by Julian Lee
fiction (short)—love story ≈ 7884 words
© 2019 Apothegm Media ™
——————- * ——————-
is the night
and the day
in the place
where the sun never shines
and the moon hides her face
and the shadows seek light
from the lamps that won’t burn
and children quake under the covers
——————- a ——————-
It really is a cold day in hell. That’s so cliché. I know, right? But just then, that was my only thought—my only rational thought. And, it was too true. Really.
It’s frigid, hyperborean. And dark. And dank. And if this ain’t hell, it’s ‘bout as frickin’ close as it gets—sans the prophesied fire and brimstone.
The air smells musty, like mold and mildew and damp earth and worms and deep lung pneumonia. Like an unfinished basement beneath a centuries old house where it rains so much nothing ever really dries out. Or, a cave.
I hear the chittering of little feet flitting about. Maybe mice or rats or monstrous winged roaches. And somewhere, the dripping of a leaky faucet—like Chinese-water-torture in an old late night spy noir.
Plop, plop, plop … Maddening!
I imagine ghostly shadows stalking the light … if there was any light. But there isn’t enough illumination to see anything, even if my pupils are fully dilated. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to tell you whether my eyes are open or shut.
Despite the humidity, I’m parched. I lick my chapping lips and my tongue feels dry and swollen.
A painful numbness has seeped far into my muscles, my bones. Can’t seem to budge. Can’t feel my hands, my feet. Need to get up, to move, to escape. I need to pee. I try to call out, and hear faint echo’s but no triggering sound.
‘What happened to my voice,’ I wonder?
Did I say that out loud?
Not sure, but think I could be lying on my left side. The ground or surface is unforgiving and there’s a sense of micro-fine dust such as accumulates beneath an ancient rug that hasn’t been moved or cleaned in a very long time. I try to roll over, to stretch, to discern my limbs, to feel anything beyond this pervasive dis-ease.
For a brief moment I consider the theory that I might be in a coma—the result of a head-on collision or a senseless drive-by shooting or a mugging—wired to incessantly beeping machines in a sterile, lonely hospital room, drip I-V’s piercing my arms, oxygen and feeding tubes up my nose, down my throat, catheter conjoining a dripping drainage bag …
Or perhaps this is a dream. If so, then it is one doozy of a nightmare. I try to wake up, but that’s not happening.
Or, y’know, might be an unwitting victim of a cruel kidnapping, bound and gagged and dumped in a dingy cellar on the outskirts of … but, why? And, where?
Or … could I be dead? Is this the big lights out? The last goodnight?
Maybe. But, if this is death, if the body is no more, then what up with all the pain and distress, the wheezing breaths? What’s with the cold? What’s that all about?
‘Get a grip, dude. If all y’got’s y’mind, can’t be givin’ that up too. Think!’
If only … harken back to the beginning, try to remember how I got here. Or, what I was doing, where I was … before … before …
——————- b ——————-
A few months earlier:
Friday night. I’d finished work late, but at least I’d finished … for another week, anyway. It was already dark out and it had started to rain. The windshield wipers metronome’d back and forth, to-and-fro, tick-tock, tapping an almost hypnotic tattoo.
Par for the course, commuters impatient to get home and start the weekend had underestimated the slickness of the newly wetted roadways. The highway south was closed, both lanes, due to a multi-vehicle accident. So, I headed up the back way. A lot of other drivers had the same idea. Traffic was heavy.
It was closing in on nine p.m. before I arrived at Millers Creek, the small mountain town nearest to the cabin I call home. I decided to grab a late dinner at Di Luccia’s, before the kitchen closed for the night.
There was a party going on in the banquet room: A birthday or engagement or anniversary or maybe a wake or something. That left the bar pretty much open, all to myself—which was ef’n-a-okay with me. I sat there and scanned through the menu.
Highlights of a previous football game played on the wall mounted flatscreen. I really wasn’t that interested—couple of east coast teams gone into overtime—but it was something to do. The antipasto had just arrived and I munched as I watched, sipping a glass of pinot noir. The wine was of the relatively cheap bar ilk, though not inexpensive, and actually not too bad. I think the label might have featured chubby dancing lesbians, or maybe stylized running horses.
It wasn’t long before a woman emerged from the banquet party to fetch a round of refreshments. Even though the bar was largely deserted, she stopped right next to me to place her order. I was pretty sure I had never seen her before, and yet she seemed vaguely familiar. One of those things you can’t quite put your finger on. She was pretty (or rather, pleasingly charming), however, and I did not mind. We struck up a conversation, and that too felt familiar, as though we already knew each other. Without asking, she helped herself to my appetizers. A taste presumptuous, perhaps.
We bantered good-naturedly. After a while, a platter of drinks showed up at the end of the bar. The woman smiled as she went back to the party, tray in hand. I had neglected to ask her name. Oh, well.
