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  1. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 7: The Siege of Penthorpe Keep

    A shiver ran up Skold’s spine. It was impossible to tell if it was from the cold or excitement…or a mixture of the two. The opposing force drawing ever closer, though made of tens of thousands of bodies, moved like a single organism. The blast of horns cut in and out, carried by the wind, occasionally deafened by ominous cracks of thunder. The sky was so dark with heavy clouds it was impossible to see the moon. Sleet fell relentlessly from the sky. In the courtyard, General Cevna strolled back and forth. His eyes we're focused on the force gathered before him, whose sole task was to keep their enemies at bay for his long as possible. His mouth open and closed, his eyes blazed, but his words were lost on Skold's despite is impeccable hearing. Whatever he was saying it mattered not. Up here, on the walls of Penthorpe Keep, Skold was in command and had duties of his own. Bows were lifted up. Arrows were drawn and knocked back, some shaking unsteadily with the hands holding them. Everyone's eyes were on Skold, waiting for him to give orders; some were as calm and unemotional has his own, while others were wide and glassy with fear. A majority of those who stood with him - their names were not known to him. He would only ask their names if it was absolutely necessary to do so. And still they would do as he commanded, just as they would die for Yaldon, who also did not know their names. Beyond the walls of Penthorpe Keep, a ball of burning fire burst into the sky with a loud crack, followed by the wail of a trumpet - a signal for the siege of Penthorpe keep to begin. From the courtyard General Cevna looked up at Skold. Their eyes met. He nodded as if to say, You know what to do. In one fluid motion, Skold unsheathed his sword and held it up in the air to catch everyone's attention. Scanning the faces of his men, including Sonja and Konstantine, he shouted “Get your arrows ready!” Immediately the tops of barrels were being ripped off. Arrowheads were dipped into dark murky oil. Whispers of “Fuere!” were hissed from multiple lips. Hundreds of arrowheads began to dance has flames sprang into life, casting faces in dancing shadow and light. With his sword still held up towards the heavens, Skold turned to face Paladin’s army. Here we go, he thought. He brought the sword down. “Fire!” Hundreds of arrows arced through the air and plummeted down like birds of death. Skold watched as enemy shields were lifted up to meet the barrage of lethal projectiles. Most of the arrows hit metal but several bodies fell to the ground like lifeless ragdolls. If Paladin's troops we're not killed by the arrows themselves then they were trampled into the soggy ground by their comrades, who apparently did not care enough to help. Skold exchanged a brief glance with Konstantine, who was apparently hell bent on staying by his side if at all possible. Konstantine smiled, having chosen to put their quarrel behind them, for the moment at least, should there be a moment beyond this night. Skold turned his attention back to the matter at hand. He sheathed his sword, grabbed three arrows from the quiver he'd set against the wall, doused them in oil, set them a flame, and fired them all at once. The first one struck the front of a shield, bouncing off with a loud pinging sound; the second one pierced through the eye of an orc, the sharp tip bursting out the back of his large head; the third one went through an elf’s throat. He dropped to the ground, clutching helplessly at his throat. Skold had enough sense and experience not to feel triumphant just yet - there were simply too many adversaries and not enough arrows, even with all the time that had been spent preparing for war. One way or another Paladin’s army would get into the castle. No matter where he looked there were no banners, no signs that Paladin, Yaldon’s rebel, was among his ragtag army of elves, orcs, and hellhounds. Of course not, Skold thought sarcastically, shaking his head to get his matted bangs out of his face. Why would Paladin fight his own battles? He lets his army do the fighting for him, something his father and he have in common. He released a second torrent of arrows in rapid succession and more bodies dropped to the ground. Yet no matter how many arrows he fired, no matter how many marks he hit, it seemed more of Paladin’s armies kept popping into view; for every enemy he brought down another two or three would appear. In the courtyard the gates were being reinforced with anything that could be lifted, moved, and nailed down: pieces of wood, carts stacked with soggy bales of hay, all a means to buy more time. Even as Skold did his part to keep his adversaries from getting inside the castle, he thought: What is the point of any of this? It was not a thought of wariness, only the acknowledgment of a fact. Why try to stop the inevitable when there was no stopping it? The front of the surge had reached the Keeps door at last. A group of burly elves heaved a massive oak trunk, using it as a battering ram against the barred gates. Hellhounds padded back and forth with a grace that was both primitive and graceful, yipping and growling with anticipation as spittle dripped from their mouths. Smoke plumed from their nostrils and muzzles, carrying with it the smell of sulfur and ash.They were no doubt starving for the taste of elven flesh and blood. There was no end to their appetite. They would eat anyone or anything except for their master and the ones their master commanded. Even then they could never be fully domesticated. Like any predatory animal they were wild at heart. “We need more barrels!” Skold shouted. “Aye!” Sonja shouted. Several of Skold’s soldiers worked quickly, setting more barrels down and ripping the tops off. The tops of torches were quickly dipped in the oil and lit with fire. With a blazing torch of his own in hand, Skold kicked a barrel over with the heel of his boot. Oil sloshed over the side of the wall, splashing the heads of elves and orcs alike. Skold felt a smile touch his lips; his eyes, as silver as the moon itself, reflected the dancing flames of the torch. He tossed it casually into the air and watched it drop into the swarm. The fire sprung into life and engulfed several unfortunate souls. Limbs flailed helplessly to no avail. Not even the sleet helped to put out the flames. Smoke spiraled into the air. Skold’s nostrils flared at the smell of burning flesh. On both sides of him, those who fought beside Skold were doing as he’d just done, flinging torches at their adversaries. Skold felt a boundless joy. Nothing made him feel joy the way war did, not even sex. He stopped. He felt the impact beneath his feet a second before his sharp-tipped ears prickled and registered the sound: the gate had crashed. Penthorpe Keep had been breached. … Maeglin could hear the sounds of war waging outside the castle walls: shouts, curses, the clang of metal on metal; however good his hearing might have been however, his eyes did not provide him with the information he needed. He’d sent a scout out of the room to see how bad the situation was but until she returned, they were blind. Fifty of his men, including himself, guarded the doors of the chamber room. It was now more imperative than ever that they protect King Yaldon’s three counselors. If need be they could take the emergency passageway out of the castle and run for safety. Maeglin hated the idea as much as he hated waiting inside. It was the equivalent of having your back pressed up against the wall. King Yaldon might as well have signed our death warrants by sending us here, he thought. Everyone waited tensely with their hands on their swords. Several of them had a bow and arrow, with arrow quivers strapped to their back. While they did not say a word their body language spoke volumes: The stiffness in their shoulders and backs, their clenched jaws, the way their eyes occasionally darted to him, as if searching for comfort. Not more than a day ago Maeglin had accused Skold of being a cold creature, incapable of offering words of comfort or emotion at all, but now his own mouth failed him, marking him as a hypocrite. It was Viktor who broke the silence. He shoved his way to Maeglin, a shrewd demanding expression on his face. “What are we doing just standing here? Shouldn’t we be making our way to the passageway and getting as far away from this place as we can?” Valyuun took a small, almost imperceptible step closer to Maeglin, as if to offer protection from Viktor’s wrath. Maeglin felt a glimmer of appreciation towards his ward. Up until this moment, ever since the commotion had started, he’d almost forgotten his ward existed. “Yes we should,” Maeglin said, using all his will to keep his voice neutral. “But my scout hasn’t returned yet and we have no idea how bad it is out there.” “If she hasn’t returned yet then she surely must be dead,” Viktor spat. “There’s no point in waiting around just to end up like her.” “I’m giving her a few more minutes,” Maeglin said. “If she doesn’t show up we’ll make a run for it. But the job of my people and myself is to protect you. For the moment, at least, it’s safer in here.” Viktor opened his mouth to argue but Alagossa stepped into the fray, cutting him off. “Maeglin has protected us for years and been successful doing so. Not once has his judgement been wrong. If he says we wait for his scout to return then we wait.” Viktor glared at her grudgingly but stepped back and remained silent. While Viktor’s back was turned Maeglin gave Alagossa an appreciative nod. Althon had remained silent through the whole quarrel. His face was expressionless, as if this was all just a dream soon to pass. Maeglin only wished he could exert the same outward calm. Suddenly a mighty crashing sound pierced the uneasy silence that had so briefly taken rehold of the chamber. A second later someone was hammering on the door. “It must be Edrea,” Valyuun said. “Let her in,” Maeglin said. Two elves stepped swiftly forward, removing the bar that reinforced the doors. Edrea shoved her way inside, her golden eyes immediately finding Maeglin’s. “How is it out there?” Maeglin asked. She stopped, giving a quick bow at the counselors and then at him. “Not good, sir. Paladin’s forces have penetrated the castle...” That would explain the tremendous crashing sound we just heard, he thought. “From what I could see, Paladin himself is not present. I could not find his banner.” Of course not, Maeglin thought. He’s never present for his own battles. “Thank you Edrea.” Her news helped him to come to the decision: If he was going to lead the counselors to safety the time was now. He gave the orders. The doors to the chamber opened to the corridor which, for now at least was deserted. Swords drawn, everyone filed out. Though the corridor was quite wide everyone stood shoulder to shoulder, something that could pose a tactical problem should they meet any enemies. Fortunately the passageway wasn’t far and they reached it in minutes. At all times, the counselors were kept in the middle of the line so they were protected from all sides. Lighting several torches, Maeglin opened the passageway and began to lead them into the dark corridor, and if the spirits of Vahalla were willing, to safety. … The opposing force flooded in through the gates of Penthorpe Keep. Warcries broke out from both sides. Cevna’s army stepped forward to intercept Paladin’s, the shouts drowned out by the crash of metal on metal. Swords clanging, shields bashing into plated armor. Arrows whistled in the air. Apart from the orcs it was impossible to tell who was who. Skold’s orders were to stay atop unless Cevna fell in battle. With a brief glance he was able to pick Cevna out amongst the two battling forces. The general weaved in and out of view, blood flying from whichever direction his sword cut. “Skold!” Konstantine shouted. Skold met the eyes of his third-in-command just as a grappling look gripped the side of the wall, claws sinking in. Orcs were starting to scale the wall of the castle. Skold had a brief flashback of standing atop the church in Boar’s Head. Skold ignored the wave of deja vu he felt and cut the rope with a swipe of his sword. The severed rope made a loud snapping sound and an orc plummeted twenty feet to the ground. “They’re trying to climb the castle walls!” Skold roared. “We mustn’t let them!” Half a dozen more grappling hooks snared the wall and were immediately cut down. Still this seemed to do little to deter the bloodthirsty orcs from trying to breach the castle. For every rope severed, three or four more grappling hooks appeared. Skold fought without thinking, his body doing the fighting for him, doing what Solomon, his father, had trained him to do, being the weapon he’d been made to become. But even a weapon such as himself could only do so much. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw a large shape leap through the air. He turned just in time to see the bristles of its hairy back, to watch one of his soldier’s become pinned to the ground by the massive paws of the hellhound; Skold’s sharp ears did not miss the audible crunching of bone. Before Skold could leap forward to come to the elf’s aid the hellhound’s head darted down. For a second, just a second if that, Skold saw the flash of the hellhound’s white teeth, and then they disappeared, sinking into the elf’s shoulder. The elf let out a shriek of pain. In another flash, the hellhound bit down again and tore her head off. Blood spurted out from the rigid stump where it had been; a distant part of Skold realized he could see hints of bone. Several elves ran towards the hellhound - and then stopped as if uncertain they wanted to take the beast on. The creature turned its hate-filled eyes on Skold and zeroed in on him. The eyes glinted like glowing red rubies. Smoke shot from its nostrils as it exhaled. Its mouth opened and Skold managed to bring up his shield as flames shot from its throat. Falling to his knees, Skold made himself as small as he could behind the shield. The heat from the flames enveloped him, so hot it seemed to make the very air boil. Fresh beads of sweat dripped from his forehead, his back. Not even the cold night air or snow could cool his brow. As soon as the flames died, Skold tossed the shield aside and grabbed a nearby spear leaning against the wall. The hellhound’s eyes narrowed. Skold sensed a predatory intelligence within the way it watched him. It’s fur bristled once more, perhaps in anticipation. It settled back on its haunches, ready to spring. Skold remained completely still, his muscles tensed, his eyes taking in every blink of the hellhound’s eyes, the way the its sides heaved in and out with every breath it took. Skold readied himself for the fight, one-on-one if it must be. For the moment, the world and the war itself had ceased to exist. Then the hellhound changed. Just as it charged, Skold sprinted forward, shoulders pulled in at the sides, a weapon in both hands. The hellhound’s shape loomed larger and larger until it was all Skold could see. The world had grown silent, all but the pounding of his heart, the rushing of blood through all his veins. Within these tiny little micro-moments he felt pure exhilaration, like the releasing of endorphins after an orgasm - the ultimate vice. Before the hellhound could collide with him, crush him under its immense weight as it had done to its last unfortunate victim, Skold threw himself back and slid down on his knees. Now directly underneath the beast’s belly, he lifted his sword and cut a long, horizontal line down its belly. He stood up and turned to face the beast once more as a sharp whimpering sound came from the creature’s muzzle. It took a limping step forward. Its eyes, still fixed on him, had a weary look to them that was almost human. Then its belly opened. Blood, intestines, and pulpy swaths of guts poured out of its chest, steaming. Again, Skold sensed movement towards him before he heard the growl. He spun, dropping into a kneeling position once more and threw his spear at the hellhound that had come to take revenge on him for killing one of its kin. The spear found its mark and the hellhound went down, skidding to a stop at his feet. “Skold, watch out!” Sonja shouted from in front of him. She was running towards him, sword swinging with every step, but it was already too late. The claws of a hellhound hit from the side with the force of a solid wall. For a heart-lurching moment Skold flew through open air. The ground of the courtyard came up to meet him. He tensed his muscles, closed his eyes, and prepared himself for the impact. He slammed into the top of a wooden cart, covered with bales of hay tied together with rope, hard enough to break it. Unconsciousness took a hold of him. He was floating, falling. He didn’t want the darkness of unconsciousness to take him. I must keep on fighting! He thought. I must! The necromancer’s voice echoed through the dark, as if coming from a dark chamber with high ceilings: “Get up, little elf...Get up and fight...” And Skold found himself clawing his way up, spurred on by the necromancer’s voice. He gasped, taking in air like a drowning man. Just as he dug himself out of the wrecked remains of the cart, a hellhound, perhaps the same one which had attacked him from behind perhaps, slammed into him once more, pinning him to the ground. It’s paws were so heavy it was impossible to breathe. He planted his feet against its belly and tried to push it off but it was no use. Its mouth opened. The putrid smell of its breath hit him full force. He managed to brace a hand against the hellhound’s neck, keeping its snapping teeth just inches away from his face. Droplets of spittle splattered him. Skold’s free hand scrabbled helplessly for his sword. Someone whistled. The hellhound and Skold looked in the direction from which the sound had come from at the same time. Sonja stood just feet away, crossbow in hand. She pulled the trigger without blinking. The arrow flew through the air and punched through the hellhound’s right eye, straight into its brain. It whimpered once and then toppled on top of Skold. With Sonja’s help he managed to push the hellhound’s lifeless bulk off him. He staggered to his feet, wheezing. “Thanks,” he said. “You’re welcome,” she said. “It’s not the first time I’ve saved your ass.” To this, Skold only glared at her. There was no time for further conversation. Already an orc was running towards them, mace in hand. “I’ll let you get this one to redeem some of your former glory, commander,” Sonja said, before leaping back into battle. Though orcs were generally taller than elves, more muscular and brutish (more so the males than the females), elves were quicker and catlike. Spinning around quickly, Skold lashed with a kick that caught the orc squarely in his midsection. The orc stumbled back with a grunt, regained his balance, and charged forward. Skold easily dodged the orc’s meaty fist and impaled the orc with his sword. He had to press with his foot to get his sword out. The blade was covered with dark ichor. WHOOOO! WHOOOO! The blaring of the horn filled the court yard. “RETREAT!” the thunderous voice of an orc roared. “RETREAT!” Immediately orcs and elves alike were beginning to run out of the courtyard. Why they were leaving when the fight had just gotten started, Skold didn’t know, but the only thing he could think was, We can’t let him leave. He ducked under the slash from an oncoming elf and decapitated its head from itshis shoulders with a single swing of his blade. He impaled another from behind, the blade going in through its shoulder blades and out through its chest. In the back of his mind, Skold knew there was no stopping Paladin’s forces from retreating: There were simply too many of them. But the battle-ingrained part of him knew to take out as many of them as he could before they left. He spun, lashed out, slashing with his sword, like a malign dancer. Limbs parted and bodies dropped. Wherever he went much blood was spilt. Then they were gone. He stood in the middle of the court yard, surrounded by dead bodies, by those he’d fought with. Then, leaping up the steps three at a time, he stood atop the castle walls, watching Paladin’s forces retreat. They were retreating fast. “Why are they leaving?” he heard someone say. “I guess they got what they came for,” someone else said. “What would that be?” No one answered.
