them over when a strong gust of wind blew at his back before he could move, and a voice spoke, seeming to come from the trinket itself. The voice, deep and male, said, “Reis ad’n klli fro mie.” And then Maeglin’s dead scout began to rise. They rose silently and with surprising grace and speed. Revenants! Skold thought. He stood, frozen to the spot, for the first time he could remember unsure what to do. I’m witnessing the use of Death Magic! Death Magic was one name for it, necromancy the other. Death Magic, the greatest sin that fae could ever commit. To use it, to be caught using it, was an immediate death sentence, the ultimate blasphemy towards life. For centuries there had been no known practitioners… There was no time. Already the undead were moving to attack, moving with a speed that no dead thing, undead or otherwise should have been capable of. Skold let out an inarticulate shout, the only warning he had time to give, and charged forward, sword in hand. As Maeglin, Sonja, Konstantine, and Valyuun looked around, alerted by Skold’s shout and the unsheathing of his sword, Skold slashed at the closet revenant. His sword cut through armor and flesh, dark ichor splattering the snow. The revenant stumbled forward, letting out a grunt. The smell of decay, of decomposing flesh hit him on all fronts. His throat clenched, his stomach rolled. The revenant turned, axe in hand, and gazed at him with empty lifeless eyes. Though there was no emotion in that white dead face, Skold sensed a murderous intent. The revenant hissed, teeth clinched, and charged at him, the axe whistling through the air despite the fact it only now had one arm. Skold managed to bring his sword up just in time to keep his head from being cleaved in two. He took another step back and almost lost his footing. Skold gathered his will, letting his body do the fighting for him, and chanted. "Fe’ri b’nur tehso woh tnhaeten ty’h lefi adn teh bdloo fo teh itnneto. B’nur tmhe wtih teh fe’ri fo trhie niss." (Translation: "Fire. Fire burn those who threaten thy life and the lives of the innocent. Burn him with the fire of his sins.") A rushing feeling went through Skold and the revenant immediately blazed into flame. And yet the flames seemed to have no effect whatsoever. The revenant kept coming. Skold’s muscles were beginning to ache from blocking relentless blow after relentless blow and he could feel himself growing alarmed, growing panicked, maybe even a little afraid… Then there was a brilliant flash of purple light that seemed to fill the sky and Skold was thrown from his feet. He felt as though he’d been socked in the stomach by an iron fist. The impact of hitting the ground made his teeth rattle in his head. He was on his back, looking up at the stars, trying to figure out what’d just happened, it’d happened so fast. Surely there was not another foe. He grabbed his sword and staggered to his feet just in time to see a new figure move swiftly through the air. One of its arms slashed through the air and a revenant’s head fell from its shoulders and went rolling over the edge of the hill and out of sight. Another lay on the ground. It took a moment for Skold to realize that its arms had been cut off and was now lying at its sides. It was trying futilely to get to its feet, grunting in what very much sounded like frustration; however Skold very much doubted that revenants could feel any kind of emotion...and if they did feel emotion then it was the only emotion their masters allowed them to feel. Who could say? The other revenants were...dead...again. Whoever this newcomer was, they had dispatched them quickly and efficiently. Skold raised his sword between him and the hooded stranger. “Who are you?” he demanded. “Put down your sword, Skold Gil’eppsie, son of Solomon and Lea Gil’eppsie,” the figure responded with a soft female voice. “I mean no harm.” She pulled down her hood.
  4. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 9

    Thank you Jeffrey, glad you like it.
  5. Most of what I have left, what hasn’t been taken from me, is in the medicine cabinet: my toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, aftershave, English Leather cologne, and my Night Out hairspray. I stare at these things, as if somehow, through will alone, I can bring everything my parents took from me back: my fancy New York City loft, my fancy blue 1958 Plymouth Fury with leather upholstery, my clothes, my books, my posters, my lover Tony, New York City itself. The only other thing Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda let me keep is my leather jacket; I suppose that’s something. I close the medicine cabinet and stand in the doorway that separates the bedroom from the bathroom. The bedroom is not a bedroom, it’s a prison cell: Blank white walls, no furniture except for the desk over by the window, the wood wardrobe, and the twin-sized bed. The only book I have is the only one, according to Uncle Bo, I need: The Bible. Seeing all this reflects all the bad feelings a person can feel: frustration, confusion, anger, rejection, dejection. I want to scream. I want to ask my mother, my father, my aunt and uncle why they’re doing this to me. I already know what they’d tell me: We’re just doing what’s best for you. We’re doing God’s work. Mom had said these words to me right before Dad and she got on the Ferry back to Portland. She’d looked sad, tears gleaming in her eyes like beads of salt. She’d reached for me, leaning forward to hug me, kiss me on the cheek. At the last second I’d stepped away for her. I couldn’t look at her. In the moment I hated her, hated Dad too, hated them all. I hated the world for being such an intolerable, cruel place. God’s work? I should have said to them. God has forsaken me. The door opens. Uncle Bo doesn’t even bother to knock. He peeks in at me, his eyes peering cautiously underneath his bushy salt-and-pepper flecked eyebrows, as if he expects to catch me in the middle of some carnal act. “Dinner’s done,” he says. “I’m not hungry,” I tell him, steeling myself, refusing to look away from his severe gaze. “Whether you’re hungry or not you must join us at the dinner table,” says Uncle Bo. I raise an eyebrow. I’m twenty-four-years-old. I haven’t been expected to eat at the dinner table like this since I was fifteen. I open my mouth to argue: You can’t make me do anything, I’m not a child, I won’t be bullied, those sorts of things. But before I can say them Bo says, “Don’t argue. Just do it. Things will be easier for you if you do.” And just like that, like someone taking a needle to a balloon, the fight is gone from me - it wasn’t like I had a whole lot to begin with. In this situation things will be a lot easier if I just go along with what I’m supposed to. After all it’s only for a year, I tell myself. Just a year. I can swing it. “I’ll be right behind you,” I tell him. … Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda are already seated by the time I step into the dining room. I’ve scrubbed my face and combed my hair, changing into a blue sweater Aunt Tilda gave me. Aunt Tilda sits at the head of the table, wearing a red house dress that has been pressed and ironed so much it looks stiff and uncomfortable. She has one ankle crossed over the other. In the middle of the table is a spiral-cut ham, a serving dish of mashed potatoes, another serving dish with peas, and another, this one square-shaped, with Jello. Hanging over the table is a small chandelier and overlooking the table is a large crucifix, a tortured Jesus held to the cross by nails. I can’t take my eyes off it. To me it would be a wrong place to have a crucifix. We pass the serving dishes around in awkward silence. The feeling I’ve done something wrong, some criminal act persists, digging into me with invisible needle points. There’s this ever-present pressure behind my eyes; all I want to do is bury my face in my hands and cry, but I won’t do it, not if I can help it, not in front of them. Not in front of Jesus either. Once all the serving dishes have been passed around and placed back in the center of the table, Aunt Tilda looks at me and smiles. Her smile is actually a relief, sweet and warm. Though I tell myself not to be fooled by its charm, that she’s the enemy, I feel myself relax a little. Given the tenseness of the past couple of weeks, since my parents’ came to the loft and told me they knew about Tony and I, losing the loft, having my car impounded, and being informed that if I did not undergo conversion therapy I would not be able to receive my degree, it feels like a lifeline. “Johnny, will you lead us in grace?” she says. “Sure,” I say, though it’s the last thing I want to do. There’s never been a time when I’ve felt so scorned by God, or when I’ve been so angry at Him, or questioned His existence with such intensity. Still I close my eyes, clear my throat, and go through it just as I would have if I was having dinner at my parents’ church or at their house: “Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts, which we are about to receive from your bounty. Through Christ our Lord, amen.” “Amen,” Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda murmur in unison. We begin to eat. I make sure to put a napkin in my lap, cutting into my slice of ham with precise back-and-forth motions, sitting with my back straight and shoulders back. I take small bites, chew slowly. I tell Aunt Tilda everything tastes delicious even though it doesn’t. In fact the food has no taste, not to me. Not the mashed potatoes, not the peas, not the ham - none of it. “Thank you, dear,” my aunt says. Uncle Bo take a sip from his glass of wine. They’re both having wine - I’m not, I’m having apple juice. I wonder if I’m allowed to have wine, a ridiculous notion at twenty-four. And yet, I’m afraid to ask, I’m afraid of being told no. “Now is a good time to go over some rules,” Uncle Bo says, glancing up at me briefly from his plate. I say nothing, simply waiting. I try to make sure I have an interested expression on my face, as if I give a damn, as if my insides aren’t ready to collapse in on themselves. “Firstly, we have set you up with a psychotherapist at the institution. You will be meeting with him next week. We will be taking you to the appointments. Classes at the college start next months. We will be going with you to get enrolled.” Uncle Bo speaks in a gruff monotone voice. I’m gripping the sides of the table so hard it hurts. My insides quake. It takes every bit of will I have to quell the rage pulsing through me, to keep from flipping over the table. This is ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. How can they treat me this way, as if I’m a child? “Curfew is at nine-thirty every night.” “Ten-thirty on the weekends,” Aunt Tilda says, exchanging a quick glance with Uncle Bo. Something passes between them, a sort of silent tug-of-war. Uncle Bo sighs, nods reluctantly. It seems Aunt Tilda is in my corner a little. But the realization doesn’t stop me from finally rupturing: it’s all too much. I can’t help it. I’ve kept it all in for as long as I can. “This is unbelievable,” I say. The room grows very quiet, very still. They’re both looking at me, surprised. It brings me great joy to see that expression on their faces, especially Uncle Bo. I imagine he’s not used to people talking back to him. “I’m twenty-four. I don’t need a curfew - and I’m not going to follow it.” “You will,” Bo says. “You’re living under our roof.” “More like being held captive.” “We’re just doing what’s in your best interest,” Aunt Tilda says, voice quivering, handkerchief bunched up in her hands. “And how would you know what’s best for me?” “By what the Lord says is best for you,” Uncle Bo says. He raps the cover of the Bible with his knuckles. “It’s all in here.” I know what’s in the Bible, I want to tell him. I’ve read it many times. But there’s nothing I can tell them that will change anything. This situation is a nightmare in which there is no waking up. My eyes begin to burn, begin to fill with tears. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’ve never felt so humiliated, so destitute in all my life? I get up from the table, pushing the chair back with my inner thighs. “I’m going to my room,” I tell them. “You haven’t been dismissed,” says Uncle Bo. “Go to hell,” I say. “You first,” he says back. “Go upstairs, then, to your room,” he says. “Don’t come down until you’re ready to repent for your sins and make peace with your aunt and I for your rudeness.” I pivot on my heels, storm out of the kitchen, taking the stairs three at a time. By then the tears flood out of me, hot and salty. I slam my door shut and fling myself on the bed. Exhaustion hits me swiftly, zapping all the strength and resistance out of my body. Everyone, my parents, my aunt and uncle, has told me they’re only doing what’s best for me. They’re utterly convinced of this, I know. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling as though I’ve been betrayed, as though someone has stabbed me repeatedly in the chest. I ache for home. For my loft. I ached to be back with Tony. “God,” I whisper. “Help me. Won’t you help me?”
  6. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 3: The Elan Vital

    Dionysia Martell could feel the eyes of the three sailors at her back; their gaze slid over her like something slippery and wet, like snails perhaps. She could hear their low, murmuring voices, their ill-concealed snickers. It didn’t matter that Dionysia was coltish in every possible: broad faced, broad shouldered, big shapeless bosom, bow-legged, or that she’d cut her hair so it only came down to her neck because the lice infestation aboard the ship was horrible. She was the only female aboard The Elan Vital, the only one with a “cunt” as they would’ve put it. Dionysia pretended not to hear it; she’d been listening to it for the better part of a month, the eyes of one man or another turned on her, their ruddy faces alight with desperation and the contemplation of sin. At first it frightened her. What would stop them from ganging up on her, raping her? It wasn’t as if their father would be able to stop them, even if he was a priest. Travel by sea had made him sickly, not to mention the depression, and the constant drinking. Even now he was down in the cabin the captain had provided him, for three pence. There were two cots and a wooden chest. Dionysia could no longer stand to be in the cabin with her father, could no longer stand the smell of his stink, his vomit, the shroud which had surrounded him the moment he burned down their cottage in the prairie. It was a black thing, this shroud, and it frightened Dionysia more than anything: more than the sailors with their wandering, lustful eyes, the constant threat of Paladin's plague, the threat of extinction. It didn’t help that Dionysia wasn’t dealing with her own grief over the loss of her sisters, her mother. The plague had taken them. She remembered how Philip Martell had stood over them, laying quilts over their body, his eyes devoid of all emotion. His crucifix hung around his neck; he held his Bible in one hand and a torch in the other. Already their little cottage was filled with the stink of rot, of bile, of gas. “May God hold you all in His arms,” he’d whispered. Then he’d turned to Dionysia and told her to wait outside with their mule, Peter, named after the apostle. She was reluctant to go - she wanted to watch them burn, wanted to watch the fire cleanse their flesh of the plague and set their souls free - but she never argued with her father. Despite her size and clumsiness, Dionysia had been the quietest of her five siblings, all girls, the one who was always watching and observing and learning. She remembered standing in the snow with her father, and their mule, the few precious items they were taking with them in a saddlebag, watching the flames billowing through the stained-glass windows of Dionysia’s home, a home Phillip had built with his own hands. In the moment Dionysia could not cry - she’d already cried all the tears it was possible to cry. Now the wind blew at her, blowing her pale blonde hair back from her forehead. Despite the quilt she had wrapped around her shoulders, she shivered. She could no longer feel her cheeks; the tears oozing from the corners of her eyes had turned them sticky. “You shouldn’t be standing out here,” a voice said. “It’s cold.” Dionysia turned to face Pip, the youngest person on the boat besides her. She was seventeen and he was two years older than her. His hair was long, the color of dirty straw, his face scarred from gouterose. He was not a handsome fellow but Dionysia enjoyed his company, though she would never admit it out loud. “I couldn’t