Fifteen-twenty minutes later the woman was back for another round. The same cute little blonde with the nice body and familiar face. The conversation continued where it had left off, as though without a break. This time she pulled up a stool, sat next to me and began eating from my entree with her fingers. I asked for another place setting and shared my dinner with her.
She said her name was Chantal and that she lived in town, nearby. I told her my name was Ramey and that I lived a few miles further out, in the woods. We talked and touched on a good many subjects, but kept things fairly light. Maybe I was starved for companionship. Maybe, along with the food, we had shared some kind of energy, a spark, a connection. I don’t know. But, I found the exchange delightful.
Later, she took the current serving of spirits back to the party. Perhaps, she had felt the same magnetic pull, the same heart-hookup. Before she left, she said something about there being much better alternatives than some of the barfly women in the area. Well, on that score, at any rate, she was correct: There were those about town I wouldn’t get near wearing a hazmat suit. I finished my late dinner and went home.
I did not see Chantal again for a few months.
When next we met, it was again at Di Luccia’s, and by then she had completely slipped my mind, including her name.
It was a Saturday morning, about eleven in the a.m. I was there negotiating, with a local contractor, for some work to be done around my property. We were sitting at the back of the bar, where we might enjoy a little privacy. There were five or six women of varying ages gathered around the front. They were drinking and nattering and giggling: What I considered—not to put too chauvinistic a spin on it—typical female tittle-tattle worthy of my ignorance. So, I was ignoring them.
At a certain juncture, the bartender walked up and placed a wineglass of red in front of me. I asked what it was for and pointed out that I had not ordered anything. Robert, the barkeep, turned, gesturing to the other end of the counter and with a flourish said, “with compliments from the lady over yonder.”
I looked. The woman from the previous meeting months earlier, from the banquet room party, leaned forward so she could be seen, shot me a huge smile and wave. I nodded and returned the smile. Curious. I did not want the wine, however, so exchanged it with the prospective contractor’s empty when no one was watching.
A short while later, the business agreement concluded, I was ready to leave. I motioned Robert over to settle the bill. At the same time, returning the favor, I purchased one of whatever the woman over yonder was having. Then I got up and headed out. Before I reached the door, however, I heard an excited squeal from behind, and running footsteps. Guessing the delivery had occurred before I could effect my escape, I turned in time to catch a hurdling bundle of somewhat inebriated affection as she leapt up, wrapping her arms around my neck, thanking me profusely—and a little over the top—for acknowledging her with the cocktail. Surprised, I told her she was most welcome as I disentangled myself. Then went out to my car and drove home. Though I found this woman interesting, I had other more pressing issues to attend that day.
Again, I did not see Chantal for several weeks.
The third meeting was just as unexpected. It was that perfect season smack in the middle between spring and summer—when everything is so beautiful and absolutely nothing can go wrong. And, once more, it was at Di Luccia’s.
I was reclining, back to the countertop, enjoying an ice-cold beer on a warm, lazy afternoon, gazing out the window at nothing in particular. A flight of Dark-eyed Junco’s performed amazing arial acrobatics just outside. Suddenly the door burst open and she waltzed in, purposely making her way directly to my position without any hesitation whatsoever. She plopped herself on the stool next to mine and began speaking—or, rather, continued our previous conversation as though there had been no intervening months between then and now.
The following half-hour or so was pleasant, and there came again that uncommon feeling of familiarity. And also, though at least partially subliminal, the certainty that I had been expecting her, that I was actually waiting for her, that we were meant to be together. It was the strangest sensation. With no foundation. Yet, it was not altogether untrue, nor undesirable. Still, I held these thoughts close to the chest.
The next morning Chantal rang me on my home phone. This was a surprise, as I did not recall having shared my unlisted number. Tricky woman. I made a note to ask how she got it. But, found nonetheless that I was happy to hear her voice. She invited me to pick her up at her house and accompany her to the local arts and wine festival in the park north of town; to mingle and browse and listen to some live music and get better acquainted. She gave me directions. After short consideration, I accepted.
It was a fabulous afternoon. The music was decent and not too loud—sort of a Grateful Dead-ish vibe. After which we enjoyed a leisurely early supper. This time at the local Country Club. Much as during the first encounter, it felt as though we’d known each other forever.
Later that evening, we strolled hand-in-hand from one end of town to the other and back again; peeking into shop windows; chatting about this and that and nothing specific. It was very comfortable, and a bit intoxicating. We were like two teenagers. I guess you could call it a date. Our first official date.
We picked up a rental movie and some Chunky Monkey ice cream and retired to her place to relax and enjoy. When the film ended, I thanked her for a wonderful day, kissed her goodnight and drove home, alone.
That’s how it all began …
——————- aa ——————-
Sailing uncharted waters:
The almost unbearable and constant physical pain would seem to indicate that I am still alive … not dead yet. That apparent fact leads me to believe that … well … nothing, actually. There is no comprehension at all. Nothing I can wrap my head around. Nothing definitive. Really?