  2. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 6: A Different Place

    Dionysia shivered, wrapping the nest of blankets around herself. Despite her attempts at staying warm, nothing seemed to stave off the cold. She looked down at her lap, at her filthy dress. Even in the low light coming from the candle she could see the smudges on her gown. She looked up at her father: He was sitting at his desk again, head bent towards the fluttering candle flame. She could hear the scratch of his quil, the crash of the waves, Atticus’s wordless shouts as he ordered his men to work faster, harder. She did not feel bad for the men working out there in the cold, which had coated everything in frost. Not after what they did to Pip. Pip. Just thinking about him, what they’d done to him made her heart hurt. Fresh tears threatened to overwhelm her. That’s all I’ve done for the last three days is cry, she thought. It’s a wonder I have any tears left to cry. And she hadn’t slept, oh no, she hadn’t slept for three days. Because everytime she did if she wasn’t dreaming about her sisters and mother and their little cottage going up in flames, then she dreamed about the sailors throwing Pip overboard (and on more than one occasion she dreamed it was her they’d thrown overboard because she was the one who was sick and not Pip, Ambrose smiling at her, his face lit by the brief flashes of lightning that exploded overhead). Her father offered no comfort. He was just as distant with her as ever. She found herself growing angry and resentful towards him, the feeling curdling and building over time as his silence continued. She didn’t like these feelings but couldn’t make them go away. She prayed to God to make them go away, to fill her heart with love, to help forgive her father, but if the Lord heard her prayers He did nothing. Her anger only built. You coward, she thought. You bloody coward. You’re running and dragging me along with you but where are we going? Where is there to run to? And with that anger and resentment there was an undercurrent of fear. The world was a big place, a vast landscape full of old and mysterious things. And the plague was only making it bigger. Humans and fae alike were dying off, but mostly humans. Due to their genetics, the fae were able to withstand the plague easier than the humans. At long last he lifted his head and turned to look at her. Had she been thinking her thoughts or feeling her feelings so hard he’d felt them himself? He looked at her for the first time as if just now realizing she existed. “We should be there soon,” he said with a smile. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Rome,” he said. “We’re going to Rome.” Rome? The name of the place sounded alien to her ears after spending her entire life living in the country. Instead of feeling relieved to finally have an idea of where they were going Dionysia only felt a fresh spike of fear. “What’s in Rome?” she asked in a shaky voice. “Rome is a great metropolis,” Phillip said. “I’ve never been there, but I’ve always dreamed of going since I was a boy.” “Why are we going there?” “There’s a man, a great man - a leader I guess you might say, who has stepped up in place of the Pope.” “The Pope?” she asked. Phillip looked sad. “Yes, the Pope of the Church. He was killed by the plague. But now we have a new leader, a Prophet.” “A Prophet?” Dionysia knew a Prophet was someone who God chose as a conduit to work miracles through: Like Jonah, the disciple who was eaten by a whale, the first example that passed through her mind. “What is the name of this Prophet?” she asked. “No one knows his real name...no one except God.” Phillip’s Adam’s apple worked against his throat as he swallowed. “They only know him as The Prophet. There can be no better time for such miracles. We need someone to lead us out of these dark times. King Yaldon, the fae king is holding an accord at his palace to sign a treaty with the Prophet, a meeting to unite the human and fae races. Both the fae king and the Prophet have realized that if we are to prevail in the face of extinction then we must join forces before it’s too late.” Dionysia’s head spun, trying to take in everything her father had just told her. Her father continued, one half of his face shadowed off the other aglow in the candlelight. Dionysia found the sight to be strangely eerie. It was as if half his face was completely gone. “Everyone will be marching to this accord. It will be an event to be remembered. For the first time since God created us we will be treated both as equals and individuals to the fae.” He looked at her again and this time she saw hope in his eyes. She didn’t want to feel the hope he felt. Hope was nothing more than an illusion. And yet she felt a spark of it; if what her father was saying was true - and despite his faults Phillip had never lied to his daughters - then things really were bound to change. She turned away from her father and allowed the lips of her mouth to curve into a small smile. Just the thought of being out of this room, which she had been stuck in for three days, too frightened to leave it after what happened to Pip, the idea of fresh air filled her with eagerness. For the first time since the death of her mother and sisters she felt something other than grief. There came a sudden knock at the door, making her jump. Phillip got up from the wooden chair and went over to the door, made out of timber. Dionysia thought if someone wanted to break through it they could do so quite easily, the door was so thin. But no one broke it down. Phillip cracked it open and to Dionysia’s relief it was Atticus and not Ambrose who stood on the other side. “The port of Ostia is just on the horizon,” Atticus said. “We should be approaching it by nightfall From there is it but a short journey to Rome.” To Dionysia, he said very kindly, “If you stand on the deck you can see it. T’is quite a sight.” She followed Phillip and the captain of The Elan Vital up to the deck. Sure enough she could see the towers and spires of Ostia like an answered prayer from God. ... After saying their final goodbyes to Captain Atticus, Phillip and Dionysia transferred their things onto a river barge. For the hour it took them to travel up the Tiber River to reach Tiber Island in Rome, Dionysia found herself appreciating the more relaxing journey. Just as night fell the barge docked at a landing. Dionysia could barely contain her excitement as she helped her father unload their few possessions. Now she stood on land, actual land, breathing in the air - fresh air, not the stinking air inside their cabin, and the stink of her own flesh - and the ground beneath her feet did not rock back and forth but was solid and unmoving. Dockers moved back and forth, dragging off large crates, some things piled on top, tied down with rope. Most of what was being said was impossible to understand because everyone was speaking Italian. With the darkness of night it was hard to make out faces. A man staggered drunkenly past Dionysia, glancing at the hustle and bustle. She could just make out his eyes because they reflected the pale silver gleam of the moon. Dionysia turned her gaze from the docks to the cluster of buildings to her right. Many of them were squarish structures, the sides flat, edges sharp, with canopied rooftops, tall doorways. Many of the windows were dark but occasionally one could be spotted with dim light seeping through. A wave of dizziness hit her as she realized she was in a place alien to her. Directly in front of her was a bridge, which extended over a river. Human shapes strolled leisurely over the bridge: an older man steering a donkey-led wagon, a man and a woman with a little girl; the little girl held a doll protectively to her chest. She seemed to sense she was being watched and glanced curiously in the direction of the docks. “The Pon Cestius,” Phillip said from beside her, so suddenly Dionysia jumped. “What do you mean?” she asked. “The name of the bridge,” he said quickly, as if annoyed with her. “In Italian they pronounce it Ponte Cestio. Come, let’s find an inn somewhere to sleep for the night. We are both exhausted.” The word inn made Dionysia think of a bed. The idea of sleeping on a bed instead of a cot made the aching muscles in her back, specifically around her shoulder blades, groan in relief. They passed underneath the bridge. Dionysia kept her eyes peeled, nervous, expecting danger to spring up and attack them at any moment. Why not? They didn’t belong here. They were strangers in a strange land. Surely anyone would be able to see it with the briefest of glimpses. Soon they left the cover of the bridge and trekked down cobblestoned streets. Though the island itself was quite small everything felt big and threatening to her: the tall buildings, the darkened alleyways where anything could dwell hidden from view. Armored guards sitting atop horses passed them, carrying swords or spears, capes hanging from their shoulders. They barely glanced at her or her father. It’s as if we’re ghosts or shadows, she thought. In this place we hardly exist. Dionysia was frightened. Of course she was frightened. The cottage where they’d lived had been isolated. The only people she’d seen on a regular basis was her Phillip, her mother, and sisters. There had been a small village called Helmcaster a half day’s journey away. Dionysia and her family went there every Sunday to the village church, the light coming through the round window just over the Priest’s head like a beacon sent from God. Her mother would always force her to wear a dress and fix her hair - I will not have you walking into the Lord’s house looking bedraggled! her mother would say sternly - and she would sit next to her sisters feeling uncomfortable, itchy and humiliated. And of course all the women in the village would dote over her sisters but never over her. Only because she wasn’t the pretty one. At the end of the day they would stay at Helmcaster’s little inn. Gone was that life. Now she was here, in this metropolis. She never thought she’d miss her mother and sisters but she did now. Her heart ached to have her family alive and well, with her again. If her father was afraid he didn’t show it. He walked stolidly ahead, not hurrying but not slowing down either, as if he knew exactly where he was going. Did he know where he was going? Have faith in him, she told herself. Have faith in God. Have faith He’ll lead you where you need to go. Her father spoke, interrupting her from her thoughts. His voice was a welcomed distraction from the chaotic storm going on in her head. “I came here in my nineteenth year,” Phillip said fondly, looking around. She could picture his face in the dark, eyes gleaming with wonder and happiness at times passed by. “I had just become of age in the middle of discovering there was so much to the world. I came to Rome, to the Vatican City to be specific, the heart of the Catholic Church. I was scared as you can imagine...as I can imagine you must be feeling now. Once there I’d seen the Santa Barbara dei Librai. But before seeing it I visited the San Benedetto in Piscinula, a church in this area. I can show it to you in the morning, if you’d like.” Dionysia told him she would even though all she really cared about at this point and time was a good night’s worth of sleep. Her whole body ached in a way it never had before. Her father droned on. She nodded and muttered in the right place but his wistful voice barely made an impression on her. The exhaustion officially had her in its grip. “I stayed in The Rifugio Sicuro, a tavern that had a few beds. The man who owned the place was named Francesco. I can only hope he’ll extend us the same courtesy, assuming he’s alive and well of course.” They turned down an alley. Candlelight