Here is the second chapter of my latest WIP. It will probably shape up to be a short novella. It’s hard to say now. I’m not sure how long I’m going to leave this up. I’ll probably take it down at some point and turn it into an eBook – with a free/pay-what-you-feel version on Smashwords and a pay version on Amazon. I’ll probably put a version on LeanPub, too.
If you like this opening, please leave feedback. It really helps me! And when I pull it down for the eBook version, please consider buying a copy, leaving reviews, etc.
*You really need to read Chapter 1 for this chapter to make sense.
Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness
Word Count: 3000 (approx)
Reading time for average reader: 15 minutes
“Hey, Baby, watcha doin?” I asked.
Lisa looked up from her photocopied handouts. “English extra credit,” she said with a sigh.
My skin crawled ever so slightly. There was a part of me that said let it go. Don’t ask. It’s just some English extra credit assignment. You really don’t need to know these details. But I’ve got this thing, ya know, Sam? It’s a character flaw, I know. You probably never saw this because of the unique nature of our relationship, but I feel compelled to prove myself a good parent. I travel a lot and feel guilty. Hell, that trip we took to Latin America while Lisa was such a little girl…
So, I asked. “What are you doing for extra credit?”
“Oh, Mom, you would not believe it. I thought it would be easy. We were just supposed to read some fairy tales and write a quick analysis. But these stories are gross! This one has a man burning dogs to ashes and then boiling this king and…”
The Bronze Ring, I thought. Collected by Andrew Lang in The Blue Fairy Book. And my mind was off to that horrible place in myself I discovered in that jungle. But I see the story differently. I see a version of the story that is older than Lang’s version. Don’t ask me how I know this. It’s what my Wiccan friends would call Unverified Personal Gnosis, but I know it’s true.
I saw it Sam. The Gardener’s Son finding three dogs, but these are no ordinary dogs. These were creatures straight out of Hell – jaws elongated beyond anything nature could have intended. Teeth that looked like medieval torture devices. Instead of fur, sharp spines that rose and fell with the breath of these hulky creatures. “Take us,” they said over and over. “Use us,” they said.
The Gardener’s Son picked up a bag and the creatures dissolved into a powder that drifted into the bag.
Scene change. The Gardner’s Son has tricked a king from the East into a pot and released the powder from his bag. The evil creatures reconstituted themselves and begin to tear the King from the East apart. But then, the King’s face became Eric’s face. The screams go on and on… long after it seems physically possible. Even after the last bits of Eric have been ingested, the animals opened their mouths and I could hear Eric’s screams continue from deep in the bellies of these beasts.
“Mom!” Lisa shouted. “Mom! You’re doing it again.”
And then I was back. My daughter’s face is pale with a concern that should be alien to a 12 year-old girl.
“Doing what?” I ask. Is she going to fall for my feigned ignorance?
“You went all spacey again.”
“Dad says you weren’t always like this.”
“Oh.” He’s right. I wasn’t like this until Eric. “Get back to your homework, Baby.”
“Are you still going on your trip?”
“Can I come? Dad says it’s going to be like the Sci Fi con we went to last month.”
“Oh, really?” I felt my stomach clench. Something was burning at the back of my throat.
“Yeah, except the Cos Play won’t be as cool. Just middle aged geeks dressed up as Moses or The Virgin Mary.”
The burning in my throat got hotter.
Then my phone buzzed. I picked it up and saw a text message saying my email account had been accessed by an unfamiliar computer. I checked the location and felt my face get hot. The name of the town just happened to be the town Nick’s office was located in.
I got up trying to make my limbs move fluidly, choking back the desire to scream. I walked to the living room and plopped down on the couch.
I started a text to my sister, Julia. I don’t think you ever met her, Sam. You’d like her. But I think you’d be a little scared of her. Of course, I’m thinking of the old you. The pre-Eric you.
Me: Julia, Nick is checking my email without telling me.
Julia: You should leave him.
Me: He’s the father of my child. I can’t just leave him.
Julia: Oh, yeah? Has he been hitting you?
Me: The anger management class helped. He’s really trying. I promised myself if he was going to try then I was going to try.
Julia: Once a bastard, always a bastard.
Me: That’s not fair.
I waited for a response and got none. I drifted to sleep on the couch.
I dreamed of you, Sam. I dreamed we were in that cabin in the woods of North Carolina. I dreamed I was your prisoner. Damn, it was hot, Sam.
I felt a man’s hand jostle my shoulder. I almost, just almost let myself think things too good to be true.
I opened my eyes to see Nick smiling at me with flowers in his hand.
I didn’t bother to hide my disappointment. “What’s with checking my email?”