I mean, is this what it’s like to be roofied, as portrayed in those ubiquitous Lifetime dramas or the Hangover movies that everyone insists are so funny? Waking up not remembering what may have happened, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, but with an annoying tickling in a back corner of your mind that says, ‘whatever it was, baby, it prob’bly ain’t gonna be good.’
I envisioned walking into work Monday morning with a big, ugly inkblot indelibly inscribed across my face. And wouldn’t that be a hoot? All those stuffy executive types. Politicos. Wannabe’s. What would they say about that?
I thought, ‘I really better concentrate on the here and now.’ And, ‘think I’m gonna be sick.’
Then it occurred to me that I really had better stop maundering and take stock. The situation was showing no signs of improving on its own. If I couldn’t recall how I got here, maybe I could figure out where “here” is …
——————- bb ——————-
Still earlier, but sometime later:
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Another of those platitudes that’s so spot-on it’s almost unbelievable. The signs are always there. Yet, we rarely pay close attention—close enough, anyway. Yeah, I know: Hindsight is 20/20. I get that. But, I digress.
Things with Chantal were interesting and fun. At first, at least. Like the way she would call late when out of town on a business trip and claim she couldn’t wait to get back and jump my bones. Like her smile; her laughter; her sense of humor. Like the naïve bounce in her step and the cute way she’d wiggle her hips when walking away; or that occasionally suggestive, pouty-lipped, runway-model pose. Like the wow and flutter of my wildly racing heart whenever I was within her proximity. And the way she invaded and took over my dreams, and my life. It was as though I were under a spell. Magical, but in a good way.
Yet, I began to notice a definite Ms. Chantal and Mrs. Hyde thing going on from time to time. And, there was this core women’s club that was never too far away. And the periodic, clannish, no-men-allowed meetings—the subjects of which were always jokingly referred to in terms of top-secret, eyes-only, never ask me ‘bout my business. I began to think of them—these other women, this inner circle—as her coven. ‘Course, I was careful to keep that bit of possibly misogynistic nitty-gritty to myself, just in case the profile didn’t fall too far from the witching-tree—even if it wasn’t taken seriously.
Then again, disappointing or insulting her, or doing anything to cause her any harm or discomfort, was the farthest thing from my mind. Anathema. Or rapidly headed in that direction. I had real feelings for her. Feelings deep inside that had lain dormant for a good long while. Feelings that, for some reason, I did not want to discuss, even with myself.
But, once more, I digress.
So, we had been seeing each other, together now, for a time, Chantal and I. The relationship was progressing nicely, steadily, pleasantly, passionately. I guess some might call us an item, a couple, a thing. And, I guess, that wouldn’t be inappropriate. We were close, not fused at the hip exactly, not inseparable, more like a comfortable hand-in-glove sort of affair. And we were no secret around town.
Chantal had decided to winter her little summer roadster in my garage. And, to my amazement, without argument, I had promptly rearranged the area to accommodate her wishes.
Well, to be honest, I was planning to do some cleanup anyway. It was overdue.
And we were spending more and more time in each others company: She sleeping at my place; I at hers. Lunches, dinners, day and weekend trips. There was discussion afoot about combining residences, moving in together. Or, rather, she selling her house and moving into my home.
You know? It’s funny: I had always, in the past, enjoyed my personal space. Always thought I wanted it to stay that way—my space. Always, heretofore, had relished and preferred it that way. And always had, before. You know, kept things that way. My man cave. Never anticipated a time when that might change.
But, then again, if you think about it, a single mortgage payment, consolidated insurance, utilities, maintenance expenses, carpooling to work, sharing food and et cetera, that would certainly provide increased cashflow. It could really add up. Give us more money to play with. Playing is good. It made sense.
I thought about new toys and vacations. And sex whenever I wanted. No more need to hunt. No more late night strikeouts, or compromises.
I found I was more than leaning towards the decision to cohabitate. Strange, everything I believed I knew about myself was flying clean out the window. Though we had not discussed it, I was considering adding Chantal to the official paperwork, making her sole beneficiary. Maybe, even, popping the big question.
But, there. I said it. Sometimes it felt like I had completely lost my mind. More often, though, it just felt so right. Almost like there was no other choice. All I wanted was for Chantal to be happy. More than anything else. And I’d already purchased a ring …
——————- aaa ——————-
Close, but no cigar:
… I remember. I remember … what? I don’t know. But, I remember something. Wait! I remember … Sally. No, Sheila. Sha … Chantal. Okay. Yeah. That’s it. I was with, Chantal. Now we’re getting somewhere.
We were together, someplace. Chantal and I. Me and Chantal. Doing what? Celebrating? Right? We were celebrating … something. A very special occasion, I think. But, what? Where?