stay in the cabinet,” she said, giving him a shy smile. “Not another second longer.” He nodded sympathetically. “I understand. I imagine you’re pr’tty uncomfortable.” She shrugged. “It could be worse, I suppose. Do you ever get used to it?” “After a whil’.” The first several times they spoke, Dionysia had the hardest time understanding Pip: His accent was so strong and he had a habit of not pronouncing certain letters. After a couple of weeks she’d managed to pick up on how he talked. “How is your father?” Pip asked. “Same as usual. Drunk and lying in a puddle of his own bile I expect.” “He’s a priest, ‘n’t he?” “I don’t know what he is anymore,” she said, looking at the choppy tide of the Mediterranean Sea. Or who he is, she added silently, unable to give voice to the rest of the thought. I don’t think he does either. Pip stood next to her, gripping the side of The Elan Vital. Dionysia was now quite used to the constant rocking of the ship, the way the floor was tilting from one side to the next beneath her feet, a sort of seesawing motion. Up close she could see the beads of sweat that wetted his forehead. How could he be sweating in this weather? There were dark circles under his eyes. A sense of dread curled its way around her heart, squeezing like a tapeworm. Her mother, Diane, had been the first to get sick; then her sister Marie, then Kirsten, then Daphne, then Annika, then Milla. And it started out with the sweats - that was the first symptoms of Paladin's Scourge. Then the skin would begin to darken until it became black, the hair would begin to fall out, they’d begin to cough up the black goo...The black goo was how it spread. If it so much as got on your flesh then you were damned… Or it could just be a regular fever, she told herself. I could catch it too if I keep standing out here like the silly goose I am. “I better check on my father,” she said, not just to get out of the cold, but to get away from Pip. The idea of catching it, after watching it take away everything she knew and loved until there was just herself and her father, terrified her - and she was ashamed for feeling this way. Pip was the sweetest boy...so very sweet. “Good night,” he shouted, voice rising above the squawk of the seagulls swooping above their heads. She turned, walking across the deck, pulling up the gown of her faded blue chemise just as her mother Sasha had taught her. She was halfway across the deck when she almost ran into Ambrose, The Elan Vital’s second-in-command. He was tall and whip-thin, his long hair greasy. “Hey, girly, where ya goin’?” he asked. His breath hit her, smelling of old meat. Her stomach rolled, her throat worked. She was grateful she hadn’t eaten in the past day. “I’m just going to check on my father,” Dionysia. She doesn’t like the drunken look in Ambrose’s eyes, the way it roams over her body, pausing at her bosom. “Excuse me,” she said. Before she could brush past him, Ambrose grabbed her wrist and wrenched her back. “C’mere, pretty thing,” he said, his stink hitting her with the force of a mallet. “Let’s have some fun, aye? What d’ya say?” His hands reached under her gown, cold knobby fingers pulling at her knickers. “Get off me!” she half-screamed half-gasped, turning her head away from the assault of his breath. She planted her hands against his bony chest and shoved with all her might. Ambrose fell back, his backside hitting the deck of the ship. He looked up at her with shocked eyes, eyes that were quickly engulfed with fury. “You bitch!” he shouted. “You’ll be sorry!” Four sailors, who were wrestling a net full of fish over the edge turned to look at the source of commotion. Dionysia looked at them looking at her. Good, she thought. Let them see what will happen to them should any of them try to touch me. With that she gave Ambrose three kicks to the crotch, something which would surely have her sisters and mother gasping in shock in heaven. Ambrose opened his mouth to scream but only a choked gasp came out. His eyes bulged out of his head and his face was a dark shade of scarlet. Not wanting to stick around for when he got on his feet, Dionysia broke into a jog, ducking through the entrance that would take her below deck. She slid into the cabin her father had rented and closed the door behind her. Except for the candles sitting on the flat wooden chest in the corner of the room, the cabin was completely dark. She could barely make out the form of her father curled up in his cot, legs drawn towards his chest. He was such a small man...shorter than her mother had been, wispy. She remembered how small he’d looked standing in front of their burning cottage, the leviathanian flames reaching towards the sky. But not once had he flinched or turned away. He seemed so courageous… And yet, now, curled up in his cot, Phillip seemed so small, a feeble man who’d lost everything. Dionysia’s heart ached for him, ached for his affection. You haven’t lost everything, she thought. You still have me, your last remaining daughter. Do I not count for anything? Or will I always be your least favorite daughter, the least prettiest of the six? She’d never been the apple in Phillip’s eye, or her mother’s for that matter. She hadn’t been as graceful, didn’t know how to sing, or dance or do any of the things women were supposed to do. When she prayed to the Lord she always peeked one eye open to see who else was praying. She was the one who always asked questions, who felt a smidgen, just a smidgen (was it really only a smidgen or was it more) the existence of God. But she’d loved them all: her sisters, her mother. She’d loved them more then any of them could possibly know...but they were all dead. Paladin’s plague had claimed their lives. All she had left was her father...and she loved him now more than ever. Suddenly she felt tired...so tired. I’ll go over to my cot and sleep until dinner time. Already her confrontation with Ambrose was slipping from the front of her mind to the back. As long as she was in the cabin with her father she was safe, safe and soft...No one would dare touch a man of the Cloth. She went over to her father’s sleeping form. The smell of whiskey and stink coming from him made her stomach turn but she refused to let them deter her. “I love you, Papa,” she whispered. She stooped, kissed his sweaty temple, where his greying hair seemed to grow thinner with every passing day. Then she climbed into the cot and brought her knees up to her chest just as her father was doing. She closed her eyes and dreamed of her sisters. … She sat under the trunk of her favorite tree, sitting atop a quilt; the quilt was soft, stiched together impeccably by her mother’s small dexterous hands. She holds a tattered copy of Beowoulf, the epic poem. She was beginning to get enraptured in the poem when she could hear the sound of her sisters’ passage through the pasture. Dionysia, no matter how hard she tried not to, looked up. She wanted not to feel the love that often came with the jealousy. But she always looked and when she did she always felt a swelling of love for them - they were, after all, her blood. So as she watched them dart towards the cottage, dresses clinging their wet skin, dark hair cascading down their shoulders, she felt that confusing mixture of love and resentment. Dionysia could see her mother standing in the doorway, watching them sternly. Chickens staggered drunkenly across the grassland, their hips swinging from side to side. Though she had her hands on her hips and her brow was creased together, Dionysia knew her mother wasn’t really upset with her five beautiful daughters - how could you be upset with Maria, Kirsten, Daphne, Annika, and Milla when they were just so perfect? Now Dionysia on the other hand...her story was of a different matter entirely. “I told you girls to stay out of the river!” Diane shouted at them, her cheeks flushed. “You never listen, you filthy girls!” But even as she scolded them didn’t Dionysia detect just the faintest trace of laughter? “Sorry, Mama,” Maria said, wringing water out of her hair. “We were just having a little fun while the water’s still warm. Winter’s coming.” “You should of joined us, Dionysia,” Annika said. “ T’was a lot of fun.” “Dionysia swim?” Daphne laughed, pointing her narrow nose up at the sky. “She’d probably just sink like a stone. Besides she is far too busy reading her books to hang out with her sisters.” Dionysia’s insides twisted with a sudden jagged-edged fury. Her hands, gripping the corners of the book, curled into fist. Not for the first time she fantasized about pummeling her sister’s pretty face with her fists, wiping that crooked smug grin off her face, sin or no sin. Then a strong gust of wind blew and that was when things began to change. They were too busy laughing, her five beautiful sisters and even her beautiful mother, to notice the dark blemishes beginning to spread across their skin, starting from the tips of their fingers and spreading quickly up their arms. Dionysia stood up; the book tumbled out of her lap, into the grass. I did this, she thought. I did this with my anger, with my sinful anger. Which, in reality, would have been a ridiculous line of logic. She did not possess the magic to make such things happen. She was human, not fae. But this was a nightmare and such logic does not exist in nightmares. Their hair began to fall out in clumps. Black ooze dribbled down their chins, down the front of their handmade dresses, from the corner of their eyes. And all Dionysia can do is sit there and watch. … Something was wrong; before she even opened her eyes, Dionysia could sense it. She rolled over. Her father was up, not lying in his cot. His shoulders were slouched; silence and shadow hung around him like a deadly shroud. She watched as he lifted his arms and put on his crucifix. Somewhere above her footsteps moved rapidly across The Elan Vital’s deck, anxious footsteps. The ship groaned wearily as it rocked back and forth furiously. Was that the crack of thunder she heard? God help us, are we in the middle of a storm? “Papa?” she hissed. “Papa, what’s wrong?” Her father looked at her; the shadows had filled his eyes and the sharp edges of his cheek bones, giving him a skeletal look far more frightening than any nightmare she’d ever or could ever have. His lips were a grim, hard line. In that moment Dionysia yearned to see him smile again. “It’s Pip,” he said. He turned away from her as if those two words were explanation enough. Then he ducked out of the cabin, his footfalls fading into silence. Pip? What could possibly be wrong with Pip? Then she remembered how feverish he looked. God no, she prayed silently, wrestling to get out of the cot. She half-stumbled-half-tumbled to the floor. She pulled her quilt, which was really too cold for this weather, around her shoulders and stumbled towards the door. Oh God please no. Her mind, still delirious with sleep and half-remembered nightmares, raced. She clambered up the steps and exited the cabin. As soon as she stepped into the night, she was assaulted by the furious force of the storm. Rain water plummeted from the sky, battering at every inch of her body: her hair, her shoulders, her shoulder blades. It was so cold it stole her breath away; she’d gone from one nightmare straight into another. Part of her yearned to race back into the cabin, for even though it was cold it was at least, for the most part, dry; but another part had to follow Phillip, make sure he was safe, and furthermore to see what was going on with Pip. The twenty-two sailors that lived and worked on The Elan Vital were huddled at the front of the ship. “The priest is here!” someone announced. “Make way, make way!” the captain of the ship, Atticus boomed; other than Pip, he’d been the only one to treat Dionysia with kindness - it made her wonder how he could work and live in the company of such deviants. “Let the man of the Cloth through, damn you all!” The crowd parted enough to let Phillip through and then closed before Dionysia could chance a glance at what had become of Pip. Looking around, Dionysia grabbed a part of the mast and hoisted herself carefully up onto a crate which was strapped down by coils of rope. She could just barely see over Atticus’ massive head. He was standing in between Pip who was tied to the wooden stern pulpit. His eyes were swollen shut; blood dripped from a gash in his forehead. He was hunched over, as if the very act of standing was torture. But worst yet was the black goo dripping from his mouth: a death-omen. “What have you done with this boy?” Phillip shouted, his voice barely audible over the hair-raising claps of thunder. Ambrose said something but Dionysia couldn’t tell what it was: the scarf he wore around his mouth muffled his voice. She watched her father pull up his own scarf. He said something in response, his own voice unintelligible. Then Ambrose waved his arms in agitated motions. Whatever conflict was going on between the two of them it wasn’t going well. Her father rose to his full height, barely coming past Ambrose’s chest. Then Atticus stepped in between them and pushed both of them back. Dionysia cursed, conflicted, wishing she could hear what was going on, what was being said, and glad she couldn’t at the same time. Her father turned to Atticus. Another gesture. A moment later Phillip was putting on a pair of thick leather gloves. He knelt before Pip and reached out to touch him. Pip’s body jerked, trying to get away from his touch; thick black tears seeped from his bruised eyelids. Her father said something and Pip’s head made a jerky up-and-down motion; he was nodding at something Dionysia’s father had said. Her father began to pray, his mouth moving silently to say the words. Dionysia knew the words well. She didn’t realize tears were streaming from her eyes, mixing in with the tears of the sky, until she began to say the words along with him. She wish she had her own crucifix with her but it was back in the cabin and there wasn’t time to grab it. Together, her father and she said the prayer: “O Loving Father and Savior, send your angels to carry the soul of your servant from this earth to the heavenly place of eternal and everlasting life. Let family and friends who have passed before in faith be reunited in joy with the departed. Forgive any wrongs that have been committed and welcome this beloved spirit into the warm embrace of your unending peace. Amen.” Then just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse they did. Atticus unsheathed his sword and in one fluid motion cut the ropes holding Pip to the stern. Even from where she stood Dionysia could hear the thud of Pip’s body hitting the deck floor. Then, as one, on Atticus’ orders, the crew lifted Pip into the air. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” her father cried. His thinning hair was matted to his skull and his clothes clung to his flesh. “I’m sorry, this is the last thing I want to do,” said Atticus, “but we can’t have him on the ship. He’ll kill all of us.” “No Captain!” Pip bawled helplessly, kicking and thrashing to no avail. “Please don’t, please don’t throw me overboard!” This can’t be happening, Dionysia thought. It just can’t. Dear God won’t You intervene for once, just this once. Before she knew what she was doing she was running forward. She didn’t know what she intended to do she just knew she had to do something. How could they just condemn Pip in such a heartless, inhumane way? Pip who had been so kind to her, from the very moment her father and she boarded The Elan Vital. “No!” she screamed. “You can’t!” Ambrose came out of nowhere and backhanded her hard enough to knock her back into a nearby crate. “Stay out of it, girly!” he shouted. She could only stare, stunned, helpless, blood running from her nose. Pip continued to scream and kick, sounding like a sheep who knows it’s getting ready to be taken to be slaughtered. Then, as one, the crew threw Pip overboard. “No!” she screamed, clambering to her feet. She leaned over the railing. There Pip was, a small shape thrashing and bobbing over the surface. His head kept disappearing; she remembered him sheepishly telling her over dinner one evening that he couldn’t swim. “Pip!” she screamed, throat raw. She reached for him as if through some divine miracle she could pull him out of the water. She wished through will alone she could make it so. Phillip appeared at her side. He gently laid his hands on her shoulders and led her away from the railing. “C’mon, child,” he said gently. “There’s nothing we can do for him. We can only hope he’s with God.” What if there is no God? she thought. What if there is no Heaven or Hell, no Satan? Where would he go then?