danced through the flame of a window. There was a door on the side of the building; over the door was a sign. There was just enough illumination that Dionysia could make out the name of the bar: The Rifugio Sicuro. The thatch door burst open and a man and woman lurched drunkenly together out of the tavern. The woman laughed loudly, the gown of her dress swishing around her, seemingly unaware of the cold. The man was lifting up her skirt, revealing the wool stockings she wore. He said something in Italian and they disappeared around the corner of the alley. For a moment Dionysia was so intimidated by what she’d just seen she could only stand there, looking at her father with wide eyes. You want us to stay in there? she wanted to ask. A whorehouse? “It’s not the best place,” Phillip said as though he could read his mind. “But what did I always tell you and your sisters?” “God provides,” she said in a shaky voice. “What else?” “God is always faithful.” “Yes, and it is so.” “Let’s go in, shall we?” He held the door open for her. Dionysia let out a sigh and stepped into the tavern. The gloom of the tavern seemed to envelope Dionysia and Phillip, belying the name of the place. An older man sat hunched over at a wooden table in the corner of the tavern, mug in hand. His shoulder-length salt-and-pepper hair was filthy and tangled. He glance mournfully at Dionysia, his face expressing an emptiness that had no hope of being filled. Fire crackled in the hearth of a stone fireplace. The flames did little to keep the chill inside the tavern at bay yet Dionysia found herself going straight for the fire. She sat down on a wooden stool and held her hands out before the flames. Up close the heat from the flames caressed her like a lover, sending chills up her spine. Her mouth hung open slightly in exaltation. She glanced over her shoulder. A rather large woman approached Phillip, dressed in a red dress. The lacing at the front showed the curves of her large breasts. She said something in Italian, running a hand across the lapel of Phillip’s shirt and he said something back in Italian, smiling graciously. There was a bright flush to his cheeks. Did she detect a flash of lust in his dark eyes? How can he want her after Mother just died? she wondered. Men had funny ways of expressing their grief. A middle-aged man stood at the bar. He said something to Dionysia’s father in Italian. She turned her attention back to the fire, letting her mind drift away from the world around her. It felt so good to sit down, to be off ships. For the first time she could remember she could feel herself starting to relax. We might actually be safe now, she thought. After a time her father came for her. “I got us some beds,” he told her. His face was very grave. “What’s wrong?” “The man I told you about who used to own the bar, Francesco...” His voice faltered and Dionysia felt her heart break for him. She felt ashamed the nasty feelings she’d harbored through this hellish journey. She nodded, silently encouraging him to go on. “His life was taken...stolen...by the plague,” Phillip said. “The man who has taken his place is his youngest son. The rest of his family has perished. This plague, this aberration has taken so many lives. I can hardly bear it.” She stood up, bones and muscle groaning in reluctance, took his hand, and spoke words she didn’t feel to be true but said them anyway: “Things will be better when we get some sleep, Father. You’ll see.” He nodded and together they headed for the staircase at the very front of the bar. The ceiling was so low they both had to duck down. Their room was at the end of the hallway. It was just big enough to hold a desk, two beds, a wardrobe, a tin bathing basin, and a fireplace. A glance out the window showed a view of the alley below. Once Dionysia finished her father get a fire going she sat down on the feather mattress. Her father wished her a good night. “Good night, Father,” she said. “And father?” He raised an eyebrow. “I love you.” He smiled at her. It was a tired smile but a smile nonetheless. “I love you too, Dionysia.” She closed her eyes and felt the faint trace of a smile toucher her lips. Then she was asleep. … It seemed no sooner was she getting to sleep her father was shaking her awake. Dionysia opened her eyes, reluctantly coming out of the peaceful darkness she had become so accustomed with while on The Elan Vital. She forced herself into a sitting position. Her back still felt incredibly sore. Her eyes had the heavy feeling one gets when they don’t get enough sleep. “Can’t I sleep a little longer?” she asked. His smile was almost apologetic. “It’s just a little past noon. I let you sleep as long as I could. I’d let you sleep longer but we have a lot of ground to cover today. I managed to get this for you. It’s not much but I suppose it’s better than an empty stomach.” He held a red apple to her. Without saying a word, Dionysia seized it and bit into it. She was ravenous: She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten. The apple was delicious and juicy but small. When she was finished eating she still found herself hungry. Not wanting to seem ungrateful she smiled at Phillip, thanked him, and began to get ready for continuing their journey. They climbed down the stairs and stepped out into the daylight. Despite the cold, the island was more busy than at night: People crossing the Pon Cestius, undoubtedly headed for the docks, vendors setting up their stands for the day. Dionysia and Phillip passed horse drawn carriages. A small boy, probably no older than five or six sprinkled chicken feed onto the ground. A gaggle of chickens weaved drunkenly after him, their heads bobbing up and down as they pecked up the seed; their feet left fork-shaped tracks in the dust. Dionysia watched the boy and felt a smile on her face. Amused, she was so distracted she almost bumped into a man who was wheeling a cart out of a building. “Watch out, miss, lest you want to catch the plague!” he said, his eyes narrowed beneath his bushy salt-and pepper colored brow. His beard was so long she could barely make out the shape of his mouth. She felt a mixture of surprise and horror: Surprise he was speaking English and horror at what was on the cart. The white on top was covered in black splotches of bile she recognized immediately - she’d watched her mother and sisters cough it up as the plague consumed them. An arm, marked with black spots, hung out from under the sheet. Flies crawled over the hand. “Found a whole family up there,” the man told her sadly. “Man, woman, and two small children, aye. Most people don’t want to be near the plague but way I see it, I’m getting up there in years and am all alone. Way I see it, if I die from the plague there’s no one around to care. Someone’s gotta clean up the bodies, aye.” Dionysia could not find the voice to offer the response. Instinctively she took a step back and gave the cart a wide berth, feeling her gorge rise at the smell of decay coming from the cart. Her father, several yards ahead, apparently had not notice she’d fallen behind. Throwing a frightened glance, Dionysia broke into a jog to catch up, being careful not to slip over her own feet. They passed tall buildings, under archways, and turned down alleys. Before long Dionysia’s brain was scrambled: There was no use in trying to remember the route they were taking. Once again she could only trust in her father’s memory, trust he knew where he was going. Before long they finally reached the Santa Barbara dei Librai. The sight of the church took Dionysia’s breath away. It wasn’t much bigger than the church in Helmcaster but there was a profound beauty to it just as there was to so many of the buildings around her; Dionysia came to the conclusion that Italians had an eye for detail. Atop the oculus just above the door, the Saint Barbara looked down lovingly at the line of people waiting to get in the church. There were men and women and children, people of all ages. Most of them were dressed in rags which looked too thin to provide much warmth, their faces and hands covered in dirt. They’d all come to see the Prophet no doubt and join his crusade to align with the fae. Or maybe they’ve come to see him perform miracles, she thought. As of late they’ve been short in supply it seems. Dionysia and her father got in line to wait to enter the little church. In front of her a woman rocked her crying baby back and forth, trying to soothe it. It was swaddled in white cloth that looked quite warm and cozy. Still, Dionysia felt bad for the little person. What was the woman doing here with her baby, during these dark times? She thought, Religion always leads to fanaticism. She didn’t know where the thought came from but she felt it to be queerly apt - and it wasn’t something she’d want to say out loud to her father lest she wanted to be smacked across the face. In the eyes of her father, to say such things were blasphemy. She kept smiling at the baby, focusing on it, distracting herself from the cold. The lady saw her looking and smiled. “Girl,” the woman said, her voice thickened with a strong Italian accent. “How old?” Dionysia asked. “Six months.” “What’s her name?” “Sophie.” No longer crying, Sophie flashed Dionysia a bright smile, lifting her spirits. It was a welcome moment. She looked up at Phillip to see if he’d noticed but he was distracted, craning his neck to get a glimpse at the line - she herself wondered the same thing; surely a church that size could only hold so many people. Ever since leaving The Rifugio Sicuro he’d drawn back into his silent little shell, only coming out when it was necessary. Dionysia was too used to it by now to feel hurt by it. After a seemingly prolonged hour, Dionysia and Phillip were finally inside the church. It was packed inside: all the pews were filled. People stood shoulder to shoulder, leaning against the wall or sitting on the stoned floor. The air hissed with whispers and murmurs of excited conversation. They were going to see the Prophet. But the Prophet was nowhere to be seen, at least not yet. Though Dionysia had not seen a prophet before she had formed an idea in her head of what a prophet might look like. The inside of the church was even more beautiful than the outside: The ceilings was high and vaulted; white pillars rose beside both rows of pews. The walls were painted dark gold. Just behind the altar was a beautiful three panel mural. In the center panel Mother Mary was holding a baby Jesus on her lap, with the other two panels depicting two men. Dionysia had no idea who they were supposed to be...perhaps they were supposed to be angels. The walls were painted a dark custard color. Phillip noticed his daughter admiring the painting behind the altar and leaned over to whisper in her ear. “That painting is the newest addition to this church - Triptych of Madonna and child with John the Baptist and Archangel Michael. ” Oh, so those were the two figures standing on either side of Mother Mary. A sudden hush fell over the church as a man dressed in armor stepped onto the altar. His dark grey-peppered hair was sprinkled with grey. It was impossible to say how old he was. He could have been in his late thirties or early-to-mid forties. His nose was long and narrow, his eyes dark, his mouth a severe frown. A great sword hung from his belt. His gaze swept the crowd as if to challenge someone to try and attack him. If anyone dared try Dionysia knew that sword would be out in a flash. She felt her throat go dry as those cold hazel eyes swept over her and her father. After a long moment of silence, he said, with a clear commanding voice demanding to be heard, “The Prophet is here.”
  3. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 16

    Thank you for your imput, it's really helpful.