“Oh,” he said, putting the flowers down on the coffee table.
“That’s all you have to say?”
“Your trips don’t always go well.”
I sat up, eyes burning, cheeks wet. “You’re still angry about what happened seven years ago? Look, I did some terribly stupid things.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes and stared hard into Nick’s eyes. “Nick, I’ve gone on other work trips since then and I didn’t have you spying on me. It’s not like you’ve been a saint. I thought we agreed to just try and move forward.”
“It’s different this time. You’ve been getting that 1000-yard stare more and more. It’s almost like when you just got back from Latin America. You’re gone more than you’re here.”
He was right, Sam. I mentally reviewed my week and there were all these gaps. I felt something in my guts drop as I realized how much of my week was missing.
He put his hand on my face. It felt so big. It wasn’t that long ago that I had been slapped by that big slab of meat. “Cassie,” his eyes locked with mine. “Julia’s worried, too.”
“Maybe it’s not something about this trip or about me at all. Maybe it’s because you’re not supporting me anymore.”
I felt his hand twitch and I flinched.
“What do you mean?” His voice was very even. Too even.
“Do you think I’d look hot in a Virgin Mary costume?”
“Oh,” he said, looking down at the floor.
I smiled at him and lifted his chin. “Look, I don’t want to leave on a bad note. Let’s just let this go and talk again when I get back, ok?”
“Ok, honey.” He got up and walked out of the room. I could barely hear his big feet padding across the floor.
I picked up my cell phone and sent another text to Julia.
Me: Are you trying to play both sides against the middle or something?
Julia: Look, I don’t care much for Nick, but you have been acting weird. All the gals miss you. And you aren’t laughing anymore.
Me: So? I’m just preoccupied. I’m presenting a big paper.
Julia: That might make sense for some people but a Cassie without laughter… unthinkable!
Me: A Cassie without laughter is like an object greater than which nothing can be conceived but which happens to lack existence?
Julia: See? Did you laugh at that? I bet not. And don’t tell me that wasn’t a joke. I don’t have any idea what it means but I can tell it’s the kind of joke that would put yourself in stitches while everyone in the room vainly tried to figure out what it meant.
I tossed the phone over to the end of the couch and began to sob.
I sat down in the conference center lounge with my “complimentary continental breakfast” – a burnt cup off coffee in a Styrofoam cup and a stale doughnut. I pulled out my conference program. The opening ceremony included mostly names I recognized and then there was a break before the first plenary session.
I skipped over the description of the plenary and looked at the breakout sessions of the day. There were a surprising number of sessions about fairy tales. I circled each one. Maybe someone in one of these will have some answers for me.
I looked at the description of the Plenary Session. Who is this Timothy Kolos person? Should I even bother going? Guess I’ll at least read the description. Mystical poetry, huh? My mind drifted back to all those times when you would read me poetry, Sam. It was cute the way you pretended you just wanted my academic opinion. You were cute. And sweet. And you had this strange strength to you. But I’m married and I have a kid! I kept trying to project that to you but it never seemed to penetrate. Men…
Sam, when I saw you on that podium. I was so sure you were dead that for a moment I thought Timothy Kolos was your long lost twin. But once you started reading… Those poems… The very lines, the very intonation you used when you read them to me…
My mind drifted back to the time you finally consummated that tireless, yet unrequited love you had for me. Eric started fucking me before our trip but I kept that hidden from you. I was selfish, I guess. Your undeterred affection hit a deep place in my heart.
Eric had been teasing me with the idea of inviting you into our fucking sessions. I dare not call what we did “making love” or anything even remotely poetic. He was rough… brutal at times – just like his approach to finding the truth about God, nature, the mind… reality itself. He wanted to crack it wide open and have his way with it, just like he wanted to rip me wide open and play with me all day. And I loved it.
At first, I pushed back. “Don’t be a prude, Cassie,” he said. “You’re already an adulterer. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?”
Well, you remember the night. I blush when I remember how shy you were at first. My heart finally melted for you. You kept getting flustered whenever you remembered Eric was with us. I had to take you in my mouth over and over that first night to keep you hard you were so scared.
But the next night… Something came over you. I suspect Eric did some sort of magic, played some sort of head game… I don’t know. He had this way of bringing out the beast in people. However he did it, you were a changed man the next night. You were almost as beastly as Eric, and I loved it. The two of you would trade off most of the night and then, when I thought I would die of pleasure, the two of you would take me at once, attacking every hole you could get hold of. There were a few times on that trip that I was sure I was dying of sensory overload.
Still, even at your roughest, there was always a tenderness underneath it which was almost completely absent in Eric.