  7. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 9

    I decide to take Duane’s advice: see what there is to see, take a day around the town. I print off my resume which I have saved on Google Docs while I eat a bagel with fat free basil-flavored cream-cheese spread on top and a glass of orange juice. Duane is still lounging around in bed. I still feel guilty about what happened earlier this morning. I can’t imagine how freaked out he must have been. Before leaving the house, I put my resume and scrapbook of articles into my little faux-reptile suitcase which Duane bought for me as an anniversary present one year. I want to take my scrapbook with me just in case whoever I speak with at the Crier would like to see it. Twice on the way out to the Jeep I almost went back, second-guessing myself, telling myself the scrap book was too much. I’d be halfway down the driveway and stop, turning to look back at the house, then at the suitcase in my hand, and then the Jeep. I’m always second-guessing myself, trying to predict how things are going to go, wondering if I’m being overambitious or not being ambitious enough. Finally I give myself a mental kick in the ass and get in the Jeep. As I back out of the driveway I make a mental note to talk to Duane about getting another car when I get back. I use the Google Maps app on my phone to find the Crier. I can’t quite bring myself to stop at gas stations and ask for directions; when you do that, at least in my experience, people look at you as if you have a third eye in the middle of your forehead. The building I park in front of surprises me: The newspaper is a big Victorian style house with a sign outside with The Adermoore Crier , painted in blue, with white shutters. Cute is the first word that comes to mind, something you would only see in a small town. There are less than a dozen parallel parked vehicles on a gravel driveway. The house itself sits on four-and-a-halfish acres of land. What a strange place to put a newspaper. Still, it’s charming, and I like it. I walk through the front door into the foyer, which has been nicely converted into a lobby. The receptionist, a middle-age woman, who in my mind could be Tina Fey’s stunt double (the name on the front of her frilly blue blouse says her name is Liz), asks if she can help me. I tell her I’d like to talk with whoever does the hiring around here if so-and-so had the time - I say it a lot more professionally of course. “That would be Anita,” Liz says, looking at me over her glasses. “Anita? Okay.” I nod, purse my lips, make sure I do my best to look thoughtful. “Didn’t you just move into the lighthouse?” Liz asks. “Yes,” I say, flashing her a toothy grin. She beams. “I can’t imagine how excited you must be. We’re excited too. It’ll keep the gossip wheel spinning for weeks.” I’m not sure if I like the term gossip wheel or not but I laugh as if I do. The charms on Liz’s silver bracelet make little tinkling sounds as she points to a leather padded bench, which sits next to a potted plant I don’t know the name of; the charms are, of course, in the shape of sailboats and sea shells. I sit down, briefcase laying neatly across my lap, and watch Liz walk through a set of double doors. I can hear the ringing of telephones and the quiet murmur of multiple voices and the rapid tapping of keyboards. The inside of the house smells of a mixture of sea salt and pine. It isn’t long before Liz returns. “Anita’s office is this way.” I’m surprised: In New York I would have had to wait two, three weeks - maybe even a month - to get an interview. The surprise must’ve shown on my face because Liz laughs as she leads me into the main part of the newspaper. “Things aren’t quite as fast-paced here at the Crier as what you might be used to in New York.” She knows I’m from New York! Already people knew where Duane and I live and where we come from. What other things do the townspeople of Adermoor Cove already know about us? I don’t want to think about it. As we pass the desk I spot Cassie. She sits at her little desk, which is tucked into a corner, talking into the phone, writing something down on a yellow Post-It note. She sees me and smiles, her eyes lighting up with excitement. I wave back, self-consciously running a hand through my hair. Starting down a hallway, Liz and I swing left into a bedroom-converted-into-an-office. The doorway hangs open; a plaque grafted into the door says ANITA BOUCHARD, CHIEF-IN-EDITOR in the same font used on the sign outside. A woman sits behind a large oak desk. She looks up, computer screen reflected in her purple-framed horn-rimmed glasses. Her hair, a mixture of blonde and grey, is cut page-boy style; from the slant of her head I can tell she’s wearing mascara and a little bit of lipstick but nothing else and she really doesn’t need anything else. With the high cheekbones, the aristocratic-upturn at the end of her nose, and her blue-and-green striped dress I can’t help but think of Michelle Pfeiffer. “Thanks, Liz,” Anita says, giving Liz a friendly if not slightly uppity smile. My mind, which has a habit of latching onto random details, and is always looking for the hidden meaning in someone’s expression, files the smile away. “Call for me if you need anything,” Liz says. There’s nothing in her smile or body language that hints at any sort of abuse. I feel something inside me relax. Liz closes the door behind her, leaving me alone with Anita. Anita stands up and offers her hand; her nails are long, painted emerald green, and well manicured. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Taylor.” “You too, Mrs. Bouchard.” “Call me, Anita, please. I hate being called Mrs.” “Well if I have to call you Anita then you have to call me Jude.” She laughs, sits back down. “Jude it is, then. So Cassie, the young lady who came by your new home the other day, says you’re looking for a job here at the newspaper. How is the new home by the way?” “It’s going great. It’s still taking some getting used to.” “I imagine.” Anita shakes her head. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a lighthouse. Adermoor Cove must be a pretty big change from Manhattan.” I almost tell her, We’re just trying it out, and then bite my tongue. That wouldn’t be a smart thing to say, not if I’m going to try getting a job here. “I also read your book,” says Anita. I titter nervously. Is there anyone on this island who hasn’t read my damned book? She takes off her glasses. “It was very beautiful and...brazen. I’m not so easily impressed...or touched. You write almost as if it happened to you.” Like Cassie, I don’t tell Anita that the person in the book was me or that Cassie said the exact same thing. Anita asks me if I plan to write another book or if Get the Lead Out was just a one-and-done deal; I tell her I hope to write another. “I have my resumé if you would like to see it as well as a scrapbook of articles I wrote while at the New York Times.” I hand her a copy of my resumé. She skims over it for half a minute or so and hands it back. “I brought my scrapbook just in case you want to take a look,” I say, nervously. “I don’t need to look at it. I already know you’re qualified.” She takes off her glasses and looks at me directly. Anita has very beautiful green eyes. “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you this is quite a step down from some of the things you’d write about in New York.” “Cassie told me,” I say. “I’m afraid we’d bore you to death here.” I lie and tell her she had nothing to be worried about. “There’s a swimming competition happening at our local college next month. The Lewis & Clark Pioneers against The Adermoor Cove Pirates. Would you be willing to cover it?” It wouldn’t be my first time covering a sports game, so why not? Hopefully by the time the match happens Duane will be working at the college; and hopefully by then we’ll be somewhat adjusted to our new lives. I tell Anita I don’t think it will be a problem. “Great,” she says. Then Anita surprises me by adding, “I’m excited.” I inwardly exhale in relief. “Me too.” I leave Anita’s office and almost run headfirst into Cassie. I literally have to put on the brakes to keep from running into her. “How did it go?” she asks, hands clasped behind her back. “Anita wants me to cover the swimming match next month.” “The one at the college.” “That’s the one.” Cassie grins, showing her perfectly white teeth. “We should celebrate. Wanna grab lunch? It’s on me.” “Now?” “Yes, now? There’s this family restaurant/sports bar called Goofy Gale’s, they have these buffalo chips that are really good.” “Okay, sure.” “Just let me grab my purse. We’ll go in my car!” … I haven’t been in a college bar since my days at NYU. Even then, when I was younger, I didn’t go to the bars often. Sport jocks never did anything for me. Everything inside Goofy Gales has this polished wooden look: the tables, counters, and walls; a rail separates the bar part from the family part. We’re sitting in the family part. Lady Gaga sings about her poker face on the speakers. There’s all kinds of advertisements for beers hanging on the walls: Budweiser, Heineken, Corona Extra. I order a bacon-deluxe cheeseburger with ketchup and mayonnaise on top; Cassie orders a chicken salad sandwich. Apparently sides don’t come with the meal, you have to pay for them separately. We share a side of buffalo chips, which are just as delicious as she said they’d be, especially if you dip them in ranch dressing. Apparently Cassie and I are ranch dressing fiends. Already we have so much in common. I feel like we’re kindred souls. As she pays for the bill she studies me for a long, quiet, considering moment. “What?” I say. “I figured out who it is you look like,” she says. “Who?” I’m egotistical enough to truly be curious. She shakes her head, smiling bashfully. “You’ll think I’m stupid.” “No I won’t. I promise.” “I’ll have to show you.” “So show me.” Cassie takes me over to the English Department, a tall brick building just a few blocks away from Goofy Gale’s. As we take the elevator to the second floor I think, This is where Duane might be working soon. The picture Cassie shows me is framed, hanging on a wall among other framed pictures. She points at it. “Him,” she says. “You look just like him.” I look. I gasp. I feel cold chills race down my spine. She’s pointing at Johnny; or at least it looks like Johnny. He’s sitting at a park bench, gazing at the camera. His smile is gentle and sad at the same time. He smiles as if it hurts him to do so. The picture is in black-and-white and the resolution is grainy, but it’s just clear enough to see what Cassie means, clear enough for me to see his leather greaser jacket and the pins stuck to it. The Popeye pin. The antique (by today’s standard) Coke bottle. For the first time since waking up this morning I think about the episode that happened last night at the lighthouse; I remember how Johnny had thrown himself over the railing and how I’d almost fallen after him trying to catch him. “Do you have a napkin?” I ask Cassie, unable to take my eyes off the photo. “Yeah.” She pulls one out of her purse and hands it to me. Just as I knew it would my nose starts to bleed. ... I find the accordian file on a Monday, a week-and-a-half after having lunch with Cassie. Duane’s at Adermoor Cove College for a job interview and I’m alone at the house. Today I’m in manic mode: After Duane left for his interview I fed the chickens and swept out the barn and finished painting what will be my office. Having just finished up the dishes, I’ve removed all the china Vanessa left behind from the cabinet, set it carefully on the breakfast nook and sprayed the inside of the cabinet with lemon-scented Pledge. The Kills plays on my radio which sits on the counter next to the sink. Because the cabinet is mounted on the wall and I’m so damned short I have to grab a chair and stand on top. It’s not until I finish wiping out the cabinet that I notice the accordion file. It’s half leaning against the wall, covered it dust; it looks as if it’s been sitting there for some time. Cobwebs and dust bunnies cling to the sides. I don’t want to touch it with my hands - I’m terrified of spiders - but I’m too curious just to leave it sitting up there. I hop down from the chair, grab the wire broom and climb back up onto the chair. Using the bristly part of the broom I scoot the accordion file closer to me. I grab it and brush my fingers along the side, carefully picking away the dust bunnies and cobwebs, looking for spiders; there’s several water stains on the front of the accordion file. Who knows how long this has been up here just collecting dust. Did Vanessa set it up there at one point and just forget? I know I shouldn’t but I’m simply too curious. Making sure I’m balanced carefully on the chair still, I snap open the file and peer inside. There’s a single document inside, neatly held together by a clip. Hmmmm, how interesting. It’s the perfect time for a break; I’ve been going for two hours. I briefly wonder how Duane’s doing, how his interview is going. I hit the pause button on the radio, pour myself a glass of iced tea, and sit down at the breakfast nook. I reach into the accordion file and pull out the document. It’s pretty thick: thick enough to be a manuscript. I flip curiously through the pages of the document, not really looking at the words...just flipping...the way you might size up a book before officially starting to read it. The pages are yellowed with age, the blocky font, indicating it was typed on a typewriter, was smudged in places. There’s an odd thrumming sensation passing through my body. I flip back to the title page. The title reads as such: My Life at Adermoor Cove. Below that: By Johnny Duplesis. My insides go cold. My mind flashes back to when Cassie showed me the picture back in the English Department at the building. Could it be? Could it be the same Johnny? No, no it can’t be, I tell myself. Johnny is just in my head - Thomas too. Up until now I’d managed to put the picture of Johnny out of my mind. But now the shock of it was hitting me with the speed and force of a freight train. And now there was this...this document, sitting in the accordion file on top of the cabinet...waiting for me. I want to call Duane, tell him to get his ass home right now, on the double. But I know I can’t do that: He’s at an important job interview and he doesn’t need me to have a panic attack and screw things up. I have to be a big boy and deal with this on my own. Besides part of me wants to know, part of me has to know. There’s always been a small voice in the back of my mind that whispered to me as I spoke to therapists, psychiatrists, and stayed in institutions sometimes two and three weeks at a time. The voice whispered I wasn’t crazy, that this wasn’t all in my head. Now that very voice spoke in its familiar no-bullshit tone: You’ve always known it was real. you know it now. Since you stepped on the ferry. You’ve always felt some invisible force was leading you here, to this very spot, this very moment. Another voice says: What do you think the spells of deja vu and nosebleeds are? They’re clues. I swallow. I force the voices out of my mind. I flip to the first page begin to read. The first sentence says: I came to Adermoor Cove on March 3rd, in the year 1959.
  8. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 8

    “The lighthouse, full of dust and old spirits, moans and groans like something alive...” I open my eyes. I’m lying on my side, in the dark. I can see Duane’s uneven outline just inches away from me, the contours of his body breaking the consistency that comes with darkness. I knew I’d heard someone speak, a voice had woken me up - a familiar voice. Nothing, I tell myself. You didn’t hear anything. Just go back to sleep. Before I can close my eyes, a voice says, “All these sounds used to bother me. It would wake me up in the middle of the night and I’d think someone was in the house...” My eyes fly open. My mouth immediately turns as dry as a desert and an icy chill crawls up my flesh. Someone’s in the house...someone. I try to say Duane’s name but all that comes out is an airless whisper. So I turn to face the intruder. Johnny stands in the doorway, looking at me with the eyes of a lunatic, with the eyes of someone who has been locked away in the dark for too long. I haven’t seen Johnny in...Years? It’s been a while. I don’t want to see him - seeing him meant I was losing it again, meant I was losing the tenuous grip I had on reality, a grip that while weak, had taken so long to build. “You’re not here,” I whisper under my breath so as not to wake Duane; I whisper it like a chant. “You’re not here, you’re not here, you’re not here...” Warm tears, desperate-tears, afraid-tears trickle through my fingers. I’m shaking so hard the world is quaking all around me. “Look at me,” Johnny says, almost gently. I look up. His face shines with its own internal light, where shadows can’t touch it. He’s like a ghost. I’ve never seen him shine like this before. It’s not until now, after all this time, that I realize just how much we look alike. He could almost be my twin...or my doppelganger or whatever. We have the same golden-brown hair, same grey eyes, and narrow nose. We’re the same height. How could I not notice this before? But there are differences, it just takes me a minute to take those details in: His hair actually has a reddish tint to it; his nose has a sharp angle at the tip as if it’d been broken at some point in the past (Hallucinations don’t have pasts, I thought, especially when they’re just extensions of your own self-conciousness); and he’s wearing a black leather studded jacket, the kind John Travolta wore in Grease. His hair is slicked back pompadour-style. I forgot how much of a cool-cat Johnny is. There are several pins on the lapel of his jacket; they gleam in his almost-preternatural light. One of them was in the shape of Popeye at the wheel of a sailboat. The other was an antique Coke bottle cap, the kind of Coke bottle caps they had back in the 50’s - by now they would of course be antiques. “Why are you here?” I whisper, as if he’s not just a hallucination, as if he’s not just a figment of my imagination. “You must come with me,” he says, beckoning, his arms moving slowly as if there’s no gravity. At first I don’t move...I’m scared, so scared. But then I remember how he and the other...Thomas...would show up. Never together of course, always at separate times, as if they couldn’t acknowledge each other. They always showed up exactly when I needed them to, when I was in some kind of distress: The most important of times was whenever I was in the room alone with Brad, my mom’s boyfriend. In so many ways these apparitions or whatever-fucking-psychological-thing you might call them had helped me and in others they’d done more damage. But I knew I was going to follow Johnny wherever it was he decided to take me. I can feel it in my bones, his presence pulling at me with the force of an invisible current. I look over at Duane one last time, my linchpin to reality - to sanity. Part of me wants to wake him up. He’ll help me through this. He’ll tell me that Johnny isn’t really there. Maybe he’ll walk into the bathroom across the hall and grab something to help me sleep. Duane had always taken care of me, without fault. This is just happening because I forgot to take my haloperidol the last couple of mornings, I think. It can’t hurt to let things work themselves out for one night. Johnny has never hurt me: not in the way Brad or my mom has. So I get out of bed and follow Johnny out of the bedroom, down the long hallway, down the stairs. Right now the house is all empty walls, open space, and thick shadows. Johnny walks slowly, patiently, looking back. Sometimes he smiles, as if he’s glad to see me, and other times he looks sad. But never once does he ask me why I locked him up inside my head with medication. I’m grateful for that, very grateful. He opens the front door. I stop at the foot of the stairs. Is he really opening the door or is that just another part of my hallucination, filling the gaps between what is real and what is not. I shake my head, shake it so hard my hair flaps from side to side, and try to clear away this trippy hallucination. It doesn’t work: Johnny’s still standing there, waiting for me, smiling at me. The smile never quite reaches his eyes, though. A gust of cold wind blows gusts into the house, so cold it makes my legs numb. For the first time I realize I’m wearing nothing but my boxers. I open my mouth to tell him there’s no way I’m going out there with nothing on buy my underwear but I know there’s no time (I don’t know how I know there’s no time, I just do, there’s a sense of urgency in the pit of my stomach). I step out onto the porch. The barn is off to the left, diagonal from the house. No chickens roam the area, searching for bird feed. I turn in the direction of the lighthouse, where Johnny is no doubt going to lead me, towards the crash of waves. Johnny’s already halfway to the lighthouse. I stand frozen, not because of the cold, but because I don’t like this - I don’t like this at all. Things are starting to seem a little too familiar: the view I have of the lighthouse, the way Johnny turns his head to look at me over his shoulder, the sea-wind ruffling his hair. I’ve been here before, I’ve had this dream before, I know I have. “I don’t want to go up there,” I call after him. Not at night, I add silently. If he hears me, he gives no further sign. The door to the lighthouse is open and he’s disappearing inside. I jog to catch up. The ground beneath my feet is cold. What the fuck am I doing, running around out here in the November cold, chasing around my own psychosis? I reach the lighthouse, stopping in the doorway. I don’t want to go any further. I want to go back to the house, I want to be back in bed with Duane, but my mind and body are two separate entities and it’s the body that’s in control. Johnny’s already climbing up the steps leading up to the top of the tower. I climb after him, knowing how this is already going to end but unable to do anything to change the course of things or wake myself up. It’s maddening to be a prisoner of your self-conciousness, of your own damaged psyche. I’m gripping the railing so tightly my knuckles hurt. I can feel the metal making indents in the flesh of my hand. My breath comes out in rasps; I wish I’d grabbed my inhaler. Why did I have asthma on top of everything else? Johnny moves in that slow, quasi-gravityless way, yet no matter how fast I climb I can’t catch up to him: a reassurance this is a dream. There’s no sense in begging him to wait because I know he won’t. When we reach the top I’m literally crawling. My legs burn, my lungs burn - everything burns. I’m on my knees, gulping in the air. He’s standing outside the tower, on the catwalk, hands gripping the railing. I get to my feet (they’re covered in wet clumps of dirt) and lean against the railing next to him. “Why did you bring me up here?” I ask him. “This lighthouse is my prison,” he says. “It will be yours too if you don’t save yourself.” “I don’t understand,” I say. In the back of my head a small voice reminds me that I’m basically talking to myself, which means in reality I’m talking to no one. I’m up in this lighthouse, more naked than not, alone. But some invisible force has taken over me, making it impossible to walk away. “Why did you bring me up here?” Johnny doesn’t answer. He just looks at me, tears of misery oozing from the corner of his eyes, eyes the exact same color of grey of mine, and then pitches himself over the side of the railing. “Johnny!” I shout, reaching for him. But it’s too late: He’s gone as if he’s never been there. “Jude!” Duane? Confused, I turned towards the familiar shape of my lover. He’s standing at the top of the stairs, flashlight in hand. I put a hand in front of my face to shield myself from the glare of the light. He’s in a T-shirt, sweatpants and boots. He’d dressed hastily. His face is pale and he’s looking down at my chest. “Oh my God, Jude, your nose is bleeding like a faucet.” I lick my lips and taste blood. I didn’t even realize my nose had been bleeding. He wraps a blanket around my shoulders and asks me how I got up here. I can’t find the words to tell him that an old imaginary friend of mine came to pay me a visit so I lie and tell him, “I don’t remember how I got up here.” I stammer and act freaked out - which isn’t hard to do: I’m freezing my ass off and I really am freaked out. Back at the house I clean up, washing the blood off. I put on a clean T-shirt and a clean pair of underwear. I find Duane back in the kitchen: He’s standing at the stove making hot chocolate. I sit down at the breakfast nook. “How did you find me?” I ask. “I heard you,” he said. “I heard your voice outside the house. You were screaming somebody’s name!” He looks as uneasy as I feel. “Who?” I ask. “Johnny’s.” Duane knows all about Johnny. This isn’t the first time this has happened. “I called after you but you didn’t hear me,” he says, sitting down at the table with two huge mugs of hot cocoa. He slides one towards me. He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a bottle of my Fluoxetine. The bottle is mostly empty with enough pills for a few days. “Take these,” he says gently. “Fuck,” I say, humiliated. “I’m sorry, Duane, I...” He comes over to me, kisses my forehead, the bridge of my nose, my lips. “Don’t be. I was just scared. For a second I thought you were...” He doesn’t finish the last part. He doesn’t have to. In my head I finish the sentence for him: ...going to throw yourself over the edge… “You should take the day off tomorrow, see about getting in with a psychiatrist, get out on the town.” “I can’t, the movers are coming with the furniture tomorrow.” “I can handle it,” he says. “Not by yourself.” “The movers will do all the heavy work. You need to give your mind a chance to process the move. Take yourself out for lunch, maybe check out The Crier, give them your resume.” I rub at the sides of my temple. The more I think about it, the better the idea sounds. I’m still reluctant. I don’t want to leave Duane here by himself to deal with the furniture delivery. “Are you sure?” I ask. “I’m sure.” He kisses me on the lips. We drink our hot chocolate and go back upstairs; by this time the Fluoxetine has kicked in. Johnny doesn’t show again that night.