  4. ValentineDavis21

    Interlude, Jude: Chapter 17

    I can’t read anymore. I can hear his voice - Johnny’s voice - clearly, almost as if he’s sitting here with me telling his story. I can hear it as clearly as I can hear the waves crashing against the cliff just outside the house. I look up and imagine him sitting across the table: A young man of twenty-four, too young to know what weariness is. And yet I know if I were to look into his eyes they would look back, haunted. Jesus Christ. There are so many thoughts shooting through my head, like a meteor shower streaking across the sky. There were...what should I call them...similarities?...coincidences? I stare out the window, at the setting sun and darkening sky. How long have I been reading? A few hours at least. Duane hasn’t returned yet from his interview at the university. I try to tell myself all the stuff I read in this journal is nothing more than coincidence...but I know deep down inside it isn’t: There’s too much. Like the fact Johnny was twenty-four when he met Phillip. I was twenty-four when I met Duane. Phillip was an English teacher just like Duane. Johnny was an English major just like I was; and the way they met mirrored the way Duane and I met exactly. Nothing about this was coincidence: Moving to Adermoor Cove, buying the lighthouse, the framed picture Cassie showed me in the English department, the hallucination I had the night before I was now so sure wasn’t a hallucination, and now, to top everything off, finding the accordion file. It was sitting there waiting for me to find it, I think. Something had led me here. Led us here. My whole life I’d had the feeling of being led to some moment, some place. That same force was doing the same with Duane. Only Duane didn’t see it. I should be freaked out. I should be out of my fucking mind. But I’m not. I only feel a sort of drugged calm. Johnny saw a ghost too, in the middle of the night just like I did, I think. The ghost told him to leave just like he told me to leave. But Johnny didn’t leave, did he? No, something had happened to keep him here. And still my thoughts roll, all jumbled together, without order. Did Johnny die here? Vanessa didn’t tell us about anyone having died here. And if he saw a ghost did another person die here as well? This place is haunted. Then I hear Duane call my name. He’s home! He comes into the kitchen, briefcase in hand. He’s grinning from ear to ear. My hand darts out to grab the pages. Realizing I mean to put them back in the accordion file so he doesn’t know what it is, I plant my hand firmly back on the table. I feel like a deer caught in the headlights, like I’ve been caught in the middle of cheating. God, why do I feel so guilty? I put on my best smile. “How did it go?” “Really well”. He lean down and kisses me - I can tell he’s happy, he thinks the interview really went well, and the guilty feeling goes away. If he thinks it went well then it went well. “I met with the dean and he showed me around the school. Very nice guy. Very hospitable - something you don’t see in the city.” “I’m glad it went well.” He looks around. A grocery bag dangles from his hand. “You’ve been cleaning. The place looks great.” I shrug as if it’s nothing. “Wanted to take advantage of the time I have before I start at the newspaper. With us both working it’ll be harder to keep up on the place. When do you start?” “Beginning of the spring semester.” He’s glowing, positively glowing. I’m happy for him, I truly am; just seeing him happy makes me happy. Despite all the weird shit I’ve been finding it makes the move worthwhile. “What’s in the bag?” I ask. “I would’ve been home a few minutes sooner but I stopped off at this grocery store I found - a fancy little place that specializes in organic foods: Smith’s Market. They had a really nice deli. I picked up some carne asada - they had it for six dollars a pound. I figured we could make some nachos with it.” Carne asada, hmmm. That would go good with nachos, which is one of my favorite meals. “I’ll help.” As he pulls the meat out of the bag, wrapped securely in paper, I go over to the fridge and begin to pull out everything: sour cream, shredded cheese, the can of nacho cheese, and black olives. Using the can opener I open the can of black olives, drain them in the sink, and rinse them in the faucet. As Duane gets the carne asada going at the stove I start cutting up the avocado to make guacamole. We put everything on our nachos. I glance back over my shoulder at the accordion file. It’s sitting there on the table looking mockingly benign. I feel tempted to bring it up to Duane, to tell him about the story inside - all of it. Before I can speak a thought stops me: Stop - he’ll just ask you if you’ve been taking your meds lately. He’ll think you’re crazy. The thought was enough to dispel any temptation of telling him about my discovery. Besides he hasn’t seen it, hasn’t so much as glanced at it. It’s as if he can’t see it. Or maybe I’m just jumping to conclusions. “I was thinking we should see if Cassie and her boyfriend wants to come over for dinner this weekend,” Duane says, interrupting me from my thoughts. I toss the avacado pit in the trash and sidestep back to the counter. “That would be good.” I don’t have to pretend to sound interested. I like the idea of having Cassie over for dinner. Perhaps I could tell her about what I found - after all she was the one who showed me the picture of Johnny… Duane goes down to the cellar real quick - did I mention we have a cellar? - and grabs a bottle of expensive wine. The wine is already cold. He pours two healthy servings into crystal wine glasses and we carry our meal into the living room. As we eat he tells me about the rest of his interview. I listen attentively but in the back of my mind I think about the accordion file just sitting there on the kitchen table. We finish eating and I volunteer to do the dishes. Duane says he’s going to go take a shower. As soon as I’m sure he’s upstairs I put the accordion file back on the curio cabinet. ... BAM! “NOOO!” I’m standing in front of the lighthouse, looking up at the tower. I can still see the bright light that had flashed through the night, the sound of a gunshot, followed by a sound of despair. “NO JULIA, NOOOO!” There’s another loud gun shot and then everything grows eerily silent except for the crash of the waves. I look over my shoulder, at the dark front of the house. The front door stands wide open. Duane’s somewhere in there, sleeping, oblivious to the fact I’m not in bed. Am I sleepwalking again? Or is this another ghostly visitation? The wind caresses my bare skin. I’m wearing nothing but my boxers. I look towards the lighthouse. There’s no ghostly apparition in sight. Perhaps all the ghosts are in the lighthouse, waiting for me. Suddenly I’m afraid: I want to go back into the house and crawl back in bed with Duane. But that isn’t what happens because this is a dream, and in dreams we are never in control of ourselves. So I begin to make my way down to the lighthouse where I know the ghosts are waiting for me. I begin to climb the steps slowly, one at a time. I don’t have my inhaler, I think, I need my inhaler! But my mind has no power in this situation. I keep climbing up, the stairs curving into a spiral, leading to whatever revelations were waiting for me at the top. I reach it. A woman stands in front of the rail, wearing a white nightgown that billows out in the wind. Her hair, which appears silvery in the moonlight, is put up in a bun. “Who are you?” I ask, voice trembling. “What are you doing on our property?” She turns slowly and the breath leaves my body: She looks just like Cassie. Almost exactly like her. There are subtle differences - her hair and complexion are a little darker, her cheeks are a little higher but that’s all. A glint catches my eye. She’s holding something in her hand. My heart stops, my eyes widen. She’s holding a gun in her hand. But that’s not what frightens me most: What frightens me most is the smile on her face. It’s the smile of the mad and the murderous. “Thomas,” she says in an accent I’m not familiar with. Tears gleam at the corners of her eyes and start to fall down her cheek. “I knew you’d be up here. I know. I know everything.” I start to tell her I’m not Thomas and then I look down. Suddenly I’m wearing a tuxedo: white shirt, black coat, and black tuxedo. There’s a rose tucked into the lapel. The black dress shoes I’m wearing are new and shiny. I look back up at her; her smile has become a grimace of rage and malice. She lifts the gun, a Smith & Wesson. It’s then I realize she means to shoot me. “NO JULIA!” a deep phantom voice says from beside me. “DON’T DO THIS!” I want to turn my head to see who it is but I can’t. I’m paralyzed, my feet rooted to the spot. I want to wake up, wake up before she can shoot me. “I should’ve know what a fraud you were,” the woman named Julia says, not to me, but to whatever ghost is in the room. “I have never been so hurt, so humiliated. I loved you. You were my everything. And instead I find you running around with another man...” For a moment, just a moment her eyes turn back to me, brimming with withering hate. “...with him. Well, you can see each other in hell.” “NOOO!” screams the other phantom. She fires. I look down at my shirt again and watch as the blood starts to spread across the white fabric, turning it scarlet. I fall to my knees. There a burning in my stomach. I can taste blood in my mouth. This can’t be happening. Surely this is just a dream. “NOOO, JULIA! NOOOOO!” BAM! The gun goes off again, sounding like thunder. And then silence. … I jolt into a sitting position and immediately look down at my chest. There is no bullet hole, no blood. Instead of wearing a tuxedo I’m only wearing my boxers. I’m alive and in bed...and yet it had all felt so real. Duane is still asleep, his face turned towards me. His chest rises and falls. One arm is thrown over his head, resting against a pillow. I envy him: His sleep isn’t disturbed by haunting dreams, or apparitions. Yours isn’t either, I tell myself. You’re just seeing things just like you used to when you were a kid. I reach for the bedside table, where all my morning time meds sit. Next to the numerous pill bottles is the glass of water I put there before crawling in bed. I grab the haloperidol, twist the top off and pop a tablet into my mouth. I gulp down the water and swallow. The water has a stale taste from sitting out all night but I don’t care. I set the empty glass back down on the table, put the cap back on the pill bottle, grab my inhaler, and take two puffs just for good measure. As the medicinal taste spreads over my tongue I feel less startled...a little. I know I won’t be able to sleep for the rest of the night. I creep stealthily out of the bedroom, being careful not to wake Duane up. The sun is in the early stages of rising up. I can see just well enough to know where I’m going. I open the door to the study. The door makes a slow creaking noise that sets my teeth on edge; it sounds like something ina haunted house movie. I guess I’m still a little startled from the dream I had. Are you sure it was a dream? I stop and peer cautiously into the room. The dream has already grown dim in my mind but I’m still a little worked up. Perhaps more than a little, because I find myself looking around for any signs of … ghosts. But of course there are none: no apparitions or figments of imagination...or whatever the hell the things I’m seeing are. Jude, you idiot. I enter the room cautiously. I look into the corners. Nothing pops out at me and says, “Boo!” Thank God Duane’s still asleep. I would die from embarrassment if he were to see how silly I look. The room has been split in two: His desk is on one side, mine is on the other. There’s a bookshelf filled with textbooks, binders, a scrapbook or two I keep of the articles I’ve written, and on the bottom shelf, several copies of the book I’d written Get the Lead Out. Both desks have Macs on them. I sit down in the computer chair at mine and power it up. My light takes on the blue glow coming off the screen as the computer boots up. The moment computer finishes booting up, a tab opens to My Documents. Hmmm, strange. I’ve never seen it do this before. Both computers are fairly new. Oh well, you never know when technology will start acting wonky. And then I see the title of the document: The Time I Spent at Adermoor Cove. Below that: Written by Thomas Umstadt. And below that: Dedicated to Jude. I feel my back straighten, become rigid. I didn’t type this. What the fuck? Had someone been in here? Had someone come in here and type this as some sort of cruel joke? The temptation to get up, run to Duane, and wake him up overwhelms me. Then I imagine his reaction. Thinking about what his reaction might be - have you been taking your meds? - helps me to clamp down on the urge. In its place grows a certainty: Another entity, like Johnny, is trying to contact me. They want me to read their story. Perhaps, by reading it, there’s something I’m supposed to glean. But God I’m frightened. So frightened. Taking a deep breath, I scroll down to the first page and begin to read Thomas’ story.
  5. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 16

    Thank you. How am I doing with the accuracy of the time period?
  6. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 16

    By the time I reach my aunt and uncle’s house the sun is starting to come up. The muscle s in my back and legs hurt. I don’t think I’ve ever walked so much in my life. As soon as I step onto the porch the door opens and Aunt Tilda comes out. I’m too tired to feel afraid. “Where have you been?” she demands. “Your uncle and I have been worried sick about you!” Yeah right, I want to say. The idea of Uncle Bo being worried about me is laughable. But instead I say, “Out.” Do I need to explain myself any further? I’m twenty-four-years-old, I should be able to stay out as long as I want. “I called Gwen’s parents,” she says following me into the house. “I know you didn’t go out with her. “You lied about it. So where did you go?” “Where have you been?” Uncle Bo thunders, standing up from the armchair from the living room. “You were supposed to be home before midnight.” All at once I have the worst headache in my life: It’s a dull pain that hits the center of my head like hammer falls. “Look!” I say, “I don’t have to explain myself to either one of you, or anyone else!” Uncle Bo immediately looks furious, his chest puffing out, his mouth opened as if he’s sucking in air. “Save it,” I tell him before he can say whatever it is he’s going to say. “I’m leaving. I’m catching the next ferry off this goddamned island and going back to New York City. And don’t you guys dare try to stop me!” Dodging around Uncle Bo I sprint for the steps. My nerves feel as though the’re brushing up against one another. All I want is to get away from my aunt and uncle, this house, this fucking island. It’s seems last night’s romantic encounter with Phillip and the ghost (if there was such a thing) has awaken me to the reality of the situation: I am nothing more than a prisoner - this island is my prison. I take the stairs three at a time, slamming my hip painfully into the banister hard enough that I have to bite my lower lip to keep from cursing. Uncle Bo’s right behind me; his boot heels sound like thunder as he follows me up the steps. “I’m calling your doctor!” he booms. “Go ahead and call him,” I say. “There’s nothing he can do to stop me from getting off this island.” I veer into my room and lock the door behind me just as Uncle Bo calls down to Aunt Tilda: “Tilda call Dr. Lloyd. Tell him to get over here and talk some sense into the boy!” His fists knock against the door, making it shake in its frame. “Open this door, Johnny! You open this door or so help me God!” Already I have my suitcase open and am throwing what few possessions I have: A couple of outfits and my journal. I stuff all the cash I have saved up in my pocket. I turn to face the door and take a deep breath - gearing up to do whatever I have to do to get past my uncle. I throw open the door, and there he stands like a fuming bear. He goes to take a step forward and then stops, his eyes wide with surprise when he sees the look on my face. I can’t imagine what I look like right now: Probably like some deranged freak. That’s what I feel like right now, a wild animal who will do anything to break free from captivity. Aunt Tilda comes running up the stairs. Tears ooze from the corners of her eyes. “Don’t do this, Johnny,” she gasps breathlessly. “Don’t do anything you’re going to regret.” At the sight of her tears I soften a little bit - but only a little. “I’m sorry Aunt Tilda but I refuse to live this way. I can’t live as something I’m not any longer, constantly looking over my shoulder, having to follow your rules.” “W-where will y-you go?” she asks in a trembling voice. “It doesn’t matter,” I say. “Just as long as I’m free.” With that I brush past them, hurry down the stairs, and out the door. … Before I leave on the ferry, and leave for good there’s one more thing I have to do: Call Gwen and let her know why I’m leaving. Maybe she can let Phillip know too. I can’t stand the idea of leaving and neither one of them knowing why. I go the first pay phone I come across, insert a dime, and dial Gwen’s house, hoping it will be she who answers and not her parents. To my delight (and complete utter relief), Gwen answers the phone: “Hello.” “Gwen, it’s me...” “Johnny…?” “Yeah, listen I don’t have long. I’m leaving Adermoor Cove. I’m catching the ferry and going to New York. I don’t think I’ll be coming back.” She sounds shocked. “Wait...slow down. What do you mean you’re leaving?” Sweat drips into my eye making it sting. I wipe at my forehead with the back of my hand. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. “Gwen, I don’t have much time to explain. The next ferry will be here in a few minutes. I’m sorry to call out of the blue like this, but I have to get out of here. This place is killing me.” For a moment she’s silent, long enough for me to think she’s hung up. Then she says, “I’m not going to say I understand because I don’t but I know you have to do what you have to do. I just hope you’ll be careful.” “I will. And I’ll call you whenever I can, let you know where I’m at. Can you do something for me?” She sounds close to tears. “Sure, Johnny. Anything for you, you know that.” “Can you let Phillip know where I’m at the next time you see him. He already knows the rest.” “Yes...Yes I’ll tell him. I love you Johnny.” I smile. I have to clench my eyes shut to keep from crying. “I love you too. You’re the best friend anyone could ask for. I’ll call you when I get off the ferry.” And I hung up. … The pier is a bustle of activity: Boats coming in and out, sailors dragging in nets full of fish they’d caught, their veins bulging out of their foreheads; seagulls soaring gracefully overhead, people strolling leisurely up and down the street, peering into the shop windows with interest. The ferry approaches, bringing tourists, people who live here during the summer months. So many people come to this island for the beach, the beauty, the small town charm of a close-knit community. Not me: I’m running away as if my life depends on it. Because my life does depend on it. Despite the fact I’m heading into a future as unfathomable as the ocean depths before me I feel at peace once again. Leaving Adermoore Cove is the best thing I can do for myself. And yet...I feel a sliver of doubt. Not all things here have been bad. I’ve met two wonderful people and I feel like I’m letting them down by leaving like this. But if I stay I’ll be letting myself down. The ferry comes to a stop; the deckman throws the rope to the dockhand and the dockhand tethers it to a wooden post. People climb off, men, women, and children who grin in anticipation of the things they’ll see, the food they’ll eat. A light sea breeze caresses my cheek, runs it fingers through my hair which has grown almost to the edge of my neck. I’m about to board the ferry when my psychotherapist reaches the dock, huffing and puffing. He doesn’t look so calm and composed. Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda must have told him I was leaving the island via ferry. “Johnny!” he shouts. “You are making a big mistake! Think of all you are throwing away, all the work you’ve done! All the progress...for nothing! Think about what you’re doing!” “I have thought about what I’m doing and I’m okay with it,” I say. “Even if it means going back to your life of depravity,” Lloyd says. His cheeks are flushed with color. Instead of wearing his suit he’s wearing a polo and khakis. He spreads his hand, a pleading gesture, trying to appeal to my sense of morality. “You are sick, Johnny. You need help. That’s all I’m trying to do, help you. I only want what’s best for you...so do your parents, and your aunt and uncle.” “I don’t care. That’s all I have to say. You can’t stop me.” He sighs, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to but it seems you won’t give me any other choice. Which is why I brought the cops with me.” And like a magician performing a parlor trick, two cops just happened to appear, coming around from the side. There was nowhere to go. I was trapped. “You’re under arrest,” the on my right said. “For what?” I say. Things were happening too fast: Rough hands shoved me down to the ground from behind. My hands were pinned painfully behind my back; the heel of a hand pressed my face painfully into the ground. When they slapped and tightened the handcuffs around my wrists I screamed. Pitch-black terror enveloped me and I kicked out at Lloyd. There was no such thing as not fighting. He backed away, eyes wide. I continued to struggle. One of the cops, a middle-aged man with thinning red hair underneath his cap and long jowls, came around with a wooden baton. I saw him bring it back with his arm. “No!” I scream, struggling wildly, trying to back away. “Please don’t, please don’t-” The last thing I see is the baton coming towards my face. There’s a loud WHOPPING sound and then everything goes black.