It’s all a jumble. It’s all a blur. I’m so confused. Like I’ve been drugged. Or sustained a serious concussion.
I remember the time I found a neighbor. He was an older guy. And he drank like crazy. And ate nothing but junk-food. And never exercised. And had the worst attitude. This day, just before I was to leave for a weekend trip, I checked in to see that he was going to be okay while I was away.
But he wasn’t. He was lying on the floor of his bedroom, having fallen out of bed sometime in the night. He was there on the floor, in the most awkward position imaginable. The companion dog cowering on the bedcovers, scared out of his wits, uncertain what to do.
The old guy wanted me to help him to his feet. But, the way his body was arranged, that just wasn’t possible. I told him he would need to move his legs before he could get any purchase, before he could stand. He insisted that he was moving his legs, that he had moved them, that he simply needed a hand to get up. Apparently, he was telling his body to move, or thought he was. But, his brain refused to send the directions; or his muscles would not obey; or some circuits had broken connections, shorted out. ‘Cause, what had happened, he’d suffered a stroke. I dialed 9-1-1.
Is that what befell me? Did I have a stroke or an embolism or aneurysm or whatever the hell?
Or, had Chantal done something to me? But … why?
Is someone coming to my aid, get me outa this … mess? Who’s got my six here? Wherever here is. Waiting in this dark place. Waiting, ‘til nothin’ matters anymore.
Please, God. If you’re really there. If you’re listening. 9-1-1, I need your help …
——————- bbb ——————-
The big ado:
Well … I asked her. And she said …: Yes! So, damn, baby. Just like that, I’m off the market.
No way. Never, in a million years, would I have believed it. If someone had told me where this was headed, what I was about to do, even a month ago, I would have laughed in their face. Yet, here I am.
Deep breath, heavy sigh …
Part of me wants to run away, fast as I can. Part of me knows I cannot and never will. Part of me can’t wait for what is coming. No clue which part is the strongest. Pretty sure I know which will win out.
Am I ready?
Does it matter?
Chantal wants a small ceremony. Okay, we both do, actually. For me, it’s easy. There isn’t anyone I care to invite. Not really. Chantal, of course, insists that her closest friends attend.
Maybe, after this, I can be part of their “coven” too?
She has everything planned: We will tie the knot at daybreak, in a park to the southeast, gathered within something called a fairy ring (a group of redwood trees growing in a circle, around the stump of an old-growth mother that died many moons ago). The sacrament to be officiated by one of her cadre, a Wicca priestess.
I had learned that her inner circle actually are practicing Wiccans. Are Wiccans the same as Witches?
After, we will move the party northward, to a local restaurant for the reception—Di Luccia’s, the place where we first met. Sweet.
Later, we will retire to a secluded campsite in another park, further to the northwest, far from prying eyes, where we will all spend the weekend—dancing and singing ‘round a bonfire, communing with goddess and making wild naked love ‘neath the starry zodiac.
No, I get it. But, I don’t know. If it were up to me, I would probably just fly to Vegas: Justice of the peace; buffet, some drinks, a little gambling, more drinks; then off to a honeymoon suite for the consummation. Well, you know what they always say: When in Rome …
Wonder if the coven, all the inner circle girlfriends, intend to have a group sex thing? Maybe with me as communion …
——————- ** ——————-
there’s a ghost in my head
looking for a home
getting under my skin
like a bad tattoo
primal ghost in my heart
searching for a soul
casting ancestral sin
like wicked voodoo
——————- aaaa ——————-
A light in the tunnel:
Light! Sudden bright blazing light. Like staring into the torrid, midday sun. If I was disoriented by the previous absolute blackness, this new, abrupt and immediate illumination is even further and glaringly blinding. It burns, but I can’t look away.
If there is a silver lining to this twist, it is that I now know my eyes are open.
‘Breathe, wait, relax, trust. The pupils will adjust. It’ll just take a second or two …’
Another fleeting thought: ‘Why can’t I just close my eyelids?’
Stairs. A stairway swims into view, as if through shimmering heatwaves. Leading up. Maybe a dozen steps. And at the top, an open door. The intense light emanates from there, from beyond the doorway. Radiating from another room.
A second revelation: I am in a basement or cellar, beneath a house or building of some kind, somewhere. Lying on the cold floor, bathed in hot light.
And a third: I must still be alive …
Movement at the top of the stairs. Footsteps. Voices. There’s someone up there. I’m rescued! A wave of gratitude washes over me. Relief is on the way. Thank you, Jesus or Goddess, whomever. Thank you …
A reflection sears onto my aching retina’s, brands the pineal’s photoreceptor, like a burned-in TV ghost image: A woman. The silhouette of a woman. Standing in the doorway. Facing me. Looking down at me.