  9. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 7

    It’s our second day back at Adermoor Cove and I’m painting the second bedroom which is going to be my writing room. Duane is out at the hardware store getting more paint. I’ve decided I’m going to paint the walls blue - blue is my favorite color. I can stare at the walls as I’m writing and get lost in the color. To the right of the spot where my desk is going to be is the window. Once I finish painting the room I’m going to put up white curtains. In a box I have framed copies of articles I’ve written. Another box is full of copies of my book Get the Lead Out. I take the roller and dip it into the roller tray. Carefully, making sure I keep my wrist straight and my grip on the handle of the roller firm but not too firm, begin to spread the paint in up and down motions. I’m wearing one of Duane’s white tanktops - it’s so big on me it hangs down past my hips - and boxers. I’ve been going at this since nine-thirty this morning. My radio sits next to the doorway blasting Guns N’ Roses. I’m thinking about how different our lives are already: We have chickens now - actual chickens! Vanessa, before leaving for Florida with all her stuff packed into a large oving truck, showed us how to pick fresh eggs and feed them. Tomorrow our new furniture will be here. Things have been so busy I haven’t really had time to walk around our new hometown yet. All the doubts I had about the move have been muted by excitement - for now. I’m so lost in thought and what I’m doing, the simple, repetitive up-and-down motions I make with the paint roller, that I’m not aware of Duane’s presence until he has his hands placed over my eyes. “Peek-a-boo,” he says, kissing the side of my face. “Peek-a-boo.” I turn around and realize for the first time there’s splotches of paint on my tank top. “You’re tank top’s covered in paint. You can’t resist making a mess, can you?” “Good thing it’s your tank top and not mine.” “So then you don’t mind me doing this, then, do you?” He plants his hands against my chest and pushes me gently into the wall, until the still wet paint. “Son of a whore!” I say, more out of shock than anything. “You’re going to pay for that!” I through all five-foot-eight one-hundred-and-sixty-five pound self at his six-foot-four two-hundred-and-fifty pounds. I push him hard enough that he stumbles back a step but nothing more. He grips the sides of my face and kisses me hard. Somehow we both end up on the floor of my new study. I’m straddling him, pulling off my shirt as he pulls my underwear after. I remember the first time I had sex with Duane. I remember how insecure, how scared I was. At the time I’d been so scared at the idea of sex. Sure, I wanted to have sex; I wanted to be touched by someone, feel their fingers in my hair, their lips on mine; just like anyone else I wanted to be desired. But then I’d meet with a guy and lock up: physically, mentally, intimately. I’d kiss them, bite them - not hard, just enough to make it feel good. I was good at cuddling. I’d jack them off, using lotion as lube. But I never sucked them off or let them inside me. The idea of having their spunk in my mouth disgusted me - guys’ spunk doesn’t taste good to me, most of the time its taste is better - and the idea of letting them inside of me freaked me out. I always felt ashamed, in my nakeness, and my inability to get off. The getting off part, I knew was partly because of all the fucking medication I was on, and the other part was psychological. I was worried that my mother’s boyfriend had fucked me up beyond repair. With Duane it’s not so. With Duane everything’s perfect. When it’s all said and done we lay on the floor, naked, our clothes a haphazard pile on the floor, our skin sheened with sweat. “I needed that,” he says, “it’s been a while since...” “The last time?” I ask. “Yes...Since the last time you got off.” “Sorry,” I say. “It’s my medication. Now I think about it, I forgot to take my morning medication the last couple of times...We’ve just been so busy with getting here...” Duane puts a large hand on my thigh. “We need to put the alarm back on your phone again so you don’t forget.” “Yeah,” I say though I don’t tell him the whole truth: it wasn’t just I forgot to take my medication, in truth I didn’t want to take it. It’s easy to trick your mind into thinking you forgot. Sometimes it made me so fucking tired; I never had any energy. But if I didn’t keep taking it I’d start to see things again and I’d wake up in the night with the sweats… The doorbell rang. “The fuck?” I mumble. Duane says, “It’s probably some soccer mom coming to welcome the new couple with a fruit basket.” And then, “Not I.” I swear. I nudge him with my foot, stand up, start to get dressed. I tug his pants on. “No more blowjobs for you, good sir.” “We’ll see about that.” He sits up, slaps my bare ass as I walk by. “I always get what I want sooner or later.” I jog down the stairs, to the front door. I have to keep my fingers hooked through the two belt loops to keep my pants from falling down. I open the door. Standing in front of me isn’t a soccer mom but a journalist. I’ve been a journalist long enough to recognize another fellow journalist when I see one. She’s young, my age give or take a few years. Long shoulder-length blond hair, petite, slightly upturned nose - the right side of her nose is pierced with a silver nose ring - and bright green eyes. She wore a white-and-black checkered stripe dress under a red-and-black checkered dress (she really had the whole checkered thing going on), and black knee high stockings. She had a spiral notepad in one hand and a digital camera slung around her neck, dangling by a black nylon strap. She looks me up and down, sees the paint all over my, excuse me Duane’s, tanktop. “Uh, is this a bad time?” “No, I was just painting the bedroom.” I put on my friendliest smile. “Can I help you?” “Yes, my name is Cassie. I’m a journalist for the Adermoor Cove Crier, and I wonder if you’d have time for an interview?” “An interview?” I said slowly. “Yes.” She smiles, glances up at the house, and then at the tower, and then back to me. “This is a big deal - you are the first new owner we’ve had in some time. For as long as I can remember, personally, Vanessa’s owned this lighthouse. I just want to ask you a few questions, that’s all.” “Sure,” I say, stepping back to let her in. Cassie glances around the living room, her eyes bright. “This is my first time coming in here - Vanessa always gave tours of her home but I was always too shy to ask.” I ask her if she wants something to drink. She says she would love some water. I lead her into the kitchen, fix her a glass of ice water - I’m surprised to find there’s ice in the fridge - and tell her I’ll go grab Duane. “Make yourself at home,” I add hastily. I find Duane standing at foot of the steps, wearing a new outfit. “Who is it?” he whispers. “A journalist,” I hiss back. “A journalist?” “Yeah, from the Adermoor Cove Crier - cute name for a small town newspaper, don’t you think?” I slap him on the fanny. “Now get in there and butter her up while I put on something a little more decent.” … The interview goes smoothely: Cassie asks us where we moved from, what we did for work, why we moved here, what we plan to do for work (“You don’t have to answer the last one if it’s too straightforward,” she says hastily). “We like answering questions,” I tell her. “You know I read your book,” she says to me. I’m surprised. “You did?” “Yes.” “What did you think?” I ask, even though I’m not sure I really want to know. “I loved it,” Cassie says, beaming. “You did a good job at depicting an abusive situation without making it - smutty or unreadable. You wrote it almost as if it happened to you.” It did. I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying it aloud. I was that little boy. I just changed the names and places. “...and you write with such smootheness and emotion. A lot of men don’t. Except maybe Stephen King.” “Thanks.” I truly feel proud of myself. Cassie studies me for a moment. “Also you like someone I know. I can’t place my finger on who it is at the moment - it’s a strange feeling.” I’m not quite sure how to take that so I just chuckle and use the all-familiar line of, “Well I guess I just have one of our faces.” We conclude the interview by taking Cassie on a tour of the lighthouse. She nods, eyes wide with excitement, but does not ohhhh and aughhh, something which makes me like her more. When we get outside she asks if she can snap a few pictures for the article. She takes a pictures of Duane and I standing in front of the lighthouse, holding hands. “You guys make a beautiful couple,” she says with a smile as she snaps a picture. Her cheeks are flushed from the cold but she doesn’t seem to notice. “Okay, that should be it. You can expect to find the article in next weeks issue. You guys are front page news.” “Front page news?” The corner of Duane’s mouth curls into a smile. “Ar you serious?” “Yes. It must be hard to believe for a couple of New Yorkers but nothing much happens here - just tourist stuff in the summer, bake sells, baseball games, boring small-town stuff. Jude, there is a position open at the newspaper. If you want I can put in a good word for you. My boss, Martha would go absolutely crazy if she had someone who worked somewhere as big as The New York Times.” “Thanks,” I say. “That would be great.” “Are you going to be working on a new book?” Cassie asks. “I hope so. Maybe once we get completely settled in and I get back to work.” “I look forward to it.” Duane and I take turns shaking her hand and watch her drive in a red Ford pickup. “We’re going to be in the newspaper and you’re already making friends-who just so happens to have read and loves your book,” Duane says as we walk back towards the house. “I’d say things are off to a great start.”
  10. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 6

    Today is my last therapy session with Ezra - Duane meanly calls him “Hairy Lip” because of his bushy ginger-moustache. It’s kind of a bittersweet moment for me: Sean has been seeing me through the good and the bad for the past ten years. He knows my deepest, darkest thoughts, thought that Duane isn’t even privy to because the idea of knowing some of the things rolling through my head would scare the shit out of me - and probably scare the shit out of him too. Before Ezra I only saw women therapists: I feel more comfortable around woman. With most women I can express myself, be at ease. I’ve never had a woman, at least not yet, tell me to suck it up buttercup or boys don’t cry, be a man. Not even my mother, as neglectful and unstable as she could be, told me those things. But a lot of men have. Most of those were my mom’s boyfriends who she brought in like the strays you see rooting around in the back alleys of Manhattan City. At twenty-one, the same year I cut Mom out of my life, I decided it was time to make some changes, really challenge myself. I didn’t just want to talk about my issues: I’d been doing that my whole life. Talking, getting in touch with my inner feelings (I’d been in touch with them for too long; stuck with them more like), and coloring pictures had only got me so far. I wanted to hit the issue at it’s very core, ruin its ugly face with a sledgehammer. Because the truth was this: I was, and still am, afraid of men - which is confusing because I myself am a man, and a gay man at that. It had taken years of therapy just to realize this. So I requested a male therapist and I got Ezra. Ezra was a breeze of fresh air: He was perhaps the first sensitive man I’d met and he was straight. I remember the first day I came into his office, twenty-one, angry, nervous, and tense as hell, the man lifted his leg and farted, something any therapist in their right mind wouldn’t do. Professionalism and all. But it did what it needed to: it broke the ice with me and I found myself immediately taken with him. First I tell him today is our last session. The surprise on his face is unmistakable. “I know it’s sudden - very sudden,” I say, feeling guilty, “but Duane and I bought a lighthouse.” His bushy eyebrows rise behind his glasses. “A lighthouse?” I nod, unable to stop myself from grinning. “Are you shitting me?” I shake my head, breathing in the smell of the vanilla candles Sean keeps on his bookshelf. This is the last time I’m going to smell it. “No, I’m not shitting you.” “But isn’t that what you’ve always dreamed about?” “It is. And that’s why we’re leaping for it headfirst.” “Where is this lighthouse?” Ezra shifts in his chair, clearly intruiged. “Adermoor Cove.” “Never heard of it.” “It’s this little island in the middle of Casco Bay. It has a private college. Duane is trying for a job there now - he just sent in his resume. They have a newspaper.” “So you’re just going to get up, leave your job at the New York Times, pack your things up, and move to this little island, into this lighthouse?” I frown; I don’t like the increduous sound in Ezra’s voice. “Yeah, why not?” I say with a shrug. “It just seems a little...impulsive,” Ezra says. He hastily adds, “I’m not trying to cramp on your dreams or anything - do what makes you happy, achieve your dreams. But I think by now, in the ten years you’ve experienced enough life changes to know things in life aren’t what they seem. The grass always looks greener on the always side but once we get to the other side we discover there’s just a little brown mixed in with the green.” “You’re right,” I say. “I have been through a lot of shit. My mother was a pill popping drug addict who popped pills while she was pregnant with me, constantly brought in men, always in rehab. I’ve been molested. I’ve been in and out of institutions. I’ve been homeless, slept on the streets. I put myself through college and didn’t have anyone else to help me. The few people I had in my life looked away and pretended as if I didn’t exist. And through all that I got through college, published a book which is on the bestsellers list, work at New York Times, and have a boyfriend who loves me. I’m stable. So why not do something impulsive just because?” “I agree. I just want you and Duane to make sure you both have an escape plan should things go south.” “We do. Duane’s keeping the loft since it’s paid off and my boss gave me a standing ovation at work. He says if I should need to there’s a job waiting for me. So things will be fine. I’m excited.” “Good,” Ezra says. “I wish you the best.” I can’t tell if it’s just me but Ezra sounds a little sad. … On my last day at the New York Times, a week before Duane and I are supposed to make the move to Adermoor Cove, a party is thrown in my mind - the kind of party in which anyone under twenty-one is not invited. Perry Bosch, my boss, has gone all out: catered food of all kinds - Greek, Chinese, and Indian, - booze, a DJ, red party hats, a banner with my name that says FAREWELL, JUDE! At four o’clock I pull on my jacket. I’m wearing a red party hat and I’m quite drunk. I feel gushy inside, half happy, half sad. I want to cry but can’t bring myself to let everyone see my tears. In one hand I have a plate piled with cake with styrofoam wrapped around it, in the other a bottle of Pinot Noir. “Hey, Jude, wait up,” Perry says, shouting over the music - “Show Me How to Live” by Audioslave, one of my favorite songs is blasting through the speakers. He has a cigar made of bubblegum sticking out of the corner of his mouth. “I wanted to make sure I give this to you.” He hands me a marble plaque. Engraved on it in bubble letters it says JUDE TAYLOR: THE BEST DAMNED EDITOR EVER!!! “This is all customed made,” Perry says. “Everyone in the department chipped in to have it made.” “Oh fuck,” I say, something I probably wouldn’t have said if not for the intoxication. “I love it.” “We’re going to miss you,” Perry slings an arm around my shoulders and pats me on the back. “With you leaving this place is going to lose a lot of color.” “Oh fuck you, Perry,” I say, laughing. “You would say something like that. Trust me I’m going to miss you too.” I wave at everyone, blow kisses, and then I leave. I’m glad to be out of the room: I feel hot and emotional. I’m ready for this bittersweet day to be over. I’m ready to be at our lighthouse in Adermoor Cove just so I don’t have to say good bye anymore. Duane’s waiting for me, leaning against his Jeep. “Hey there, Party Boy.” “Hey,” I say. I sling an arm around him, Pinot Noir in one hand, cake and plaque deftly balanced on the other, and kiss him for all the world to see. “Did they have strippers in there?” he asks, taking the cake and plaque and opening the car door for me like the galliant gentlemen he is. “I wish,” I say. “That’s okay, I got my own personal stripper.” He closes the door, climbs in and studies me for a moment. Despite the fact that I’m smiling he sees the truth behind the smile. “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I just hate saying good bye, you know? I know it’s not really good-bye. We have the loft still, so it’s not like we’re never coming back, but it feels like good bye.” “I know,” he say. “But it’s also an adventure.” “And we’re long due for one. Are you ready Batman?” He takes my hand. “Ready, Robin.” He hits the gas pedal and pulls away from the curb. I give one last fleeting glance at the New York Times building and it feels as if it’s the last time I’m going to see it. … Today is the day we leave for Adermoor Cove. For the last week Duane and I have been going through things, deciding what we want to take with us to Adermoor Cove and what we want to leave here. So far there’s at least three boxes full of books, a box full of plates and cups, and another full of pans, and a box full of framed pictures. Most of the stuff going into the lighthouse will all be brand new stuff. We’ve already owned new furniture through an online catalog. It will arrive a few days after we get there. For Duane the loft has been his home for ten years and mine for six. The one room space with the kitchen alcove and attached bathroom has so many pleasant memories; and even though I know it’s irrational, I’m afraid we’re going to leave it all behind. I’m also conflicted with excitement. We own a lighthouse now, just like I always wanted. I remember the first time I came over to the loft. It was a few days after I got out of the hospital after fainting in his office. He’d invited me over for dinner. I think he felt bad. I remember feeling nervous, not knowing what to expect. What we were doing was a big risk for the both of us, just meeting up for dinner. If anyone found out about it could ruin his career and get me kicked out of NYU. Yet there was a part of me that couldn’t resist - I wanted to know what the place looked like, and more so, I wanted to know why he wanted to have me over. It had been raining that day, rainwater flooding the gutters. I’d shown up at his doorstep soaked and cold despite taking the bus. The first thing he did was lead me into his bathroom and so I could change into some of his clothes - a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, both which had been way too big on me. I remember standing in the bathroom with the door open, taking off my wet-heavy clothes; I knew he was watching. I was setting him up, something I know was manipulative and maybe even unhealthy, borderline. If he knew he was being manipulated he didn’t try to stop it. I remember I was getting ready to put my T-shirt when he gently turned me around to face him. That night we had sex together for the first time - it was also the night I lost my virginity. I’d lost my virginity at twenty-four years old. Some guys go hogwild after their first sexual encounter like that, or, at the very least they want to experiment. Not me. On that night I knew I wanted to be with Duane and only Duane. After we load the boxes into the back of the Jeep we eat a quick lunch: turkey sandwiches of Nature’s Own bread with Colby-Jack cheese, alvacado, black olives and light Maynoise, and baked Lay potato chips. “Having any second thoughts yet?” I ask. “No,” he says immediately. “You.” As Duane takes our paper plates to the wastebasket I look around the loft. “No,” I say after a moment, breathing a sigh of relief. “None at all.”