  7. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 15

    Phillip drives a Pontiac Catalina almost the exact shade of blue as my former Plymouth Fury was. I can’t help but feel a pang for my old car as I climb into it;it smells faintly of vanilla. The seats are made of white leather. He drives smoothly past farmhouses, silos, corn fields and soybean fields; the road before us unrolls like a spool of black thread, briefly illuminated by the headlights of the car. Above us: the stars and the moon. The anxiety, which has plagued me since the moment I stepped off the ferry onto Adermoor Cove, is gone. I haven’t felt this relaxed since the day Tony and I went to see Invasion of the Body Snatchers. “You’re awfully quiet,” Phillip says. “I’m just...calm. I haven’t felt this calm in so long.” “I’m relieved to hear you say that.” I let my gaze become transfixed on the lighthouse drifting closer and closer. It was just as beautiful during the night as it was the day I saw it from the ferry, perhaps even more so in an eerie kind of way, with the windows shadowed out. Do you ever go up to the top and look out the waves? I want to ask him. Do you ever get to see the dolphins leap up out of the water? But I don’t want to ruin the moment by asking questions. I just want to enjoy it. Because there’s something happening here. I can sense it as I’ve always sensed it when I’m around him: events coming together, colliding with each other as they were meant to. And like me I know he’s different; like me I know he’s lonely. I can sense the loneliness here in the car, coating everything like a residue. I can sense the empty space needing to be filled. He pulls up to the front of the house, the tower jutting up towards the sky on our right, the dark hulk of a barn on our left. As we get out of the car he tells me the lighthouse was built by Agamemnon Angelopoulos, a business entrepreneur from Greece. “He pretty much built this town,” says Phillip as we climb up the porch steps. “He built this lighthouse and The Clam’s Pearl. He even had a hand in the fishing industry. Without him this little island wouldn’t be as booming as it is. His wife sold it to me in 1949.” “You’ve lived here ten years?” He nods, pulling out his keys from his briefcase. They jingle, the sounds mixing in with the crash of the waves, making an odd sort of music. “Where are you originally from?” “Massachusetts.” “I have a brother in Florida. He just had a daughter, my niece.” He opens the door and gestures for me to step inside. The moment I step inside a wave of deja vu, much like the one I felt upon first seeing Phillip, hits me like a balled up fist. I look around the sparsely furnished living room, the fireplace, the TV, the white curtains. I haven’t been here before, I tell myself. I’ve never been here before just like I’ve never met Phillip before I came to Adermoor Cove. But the feeling is unshakable. Part of me feels enchanted by the place: by the look and feel of it. Another part of me is repelled. That part want to run away from the lighthouse as fast as I can. I turn to Phillip and smile. I have to actually look up just to be able to look him in the eye. “Wow,” I say. “You haven’t seen the rest of it,” he says. … Phillip gives me the tour of the lighthouse: First he takes me through the dining room and kitchen and then upstairs. There’s three bedrooms, one which he uses as a guest room, another which he uses as his study. Again it strikes me he isn’t married and doesn’t have any children. I’ve noticed there’s no pictures of family around except for his parents, a picture of his younger brother and his daughter...but no children of his own. Now we’re in the master bedroom and I’m facing the window, with a perfect unobstructed view of the ocean. The waves glitter like black liquid-obsidian. “I picked this bedroom strictly for the view,” Phillip says. “I can see why,” I tell him. Everything has taken on a surreal, dream-like quality. It’s all so strange, this place, this...lighthouse. Being alone with Phillip, in his bedroom of all places. A speculative silence has grown between us and I can feel him draw closer. I close my eyes. I turn to away from the window to face him. He’s standing so close to me now it’s unreal. Is this really happening? I ask myself, because I think I have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen - and yet I can’t fully bring myself to believe it. This can’t really be happening...can it? Phillip doesn’t look like he believes it’s happening either, even as he takes my face in both his hands and leans forward: His eyes are wide behind his glasses and his Adam’s Apple bobs up and down as he swallows nervously. What’s happening here? I think. What are we doing? “You can’t tell anyone about this,” he says. “I won’t,” I say. And then his lips touch mine and I feel as if my feet have left the ground, like I’m being jerked up into the sky and into the open air. I can’t remember the last time I felt such exhilaration and need. The drugs I take made it damn near impossible for me to keep an erection but it doesn't mean I can’t feel desire in other ways: like the quickening thuds in my heart, the way my breath seemed to cut short, the tingling sensation passing through my flesh when he touched me or ran his fingers through my hair. He picks me up and sets me on the bed, his lips pressing down on mine gently yet firmly. He helps me peel off my jacket and I take off his glasses and set them carefully on the bedside table. We both kick off our shoes. Our combined weight makes the bed sag slightly in the middle. His hands, so large and warm, are everywhere: reaching underneath my skin, touching me everywhere. It seems in no time at all we’re both completely undressed. His penis presses into my thigh, hard and pulsing and hot. All the pent up need that’s been building up between us has broken loose and is circling around the room like a cyclone. After I straddle him and work his erection with my mouth and taste his semen on my tongue , he’s back on top. He reaches into the bedside table and pulls out a condom and tin of vaseline. “Slide it on,” he says, breathing heavily. I can feel his shoulder blades, pronounced against the palm of my hand. I manage to slide the condom onto his penis as he opens the tin of vaseline. His fingers, slick and cold with the vaseline, touch my hole and I gasp despite myself. “Sorry,” he says apologetically. “No - I want this. I want this so bad.” “Me too. I’ve wanted you for a while now.” The next moments is like taking every excruciating day I’ve spent in Adermoor Cove and turning inside out: The accumulation of all the pain and fury and confusion I’ve felt. On this night, being with Phillip, feeling him inside of me, his sweaty body on top of mine - it seemed worth it. It was worth it. … BAM! I started awake with a shudder. I shoot up into a sitting position and look around, confused, frightened. Where am I? Who is that lying into bed next to me? What was the loud sound I just heard? It’d sounded like a gunshot. I look over the shape lying on the bed. Phillip. I’d fallen asleep in his bed. Shit, oh shit! What were Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda going to think? Then I remember I don’t care what they think. Tonight has been a magical night - I didn’t think I’d experience anything quite like it again. I get the distinct feeling someone’s watching me. Someone is watching me. I look over and feel my heart stop. A man is standing in the doorway of Phillip’s bedroom and he’s looking right at me. I feel my blood turn to ice. He’s older than me, maybe in his early-to-mid thirties. His hair is the same color as mine, a light golden brown. He’s wearing a tuxedo: a white shirt underneath a black jacket with a black bowtie on the neck. The shirt is now mostly red. Blood, I think. That’s blood. I look at where the source of the blood is coming from: His forehead. There’s a bullet hole there, framed with blood. The bullet hole looks back at me like a bloody black eye. Then I look into his eyes. Another cold chill goes up my spine: Because whoever this man is staring at me - he looks like what I’ll look like in ten years. He has my eyes, my nose, the shape of my face, my lips. All of it. The only difference is his face is thinner and his hair is styled different: all slicked back so that it seems to cover his skull. I slick my hair back but mine is a little longer on top. I don’t know what to do: If I should wake up Phillip or close my eyes and see if when I open them this is nothing more than a dream. But I do none of these things. I simply can’t. We just stare at each other, as still as statues. He’s the first to speak: “You must leave this place.” His voice sounds echoey, as if it’s traveling down a long tube. Blood starts to drip from the bullet hole in his forehead: It drips down the narrow bridge of his nose, down his lip, past his chin, down the nape of his throat. Who shot you? I want to ask. Who the hell are you? What are you doing here? I want to say: You better get out of here before I wake up Phillip. Instead I ask, “Why?” “This place is cursed,” he says. “It consumed me. You should leave before it consumes you too.” Then he turns around and walks away. I do the stupidest thing to do in a situation like this and follow him. I have to see if he’s really there or if I’m just dreaming...or hallucinating or whatever this is. I reach the doorway and come to a step. He’s gone as if he’d never been there before. Or maybe he was a ghost. I’m open-minded enough to believe in those things. How can I believe in God but not in ghosts? But his words are not gone. I can still hear them in my head: You must leave this place...is cursed...It consumed me. You should leave before it consumes you too. There’s only one thing I’m certain of: It’s an omen. Whether a figment of my imagination, my own damaged psyche or a ghost, the man told me what I’ve known deep down ever since I stepped off the ferry: If I don’t leave Adermoor Cove then I’ll die here. And I don’t want to die here. I’d rather die in the trash-filled gutters of New York City then die in this God forsaken. Phillip. I look at his sleeping form and feel only love for him. I don’t want to leave him. But I have to. I have enough money saved up I can catch the ferry to New York. I can leave this place, find a job when I get there, get my own place, start over. I can call Gwen when I get there and have her explain to him why I left. Maybe he’ll understand…maybe… “I’m sorry,” I whisper, quietly grabbing my clothes off the floor. Being careful not to make a sound I slip quietly into the night and begin to head in the direction of home.