Standing still. Bare feet shoulder width apart. Hands on hips. Brilliant light shining from behind renders her almost nude. She is wearing something, something translucent, like a sheer summer dress. But beneath, her outline is smooth. She appears as an animated, almost cartoonish, 2-dimensional, X-ray effigy illustrated in varying shades of gray. No internal skeletal structure, just gray. Other than her general shape, I can’t make out any discerning features. Her shadow casts over me as I sprawl on the deck.
I am lying on my left side; not prone, exactly, but neither coiled into a fetal position—more curled in a gentle arc, almost like spooning. And, I’m naked.
She reaches out and touches something on the wall. More light. More obfuscating pain.
“I am so sorry …,” the woman begins.
I recognize the voice. It is Chantal. Now, I recognize the shape too. But, there’s something different. Her hair. Unless it’s been cut very short, it must be pulled back, fastened behind. I’ve never seen her wear a ponytail or bun, but that must be how it is fashioned. Or, she’s wearing a cap of some sort …
I’m rambling. I try to say something. Thank her for coming. Ask her what has happened, what is happening. I hear the words forming in my brain, but nothing comes out.
“… that it has to be this way. Really. I am. I truly do care for you, Ramey, dear. I chose you,” she continues.
Slowly, she is taking a step, then another, and another. Finally, Chantal’s coming to me, to help me. If I could move, I would run to her. Hold her. Tell her how much I need her. She’s speaking again:
“I’m sorry for the, ah, discomfort. I did my best to ensure you would feel nothing. But, there’s just so much one can do. It’s out of my hands, now. I hope you can understand.”
She’s crouching beside me, before me. Not touching me, but there. Here. With me. I can see her eyes, her lips.
“Do you remember anything,” she asks?
But, of course, I cannot respond. However, a memory begins to tickle to the surface of my poor, addled mind …
——————- bbbb ——————-
Edging nigh on the precipice:
I remember …. I remember … making love. It was not the first time. Chantal and I had been living together for over a year—not counting the months long courtship, nor the lengthy, repeatedly interrupted introduction. And, we were happily married, after all. Husband and wife. We had made love on many occasions, many places, many ways. And, it was always great. But, this time. Oh, yeah. There was something spectacular, something almost ethereal about this one.
We had been at the beach all day. A little, out of the way, secluded piece of seashore. And, for whatever reason, the universe had conspired to give us this day all to ourselves. There was no one else in sight.
When was the last time you had a sunny beach day all to yourself?
It was magical: We rolled in the sand and frolicked in the surf—careful not to sunburn any delicate body parts. We laughed and danced and sang and exclaimed our undying devotion to the skies. We munched fruit and cheese and sipped an ostentatious little Chassagne-Montrachet.
This was our anniversary. She’d said Paper was traditional, but would prefer Pearl. The gifts could wait.
I wanted Chantal, more than anything. And, she was in a playfully naughty mood. Yet, she teased, tantalized. Brought me to the edge, then backed off. Never refusing, never allowing things to go too far. It was at once equal parts exciting, frustrating and promising. But, I didn’t know how much more I could take. I was about to explode or implode or just meltdown entirely. I begged. She giggled. She ran. I chased. Where we found all the energy, I never knew.
We decided it would be wise to head back to civilization before the sun set for the night. Dressed, gathered our belongings, bid adieu to our special cove, vowing to return. And then we were off.
We drove home. Showered, changed clothing and went out to eat at the Country Club. The site of our very first official dinner date.
After, we moved our little party to Di Luccia’s for some Bananas Foster and a nightcap. Good old Di Luccia’s. It had been standing since Millers Creek was little more than a logging camp. Once providing the men (and women) working the woods with some much needed R&R and entertainment: Hotel, saloon, restaurant, games of chance, brothel, the whole kit-n-caboodle. And, it was the site of our very first official meeting.
I’ve never been outrageously sentimental. But this day, this evening? It was something to remember, alright. I simply could not imagine how it could get any better.
Well … of course I could.
But I tell you one thing for certain: I could never, for the life of me, have imagined how this night would end …
——————- aaaaa ——————-
Deep into the dawn:
Chantal reaches out, touching the side of my throat with her outstretched fingertips. Checking my pulse, I assume. After a short interval, she pulls her arm back into her lap.
“Pallor’s a bit off,” she observed, “but your heart’s beating strong. That’s good.”
She smiled and relaxed, sitting back on her haunches. Gazed up at the ceiling. Sighed. Pulled something from a pocket, then. Reached out again and turned my head so it was facing up. Put some drops in my eyes. They stung. But she said it would help. Let my head return to its resting position.
“Yes,” she nodded. “I see you’re starting to remember. Some, at least. Let me tell you a story …”
“You humans. Your species.” She patted my arm sympathetically. “You like to call yourselves the ‘wisest of the wise apes.’ I mean, Seriously?”