  11. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 2: Rendevous at Pen'thorpe Keep

    In the distance Pen’thorpe Keep stood next to a cliff, at the top of a small mountain. At the sight of it Maeglin Ara’jrye let out a sigh of relief. It had been a month of tense travel, of expecting a fight to erupt at any moment. Just another day-and-a-half, he thought, and we’ll be behind the safety of the walls. Behind him the three wagons came to a stop. They were in the middle of the flatlands; Maeglin, King Yaldon’s three councilors, and the fifty soldiers tasked with making sure they got to Pen’thorpe Keep in one piece. Once at the Keep, they would wait for commander Skold to arrive, reconvene, and come up with a battle plan. Maeglin just hoped Skold would make it. Things weren’t looking good: Twenty thousand of Paladin’s troops were riding towards Pen’thorpe Keep, even at this very second. It was simply a matter who got there first. If Skold did get there before Paladin’s troops then it would be by the skin off the tip of his nose. Maeglin straightened his back; the sharp tip of his ears perked up at the sharp audible pop his back muscles made. He felt tempted to call camp for the night. Surely they could afford some rest. He glanced at Valyuun Laosx, his squire. “We’re stopping for the night.” The young blonde elf’s eyes sighed in unmistakeable relief, his cheeks rosy from the cold. “Good riddance. A fire would do me just fine. I wouldn’t be surprised if my blood’s turned to ice.” Maeglin grunted, irritated. Valyuun was always complaining, grumbling. Sometimes Maeglin didn’t know why he put up with him. He wasn’t quite ready to mention to anyone let alone himself, that he’d become rather fond of Valyuun. Despite his constant whining and complaining, Valyuun had proven to be smart and loyal, two virtues Maeglin treasured. In such perilous times as these such virtues were of high quality. Valyuun turned, looked at the troops following along behind them and shouted, “We’re camping for the night!” There were several cheers of relief, the gritty sound of boots hitting snow. The back door of the second wagon opened. Counselor Viktor Kelbella’s head craned moodily in Maeglin’s direction. “Why are we stopping? We should be riding hard for Pen’thorpe Keep.” After two centuries of protecting the counselors on their travels, Maeglin was used to Viktor’s constant badgering. He knew how to hide his true feelings about Viktor behind a smile. In truth, everytime Viktor opened his mouth to state a demand his voice grated along the edge of Maeglin’s skull. He was arrogant, obnoxious, and placed himself on too high of a pedestal. Still, Maeglin kept that smile ready at all times. It was as much a part of his arsenal as was his sword. “We have been riding hard for Pen’thorpe for two days. Paladin’s troops are a week’s journey out, at the very least. I think it’s best to give our horses a rest.” As Viktor opened his mouth to object, Counselor Yethlossa Alagossa opened the door to her cabin and peeked her full head of tawny hair out. “Before you object, Viktor, remember we agreed to put Maeglin in charge of our safety, which means that when we’re traveling, he’s in charge. If he says we’re to stop and camp then we stop and camp.” She beamed at Maeglin. “I for one could use a break from travelling.” Doing his best to hide the smug sense of triumph he felt, Maeglin nodded at her. “As you wish, counselor.” By noon that day, camp had been set up. Maeglin sent out four scouts to hunt for game. Hopefully they would find a wolf or a warthog; anything would be better than the jerky he’d been living off of for the last week. Food had been worrisomely scarce. But by nightrise, Maeglin felt the first pang of apprehension, for the scouts had not returned. He sat in the warm glow of a fire, his brow crinkled. There’s nothing to worry about, he thought. They’re probably still combing the area, trying to be thorough. Still, he couldn’t keep the apprehension at bay. Not apprehension. Dread. Somewhere, in the East, was a cropping of steep hills. It was in that direction he’d sent his scouters and it was in that direction in which his gaze remained. “We shouldn’t have stopped here,” a voice said, startling Maeglin out of his thoughts. He looked over. It was Althon Ralnor, the most influential, and perhaps the wisest of the councilors. He could be as fair as Counselor Yethlossa and as ruthless as Viktor in equal measure, when the moment caused for it. That didn’t mean he was loved. No one loved the counselors. Still, Maeglin always looked forward to his company. “Do you sense something, sir?” Maeglin asked. Althon nodded, gaze fixed on the hills. “I do, indeed. But I’m not sure what it is. All I know is it’s something dark and powerful.” “Should I be worried?” Althon smiled. Maeglin could make out the runes tattooed into the flesh of his forehead, runes of protection; a golden ring hung from his right ear, the ear facing Maeglin. “I don’t think so. Whatever it is, it has no interest in us - at least not yet. You should get some sleep, Maeglin.” Maeglin nodded. He didn’t need to be told twice. Wishing the counselor good night he went to his tent. He thought of Althon’s words as he eased himself into his bedroll: I don’t think so. Whatever it is, it has no interest in us - at least not yet. Then he closed his eyes and was asleep at once. Skold jerked awake, letting out a shudder. I fell asleep. His eyes scanned out the dark, picking out the shapes of his troops amongst the trees, where they hid in case orc troops came along. Stars twinkled with the light of a thousand distant candles, candles that unto death were beyond his reach. The sky, a vast black ocean at night, was Valhalla and each star was a spirit, a fae that had passed onto Valhalla’s endless white chambers. The mortals had a similar belief: Heaven was above their heads and Hell was below their feet, deep in the bowels of the earth perhaps. It was ironic how close the fae and humans’ belief systems were. And why not? Humans and fae, particularly elves, were closely related. Several millennia ago, give or take, the ever-humorous universe birthed the faes’ lesser cousins from fae blood; the universe would do it again with the primates. Paladins’ plague was the universes’ challenge against it. The human race was on the brink of being wiped out and if Paladin wasn’t stopped then the fae would follow. “Nightmare?” a voice said, a voice Skold recognized. He could make out his older sister’s lithe form outlined in shadow in the next tree over. “How did you know?” he asked. “You kept grunting in your sleep. You do that a lot. I don’t know how Konstantine can stand it. If I were him I’d tear my hair out.” Skold scowled. “Well you’re not Konstantine, now are you? You’re my insufferable sister who prattles on and on nonstop. Have you seen Konstantine yet?” “No,” she said, her tone softening. “I haven’t seen him yet. I’m sorry. Are you worried about him?” “I don’t worry,” Skold said. To this Sonja said nothing. The silence was thick. There was nothing but the occasional wail of the wind. Occasionally he’d see a flicker of movement as someone amongst the branches stirred. He was numb with cold. He closed his eyes and an old familiar dream rose up. He rose out of the black pitch of unconsciousness like a swimmer breaking the surface of an ocean. The healers stand over him, their white aprons covered in blood, his blood. Despite their healing magics he felt sick with pain. He looked down. The area where his genitalia had been was nothing but a long straight slit sewed up. “He shouldn’t be awake yet,” one of the healer said. The worry in her voice was impossible to miss. “He must be trying to resist them.” Skold gagged. He feels as though someone has pushed the blade of a knife up his scrotum and scrambled up his insides. Tears streamed from his eyes. “Relax,” one of the healers said, reaching for him, her eyes gentle. The rage surging up inside of him exploded out like a unfurling rose. It provided relief from the pain, if only temporary. Despite the sluggish effects of the drugs and healing magics, Skold moved quickly. His hand clamped around her throat like a vice, fingers closing around her windpipe. Her eyes began to bug out of her skull. The other healer ran to the other side. Her fingers scrabbled at his, trying to pry them away from the other’s throat. He lashed out with a kick; his foot connected with her diaphragm and sent her flying across the chamber. Her back slammed into the stone wall hard enough that dust rained down from the ceiling. A fresh wave of pain stabbed through Skold’s mangled groin; it stole his breath. He shoved the healer away from him. She fell her to her knees, the sounds of her coughs echoing off the walls. Fresh droplets of blood hit the stone floor, mixing with the dried droplets already there. As a consequence of kicking the healer Skold had torn open his stitches. Despite the pain, determined to get out of the room, needing to get out of the room, Skold got to his feet. He started to move towards the double doors, and stopped when he saw his father standing there. The two elves stared each other down. Though they were father and son they couldn’t be any more different from one another: Where Skold was fair like his mother Lea, Solomon was raven-haired. Where Skold was short, Solomon was taller. They regarded each other with ill-concealed hate. “Now you’re complete,” Solomon said, glancing at Skold’s wounds with appraisal. “No more distractions with sexual excursions.” Skold said nothing. He limped towards the door. Each step was agonizing; his knees threatened to cave out from underneath him. With raw determination, he willed himself to keep going. His father stood rooted the spot, a silent refusal to move from where he stood. “Get out of my way,” Skold hissed, eyes burning with the promise of murder. “It’s cold out there,” Solomon said. “It’s been snow-storming for three days past.” Skold shoved past him and threw the doors open. Flurries of snow swirled around him, blowing his hair back from the contours of his face. The cold caressed his skin like an undead lover, risen to take him back to the grave with it. He looked at Solomon, “The day they bring your dead body back from war I’m going to laugh and shit on your body.” Then he stepped out into the cold. Someone was calling his name. Sonja. She was calling his name. “Skold, wake up! Skold, wake up damn you! Someone’s coming!” Deal with it yourself, he wanted to tell her. Let me sleep. But of course he had to deal with it. After Solomon’s funeral King Yaldon had appointed him commander instead of his sister. Skold had taken the title with indifference, not caring one way or the other, but now he just wanted to sleep. He could hear the sound of a horse: hooves clopping away in the dark, breath huffing. He could see its shape, vaguely lit by the silver light of the moon. From the set of broad shoulders he could tell it was a male...but whether it was an orc remained to be seen. He wasn’t taking any chances. He’d kill them just for waking him up. Drawing his sword in one fluid motion, Skold ran down the long tree branch and leapt into the air, cutting through the dark like an arrow. He slammed into the rider, knocking him off his horse. Skold leapt to his feet and spun around, teeth bared in a snarl, sword at the ready. “Skold!” Skold stopped, a breath away from slicing Konstantine’s head from his shoulders. His third-in-command held his hands up in surrender, eyes wide. Skold scowled, slid his sword back into its sheath. “Do you know how close I came to decapitating you?” “It’s a good thing you have excellent restraint then.” Konstantine’s witty banter couldn’t hide the undercurrent of relief in his voice. “You’re alive. I was worried you wouldn’t be.” Then he stepped forward, placed his hands on both sides of Skold’s face, and planted a kiss on his lips. Before Skold knew he was doing it he stepped back, away from Konstantine’s touch, away from the silky touch of his lips. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Skold, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Konstantine’s shoulders slumped. His head dipped down towards his feet as if Skold had struck him. Skold could see the glimmer of his tears, pained tears. Skold felt the smallest tinge of regret. Why did he always have to be so cold? But it wasn’t enough - not enough for him to find the words he needed to apologize, to want to make things right. “Right,” he said, as if Konstantine had spoken. He sheathed his sword, scanned the copse of trees surrounding them. “It’s time to go! We’ve rested long enough!” “Maeglin, wake up! Maeglin, they’re coming!” Valyuun’s voice tore through the dreamless embrace of Maeglin’s sleep. What in the Ferryman’s name has him screaming like that? he thought. Then he remembered he was in the middle of Hungary, racing for Pen’thorpe Keep. In the wasteland Europe had become every minute was a chance for danger to arise. Paladin’s troops were marching for them at this very moment. Had they caught up? Was it even possible, given that Maeglin had only been sleeping for a few hours…? “Get up, get up!” Valyuun said, brushing the snow off Maeglin’s armor as if doing so will help him get to his feet faster. “I’m up!” Maeglin growled, rising to his feet, sword in hand. The rest of his guard stand at attention, swords in hand, arrows knocked. Nervous glances were thrown in his direction, ready for him to give command. The tension was so thick Maeglin could smell and taste it. Althon Ralnor, Viktor Kelbella, and Yethlossa Alagossa stood outside their wagons watching the approaching figures. There were a thousand of them heading stolidly in their direction. Most of them were on foot but a few rode on horses. Maeglin was a veteran fighter, as were the rest of his guard, but taking on a thousand warriors exceeded their skill. Maeglin gripped his sword tight, the grooves of the hilt digging into his palm. He pulled his will in, letting it gather, ready to unleash a maelstrom of magic. He could sense others in his guard doing the same. “It’s too soon,” Valyuun hissed. “Much too soon.” His eyes were wide, reflecting the pale glow of the morning sun. “I’m not ready for this, I’m not ready for this at all.” You say that as if you have much of a choice, Maeglin thought wearily. He shot a glance at the three councilors. What in the fuck were they doing standing out in the open like this? They should be running for the hills, for the castle, using the precious time Maeglin’s men gave them to get a headstart. He was about to say so (they could give him a tongue lashing for it later, but right now he was too scared to care), when Yethlossa smiled and said, “Maeglin, tell your guards to put their swords away and take another look.” Maeglin looked and breathed a sigh of relief. In his fear he hadn’t seen the long silver-blonde hair and red cape: the cape bestowed to a commander by King Yaldon himself. “Stay here,” Maeglin said, raising the flat of his palm, five fingers out straight. The red-caped silver-haired figure made the same gesture and the two closed the mile distance between them. Maeglin had never seen Skold Gil’eppsie, son of the former Solomon and Lea Gil’eppsie look so disheveled: His hair was tangled and greasy, his pale sharp-featured face was smeared with dirt and black splatters of orc blood. Still, Maeglin was relieved (and a little apprehensive) to see the young commander. To everyone’s surprise, Skold had showed a surprising aptitude for command. Maeglin, who happened to hear a lot of talk from the councilors (they didn’t know, or at least he didn’t suspect they knew, he listened to them), that Yaldon had given Skold command as a sort of cruel joke. Even as Yaldon was trying to maintain the alliance between human and fae it didn’t mean King Yaldon wasn’t above being cruel; no politician was, no matter how noble they liked to appear to be. Skold had proved everyone wrong. In the last few years Skold had become Yaldon’s weapon: a weapon who didn’t fight out of loyalty to the king, or for the good cause, but because he enjoyed killing. He was indifferent to everyone and everything, rarely if ever showing emotion. Not once had Maeglin seen Skold shed tears: not for his mother or his father - in fact Skold had smiled at his father’s death, a smile which had sent chills up Maeglin’s spine. Still I’m glad it’s Skold who showed up instead of Paladin’s shoddy alliance of elves and orcs, Maeglin thought. “You have no idea how relieved I am you’re here,” Maeglin said, smiling. “Likewise,” Skold said, though his face gave no hint of expression. He was simply going through the motions. Feeling a cocktail of relief, disgust and emotion, Maeglin thought, You poor creature. Your father ruined you beyond repair. “We should move on,” Skold said. “We passed through Boar’s Head two days ago and were ambushed the second time. A horde of orcs were hiding in the trees.” “I take it there were no surviving villagers?” Maeglin asked. Skold shook his head grimly. Maeglin swore. “By the time this war ends there won’t be any humans left.” “It would be as Paladin wants, then,” said Skold. Skold followed Maeglin into the middle of the camp and looked off towards the hills on their left, frowning. He felt uneasy: there