  8. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 14

    Most of the next week, until it’s time for me to go back to Russo’s class, is a never ending stretch in which my nerves feel like the’re grating against each other. Many times I find myself wishing I could go back in time and undo the stupid decision I made; or, more simply and realistically to tell him to forget it - don’t read it, can I please have my journal back? My nerves are so bad I can hardly focus on my schoolwork or work or anything else for that matter. Lloyd had been quick to notice - Sunday, at my appointment, he commented on it. “You’ve been awfully distant,” he says as the session comes to an end, frowning at me. He scans my face, searching it for secrets, for signs I’m lying. I smile. I’ve gotten really good at smiling and lying - not just with my psychotherapist but with Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda as well. “No, I just don’t have a lot to say. Things have been going really well. Gwen and I have been hanging out a lot lately - I think I’m starting to have feelings towards her.” “Passionate feelings?” Lloyd asks. “Yes.” “Romantic feelings?” “I think so - it’s a little early to tell.” I’m building up romantic feelings alright but they’re not for Gwen.. “Well between the job, school, and how things are going with Gwen it sounds like this treatment’s working. If you keep this up for a few more weeks I think we can look at taking you off the drug.” The news is music to my ears and for a day or two the matter of the journal and Phillip Russo is forgotten. I meet Gwen at her house and we go up to her house after I chat with Mr. and Mrs. Dowager. I tell Gwen the good news over a card came of Black Jack. She has Elvis playing on the record player so her parents can’t overhear our conversation. “You must be relieved,” she says. “You have no idea...but I don’t know, I don’t want to get ahead of myself you know?” After the exciting possibility of being taken off the drug stilboestrol the day for Russo’s class sneaks up on me. I wake up to the sound of the steps creaking as Aunt Tilda makes her way down the stairs to the kitchen to make Uncle Bo’s coffee before he goes to work, and feel my stomach cramp painfully. You don’t have to go to school today, I tell myself. You can take a sick day. But to not go to school because I’m afraid of what Russo’s opinion of me might be after reading my journal makes me feel worse - it’s a cowardly thing to do. Somehow I make myself get up and get dressed. I choke down a bowl of bland oatmeal, kiss Aunt Tilda on the cheek and walk out to the bus stop. Gwen waves at me from the third seat from the front and scoots over so I can sit down. “You look awful,” she says. “I feel awful,” I mumble. “Is it because of the drug?” “No.” “Wanna talk about it?” “Not really.” I can tell Gwen wants to ask but she knows better than to pry, so she leaves it alone. As usual Russo shows up a few minutes before class starts. Instead of sitting way in the back I’ve managed to talk Gwen into sitting in the front row. Almost immediately Russo glances at me and smiles and I feel myself relax: I’ve been getting myself all worked up for nothing. At the start of class Russo passes back everyone's’ written analysis for Flowers for Algernon. On the very front, to my pleasure, is a 100 written in red. I flip to the back and written in Russo’s surprisingly loopy handwriting it says, Meet me at the Treasure Cove at 7:00 tonight. I’ll be waiting for you. If you can’t make it - I’ll understand. Why in the world would he want to meet me at The Treasure Cove? Was it to discuss the journal? I look up and he looks at me and nods his head. A quiver of excitement runs up my spine. Whatever the reason, whatever lie I have to tell, I’ll be there. I nod back so he knows. I’ll be there. ... For the millionth time I run my fingers through my hair, my reflection’s eyebrows knitted in an anxious knot. I’m wearing a white button up shirt, the first two buttons open at the neck, faded blue jeans. I shrug into my jacket and turn a little so my reflection gazes back at me from the corner of my eye. I trundle down the steps three at a time. Aunt Tilda is sitting in her armchair, working her knitting needles. Blue fabric hangs down into her lap. She looks up, her eyes scanning me briefly through her glasses. “You’re really not wearing that thing out to dinner, are you?” “Sure I am,” I say, trying on a smile. “Why not?” “It looks trashy.” “It does not,” I say indignantly. “I’m sure Gwen’s parents would tell her the same thing I’m telling you if she were to go out wearing a jacket like that.” She sighs, working the needles faster. “But what do I know? The world isn’t like how it was when I was your age. It’s changing so fast I can hardly keep track of it...” I kiss her on the cheek. “I’ll be back. On my way to picking her up.” She blushes despite herself, beaming at me. “You two lovebirds have fun. And Johnny?” Standing at the door, I look at her from over my shoulder. “You’re parents would be very proud of you,” she says. “You think?” I say, trying to ignore the shame spreading through my lower belly. “I do. In fact I wrote your father a letter and sent it off the other day. Nothing has come back yet but I’ll keep an eye out.” Aunt Tilda looks up at the sky wistfully. “Isn’t the power of God amazing?” “It is,” I say, and step out into the setting sun. She doesn’t know I’m having dinner with my professor not Gwen. The Treasure Cove is within walking distance of my house. Despite the fact it’s late April it still gets chilly at night - a good reason for bringing my jacket. Honestly I could have been fine with a sweater but I’ve always hated sweaters. My jacket has always been a sort of talisman: something I take with me whenever I’m nervous or about to deal with a situation in which I didn’t know what was going to happens. It’s brought me comfort more times than I can count. Tonight The Treasure Cove isn’t so crowded. Ricky stands out front, smoking a cigarette. He nods in my direction and tells me Buddy is off tonight. We chat for a minute and then I go inside. Russo sits in a booth way in the back. He lifts a hand and I force a smile even though my legs feel as if they’re made of water. Today he wears a polo and khakis. Had he worn a polo and khakis when I bumped into him a couple weeks ago? I can’t remember. This is the first time - that I can remember - I haven’t seen him in a suit. The journal - my journal - rested underneath his hand. Looking at it, it now seemed ominous to me. If he wanted to, if he so had the desire, he could use this journal to incriminate me. Anyone could, really. “You’re sweating,” he says, looking me up and down. “Most people just say hi,” I blurt before I can stop myself. “I’m sorry,” he says, with a nervous chuckle - a sound so strange yet endearing when coming from such a large man. “I guess I’m just anxious. From the look of you I’d say you are too. You look great.” My stomach flutters. Did he just say I look great? My mouth goes dry and I can’t find the words to tell him, Thanks, you do too. I can’t find the words because him telling me I look great doesn’t have the exact meaning I want to convey to him. And once again I have been rendered wordless. “I read your journal,” he says. “You did?” “Every word. In fact I read it twice. You’ve been through a lot.” “I have,” I say, not shying away from the fact, not being modest. Since coming to Adermoor Cove I feel I’ve aged twenty years. I feel ancient, used up. “Would you like something to eat?” he asks. Despite my anxiety I am starving. “I’m starving!.” I reach into my pocket to pull out my wallet but he waves a hand at me and tells me it’s on him. When our waitress comes by - her name is Julia and she works part time - he orders two Cokes. As soon as she’s gone he turns back to me and leans forward so only I can hear him. “Does anyone else know about what you’re going through?” he asks. “Gwen - she knows. But she hasn’t read the journal.” “May I ask why you chose to share it with me?” Dare I confess? Dare I tell him about my feelings for him? I haven’t written about my feelings about him; I’ve only written about what happened in New York with Tony, the treatments and conversion therapy. I’ve only started writing about my feeling towards him in the other journal: the one I hide under the mattress. Was I wrong about him? Was I seeing only what I wanted to see, feeling what I wanted to feel? “I feel like I know you,” I tell him. “It’s the only way I can describe it. I know we’ve never met before I started going to your class but I still get the feeling...From the very first time I saw you...” “I felt it too,” he says, looking almost mystified. He smiles. His eyes gleam. “You came in the first day of the semester, wearing the very jacket you’re wearing now - which I love by the way - and when I saw you a sense of deja vu hit me so hard I thought I was going to faint. I actually had to lean against the desk to stay on my feet.” Julia comes by with our drinks and asks us if we’re ready to order. We both order bacon cheeseburger deluxes. Julia tells us she’ll put our orders in and walks off with a spring in her step. Now that it’s just the two of us again I want to change the subject, talk about something different, something not so depressing. “Is it true you live in the lighthouse?” “Yes,” he says. “I bought it a few years back.” “What’s it like, living in one?” “I love it. I’m right next to the ocean. Sometimes, when it’s warm enough, I like to sit out on the porch and listen to the waves.” I try to imagine Phillip sitting on the porch, perhaps in a rocking chair, staring up at the stars; or maybe he likes to close his eyes and just listen to the waves himself, letting his mind relax, not thinking about lesson plans or grading assignments. I feel a smile spread across my face, warm, genuine. It feels good to smile - really smile. “Would you like to see it?” he says. “Or do you have to be home soon? I know you wrote in your journal you have to be home at a certain time.” “I don’t tonight,” I say. I’m being rebellious: I’m twenty-four. I should be able to stay home as late as I want. I don’t need a curfew. Fuck Uncle Bo and Aunt Tilda. Phillip wants to show me his lighthouse. “Are you sure it’s okay?” I ask. He grins. “Why wouldn’t it be?” “Because you’re my teacher.” He winks at me and my stomach does a total backflip. “I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.”
  9. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 13

    I've been working at The Treasure Cove for a week now. I love it! On nights when it's really crowded it can be stressful and tiring but I'm actually pretty good at table bussing. When the people are done eating I clear the tabletops off: I put the dishes in a plastic tub, wipe off the tables with a rag and cleaning solution. Then I wipe down the cushions and take the dishes over to the dishwasher. When I leave for the day I'm satisfyingly exhausted; I feel like I'm doing something with my life. I had no idea working and making my own money could be this fulfilling, even if it's just for chump change. Buddy, on the other hand, is a hard guy to figure out. I'm not saying I don't like him I'm just saying he takes some getting used to. He's very blunt, has a foul mouth, but once you get used to it you discover moments of softness and kindness. For example, two days ago, an arthritic old lady came into the diner. She was so stiff-and-slow moving it hurt me to watch her. Buddy served her himself the whole day: He fetched her her coffee and treated her like a perfect gentleman. Today, however is a different matter entirely. Buddy clicks his fingers at me. Though he looks calm I know he's real flustered because the tips of his ears are bright red, something I've picked up on. “Johnny, hurry up! We got three tables that need cleared off!” I have to bite my tongue to keep from telling him I'm going as quick as I can. Today was the first baseball game of the season and everyone is stopping in for a bite to eat, and graduation day at the high school is next Wednesday. I step through the swinging double doors that lead back into the kitchen and set the tub on the counter. Ricky, the dishwasher, rolls his eyes at me. He's short, shorter than I am which is saying something. He has a wiry build and keeps his hair styled like Elvis, who he has playing on the radio right now. “Damn, people must be really hungry,” he says. “You have no idea,” I tell him, wiping my sweaty forehead with the back of my arm. “Buddy riding your ass much?” “Like you wouldn't believe.” Ricky shakes his head sympathetically. “I feel for us, lil buddy. But like I said to you just the other day he's always ridden the newbies harder. His idea of conditionin’, you know. But once he can see you can stand on your own and he doesn't watch you all the time he lays off.” I go back out to the front - and walk right into someone. Before I even look who it is I mutter a hasty, “Sorry”, asking myself how I can be such a success, and when I look up to actually see who it is it's- Phillip Russo of my English class. “Johnny?” he says, looking down at me, reminding me of just how tall he is. He looks just as surprised to see me as I am him; I'm even more surprised he can remember my name since I've only been in his class for a couple of weeks. “I didn't realize you worked here.” I let out a nervous chuckle and hate the way all the blood immediately seems to rush to my face whenever I have his attention. “I just started a few days ago. With school I'm only working part-time but I suppose it's a start.” I scramble for something to cover up my idiotic, self-conscious blabber and manage to drag out, “So were you at the baseball game?” “I was,” he says. “It's my favorite sport…” Before he can finish what he's saying, Buddy shouts, “Johnny, quit standing around jibber-jabbering! Get back to work!” Inside I curse Buddy. “I have to get back to work,” I tell Phillip. “I'll see you in class, then.” Phillip surprises me by shaking my hand. His skin is very warm and his touch makes my mouth go dry. … Ever since the fiasco at the movie theatre, Gwen and I haven’t spoken - or rather she’s been ignoring me. Every time I try to approach her so I can explain things, she walks away, not even looking in my direction. I’ve never felt so guilty. You should’ve explained things a lot sooner, I tell myself. Instead you tried to bury things and let things get too far. This time I see her sitting under a tree, reading a book, and this time, come hell or high water I’m going to make sure she doesn’t get away. I’m going to tell her everything, why I’m really living here at Adermoor Cove with my aunt and uncle; I’m going to tell her about the conversion therapy, the drugs I’m taking, about Tony. If she wants to hate me afterwards that’s fine by me, but at least my conscience will be clear. Or so I tell myself. “Gwen,” I say. She sees me and immediately starts to get up, slinging her bag over her shoulder. Her face is dark. She looks at me with eyes full of hurt, anger, mistrust. “Stay away from me, Johnny,” she says. “I’ve got nothing to say to you.” Several students sitting around the courtyard glance in our directions. I didn’t want to come to this, to make a spectacle out of it and embarrass myself further, but if this is what it takes to make things between Gwen and me okay again then so be it. Contrary to what she thinks I care about her - just not in the way she wants me to. I manage to catch up and grab ahold of her bag. “Gwen - wait! Will you just listen to me for a second?” “Let go of me!” She whirls around and shoves me hard enough to send me stumbling back a few steps. “What, I don’t get a chance to explain myself?” “After what happened last week what is there to explain?” she asks. Tears were now streaming down her face; she was actually crying. Clearly I’d misjudged the severity of the situation. “You just left me there! What was I supposed to think?” At first I can only stand there and watch her face get all red and puffy, watch the tears stream down the sides of her face; I feel like the biggest asshole on Earth. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry I hurt you. But I’ve been trying to talk to you all week and you won’t let me. I’m just trying to make things right between us because I don’t want to hurt you. So when you’re ready to hear what I have to say, you just let me know.” “Alright,” she says after a few seconds. “Alright, I’ll listen to what you have to say.” “Have lunch with me. I’m buying.” “Where did you get money?” she asks. “I got a job.” “Really? Where?” “I’m a table busser at The Treasure Cove.” We walk to the recreation center and grab seats at a little cafe inside. We grab sandwiches, chips, an apple, and Cokes. After we’re done eating, Gwen says, “Start talking. You’re not out of the woods yet.” For a moment I don’t know what to say; I’ve spent the last week rehearsing what I want to say, where I want to begin but now my words and mind lock up. So I push myself forward and say the first thing that comes to my mind: “I’m a homosexual.” Saying three words has never been so difficult before. I wait. I study her face. I prepare myself for her reaction: the rage, the disgust. At the moment she just looks shocked, like it was the last thing she expected; perhaps it was. “You like being with men?” she says. “Yes.” “How can you be sure?” “I’m very sure. I had a lover back in New York. His name was Tony.” “The one you told me you loved like a brother?” “Yes.” “But you didn’t just love him like a brother, did you?” “No.” I almost choke on the words as I remember all the good times Tony and I shared: going to the movies mostly, walking along the beach, taking the ferry to check out the Statue of Liberty. The feeling of his lips, looking into his eyes, the feeling of him inside me. I force myself to keep talking. All that is behind me now. Tony might as well be dead to me; his parents made sure he’s dead to me. “There were guys before him I dated, but I didn’t fee l for any of them the way I did for Tony. I would have married him if I could. I would have spent every day of the rest of my life with him.” “So what really happened between you two?” Gwen stares at me intently; I have her complete attention. “Our parents found out about us. We were leaving the movies and it just so happened my parents saw us kissing. They were going out for dinner at a restaurant on the same block as the movie theatre.” Even now the scene plays out before my eyes as if it’s really happening: Tony and I in the alley, liplocked. The sound of my mother’s voice, “Johnny?” We stop, turn, and there, standing in the mouth of the alley is my parents. My mom is all dressed up dinner, wearing her most expensive earrings - silvers crosses encrusted with blue sapphires. I remember thinking, This can’t really be happening, they really can’t be standing there - can they? I remember being flooded with guilt, how my mother had started crying, burying her face in my father’s chest? I’d started towards them, trying to comfort, trying to explain, wanting to make things better; it hurt my heart to see my mother crying like this, knowing I’d caused it. I’ve never seen Dad look so devastated, so angry. He holds a hand up, blocking me from stepping any further and says, “I think you’ve done enough, Johnny. Oh yes, I think you have done quite enough.” Then they turn and walk away. “My parents told Tony’s parents,” I continue, clearing my throat. “After a few days I went to his place to see if everything was okay. His parents were there. His mother answered the door - she wouldn’t let me inside. Not long after the dean of NYU expelled me from the school on grounds of morality.” Tears are streaming from my eyes and I’m choking on my own words; the tears feel hot and thick and syrupy against my flesh and I’m folding the napkin in my hand over and over again as if doing so will reverse time. “Now I’m seeing a conversion therapist here at the institute. In order to be able to get my degree I have to make the appointments and I’m living with aunt and uncle who watch my every move.” “I should have known,” Gwen says wondrously, shaking her head. “How could I have not known? Women are supposed to know these type of things.” My heart is pounding against the inside of my chest. “If you hate me, I understand, but I hope you don’t.” “I knew this boy in school,” she says. “His name was Dwight Howard. He was this awkward little kid everyone made fun of. They called him ‘queer’ and ‘fairy’ and his father beat him all the time. I always felt awful for him. I always felt tempted to talk to him, I don’t know, try to be his friend, but fear of what others would think of me always held me back. I would imagine what my own parents would say and think...and just freeze. In our junior year - we were always in the same class - Dwight got caught in the locker room with our gym teacher. It was all everyone in the town talked about for days The teacher was sent to jail and Dwight was forced into going through...conversion therapy...too. A couple of years after we graduated from high school Dwight killed himself. Put the muzzle of a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.” Then to my surprise Gwen takes my hand. Her eyes brim with emotion. “I’m sorry Johnny. I’m sorry for not seeing the signs, for being so ungodly selfish. I don’t hate you, not one bit.” “Even though it’s a sin?” I ask. “I used to think it was wrong...the idea of a man and a man together. Or a woman and a woman. But after what happened with Dwight I’m not so sure.” Gwen looked down at her hands. “He was in a lot of pain and people treated him horribly. He was in so much pain he took his own life. I don’t want to see that happen to you...if it did...” Her voice breaks. “I don’t think I could bear it. No one should be so unhappy they kill themselves.” I let out a breath; I can actually breathe again. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that. Please don’t tell anyone Glen; I can’t stand the idea of anyone else knowing. It was already hard enough telling you.” “I won’t. I’ll keep it between us.” She takes my hand in hers. “I swear.” … That night I lay on my mattress, writing in my journal. I’ve been so lost in my thoughts and getting them all out on paper that I don’t realize I’m out of notebook until the point of my pen skids off the paper and touches the mattress. I look up, surprised, and flip through the notebook. Yes, I’ve filled the whole thing, from one end to the other, and it only took a couple of weeks. Except for the sound of Uncle Bo’s snores coming from the bedroom across the hall - he snores really loud - everything is quiet. I love the quiet, the stillness of the night. It’s the only time where I can truly be myself, especially when I’m writing. In the daytime I’m an actor: with my aunt and uncle and Lloyd my psychotherapist. I tell them what they want to hear, follow the script, go through the motions. I take the drug Lloyd prescribes me even though it makes me nauseous and kills my libido. I do my homework. But during the night, when I’m writing, I let it all out. I write down what’s really going through my head, and when I’m too tired to write down any more I slide it under my mattress. Fortunanty Aunt Tilda and Uncle Bo seem to respect my space. And why wouldn’t they? It’s not like I actually have anything here. I turn out the light, roll over on my back. I make a mental note to get another composition notebook and to turn in the written analysis for a book Phillip Russo assigned, Flowers for Algernon, which just came out recently. Reading the book has been a bittersweet experience: I feel so connected with Charlie: the operation he has to go through just so he can live a “normal” life, so he can finally break free from the fringes of society. It’s pretty heavy. It pushed the envelope. There's one other thing pestering me and I can't shake it: Phillip Russo. Ever since bumping into him at The Treasure Cove he’s constantly been on my mind. I literally can’t stop thinking about him. I think about the first day of class I had with him, the feeling of connection and familiarity I had with him, the certainty that I knew him. I get the feeling everytime I see him. Every single time. Sometimes, when the feeling hits me particularly strong I get nauseous. And I get the sense he feels it too; when he looks at me I see it in his eyes. I’ve been thinking I want him to read my journals. I want him to read about what I’m going through: why I moved to Adermoor Cove from New York, the conversion therapy, the effects stilboestrol has on me. I want him to know all of it. But the idea also frightens me: It’s a big risk. What if my feelings, the sense he might understand, is wrong? What if he makes it uncomfortable? What if he tells the dean of the school and I get expelled just like NYU. I can’t push the thought away. It feels like something I have to do. The next day, after class, I tell Gwen not to wait for me, there are some things I have to do. I wait until the class empties and Phillip Russo and I are alone. My legs feel like rubber as I approach his desk. I have the notebook in my hand, the palm slick with sweat. I’ve been gearing myself up for this all day, watching the seconds on the clock tick slowly by. But now the floor feels like mud sucking at my feet, trying to hold me in my place. Still, I force myself onward, my eyes focused on the goal. Phillip’s back is turned to the chalkboard. The eraser looks absurdly small in his large hands, which makes sweeping circular motions, erasing the white chalk. Then he stops and turns, as if he can sense me coming through some sort of sixth sense. Our eyes meet one another’s and I’m flooded with that strange feeling of deja vu. Whenever he looks at me there’s like this invisible force that holds me in place and all I can do is look back. It renders me motionless. “Johnny,” he says after a moment. He sounds surprised, as if seeing me standing there is the last thing he expected. He also sounds pleased. This is the first time I’ve been alone with him, with no one standing around to hear our conversation. The fact that we’re completely alone only makes me more nervous, more afraid. “Can I help you?” “Yes, I wanted to see if you have anymore notebooks,” I say, sounding more brave and steady than I feel. “I wouldn’t ask, but I’ve already filled this one.” “Already?” He takes his glasses off, looking at me with those dark brown eyes. He has very beautiful eyes; whenever I look into them it’s impossible to look away. “You must love to write.” I grin despite myself. “I do.” “I have plenty, so yes.” He reaches into his briefcase and hands me a fresh composition notebook. “Thanks,” I say. “You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to reading your analysis on Flowers for Algernon. I know the semester’s just starting but I can already tell you’re a talented writer. Have you thought about making a career out of writing?” My stomach is all aflutter. He thinks I’m a good writer! I think. He gave me a compliment! Suddenly I feel giddy, so giddy I could dance. “Yes. I want to be a writer.” “You’re very intuitive and insightful for someone so young,” says Phillip. I can feel myself starting to blush. I look away, hoping he can’t see it even though I’m sure it’s impossible to miss. He clears his throat, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” “Yes.” Here it is: the moment that will make or break me. “I was wondering if you would read my writing. I’m sure you’re very busy with other things but just whenever you have time...and maybe if you can tell me what you think.” “Sure,” he says to my relief, taking the notebook from me gently. “I’d love to. You’re actually the first student to ask me to read something personal...since, well since I started teaching here.” “It’s nothing,” I tell him nervously. “Just thoughts.” “I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. You’re a very bright young man.” He’s looking at me in that odd way again, like he wants to say something but can’t find the words or the courage. A thousand words pass through my brain, each one sporadically different from the next: Tell me what it is you have to say...don’t be scared, just say it; and I think you’re a phenomenal teacher; and I feel like I know you; and what I really want to say is, I’m entrusting you with this, this sensitive, detrimental thing, so please don’t use against me...don’t use it to hurt me...I’ve been hurt enough. “Thank you,” I say. “See you next week Mr. Russo.” He smiles kindly. “For the final time, Johnny, call me Phillip. I insist.”