She shook her head. “Yet for all the braggadocio, you’re not very observant. For all your technology, you’re not that aware. Invariably, your motivations are political. And this ends-justify-the-means rationalization you all employ will be the destruction of your kind. It’s too bad, actually. For all your faults, you can be very beautiful people. We could be friends, our two branches. Allies. Work together. Create many wondrous things.”
She took another deep breath through her nose, sighed it out. “But, if you knew about us, if you were aware of our existence, you would exterminate us, or try to. Even if it killed you. What a shame.”
She smacked her lips. “Such a waste.”
‘What is this? Aren’t you here to help? Don’t just talk. Do something. Now. Before I completely lose it!’
“But, that’s neither here nor there,” she went on, “just my opinion. And, you know what they say about opinions.”
She paused a couple of beats, studying me. Took another deep breath, as if readying herself for an unappetizing task. “Okay:”
“Homo sapiens,” that’s you, she smiled, “trace their ancestry back to simian origins. We, on the other hand, we are Homo pepsis. Our ancestry traces back to, well, wasp origins, I guess one could say. Nearest relatives might be, what you call, Tarantula Hawks. Like Chimps or Bonobos and humans. Not really descendants, more, distant cousins.”
“Both of our species have coexisted for longer than anyone knows. We evolved in parallel. But, over the eons, we,” she touched her chest, “have adapted to your species. We,” this time she included me too, “now enjoy a symbiotic relationship. There are no longer any males in the Homo pepsis family, for example. We evolved away from that long ago. Male Homo sapiens”, she pointed at me, inclining her head, raising her eyebrows, “fill that purpose for us as well as for humans.”
“Just,” she winced, “not in the same way.” She waggled her head, side to side. “We don’t need your … input, so to speak. Only your bodies ….”
Chantal stood. “That’s enough history, I think.” She paced out of sight. Then she was back. This time lowering herself to a crosslegged sitting position where we could remain in eye contact.
“Do you feel anything,” she asked?
‘Whoa! I need help,’ I thought. ‘Why you goin’ on ‘bout this different spices crap? What does that even mean? I don’t need a sci-fi, biology lecture. You’re my wife! Call a damn ambulance, already. Paramedics. Somebody … GET ME OUTA HERE!’
“So,” she continued with her narration, “like I said before: I chose you. We chose each other, actually. From the first moment I saw you, I knew. Love at first sight. Twin flames. Instant karma. Soul mates. Destiny. What-ever.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “You are perfect. The One.”
She smiled again and something flashed in her eyes. Something … alien …
“From that moment on, we were … oh, what’s the word? … entangled. Like two strands of mycelium entwine to form a stem that breaks free into the sunlight and blossoms a mushroom, that issues forth spores, that beget …”
Chantal paused again, looking at me. “Are you following this? No. Probably not,” she agreed. “That analogy,” shaking her head negative, “is not altogether accurate.”
She was silent for a long time. “I’m not good at this,” she admitted. “We don’t, usually, care about ...,” she became fidgety, started over. “Um, I’m not, used to, to having these kinds of ... feelings. Such strong emotions, you know, for a, a ... mate. We have always chosen those of relatively,” she rubbed a hand across her chin, hedging, before continuing, “questionable character. Prey that are easy to,” she began rapidly clicking her fingertips together, “dismiss. Sort of like, culling the herd ...”
She looked away for a long minute, then back, held my eyes again. “So, yes, at times you can be somewhat arrogant and self-absorbed. Conceited and chauvinistic, perhaps. Occasionally worse, maybe. That’s true. But under it all, you have a good heart. A big heart. You’re not, completely unrepentant. You do try. I wasn’t anticipating that. Didn’t expect to … fall for you.”
I wanted to scream at Chantal, grab her, shake some sense into her. I most certainly did not understand.
‘Is it murder if she claims she isn’t human?’
But, Chantal was right about one thing: The memories were coming back. Slowly but surely. Disjointed and in flashbacks. Dreamlike. And, if anything, the remembering was more confusing than the not knowing.
And, yeah, I was beginning to feel things … stirring things …
——————- bbbbb ——————-
Down the rabbit hole:
At Di Luccia’s (this is so cool) desserts like Bananas Foster are made right at your table. The chef rolls out a cart, fires up a butane burner, then prepares and cooks it while you watch: Fresh bananas sautéed in sweet butter, caramelized brown sugar, cinnamon, walnuts, everything flambéed with rum, the entire warm gooeyness poured over cold vanilla-bean ice-cream. One bowl, two spoons. The ritual, the visuals, the smells, the tastes, the sharing, the love. A wee dram of Armagnac to finish it off. Mm-mm-mmm. Can’t beat it with a stick.
A fabulous treat to crown a fabulous day.
After this sweet course, Chantal leaned in close, playfully, sexily, and said that she had the use of a friends place not far away. Much closer than driving back home. Where we could enjoy the rest of the night in complete privacy. Just the two of us. She whispered these things in my ear whilst rubbing one hand along the inside of my upper thigh and waving a keychain with the other. Sold, to the lady in red.