was an undercurrent of power coming from that direction. It was fleeting, like a receding phantom, but just strong enough that Skold could sense it. “You can feel it too?” Maeglin asked, looking back at Skold from over his shoulder. “Yes, what is it?” “I’m not sure. But whatever it is I don’t like it. It feels...old.” “Older than us?” Skold asked. “Older than us, yes. And more powerful. But the counselors have deemed it not to be a threat, not at the moment.” So the lap dogs of King Yaldon are here, Skold thought bitterly. Of course they are. Where would they be if not sticking their nose in everything? Their being here was a liability - just three more royal heads to protect, making things more difficult, not easier. But he still couldn’t quite take his eyes away from the hills. There was something there...something watching them with great interest. It may not have been a threat but it wasn’t a force of good. Skold pushed it out of the way, filing it away for later, should the force become a problem. Yaldon’s councilors were sitting on blankets around a large fire. They all looked up at once at Skold. Althon and Alagossa’s faces gleamed with approval - Viktor looked away and scowled. Alagossa rose languidly to her feet and came over to Skold. “Commander Skold,” she said with a gleaming smile, offering her hand. “You cannot conceive the level of relief I feel at knowing you’re here. It is good to see you.” “You as well.” Skold took her hand but did not bend down to kiss it as was the custom when it came to shaking hands with someone of Yaldon’s royal circle. I will fight for you, I will kill for you, I will tell you where you tell me to go, but I will not roll over and play dead for you, was Skold’s sentiment towards them. After a few seconds he let her hand go. “I grow tired of sitting around, waiting for the orcs to catch up,” Viktor said, looking at Skold as if the war was somehow his fault. “We should finish the journey to Pen’thorpe Keep. We have much to discuss, Commander Skold.” “Indeed,” said Althon. Skold raised his horn to his lips and blew on it three times. A little over thousand heads turned in his direction. He made a motion with his hands to carry on towards Pen’thorpe Keep. Maeglin shouted for his men to start breaking down camp. It was time to go. Skold and company reached Pen’thorpe Keep the next day. The fort stood before them, promising temporary refuge. Skold wanted a hot bath, good food, and a day’s worth of sleep, not necessarily in any given order. The sentries on the west tower gave a shout and the gridded gate opened. A dirt path led through the gatehouse. Elven guards stood on either side at attention, backs straight, with torches in hand. They murmured salutes as Skold passed them with Maeglin behind him, and the councilors’ wagons at the rear. The courtyard was busy and full of noise: wagons piled with barrels of explosive powder were being steered by elves on horseback, the sound of metal banging on metal as blacksmiths pounded swords and pieces of armor into shape, the roar of a bonfire. Embers danced in the air, swirling up towards the all-knowing all-seeing sky. Black clouds loomed heavy bringing the promise of more snow. The smell of roasting meat made Skold’s belly rumble and his mouth water. He did his best to ignore the painful pangs of hunger but there were times when the cries of an empty belly were impossible to ignore. General Gendimoth Cevna stood in the middle of the courtyard, hands folded behind his back, red cape ending at his boot heels. Except for when he blinked General Gendimoth was completely still. His jaw was constantly clenched. His dark chestnut hair looked as if it’d just been cut. “Commander Skold,” he said, his voice carrying smoothly over the activity happening in the fort, “I was starting to worry you wouldn’t make it.” “We couldn’t have gotten here in better time,” Skold replied. “Things outside the fort are chaotic at best.” “I can imagine. Which is why I’m grateful to be behind these stone walls, on this mountain. Hopefully it will still be standing when this war is over, may the Spirits of Valhalla be merciful.” The Spirits know no mercy, Skold thought. He had to purse his lips to keep from saying so. “I’m sure your troops are hungry and tired from their travels. The hall is being prepared for a feast. A hot bath is waiting for you. Take the rest of the day left and rest.” Cevna smiled. “Then the real work begins tomorrow. Your quarters are at the top of the east tower” Skold thanked him and began to make his way towards the east tower. It was a long climb to the top of the tower; each step was an agony within itself but the prospect of a hot bath kept him going. His chambers were at the end of a long corridor. He found two chambermaids inside, dressed in white silk. They welcomed him with a smile, their voices silky and sweet. The bathing basin was waiting for him, the water hot and steamy. He made a request for them to bring his dinner to his chambers - he wouldn’t be eating in the hall with the rest of his troops. After months of constantly being in the company of others I deserve to have a night to myself - at the very least, he thought. Skold waded into the water and shuddered as its warmth crept up his body. He settled against the edge of the basin and gave his sore body a chance to recuperate. Rose petals floated on top of the water, perfuming it. An hour later when he came out of the bathing chamber his skin had been scrubbed clean, his hair was soft, and he smelled of perfume. The top of the large chest at the bottom of the bed was covered with plates of food: roasted lamb, meat pies, fruits, desserts. His laryngeal prominence bobbed at the sight of food. He sunk into the soft feather mattress which was so much softer than the bedroll he’d been sleeping on for months, and began to eat. He started with the meat, relishing at the juices dripping from the fire-roasted meat. He ate a whole meat-pie, grapes, strawberries with cream on top, and gulped down three goblets of malt. By the time Skold finished eating he was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. He told the two guards standing outside his door that he didn’t want anyone to disturb him and blew out the candles. He crawled under the warm blankets and was asleep before his head hit the pillow. On this night he did not dream.
  12. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 5

    The rag I hold to my nose, once white, is now completely red. Dark red. Blood-red. Since we followed Vanessa into the lighthouse Duane has asked me if I’m okay three or four times. I’m fine I tell him, it’s just a nosebleed. But I know what he’s thinking: He’s wondering if I’m going to have another seizure - and to be honest I’m wondering the same thing. Duane finds one of his polos in the trunk. I ask Vanessa if I can use her bathroom. Of course, she says. She really is a nice lady. When I come back out of the half-bathroom she’s sitting in an armchair across from Duane, who sits on the sofa. A tray sits on the wooden coffee table between them with a tea set on top. The tea set’s cute: cups, saucers, tea kettle, all white with blue flower petals blooming along the sides. Duane sips from his tea, listening to Vanessa. “The lighthouse has been with my family since 1949,” says Vanessa. “It started with my great-uncle and kind of worked its way down to me. The rest of my family lives in Florida, where I’m moving to, and no one else is interested so I’m selling it.” I look around the living room. Outside the window to Vanessa’s right was a perfect view of the ocean, behind her a fire crackled merrily in the hearth of the fireplace. Next to that, tucked in the corner of a wall, was a beautiful curio cabinet with glass windows. Inside were knicknacks of lighthouses; I resist the urge to go over there and take a closer look, I don’t want to be rude by roaming. “My partner, Jude here, is very fascinated with lighthouses,” Duane says, taking my hand. “Really?” she says, looking interested. She doesn’t seem surprised we’re a couple, something I find surprising. I was always under the impression people in small towns were more conservative than they were in cities. “Ever since I was a kid,” I tell her. “Has anyone showed their interest in it?” “Surprisingly no,” Vanessa replies, looking pained. “Which is shocking. This little island may not look like much but it pulls in a lot of money with the tourism during the spring and summer months, and the fishing industry. We also have a wonderful private college. I know plenty of residents who could afford it. I’m not asking for much - my family is rather well off - but I don’t want to move to Florida until the sale has been made. ” “That’s completely understandable,” says Duane. “So,” Vanessa says, smiling at the both of us, “neither of you have ever seen the inside of a lighthouse?” We shake our heads. “Would you like to?” she asks. … The house has two stories. Vanessa starts the tour by leading us through a door into the dining room. The dining room is huge, with a long, sturdy oak table. Above the table is a crystal chandelier. Through another door is the kitchen. The kitchen is large yet simple: Oak cabinets above the sink, gas stove, breakfast nook in the corner by the window with another beautiful view of the ocean, and another curio cabinet with china plates and glasses inside. A staircase leads to the second floor: three bedrooms on the right, a bathroom on the left. The master bathroom is large enough that it could serve as a library for all the books Duane and I have (we are avid book readers; we have a book shelf of books back home that we haven’t even touched). Vanessa shows us all this as if she’s done it before - and perhaps she has. I’m pretty sure we’re not the first visitors to come to Adermoor Cove who have never seen a real lighthouse much less the inside of one. After showing us the top floor Vanessa leads us outside. A cobble-stone path leads to the tower which is so big it makes the house look incredibly small. She stands at the door. “I’ll leave you two alone to tour this for yourself,” she says. “Take your time. When you’re finished come back to the house and we’ll finish discussing things.” She tips a conspiratol wink at Duane and begins to make her way back towards the house. I open my mouth to ask Duane what she means by that but close it - there’s no point, he’s not going to tell me; he’s just going to give me another one of those infuriating shit-eating grins and say, It’s a surprise. He holds the door open for me. “The moment you’ve been waiting your whole life for,” he says. I hesitate. Something about what he just says has me feeling uneasy. Ever since we stepped off the ferry I’d had this feeling everything was happening like a script. My whole life I’ve always had this feeling, despite what I might say about my spiritual beliefs, that some cosmic force bigger than myself was leading me along a path, that my choices and thoughts were not my own. This is something I’ve only discussed with my therapist. But then the excitement overtakes everything and the uneasiness is forgotten. I step inside and Duane follows, closing the door behind us. I look up. The spiral staircase winds over our head. The wind whistles against the outside of the tower like a hungry ghost. I grin, lacing my fingers through Duane’s hand. “Let’s do this.” Together we begin to climb the steps. “I’ll be your candle on the water, my love for you will always burn, I know you’re lost and drifting...” I say the words silently so Duane can’t hear me. Even after seven years of being together, singing in front of my partner embarrasses me. I’m a crappy singer anyway: I can’t hold a note and my voice is too high-pitched. By the time we reach the top we’re both out of breath. There’s no telling how many steps we’ve climbed. The lantern is housed in a glass room; I touched the lense as if it was some long lost relic and walked to the edge of the room. I look out the window at the dark blue surf. “I’ll be your candle on the water,” I whisper, “this flame inside me will grow...” Here it is, I think to myself. The moment I’ve always dreamed of. And to think Duane orchestrated all of this - just for me. He comes up behind me, wraps his arms around my waist, presses me to him, and sets his chin on my shoulder. Being close to him like this still takes my breath away as if for the first time instead of the millionth. For me the newness never wore off. I close my eyes, just living in the moment, my fantasy come to life. “We could live here,” he says; his breath tickles my ear. “I wish,” I say. “I’m serious. I’ve already talked about buying it from her - I just wanted you to see it first.” I pull out of his embrace and turn to face him. “Don’t fuck with me.” “I’m not,” Duane says, curling a lock of my hair around his finger. “This could be ours - our kingdom. Your kingdom.” He’s being serious I realize, completely serious. He’s never lied to me. “Could we afford it?” I ask incredulously. Then I silently kick myself - why couldn’t we afford it? Duane’s family came from old money. His father had owned his own law firm in New York and his mother had been an English professor at NYU. I’d never had the pleasure of meeting his parents - by the time Duane and I got together his parents were long gone. I thought it was sweet that Duane ended up following in his mother’s footsteps. From what Duane told me, he’d never got along with his father, but he’d loved his mother to pieces. Not only did he inherit money from his parents, he’d sold his father’s law firm to a loyal family friend, and there’s the pay he gets from his job which in itself is pretty substantial. Then there was the money I’d brought in from the New York Times and the royalties from the book I published recently, a memoir disguised as a roman-à-clef titled Get the Lead Out. Buying the lighthouse isn’t as impossible as it seems. We certainly have the dough. But what Duane was proposing was...impulsive. I put my hands on my hips and bite my lower lip. “Are you going through some kind of midlife crisis?” He scratches at his scalp sheepishly. “I don’t know. I’m forty-eight and I’ve never lived anywhere else but New York City. A change wouldn’t be so bad. And I know you’ve always wanted to live in a lighthouse...so when I saw in a news article that the lighthouse was for sale I jumped on it. It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” So this is why we came out here in the beginning of November instead of waiting until Summer when all the tourist show up, I think. I feel stupid; how could I miss such a big clue? “So what, we leave our jobs, buy the lighthouse and then just pack everything up and move here, to an island where we’re complete total strangers? Just like that?” He shrugs. “Why not? We can afford it. And I did my research. They have an opening at the college. They really need an English teacher. And they have their own magazine. If you didn’t want to do that then perhaps you could write another book since Get the Lead Out is doing so well. I know you’ve been wanting to write another novel. This could be the perfect place for inspiration. If we don’t like it here we could always move back to New York…or anywhere else we want to go.” “I don’t know,” I say. “You sprung this on me at the last second. If you’d brought this up earlier I would’ve given it more thought.” “Let me ask you this?” he says. “Other than our jobs what do we have back in New York? We don’t have many friends except those we work with because we both work too much. My parents have been dead for twelve years and you don’t speak to your Mom...” When he puts it that way he has a point: We don’t have family and the only friends we have are the ones we work with - the other professors in the English department for Duane, Phillip and Jamie who work with me on the editorial team at New York Times. And it wasn’t as if we were moving to the other side of the world...Manhattan was just a ferry ride and a days’ drive away. As far as I’m concerned Duane is the only family I have; but he’s not just my family he’s my home and I don’t care where home is as long as I have him by my side. Despite my initial reservations Duane already knows what my answer is, and so do I. I reach up and bring his forehead down to mine. I breathe in his smell, look into his eyes - into the windows of his soul. “Go for broke, all or nothing, live or die? Is that what you’re telling me?” He nods. “Go for broke. All or nothing. Live or die.” I kiss both his eyes, the center of his forehead, his lips. “Then let’s do it.” … We find Vanessa back in the living room. She smiles at us as if she knows what it is we talked about. “What do you think?” she says. “It’s breathtaking,” I say. “Is it everything you’d imagine it would be?” she asks. “It’s better,” I say. “We’re interested,” says Duane, offering his hand, letting me know they’ve already had this conversation. Vanessa shakes his hand. “Great. I’ll throw in the chickens and the china.”
  13. ValentineDavis21

    A Different World

    Set in a mirror version of the 14th century, Paladin's plague has turned the world into a wasteland. With time running out and a war brewing, Commander Gil'eppsie races for Pen’thorpe Keep; mysterious dark forces are at work, and Catholicism is on the rise.