  10. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 5

    The being underneath had mostly human features. Everything about her had the appearance of being young: her nose was petite with a slight, mischievous upturn, and her lips were soft and narrow. Her eyes scanned them, glowing a lustrous yellow, the pupils thin, long slits like the eyes of a feline. Her body was slim and curvy in places. This newcomer who had stepped into the fray and saved their lives had the body and appearance of a seductress. Skold, however, sensed this was simply the work of a powerful glamour spell, the manipulation of one’s appearance through magic. He sensed the thing beneath the illusion was much older and far less human looking. Everyone was tense, waiting to see if she was a threat. Seeming to sense this, the creature smiled. Her hair, long and thick and dark red, danced in the wind. Her red lips pulled back into a slow smile. “You can put away your swords,” she said, “I mean you no harm. If I wanted to kill you, each and every one of you would already be dead.” Skold, Maeglin, Sonja, Konstantine, and Valyuun made no move to put their swords away. “No offense meant,” Maeglin said, “but we are not putting our swords away just yet. Not until you tell us who you are and what you’re intentions are.” She looked at him patiently. “As I said I mean you no harm. I was simply on my way to Pen’thorpe Keep when I came across your group. It seemed like you needed help so I intervened. As you can see revenants are dangerous creatures enthralled by corrupt magics. As for my name I am Eolyn Qixisys you may call me Eolyn. I am a seer.” “A seer?” Sonja uttered; she glanced at Skold...she looked afraid. She could tell by the way Valyuun took a step back and Maeglin’s back straightened and Konstantine’s gloved hand tightened around the handle of his sword that everyone else was too. Skold only knew the lore of their kind but had never encountered one...until tonight. Of the fae, seers were one of the oldest most powerful and rare breeds. Their kind had been the first to roam the earth long before elves. Seers were known to be able to see the past and the future, as well as what one was thinking and feeling - so the stories went. Seers were as revered and feared as necromancers. Skold was unafraid, unimpressed. However he sensed it would be wise not to piss this creature off. I would be no match for her, he thought. “We should head back to the castle,” said the seer. “And we should bring one of the bodies so you have a viable alibi.” Without another word Eolyn began to walk gracefully in the direction of the Keep, the elves staring after her. The sun was starting to rise by the time they made it back to the castle. There was no use in sneaking back into the castle: General Cevna and two dozen troops stood before the castle, waiting for them. Skold and Konstantine wrestled with the revenant, pulling it along with chains. It gnashed its teeth at them and dug its heels into the ground, looking around wildly. The journey back to the Keep seemed to have taken twice as long thanks to the undead creature. Maeglin led the way with the seer directly behind him; her dark robes billowed out behind her, blown back by the frigid morning wind. She appeared not to feel the cold whatsoever. “What is that?” Cevna said, gaping at the revenant. “A revenant, General,” Maeglin said. “Once it was one of my scouts.” “In the name of Valhalla,” Cevna said breathlessly. “I’ve never seen one before this moment. It’s the work of death magic, is it not?” “It is.” “And who is she?” Cevna nodded at the seer. “This is Eolyn Qixisys. If it were not for her showing up when she did, we would not be here.” “You all need to come with me,” said Cevna, showing no recognition at the sound of the seer’s name. “The counselors are furious. I should be putting you all in chains and shackles but...considering what you brought back with you...” Trailing off, he turned, cape swinging out behind him, and led the group towards the castle. Gears shifted and turned as the gate was slowly pulled up. Once inside the courtyard, Cevna turned to his troops. “You, you, and you,” he said, pointing at three elves, “take that monstrosity to the dungeons. Make sure it’s secured. We don’t want it getting loose in the castle, now do we?” Skold handed his chain to one of the troops who took it timidly, giving the revenant a cautious berth. He was more than happy to give the burden to someone else. His muscles ached and he was cold. I hope this excursion was worth all the trouble, he thought. May the Spirits of Valhalla bless us if not. Cevna led Skold, Maeglin, Sonja, Konstantine, Eolyn and Valyuun through the castle, moving swiftly. After their journey through the frigid night Skold wanted nothing more to be in his quarters, in his bed; the way things were heading that was unlikely to happen on this morning. The counselors were waiting for them on their thrones. Skold wondered if their bottoms ached from sitting on stone all day; he had to bite his lip to keep from snickering at the thought. None of the three counselors looked happy, Viktor least of all - but then Viktor never appeared to be happy unless he was being malicious, only grumpy and ruffled. There was a loud groan as the doors to the chambers slid shut, followed by a tense silence. Valyuun kept scanning the counselor’s face before him, jaw clenched, eyes wide and fearful. He was visibly shaking. Cowardly worm, Skold thought. Why Maeglin is so fond of him I will never know. “You abandoned the castle when we specifically told you not to,” Althon said, speaking to Maeglin, “recruited others to go on a personal mission while leaving the castle vulnerable. This is treason, you understand, forall of you. But Maeglin, I am surprised at you the most. And you as well, Skold.” “We have good reason to do what we did,” Maeglin started. “We found-” “Silence!” Viktor spat. “You will not speak unless asked to speak!” “Who are you?” Alagossa asked of Eolyn. Eolyn stepped forward, pulling down her hood, fixing the three counselors with her vulpine eyes. “I am Eolyn Qixisys, one of the three remaining seers left in the world.” The three counselors exchanged glances; the look in their eyes told Skold all he needed to know: they were surprised and frightened. “I happened upon this group just moments ago,” said Eolyn. “It’s a good thing I did, or else they would not be here to tell you of their findings.” “Findings?” Althon asked. “What findings?” “That’s what I was trying to tell you before I was interrupted,” said Maeglin, shooting a heated glance in Viktor’s direction. “We found what happened to my scouts. They were up in the hills, the same hills where we felt the strange presence coming from. They were dead - looked almost as if they’d been eaten alive by something that was not an animal or anything so mundane. The bodies rose and attacked us.” Skold stepped forward to lend his support. “It’s true. There were four of them. And I found this.” He pulled off the amulet hanging around his neck and held it up for all to see. The light reflected off the bone-trinket. Every flame in the room seemed to flicker as a chilly gust of wind wailed through the room and everyone shivered at once. “What is that?” Viktor said, turning his face away from it as if it was something obscene - and perhaps it was. “As I said I found it. I have no idea what it is.” Skold set it on one of the pulpits. All nine bodies in the chamber, excluding the guards standing watch at the doors, gathered around to examine it, approaching it slowly as if it would come to life and attack them. “It’s vile,” gasped Viktor. “I dare not touch it.” Skold looked down at his feet, forcing himself not to smirk. Superstitious fool. Behind his swagger he is every bit as much a coward as Valyuun. Alagossa looked up at the seer. Something about the way her eyes narrowed down told Skold she did not trust the seer. Part of him approved; there was a part of him that did not trust the seer either. There was something sly about her. “You said you were on your way to the castle. Why?” “To lend aid wherever I can.” “With all due respect seers are not known for involving themselves in politics,” said Viktor. Skold blinked in surprise: Skold had never seen him be humble with anyone else but King Yaldon himself. She grinned, her lips seeming to spread across the entire lower half of her face. Skold was reminded of a jester, of a sly beast who was adept at buying one’s trust before biting them when their back was turned. “On the contrary, seers are often involved with such matters...It just hasn’t been written down because no one knows about it.” She turned her gaze to the trinket laying on the pulpit. “As I’m sure you know, the revenants were the work of death magic, the work of a necromancer. A very powerful one at that. This war has attracted the attention - the interests dare I say - of many ancient forces. And not just necromancers. What these forces are I cannot entirely say. But since the spreading of man, and not with their downfall, it seems the fae are stepping towards the forefront again, stretching their legs as the saying goes.” The chambers went quiet. Skold thought he could smell fear. “There’s a revenant in the dungeon,” Maeglin said after a moment. “I should like to see it,” said Althon. “Me as well,” said Alagossa. “Viktor I think you should see it as well.” Viktor looked at them, long-faced and afraid, but offered no argument. … The steps leading down into the dungeons were steep and spiraled around and around. Even though everyone in the ragtag group of eight elves and one seers carried a torch it seemed no amount of heat could chase away the cold that seemed to grow the deeper down they went. Skold found himself peeking in the corners, looking for any enemies hiding in the shadows, even though somewhere in the back of his mind he knew there were none. He could hear the growls and snarls of the revenant, the chinking, rattling sounds of it trying to break out of its chains. There it was, arms and legs chained apart. Blood, thick like jelly, and bits of rotted flesh clung to the shackles. It went still and looked at them with dead-white eyes that appeared to hold a measure of intelligence. Then it went back to baring its teeth at them, jaw clenching and unclenching. Skold glanced at the seer and found she was staring back. Their eyes met and a knowing smile curved her lips. He didn’t like the way she smiled at him, as if she knew something about him he didn’t know about himself. Whether she’d saved their lives up in the hills or not he didn’t trust her one bit: He sensed she had ulterior motives; whatever motives those were they went beyond “helping” them. He decided he would confront her when they were away from the others, even if it was just to call her out on her lies. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end: Suddenly Skold got the feeling he was being watched by another pair of eyes. He looked at the revenant who’d stopped moving again and was watching him. No, not Skold but something - or someone - behind Skold - and everyone was too busy talking over the revenant to notice, except for the seer. She too was looking over her shoulder, into the shadows behind them. Skold couldn’t see anything, even as he held his torch out, but he knew something was there. He remembered when Maeglin and the others and he had been in the hills, the voice he’d heard when he’d picked up the trinket. I never should have picked it up, Skold thought, feeling the briefest hint of fear. I should have left it where it was. He remembered what Eolyn had said in the audience room: This war has attracted the attention...of many ancient forces. And what he felt standing behind him, watching them from the shadows, was very powerful indeed; it was the same force he’d felt up in the hills. How was it possible the others could not feel it? Perhaps it did not want the others to know it was there, perhaps it only had eyes for him. Why so, if this was the case, Skold had no idea, but at this point he was almost willing to accept anything. From the darkness, where the volatile force lurked, invisible to everyone but Skold and the seer, a voice spoke; Skold recognized it as the same voice he'd heard up in the hills when he'd picked up the mysterious trinket, just seconds before Maeglin's dead scouts were resurrected. The voice was deep, masculine, full of greed, want, and power. “Come to me, Skold…I want your soul.” For a moment Skold's composure, the ice wall that he'd built up over the years, starting with his mother's death and fully formed by castration, fell into ruin. He was afraid. He hadn't been struck by such fear since he was a child, when his mother would have to come to his bedside at night and sing him songs because he was terrified of the monster underneath the bed. It was the kind of fear that made his eyes stare agape and his lips quiver. The voice he'd heard made him think of every bad thing in the world: of lying, cheating, stealing, of the rape and murder of innocents, of degradation. So caught up in this sudden burst of fear that he did not hear the sound of the struggling revenant finally breaking free from its chains, knocking Viktor and Althon to the dusty ground as if they were nothing but rag dolls. When Skold did turn around and to face the revenant it was too late. It was on him. It grabbed him by the folds of his wolf pelt, chains dragging behind it, and slammed him up against the dungeon wall hard enough to knock the breath out of him. Skold lashed out reflexively but the blow was futile. The undead creature's face was pressed up against his. There was no shaking himself free from the creature; there was no turning away from its rancid smell. When it spoke it spoke in the voice of the one who had brought it back into its crude form of life - in the voice of the one Skold had just heard seconds ago but could not see. “Come to me Skold...I want your soul…” … When Skold went up to his quarters the seer was waiting for him; she was sitting on the edge of his bed, legs crossed over each other. He stopped - he knew the guards placed outside wouldn’t have let her in without his say-so. He was about to ask when she laughed and said, “It’s not that difficult really. I’m full of nifty tricks.” He glared at her and tried to regain some sense of composure; he still felt shaken with the revenant in the dungeon. “What do you want?” Eolyn stood up and strolled from side-to-side, turning once to look out the window. “You don’t have much respect for your elders, do you?” “So you came here to lecture me on manners, is that it?” Skold said. “I don’t have time from your games. I’m tired and it’s been a long day. Get to the point or get out.” “Alright, then.” Eolyn stopped, turning to face him. “We haven’t had much time to talk since I found you and your party in the hills. You felt him, didn’t you? The necromancer?” Skold looked down at his feet and remembered the fear he’d felt when he’d heard the voice spoken, the paralysis that came over him when the revenant attacked him. It had taken everyone to pull it off him. I let my guard down, he thought. I let my guard down and made myself vulnerable. How disappointed Father would be. “Yes,” he said. The words were trying to catch inside his throat, to keep from being voiced. “I felt him. He called me by name. How could he know my name?” “I wish I could tell you,” Eolyse said. Skold sneered. “What, you don’t know? I thought you seers were supposed to know everything.” The seer fixed him with her eyes, which were filled with rage. Her face rippled and for a the briefest of seconds Skold glimpsed how she really looked: wrinkled, grey skin, red-rimmed eyes, springy white hair, a mouth full of fangs. The thing standing before him was a crone and possibly the oldest thing to walk the earth. For the second time Skold felt his guard drop and could only stare in surprise. Then the false facade was back in place and she had the appearance of being young and vulpine again. “If you wish to keep your throat do not mock me again?” she growled through gritted teeth. Then she became more relaxed. “Despite what you might think we seers are not all-knowing. The future is an ever-changing entity. In one second an outcome will present itself and then change in another as choices are made. Such is the case with this war, which has clouded my sight. Yet not all things are unclear. While the future is always subjected to change everything has a purpose. The force of Cerbyendeuyng threads through everything. Like you, for example. When we were in the dungeons with the revenant and the necromancer spoke I had a vision of you.” “A vision of me?” Skold said. “Doing what?” “It would be wrong of me to tell you,” Eolyn said. Her voice became gentle and her face softened. “I’ve already interfered in the way of things enough as it is by aligning myself with King Yaldon. One must discover their destiny for themselves. All I can do is advise and guide but the decision always belongs with the souls themselves. All I can tell you is to pay attention to your dreams. Listen to them. Our dreams are the best guide of all.” And then, within the blink of an eye, before Skold could ask what she meant, the seer was gone as if she hadn’t been there at all. … “Come to me, come to me little elf and kneel before me...” The voice of the necromancer beckoned him and Skold came, appearing out of the rough mouth of a dark tunnel. He was wearing his armor, the red cape hanging from his shoulders. Though he turned his head this way and that to look at his surroundings, Skold could not make out any of the details. It was as if he was seeing himself through someone else’s eyes. He started to climb the steps of a stone platform, his eyes now staring ahead of him, full of wonder and need. “Yes, that’s right, little elf. Closer, closer...bow...” Skold stopped and knelt down slowly into a bowing position, his face dipped towards the stone floor… WHOOOO-WHOOOO! WHOOO WHOOO WHOOOOOO! An all too familiar sound jerked him out of the dream. Someone, one of the guards perhaps, was pounding on his door. “Commander, they’re here!” “Come in!” Skold hissed, half tumbling half climbing out of bed, not caring if he was completely naked. Already the two elves who had stood outside his door were pulling his armor out of the wooden chest. Skold glanced out the window. It was the middle of the night. Smoke was rising from the plains, marked with the flaming head of torches. Vague, ghostly shapes marked the presence of the opposing force closing in on the Keep, already starting to climb the crude path that led up to the castle. It was impossible to count just how many troops there were for their army seemed to stretch back as far as the eye could see. They’re here, he thought. They’re really here. The moment’s finally come. Normally Skold would have insisted on putting on his own armor but in this instance there was no time to be stubborn. With the help of the two elves, Skold had his armor on in minutes. Elves ran down the corridors, wearing their armor, carrying swords or bows with quivers of arrows strapped to their backs. Several heads nodded in his direction, perhaps searching for words of encouragement. Skold had none to give but he nodded back. Skold shook the sleep from his mind and forced himself to focus. He followed his men up the spiral staircase and through the door that led to the top of the castle, into the cold night air. Snow drifted heavily from the air; gusts of wicked, flesh-cutting wind chopped at his face, numbing him instantly. Jagged cracks of thunder flashed through a sky so black with clouds that he could not see the moon. On both sides of him he had a perfect view of the courtyard, where General Cevna was gathering his forces and commanding them into formation. The sheathing sound of swords being drawn made his ears prickle. To the front of him Paladin’s troops approached quickly, seeming to climb the mountain with ease. There were a mixture of elves, orcs, and… “Are those hellhounds?” Konstantine said from beside him. Skold had been preoccupied with taking stock of the scene before him to notice Konstantine’s presence prior to him speaking. Skold looked back at the opposing army, at the humongous four-legged shapes seeming to weave in and out of the dark, marked only by their bright red eyes and the smoky fumes coming from their snouts and muzzles. “Yes, I think those are,” he said, when he could find the words. Konstantine cursed. “It’s going to be a long night.”
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 9

    Thank you Jeffrey, glad you like it.
  15. 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?”

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