I thought about ditching Eric. You were lover enough for me. But if Eric left the equation, would he take his magic with him? That bastard was so deep inside my head. I felt like he was with me even when he wasn’t, whispering blasphemous thoughts in my ear. I knew the same was true for you, too, Sam. Eric was a part of each of us.
And then… Suddenly, I heard Eric’s screams as that thing in the cave pounced on him. I don’t know how I got out of the cave but I was running. The path was slippery form the rain. The whole jungle seemed to tear and rip at me as I ran.
And then I was back in reality, listening to you quote those poems you used to try and express your love for me. I tried to fill in the missing pieces of the conversation you were so clumsily trying to have with me. Were you so sure I’d be there that you wrote that paper just to talk with me?
Of course you were. Of course you did.
But what were you trying to tell me?
As soon as you started to field questions, I left the hall. I ripped up my circled program and got a new one. I started circling a new list of break out sessions with names like: Topics in Textual Transmission or Second Temple Era Synagogue Liturgy or Free will and Determinism in the 19th Century… The more boring and technical the better. I wanted no more passion for a while.
I don’t remember a word that was uttered the rest of the day. I just made my way to the hotel where I was staying and started drinking and typing on my laptop. I guess the drinks clouded my judgment a bit because I started writing an email to you. I found your bio in the conference program and your email address was just sitting there. Well, the email address for Timothy Kolos. Anyway, I was pretty sure you would get the email.
I started typing…
Samuel, you bastard. I’ve missed you. Why didn’t you tell me you were alive? So many questions…
And then it was like I could hear you in my hear saying:
I’m sorry, Cassie. I missed you, too. More than you could know. I’m not sure I was alive. I spent so much time trying to blot out my consciousness… Maybe I did die and somehow came back to life.
And then I wrote:
What happened to you in that cave? Was it the same thing that happened to me? Is Eric really dead, or did he survive somehow, too?
And the voice in my head replied:
We saw more truth than we knew how to deal with. Eric is dead. I hope for Christ’s sake that he is, anyway. I can’t see how anyone could survive what his body went through. I know his soul went through worse. I hope it’s at peace.
And then I typed:
I don’t want to presume that the subtext of your paper was about me, Sam… But… I’ve missed you.
And your voice… I knew it was you said:
Presume? Why not? Your “presumption” would be entirely correct. Fucking hell, you are precious to me.
Then I wrote:
What about your wife?
And your fucking voice, in my head said:
She had every right to leave me when I ran off with you and Eric. But she didn’t. And somehow she had the faith to believe I wasn’t dead. I came back and tried to pick things up where they were… But as much as I love her, each day with her is a living death. Not even a fancy, “bells and whistles” sort of Messiah-complex death, just a dirty, gritty “I die daily” sort of death.
And it went on… A whole dialogue in my head. How did you get in there? Your voice was even more real than Eric’s. What have you become, Sam? What have we become?
But I knew Nick would be checking my email. I knew that’s why you never reached out to me. He was getting better, but I knew that his healing was still in such an early stage. He would beat me, maybe even kill me. And then he would go looking for you.
So, I deleted the draft and closed my computer. I had what I needed anyway. I knew you were alive and I knew somehow we were in contact. I had what I wanted. But along with that came fear. If you were alive, what wasn’t possible?
I went to bed and dreamed… I dreamed of Eric being tortured to death by that thing in the cave.
I woke up to it’s presence. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there. It hissed in my ear.
“You were such a delightful frog to boil, Cassie. And Eric… Eric was such a beautiful pawn, wasn’t he?”
“Please,” was all that came out of my mouth in reply.
“Please what? Leave you and Sammy boy alone? Why? Do you think you could ever be ‘life partners’ or some such nonsense? Do you still cling to those dreams of romance?”
And then I was asleep again, dreaming of you, Sam. Dreaming of you coming for me. It started, as it often did, with me jogging in some beautiful, deserted tree lined park. I sensed someone – you, Sam – following me. I caught glimpses of you out of the corner of my eye. Then it became dark. Clouds? An eclipse? The flow of time twisting to your will?
I get so occupied with keeping track of you that I don’t even see your trap. Out of nowhere I am caught up in something and I can’t even see. I find myself in the back of your cargo van, tied up expertly and secured to the floor, mouth gagged.
Then I am in your dungeon, suspended by an intricate system of ropes. You take me in each hole, roughly, brutally. You choke me as I cum. You press your hunting knife against my flesh and give me little nicks and cuts as I cum, over and over.
I am your slave… No, not even your slave. I am lower than that. And I love each moment of it. There is no tenderness left in you and I don’t miss it.
But I sense that horrible thing there in the dark with us.
Samuel, what are we going to do? I love you.