  14. ValentineDavis21

    Boar's Head

    Commander Skold Gil’eppsie saw the smoke long before they reached the hill. It rose into the sky like an uncoiling black demon pressed up against a bleak grey sky from which snow fell steadily. Another city laid to cinder and ruin by Paladin’s ruthless army no doubt. Skold had led his own dwindling army through a dozen ruined villages within the last three months. With a cluck of his tongue his mare, Selene, came to a stop, her tail swishing lazily from side to side, her sides heaving. Skold uncapped the deerskin waterbag dangling at his hip from a piece of leather and lifted it to his cracked lips; he was unaware of the way his Adam’s apple bobbed in anticipation. A few drops hit the bottom line of his gums, falling back against his tongue, just enough to awaken his thirst but not to slake it. Some would have cursed the spirits of Valhalla for bad luck but Skold simply let the waterskin fall back down at his side. He was out of water. It was what it was. They’d come across a stream a week ago and camped there for the night - it was there Skold had filled the waterskin. His second-in-command came up on his left. Her hair was plastered around her, there was a smear of dirt on her forehead and another just underneath the cleft of her chin. Her eyes scanned the top of the massive hill before her, perhaps measuring the distance. The sharp tips of her Elven ears stuck out from locks of silver-blonde hair. Even underneath the grime, she was strikingly beautiful. Skold had the same silver-white hair, high cheekbones, narrow nose and pouty lips which were always twisted in a scowl or bent in a sardonic grin. Though she was taller, one would have to be a fool to look at them and not be able to see they were brother and sister. “There’s a village just beyond the hill,” said Skold. “I want to clear it before nightfall and camp for the evening.” “Good. I am exhausted and my thighs are chapped. I am sure we could all use the rest.” Skold did not reply to his sister’s comment of her chapped thighs; it was irrelevant to him. He turned and glanced back at the remains of his army. When King Yaldon had sent him on the march against Paladin’s army, Skold had commanded eighteen thousand formidably experienced warriors. It was not as many as his father Solomon had commanded but it was still a large army. During his command Solomon had not made it as far into the plague ridden territory that had become Europe. However Skold was under no illusion that he would succeed. Paladin’s plague, the Black Death, had taken many lives - both human and fae alike. Now the current objective was to rendezvous with General Gendimoth Cevna and nineteen thousand other troops at Pen’thorpe Keep. Beyond that, Skold did not think about what possibilities the future might hold. All he knew was he would continue to fight until there was no one standing - until the world was both empty of fae and human alike if it came down to it. By the time Skold and his troops reached the top of the hill the sky had become a darker grey, the temperature steadily lower. His armor did little to protect him from the merciless winds that blew his shoulder-length hair back from his forehead. He clenched his jaw as he scanned the scene before him, taking everything in. A wood awning with a plaque nailed to the wood proclaimed the town as Boar’s Head in Hungarian - despite himself Skold couldn’t help but be amused by the name; humans always gave their dwellings the strangest names, as if they’d written a bunch of random words on pieces of paper and pulled them randomly out of a hat. The corpse of a villager hung from the awning, his feet dangling several feet above the ground. A coil of intestine hung from a large gash in his belly. His eyes had been pecked out by birds. His mouth hung open in a silent scream of agony. Sonja came up on his left, Konstantine (Skold’s third in command) on his right; all three had their swords drawn, eyes scanning the gloom for signs of danger. Skold’s nerves were coiled tight, ready to spring. He’d been caught unaware before and it had cost him much; he wouldn’t be caught unaware again. The snow was stained with splashes of blood; bodies were strewn everywhere like forgotten dolls - many were missing limbs. Just paces away was a severed arm, over there a leg, over here a headless corpse. A group of crows lined the top of a straw-roofed hut, seeming to watch the group as they passed by. Skold felt an involuntary shiver race up his spine that had nothing to do with the cold. There was something unnatural about them - he had no idea what it was but he felt it all the same. His red cape, the cape that marked him as commander, rippled behind him. Konstantine glanced at Skold with violet eyes that glowed under the darkening sky and let out a low whistle. “ I smell orc shit. This wasn’t the work of Paladin’s soldiers. This was the doing of orcs. Looks like they cleared the place out, left no one standing.” “They never do, fucking barbarians,” came Sonja’s reply. And then, referring to the human corpses, “I almost feel sorry for the poor bastards.” Skold didn’t like the idea of orcs having just passed before them. Time was running out. Things weren’t looking good for King Yaldon’s army. The village was so small there was only a single dirt road that ran through a four-way intersection. In the center of the village was a cobble-stoned well. A wooden bucket dangled over the lip of the well. The spirits of Valhalla bless us, Skold thought. He jumped gracefully off Selene’s mount. A muscle in his right inner thigh seized painfully but his burgeoning thirst overwhelmed the pain. Sonja and Konstantine leaned against the mouth of the well and peeked down. Skold grabbed the wooden crank and lowered the bucket into the dark water beneath. Murmurs and curses of relief sounded around Skold. Skold filled his waterskin, took several long pulls from his waterskin - water sloshed down his chin and the front of his armor but he hardly felt it - and then filled it back up again. At the east end of the village was a wooden chapel. The wood doors flapped eerily in the wind, blocked from shutting completely by the corpse of a Christian holy man. He tied Selene’s reigns to a post and climbed up the steps to the entrance. The priest’s white tunic was covered in splotches of blood. From what he could see the priest had been stabbed two dozen times. Someone took great joy in killing him, Skold thought. He stooped down long enough to straighten the birettum on the man’s mostly bald head before stepping over him. There were several rows of pews; some of them had been knocked askew by the chaos that had passed through here. The air smelled both sour and coppery, of blood and decay. A corpse of a young alter boy lay in between the pews; he held a wooden rosary in his limp hands. His eyes were closed. If Skold didn’t know better he would have said the boy was asleep. Another corpse, a nun, rested half-on-half-off the altar, her eyes wide open and glassy. Half a dozen arrows protruded from her back. Dried blood ran down the side of the alter ending in a puddle on the floor. There was nothing holy inside of this church. Though he was sure these humans had knelt before the holy cross and prayed to their God as Paladin’s army tore through their village slaughtering their people like cattle, it was clear their God had done nothing. If he truly did exist (and Skold wasn’t convinced that He did) then He was cruel and indifferent. But all deities are cruel and indifferent, he thought, no matter the race and culture. It was why Skold didn’t pray, not even to the spirits of Valhalla, for if they did truly exist, then they too were cruel. Skold sat in the front pew; every muscle groaned in relief. Sonja wasn’t the only one who had chapped legs. For over a year now they’d traveled by horse or on foot and when they weren’t traveling they were fighting. The camps they set up only provided a scant respite from the cold and not even that; Skold could no longer remember the comforts of a real bed, could not remember when he didn’t smell his own sweat and body odor or the body odor of others. Food was scarce and the cold fronts that hovered over everything made agriculture difficult. As if the war and the plague wasn’t enough, the ever spreading influence of Christianity - Catholicism in particular - intensified things: Even as their species was being pushed towards the brink of extinction they squabbled amongst themselves, shouting to be heard. Skold found it all to be amusing. Such was the way of life in these violent dark times when it seemed that the sky would fall. If it did fall Skold would be just as indifferent to it all as he was to the war. “I knew I would find you in here,” a voice said from behind Skold. In the blink of an eye Skold was on his feet, sword back in hand, lips pulled back in a snarl. But when he turned it was only Konstantine. Immediately he relaxed, the feral look in his metallic grey eyes gone as quickly as it appeared. “It is impolite to sneak up on people,” said Skold. “Since when did you give a fuck about manners?” That grin faded when he looked at the dead altar boy and the nun. “I always know where to find you, even when the place is a stranger to me: always among the shadows and the dead.” “Did you need something, Konstantine?” “Sonja wants to know what you want done with the corpses. Do you want us to bury them?” Skold lifted an eyebrow. “She was unable to find me and ask me that herself?” “I volunteered to tell you myself, Commander,” said Konstantine. He smiled. “As always.” “I see. Dig a pit, throw them all in, and burn them. We do not want to leave any plague-ridden bodies behind.” “Even if they are not infected?” “Why leave any chances?” “As you command, sir.” Konstantine began to walk away. Before leaving he stopped once more. “And sir?” “What?” Skold said wearily. “Will you be by the tent tonight?” Skold smirked at the invitation; the curl at the right corner of his lips said he would. The pit had been dug, the bodies thrown in. Sonja informed Skold there were just under two hundred corpses. Skold stood at the edge of the pit and watched as a soldier whose name he could not remember emptied three barrels of oil into the mass grave. Shadows danced and flickered by the light cast from several burning torches. Skold nodded at the soldiers with the torches and one by one they threw them into the pit. Within an instant the flames sprung up like a beast who has just been woken from its slumber; it spread across the pit like a plague. Skold brushed through the small crowd that had formed around the circle, heading towards the cluster of tents that had been set up before nightfall. For the moment it was not snowing, though the wind still blew with enough force and chill to lacerate. The moon was a half crescent, filling the black velvety sky with its ghostly light. Skold glanced at the tower of the church where two sentries stood watch, facing the woods at the western side of Boar’s Head. They saluted him in the elven way, running the palms of their hands against their forehead - two soldiers just showing respect to their captain. Skold nodded, too tired to return the salute. Konstantine was waiting for him, already completely naked. His eyes glimmered from the small light granted by the candles which stood on a wooden chest. “It took you long enough,” said Konstantine. “I wanted to make sure no one saw where I was going.” “What’s the point? Everyone knows about what we do. Your sister definitely knows.” “Part of the appeal is pretending like no one knows what’s going on between you and I,” Skold said with a teasing smile. He turned his back to Konstantine and stripped out of his armor, stacking each piece neatly by the entrance. His skin seemed to glow with its own source of light. The shape of his body was soft, almost effeminate; the shape of his ribs and hip bones were pronounced against his pale and milky skin. Where his sex organs should have been was a long white surgical scar - his cock and balls were completely gone. Konstantine was completely still as he greedily drunk in the sight of his commander’s naked body. He said, “I’ve never seen a creature more exquisitely beautiful.” “So you’ve told me...many times.” Konstantine spread his arms and Skold went to his embrace; his skin tingled at Konstantine’s touch. His nipples were hard and shriveled from the cold. Konstantine leaned forward to kiss Skold. Before he could Skold stood up again. Konstantine scowled, not bothering to hide his frustration. “What the fuck are you doing? My balls are starting to ache.” Skold knelt down and blew out the candles. His silver eyes gleamed with a ghostly light. He drifted back to Konstantine and knelt down in front of him. “Are you ready?” he whispered; his voice sounded like unraveling silk in the dark. “Yes, may the spirits of Valhalla damn you. Get on with it.” With that Skold took Konstantine’s entire, throbbing length into his mouth. Later they laid side by side, Konstantine’s back pressing up against Skold’s back. Skold’s insides were still wet with Konstantine’s seed. There were teeth marks from where Skold had bit into Konstantine’s shoulder when Konstantine came inside him. Skold could feel himself growing more and more drowsy; it wouldn’t be long before sleep took him. It had been days since the last time he’d slept - since anyone had slept. He was vaguely aware that Konstantine was running his fingers through Skold’s hair. “Sometimes I ask myself why I’m so in love with you,” Konstantine murmured. “I have no idea.” Skold’s words were slurred. His eyes were focused on the moonlight. “Surely common sense would tell you this arrangement is purely sexual.” “Perhaps my skull is too thick.” “Yes perhaps.” “If only you knew how strong my love is for you.” “If we were vervolechent I might feel the same way but I don’t.” There is no such person for me, Skold thought. A vervolechent was when two souls became interconnected by Cerbyendeuyng (fate). The connection was sacred, unbreakable. “I would die for you without hesitation,” said Konstantine. “Without even sparing a thought for my own life.” “You would die for me if I commanded you to as you would for our king.” “Fuck the king and fuck your title as commander! I would die for you Skold! I would follow you anywhere.” Red heat bloomed inside of Skold, something that might have been shame. I wish I could give you what I want but I’m incapable of it, he thought. “Do you even have a soul?” “I’ve often wondered the same thing,” Skold murmured. After a moment he added, “I think I lost it the day my father had me castrated.” Skold awoke from unwelcome dreams - not dreams but memories. Last night he’d dreamed of his mother, Lea. He’d been in the midst of his adolescent years the day she tried to escape from the quarantine tent. The plague had driven her insane. Almost every night Lea screamed, raving: The dead would come and drag her down to the underworld where she would be subjected to the Ferryman’s endless torture. The plague had turned her skin the color of onyx. Her beautiful silver-blonde hair, the hair Skold and Sonja had inherited from her, had fallen out. He looked nothing like the mother he’d grown up with. She’d sprinted out the tent, her shit-and-vomit-stained white gown flowing out behind her, babbling in the ancient tongue. Skold, standing sentry outside the tent, didn’t hesitate. He couldn’t hesitate. As he lifted the bow and pulled back the arrow he stopped seeing Lea as his mother. She looked once over her shoulder, at him, silently pleading him to let her go, another thing he couldn’t do. She was a plague victim and the plague she was infected with was extremely contagious. He would never forget the punctuation the sound made in the air when the arrow pierced through her skull, the tip bursting out between Lea’s eyes, the way the blood spurted out copiously. There was a time when Skold would have felt guilty but he felt nothing - Solomon had already beat the emotion out of him. And Skold reassured himself that he’d done the right thing. He knew not everyone would feel the same. Sonja hated him; his father hated him. Is that why he had me castrated? Skold thought, sitting up. As a punishment for killing his beloved? He pushed these unwelcome thoughts away and began to dress, putting on his armor. The red cape flowed down to the middle of his waist. Behind him Konstantine still slumbered, unperturbed. Skold exited Konstantine’s tent. Boar’s Head was shrouded in fog. To his right a ghostly group of soldiers sat in a circle before a fire. His sister Sonja was not among them; perhaps she was still asleep. He reached the well. Someone had laid a wooden ladle next to the bucket. When he brought the pail back up, water sloshing over the side, he slipped the ladle into the water and brought it up to his lips. Just as he was about to refill his waterskin something snagged the corner of his eye - movement coming from the trees a half mile west of the village. Skold’s hand automatically went to the hilt of his sword. He stood stock still, waited, and watched. Something isn’t right, he thought. He sensed danger, could feel it in his bones. It was nearby, perhaps hiding in the snow-topped shelter of the trees. It was a mistake to stop here. We should have kept moving. Skold turned away from the trees, reluctant to turn his back. He went to the church where Selene, his horse, was still tethered. Skold clucked his tongue, ran his fingers along her long neck. “How are you, girl?” He clicked his tongue once more then ducked into the church. At the top of the church, the two sentries he put on guard - Errsike and Lucian - passed a waterskin back and forth. Skold waited a beat just to prove to himself what a piss poor job they were doing at the duty he tasked them with, then said, “Sentries.” They both jumped and cursed at the sound of his voice. Medley splashed down the front of Errsike’s armor. “We didn’t hear you come in, sir,” he said hastily, apologetically. He passed Skold the medley who took a healthy swig from it to be polite. “Scared us half to death.” Skold barely heard him. He took another sip of the medley. He had his complete focus on the woodland before them with the intensity of a vulture. “Is something wrong, sir?” Lucian asked. Skold approached the edge of the tower. Beyond the ledge was a hundred foot drop to the ground. “I thought I saw movement in the trees just a moment ago - when I was by the well.” Errsike shook his head. “Don’t mean to contradict you, sir, but we’ve been watching those trees all evening and haven’t seen a thing.” You wouldn’t, would you you thick-head fool, Skold thought, irritated. Not for the first time he wished King Yaldon had armed him with smarter men. He was about to leave the tower, take the wooden stairway back to the sanctuary of the church, when he saw movement coming from the trees again - and this time it was unmistakable. But by then it was already too late. Dark, bulky shapes started to charge towards the village. He recognized the dark ash-colored skin, pointy tipped ears, the tusks that protruded from indents around the mouth, and eyes that were so darkly red they were almost black: Orcs, the other half of Paladin’s army. They resembled something from a childhood nightmare, a crossbreed of elf and demon. Since the beginning of the war, Cader’all the orc chieftain and Paladin (King Yaldon’s wayward son) were working to overthrow King Yaldon’s reign and his vision of building a stable union with the humans. The orcs were making short work of the snowy landscape, coming up on Boar’s Head fast. While they were not graceful as elves they made up for it with their endless lust for blood. They were armed with crude looking swords, axes, and maces, all made out of the bone of those they killed. Their armor was old and dented, banged back into shape after every battle. Arrows arced up from the tops of the trees, raining from the sky. Lucian raised the horn hanging from his belt to his lips (the horn strongly resembled a cornucopia), and blew. WHOO-WHOO. WHOO-WHOOOOO. The horn was a call to arms. Be ready to fight, be ready to die. WHOO- The horn died, falling from Lucian’s fingers. It spun end over end once before hitting the ground. Lucian turned towards Skold. His eyes bulged in horror. He reached for his captain trying to form words with his mouth. The arrow protruding from his throat wouldn’t let him. Then he almost knocked Skold over as he turned, staggering drunkenly towards the door that would take him to the stairway of the church. Blood trailed behind him, marking his passage. Skold reached for his father’s shield, where it should have been strapped to his armor just beneath his cape, and then remembered he’d lost it in the last run-in with