Out the back, in the car, a few minutes later we were unlocking the front door of a quaint little, two-story, old-world chalet. Anticipation sizzled like static lightening in the air.
Chantal went into the kitchen to make some hot cocoa while I got a fire going in the big stone hearth in the living-room. I arrayed a cache of large pillows on the floor before the blaze. Perfect.
Chantal switched out the lights as she made her way towards our cozy, hastily assembled love nest. Kicking off her shoes, she set two mugs of steaming cocoa on the coffee table. It smelled delicious, but was soon forgotten as she settled in, hiking up her skirt, sitting in my lap, wrapping her legs about me.
She sparked up a joint and we shared it, snuggling that way, face to face.
She started touching me, kissing me, all over: On the neck, cheeks, forehead, brushing my lips. Whispering passionately from deep in her throat, “I love you, I love you,” as she nibbled my earlobes. I reached for her, but she pushed my hands away. Tried to return her affections, but she stopped me.
She extricated herself from my lap, smiling, giggling.
Then began the most erotic striptease I had ever witnessed. Her clothes disappeared, piece by piece. The fire raged. Perspiration beaded on her flawless skin, dripped and ran. Her tongue snaked out to moisten her sensuous lips. I tried to rise to my feet. She wagged an index finger: No, no, no.
She hummed and sang a tune I had never heard in a language I did not recognize. And danced. The firelight casting spectral shadows across the room, over the walls, the ceiling.
I was overheating. Had to get out of my clothes. Started unbuttoning my shirt. Chantal pushed me back. Ran her fingers through my hair, then down under my shirt. It fell off my shoulders.
My pants had become so tight it was painful. She was kissing me again. Down my chest, my belly. She started undoing my belt. Pushed me over onto the pillows and fell atop me. Probing with her fingers, her tongue, her mouth.
The trousers were off, and the undergarments, everything. I did not recall when that happened or how. Cantal was caressing me, kissing me, licking me, everywhere.
It was so hot! Sweltering. A sheen of sweat glistened our bodies, making us slippery, oily. Skin sliding effortlessly together, just enough friction.
My heart, my blood, my lungs were chugging like a steam locomotive about to come off the rails. Racing. Out of control. And up ahead, the bridge was out.
Then I was inside. And, somehow, someway, so was she. ‘Must be a finger,’ I thought, ‘kinky.’ But … how can that be? Something wasn’t making sense, didn’t add up.
But, just then, nothing else in the whole world mattered more than Chantal. Making sweet, amorous love with Chantal. Merging every inch of my body, my essence, every gram of my soul with Chantal’s. Forever, without end.
Still, that finger. That impossibly long finger. Burning, stretching, slipping, probing, deep, deeper inside. It … feels … so … good …
——————- aaaaaa ——————-
Where the sun don’t shine:
“If I had thought things through,” Chantal continued, “I could have handled it much differently. I could have, let’s say, kept you, as my consort, my paramour, my husband. Then, I could have located a less redeemable host somewhere else, out of town, where you would never be the wiser. I would have found a way to explain the child to you.”
“We can be very persuasive. And you humans, you want to be lied to, expect it.”
“We could have raised that girl,” Chantal’s voice barely above a whisper, “you and I, together, as a family.”
I thought of those mythological Sirens, dashing passing ships against the rocks, stranding unsuspecting sailors and turning them into pigs … or, something like that. I wondered if I could believe anything Chantal had to say. Wondered if I would ever listen to any of them again.
Wondered if I had already heard too much.
I am mad.
Insane? Psychotic? You bet. Who wouldn’t be? But I mean: Really, totally mad. Maybe for the first time in my life. Not just frustrated or angry. Absolutely, seeing red, so pissed off I could literally kill with my bare hands, chop her up and feed her to the sharks and never look back … mad.
‘Is it murder if she truly isn’t human?’
But, hate is not sustainable. Anyway, apparently, there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. And not much time to do it in.
‘There are worse things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than mere violence …’
You’re toast. That’s just whack, Dude. So, now what?
“I want you to know,” Chantal was speaking again. “I want you to know, that I’m heartbroken. We don’t usually have any regrets. I mean, like, what’s the point? It’s the way things are. The way it has always been. It’s a biological imperative, for cryin’ out loud.” She shrugged, “Ah, you know, it is what it is …”
Tears leaked from Chantal’s eyes, streamed down her cheeks.
“But, right now, knowing what I did to you, to us,” Chantal sniffled, wiped a hand across her nose. “I could hate myself. Do, in fact. And will always be remorseful. Even as I will always hold you dear in my heart.”
Chantal paused to gather her composure. “However,” she went on, “there’s another life to consider now. There’s our baby. Yours and mine.” She bent over to look me in straight the eyes. “The baby has to be the priority. There’s no other way.”
Her eyes communicated the depth of her sadness, and resolve, and resignation. “The process can’t be reversed or stopped. Not short of killing you both. And, in any case, no matter what I wish, I’m afraid my paralytic venom causes permanent, irreparable damage.”
——————- bbbbbb ——————-
La petite mort:
The French call it the little death. There was nothing little about it. It was nuclear. End of the world huge. To proclaim whatever happened a mere climax is like saying Pompeii went up in a feu-de-joie. An orgasm, even the most frenzied paroxysm, is essentially a fireworks show. This, this, I don’t know, this was devastation, by ecstasy. This was rapture, far beyond the biblical. This was way too much …
And then, and then, I simply cannot fathom. I must have passed out. All is darkness.
I have an extremely hard time understanding the events, piecing the timeline together into a coherent sequence. My mind has been fracked, reduced to mush. Think I must have been hallucinating. Drifting in and out of consciousness, like a dream flirting with lucidity that never quite manifests. A dream from which I cannot, will never, awaken. Much of it, well, if I told you, if I could tell you, if there were any words to express …. It just isn’t …. It wouldn’t …. Huh … nothing jibes.
Even after Chantal’s explanation. Even after her apologies. Even after her heartfelt declarations of love. Even though I now know the truth of her account. Feel the truth of it in my gut. Feel that embryonic larva pupating, crawling about: Swelling. Deliquescing, sucking. Little by little, consuming, slowly, always feeding. Molting into a grub. Growing, like a pumpkin in my belly. Soon to metamorphose into a … what, exactly? A child? A woman, like her mother? Like Chantal? Like those others? A person, to grow up and one day do this same thing to another human being?
Luckily, I’ve gone completely blind. Glad that I cannot see what my body is becoming. The state of my once proud physique. Happy my daughter will never see me too. Not from the outside, anyway.
I always wanted kids.
Chantal promised to never leave my side. And hasn’t, near as I can tell. Fancy I can still feel her hand in mine, squeezing now and again, reassuring. Ears stopped working a while back, though, shortly after the eyes gave up the ghost. The acute pain has subsided into a dull ache, more like a fever. The agony, it has become almost a friend.
But, it will be over soon. Chantal said the process takes about 49 days, more or less, start to finish. Not sure how long it’s been. At first, I tried scratching notches on the blackboard of my mind to track the days, like a prisoner in one of those old movies, marking time on the cell wall. But, my memory, it sucks. Kept forgetting and starting over. Too depressing. Now, one day is much like the last. Except less.
Each day there is less …
——————- 1 ——————-
A new day:
There’s nothing left of me. Nothing but a shriveled up old husk. Just a dryness that will shortly return to the dust from which we all spring. Yet, I am still here. Somehow. In some way. Floating. Untethered to any earthbound concerns. Not a phantom. Not a haunting. Simply, a presence, a sense of myself—or, the self I used to be, the self I once was, the self that I called … me. The self that will never be again.
And maybe some regrets: For not having been better; for not having treated others with more respect; for not having treated myself with more respect.
But, none of that matters now.
I hear a baby crying. See Chantal—and the others, the coven, all circled ‘round. See her lifting an infant from the ruins of my former body. See them washing the dirt and grime from the babies fresh, pink, new skin. Baptizing her essence in a basin carved within a stone alter that looks, for all the world, like a birdbath or a vessel for holy water. A primordial rite.
Chantal turns and gazes at me, through me, as though she sees me hovering there. As she dries the cherub and sheathes her in swaddling, she seems to be pointing me out to the little papoose. The baby stops crying, she appears happy and loving and grateful.
I wonder if she knows the price of her birth? What sacrifice her life will require of others?
I could easily be angry. Hateful. Vengeful.
Yet, even though this new existence has demanded everything of me, has taken everything from me, has cost me everything I had, I hold no blame. All living things breathe, in and out. All life ebbs and flows, like the lunar tides. Every lifetime has an endgame. Just as enigmatically as we are born, everybody must die … sooner or later, one way or another. It is the natural order. It’s how we roll.
One of the priestesses moves to a window, high in the cellar wall, and flings it open wide. It seems to be an invitation to exit (stage right), to move on. The entire circle is looking at me now, smiling, bowing, reverential, as I drift nearer to the opening. Something outside is beckoning. Calling.
And then, I am out. Into the wild, and gone …
——————- *** ——————-
here I sit on the shore
by the waves and the sea
that wash o’re the rocks
and whisper your name
and I write in my book
of the secrets we shared
when still we were young
and whisper your name
and I see your light
in the shadows of the trees
in the wakening forest
shades of long-ago days
peeking thru morning mists
and I cry for love lost
and call out to you
reaching thru ages past
to hold you once more
just to feel your heartbeat
and whisper your name
and I read from our book
all the secrets we shared
when still life was young
and whisper your name
——————- **** ——————-
Julian Lee, October 22, 2019