orcs. All he could do was press himself flat against the wall and duck. He watched helplessly as Errsike stumbled back against the wall, trying to pull several arrows out of his chest with a gauntleted hand now coated in his own blood. When his bottom hit the ground he was dead. “Fuck,” Skold said. After what seemed like an eternity the storm of arrows passed. Skold could hear the sounds of screams and curses and growls, the sound of metal banging against metal. It surrounded him like a mist. He gritted his teeth. His muscles were coiled tight. His blood boiled despite the cold. He rose to his feet, sword in hand. Just then a grappling hook latched itself onto the ledge, followed by a second and then a third. Skold risked a peek. Orcs were climbing up the side of the church, swinging up like monkeys. They’d be on him in seconds. Sure enough, with a howl, one of them launched through the air, dropping towards Skold like an anvil, armed with a mace. A second before the orc could crush him Skold dodge-rolled out the way. He brought his sword up just in time to parry a blow from the orc’s mace. Each blow Skold parried sent tremors of impact up his arms. The orc’s sword moved in savage arcs, muscle and vein bulging visibly underneath its onyx skin. Skold backed up until his back pressed against the wall. The orc swung the mace at his head once more. Skold ducked. Splinters caught themselves in his hair as the mace made contact with wood. He used the opportunity and drove the sword through the orc’s belly with all his strength. The sharp tip of his blade erupted through the orc’s back, dripping with ichor. The orc shuddered once and died. The mace fell from its hands. Skold planted one booted heel against its armored chest and pushed it off his blade. Three more orcs clambered onto the roof. Skold gathered in his will and screamed, “Fe’ri!” A ball of fire exploded from the palm of his hand. Upon impact one of the orcs burst into flame. The orc flailed and kicked helplessly before falling over the edge of the roof. Skold ducked once more and decapitated another with his sword. Another slash and the third went down. More grunts and curses signified the passage of reinforcements. Skold didn’t have the time or patience to deal with them. He grabbed the horn laying just inches from Lucian’s limp hand, spun around, bolted through the door, and dashed down the stairs three at a time. Skold burst out of the church - and halted: His beautiful mare, Selene had been slaughtered. She lay in two halves in the snow; her intestines looked as if they were trying to slither out of her body, as if trying to make one last attempt at survival. For the first time in Skold knew how long (days weeks months years?), Skold felt the hot stab of anger. His horse might have been the only thing in his life he loved and she’d been slaughtered like a cow, his beautiful mare who had carried him past many miles, through terrain and battles. He looked up as one of his men ran past, engulfed in flames, arms flailing through the air, trailing smoke behind him; another was being held down by an orc while another swung a double-sided axe, severing the last of the elf’s legs. Skold was barely aware of moving. Within the blink of an eye he was behind him. With a sideways slash of the sword he severed the orc-with-the-axe’s hamstrings; a second later its head went rolling across the snow. His partner in crime was hardly able to look up before the tip of Skold’s sword stabbed through the spot in between his eyes, straight into his brain. “Please, sir,” the elf, barely past her adolescent years, begged. “It hurts so bad. Make it stop-” Another flick of his wrist and Skold granted her last wish. After that everything turned into a daze: Skold killed any orc that dared to get in his way. Black orc blood splattered across his face, in his hair, the front of his armor, and the back of his red cape. Eventually he found his sister, Sonja. Three orcs had closed her in a circle. She stood, poised, eyes turning to each one of them without turning her head. She was grinning, daring them to make a move. They did, all at once, a mistake on their part. Within the blink of an eye all three orcs fell into the snow, in a spray of severed limbs and gore. She saw Skold and came over to him. “They’re closing in on us from all sides,” she said. Skold looked around, saw more orcs than he did elves. “They’re slaughtering us,” she panted. “I know.” Skold sidestepped a charging orc, slashed his throat, kicked away, all before taking a breath. “Where the fuck did they come from?” “I don’t know. But we can’t stay here; we won’t have any troops left if we do.” With that Skold raised the horn to his lips and blew into it. WHOOOO-WHOOO! WHOOOO-WHOOOOO! The horn’s wail cut through the air for all to hear. “Run for the tree!” he screamed. “Run for the trees everyone!” “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Sonja shouted back at him. “That’s where they came from.” “It’s better than staying here, waiting to get slaughtered,” Skold said, shoving her towards the view of the trees. “Now do as I say, damn you!” He screamed “Fe’ri!” and a dozen-and-a-half orcs went flailing through the air, clearing them a path out the village. Grabbing Sonja’s hand, Skold sprinted in that direction, pulling his sister after him. She grumbled and cursed him in the ancient tongue but began to run on her own after a time. Skold didn’t bother to see who else was following him. Either his troops would follow or they wouldn’t. Twice Skold’s feet almost slipped from underneath him. He could see orcs clinging to the tops of the tree. Every few seconds arrows would fall from the sky but by this time Skold was already past them. He reached the trees before Sonja did. Out of the corner of his eye an orc fired an arrow at him from the branch of a sturdy oak tree. Skold cut the arrow out of the air and flung a ball of fire at the orc with the mutter of a single word. The spiked ball of a flail flashed towards his head. He sidestepped it with the grace of a well practice dancer and rammed the handle of his blade into its face. Sonja finished the kill by grabbing the back of its head and running the blade of her sword against its gullet. The forest floor rose into a steep hill. Skold had to use one hand to brace himself, the heels of his shoes making imprints in the muddy soil. He wasn’t sure how long they’d been running when he realized the sky was darkening. He simply looked up at one point and saw the glimmer of stars. The trickle of orcs had thinned and stopped altogether. He turned, loing at his sister. Her chest heaved. Over her shoulder he could make out several shapes flitting through the forest’s shadow. One of them stopped, hunched over, and vomited. He straightened up, wiped his mouth. Long, black braids hung down to his waist. His eyes - orange - glowed like twin balls of flame. “Are they following us, soldier?” Skold asked him. “I dunno,” said the soldier. “I stopped keeping track a long time ago.” “What is your name?” “Tannis.” “They caught us with our breeches down - for the second time mind you,” said Sonja. She swore. “How, in the name of the Ferryman’s arse crack, could that happen?” “I dunno,” Skold said absently; he was thinking about Selene, his mare, layng dead back there in the ghosttown of Boar’s Head. How many troops had he lost today? “I’ve never seen them this organized. “No more chatting. We have to keep going.” “I don’t...I don’t think I can,” said Sonja. “Then stay behind and become orc food,” Skold said coldly. Sonja’s eyes burned with hate. “I hate you, brother. I don’t know why they made you commander. Bloody mistake to make a eunuch commander if you ask me.” Skold ignored her, turned, and went back to making his way through the underbrush.
  15. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 4

    Duane wakes me up at eight o’ clock on the dot. It takes the promise of breakfast at The Treasure Cove to get me out of bed. My head aches; I have a hangover. I make a mental note to never ever drink again. At The Treasure Cove I order Belgian waffles the size of my head. The waffles have walnuts and chocolate chips embedded in the dough. I’m wearing sunglasses; despite the overcast sky the light hurts my eyes. Looking directly at it makes it feel as if slivers of glass are slicing through my brain. Duane orders an omelet that has everything in it: sausage, ham, bacon, onions, mushrooms and at least three different kinds of cheeses. The omelet comes with a large side of home-fries. As I eat I silently rip my partner a new one with my mind for my hangover. This is your fault, I want to tell him. You encouraged me. But then I can hear my therapist back in New York saying, Take responsibility for your own part in things. “We have an appointment at ten,” Duane says, taking a sip of his coffee. “Appointment?” I stop chewing. He smiles smugly but says something. “What kind of appointment? Who the hell would we have an appointment with? We don’t know anyone in this town.” “You’ll see,” is all he says. I can’t bring myself to finish my breakfast - I don’t even get through half of the first waffle and the cook gave me three of them - so I box the rest up. To me wasting food is a cardinal sin, too many hungry mouths in the world and all that. I’ll eat the rest later. Duane pays the bill and we get in the Jeep. A minute later we pass the big church I saw from the ferry. The little white marquee says JESUS IS COMING! BEWARE ALL YE SINNERS, PREPARE TO BE JUDGED! I scoff silently. Bullshit. I imagine walking in the church, finding the pastor, and saying, Bullshit. It’s all bullshit and you’re full of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t believe in God, I do. I’m what you’d call an agnostic theist: someone who believes in God but can’t prove He exists. If God truly does exists then He’s crueler than the people who worship him. Before long we’re climbing up hills, zipping down a road lined with trees. The road curves like a ball of wool unraveling. Where the trees end, fields dotted with cattle, farmhouses, barns and the hulk of tractors dot the land. At the end of the road is Adermoor Cove’s lighthouse: it hugs the edge of a cliff, standing upright like a proud soldier. Beyond the cliff the grey-green ocean rolls and coils and flattens. I’ve always had this fascination, or rather obsession, with lighthouses. The fascination started with this movie I used to watch over and over again when I was a kid: Pete’s Dragon. I still have the VHS tape. I don’t just love the movie because of the dragon, Elliot, or because I related to the little boy Pete trying to run away from his abusive family, but because of the lighthouse. One scene that has always stuck with me: the scene in which Nora, played by the beautiful Helen Reddy, stands at the top of the lighthouse and sings “Candle in the Water” as she looks out at the ocean, waiting for her long-absent sailor husband to come home. I’ve always fantasized (and still do if I’m being honest) about living in one. I’d stand at the top and look out at the ocean as Helen Reddy did, perhaps listening to the song of the dolphins as the sun sank beneath the Atlantic. Duane knows this. On both sides of the wood-post fence lining both sides of the driveway is a “FOR SALE” sign. Next to the lighthouse is a barn, the paint starting to peel off. Once it might have been bright red but now it looks more brown-red. The chickens roam freely around the grass. I can hear them clucking through the window. A woman comes out of the barn, a silver pail in hand. She reaches into the pail with gloved fingers and sprinkles chicken feed into the grass; the chickens, feathery vacuums on forked feet, come and gobble up the chicken feed. Duane pulls the Jeep up beside the lighthouse, being careful not to hit one of the wandering chickens. We’re actually in front of a lighthouse, a real lighthouse! I’m not just seeing it through a television screen or on Google Images. I look at Duane. I want to ask him what the fuck is going on but can’t find the words. As if he can read my mind - and he probably can after seven years of being together - he says, “You always wanted to see one for yourself, go inside one, and stand at the top. Now you get to.” He gets out of the car and I get out after him. My legs feel like stilts. I can’t believe this is actually happening, I think to myself. The woman begins to walk in our direction; her galoshes making squeaky noises . She isn’t pretty and hardly looks feminine. She has the body of a linebacker. There’s none of the soft curves and edges you so often see with most women. Her shoulders are round and broad, her waist thick. Her hair is cut short, sprinkled with grey. Her eyes, like mine, are dark blue. Her eyebrows are bushy and need to be trimmed. Her lips, flat and thin, smile at us. She may not be pretty but she has a friendly look to her. She also looks familiar. There’s that feeling of deja vu, and the certainty that I’ve been here before, in this exact spot. Only this one is different: mostly I’ve had this feeling with places; only once have I had it with people. ... Give me a minute to explain. I had the same feeling the first time I laid eyes on Duane. He was the professor overseeing my English writing class. I was twenty-four at the time, fresh out of undergrad school, newly accepted into NYU. I was working towards getting a minor in creative writing and a bachelors in journalism. Upon seeing him two things run through my mind: I’d seen him somewhere before; more importantly, I know him. I can’t think of from where or when but the feeling is as strong, as solid, as a brick wall. The second thought: how odd it is to see such a big man, a man who looks more like a pro wrestler on WWE, teaching an English class. He looks like he could shatter the desk apart with one punch. And then the wave of dizziness hits me like a freight train, so fast and sudden that it takes the wind out of me. There’s that strange sensation of warm mist passing through my head, over my vision. I have no choice but to sit down or else I’m going to fall down - something which would have embarrassed me to no end. In the third week of the semester Duane shows the class a painting - I can’t recall the name of the painting or who the artist was - of a diner. Now that I think about it, the diner in the painting isn’t all that different looking from The Treasure Cove. In the painting there are four people: A woman sitting on a stool at a counter, wearing a green dress; the waiter behind the counter pouring the woman a fresh cup of coffee; a lonely old man sitting at a booth off to the left of the counter; and the fourth, a man stepping into the diner, looking at the woman. Though her back is turned and all that can be seen is her dark red ringlets, the man looks as if he recognizes her. I remember thinking, There’s a sort of urgency in his moustached face. “I want you to look at this picture,” Duane says in his powerful, thoughtful voice. His eyes scan the audience from behind his reading glasses, which in my mind only added to his unconventional appeal, and linger on mine. Back then I wasn’t sure, like I am almost a decade later, but he always held my gaze a second or two longer than anyone else’s; not long enough to make anyone else become suspicious but long enough for me to notice. He clears his throat and continues. “I want you to write me a story about the people in this painting and only the people in the painting. It can’t take place outside of the diner. I don’t care what it’s about and I don’t care how long it is - just make it good. I assume most of you want to be writers” - again he looks at me - “so write. Grab my attention. Have it finished by next week.” By the time class lets out I already have the story planned: The man has seen the woman in the diner, through the window, and recognizes her. They knew each other, back in their college days perhaps, and he’s smitten with her. Not just smitten but head-over-heels in love with her. Only he didn’t have the courage to tell her for fear she’d laugh in his face, reject him. The man (I’ve named him Murphy and the woman Scarlett), has gone all this time regretting not telling her about these feelings, tormenting himself with what could have been but never was. For better or worse he refuses to let this opportunity slip through his fingers. I turn the story in the next week. The week after that Duane hands back everyone’s stories, graded…everyone’s but mine. I panic. I think, Oh God he hates it. He probably thought it was shitty and threw it away. I think about all the time I spent over it, almost neglecting my other school work, tweaking this and that, adding this and taking that away...and I’d done it all for him. I wanted to give him the best story I possibly could. I’m so caught up in my insecurity that I don’t stop to think how irrational I’m being. In moments of high stress my thoughts get away from me. I panic, I don’t think rationally, I think things that fit with the reality inside of my head not outside of it - something my therapist and I have discussed many times. I want to fucking cry. I want to fucking die. After class, Duane pulls me into his office. I’m nervous. This is my first time being alone with Duane. He slides the story across the desk, smiling. The paper shines in the sunlight coming through the window. To me, in my mind, it looks malignant. “I love it,” he says. I look him in the eye for the first time since he’s called me into his office: my feet which have been tapping nervously on the floor, come to a complete stop. “Really?” I say. “Yes,” he says. “In my time of teaching I’ve never been hit with such emotion by one of my students’ writing. I can tell you really paid attention to the painting. You incorporated most if not all the details into your story. But even more importantly I could feel what Murphy felt: the need to get all those unsaid feelings off his chest, the still fresh fear she will reject him. And the ending...I actually cheered when Scarlett said she felt the same about him and they left the diner hand in hand. That’s how much your writing enticed me.” He blushes silently at this last part. He continues: “I read it at last weeks faculty meeting and mailed it off to The New Yorker. I know I should’ve asked you about it first but the submission date was coming up and there wasn’t much time. Usually it takes months for them to get back to anyone but I have a good friend who just so happens to be in charge of submissions. He loved it and is going to put in next month’s issue...” The last words become a distant echo. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about my story being published, it’s the last thing I expect, but I’m thinking more about the swelling sensation in my heart. I’m in love with him. I’m thinking about how beautiful he is. It might be a strange way to think of such a large man, but in the moment no other word was coming to mind. Beautiful. Just beautiful. In a more conventional world, like the woman standing before us seven years later, he was not good-looking. His head, shaved at the time, is large and his ears are big, almost monkey-like. But I’ve never been into the conventional. I want to kiss him, hug him, feel his arms around me, feel his fingers in my hair. Then he says something that bridges these two moments together, past and present, in New York City and in Adermoore Cove. He says, “I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, and because of my job I really shouldn’t be saying this, but I feel like I know you, like we know each other even though I know we first laid eyes on each other just two weeks ago...” Despite the tension growing between us I feel myself become very still. It’s like the calming of the sea, the end of a hurricane. “I feel like I know you too,” I say with a smile. Then my nose starts to bleed. A second later the world is tilting, everything is sideways. What’s happening? I think. Why is everything going sideways? Duane is running towards me. I don’t know why. I don’t know why he looks so afraid. Then everything goes black. When I wake up I’m in the hospital, it’s the next day, I’m in a hospital gown, and Duane’s standing by my bed with a bouquet of tulips. “The doctor says you had a seizure,” he says. And then, smiling, almost as an afterthought: “I’ve never had anyone faint in my office before.” … All this passes through my mind. The woman says, “You must be Duane. I’m Vanessa. We spoke on the phone.” She shakes his hand and then she shakes my hand. I turn my head to look at the lighthouse. It’s so beautiful. Simultaneously two things begin to happen: A warm mist passes through my head and my nose starts to bleed, just as it did in Duane’s office seven years ago.
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