by Julian Lee
working draft: fiction (short); continued, interracial love affair (≈ 4221 words)
...continued from part 1:
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
A light in the tunnel:
Light! Sudden blazing light. Like staring into the torrid, midday sun. If I was disoriented by the previous darkness, this 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—or mirage.
A second revelation: I am in a basement or cellar, under a house or building of some kind. 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, whatever. 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. A shadow with a shadow.
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 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 apologize 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.
“What do you remember,” she asks?
But, of course, I cannot respond. However, a memory begins to tickle to the surface of my poor, addled mind…
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 white wine.
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.
It was going on late afternoon when we decided it would be wise to head back up the mountain 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, bank, 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…
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 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 wisest ape beings.” Snickering through her nostrils, “I mean, Seriously?”
She shook her head. “Yet for all the,” twirling her hand, searching for the word, “braggadocio, you’re not very, um, observant. For all your technology,” she shrugged, “you’re not that aware. Invariably, your motivations are political. And this ends-justify-the-means rationalization you all employ will be the, ah, undoing 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. “The hate. 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.
“How do you feel,” 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. Soulmates. Destiny. What-ever.”
She held her hands out towards me. “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 twin strands of mycelium entwine into a stem that blossoms a mushroom…”
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…,” she shrugged, pinched her lips, “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, gazed downward, “dismiss. Sort of like, y’know, 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.” A tear trickled down her cheek.
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?
Though, 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…
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 framboise 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 handed me a mug of steaming cocoa. We sipped, then she put the cups on the coffee table. It smelled and tasted 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, like the dance of the seven veils. 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 whirled. The firelight casting spectral shadows across the room, over the walls, the ceiling.
I was overheating. Had to get out of my clothes. Started unfastening buttons. 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. Chantal 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. Dizzying.
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 within. It…feels…sO…
Where the sun don’t shine:
“If I had thought things through,” Chantal continued, “I would 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, crave 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’m so mad.
Insane? Psychotic? Maybe. Who wouldn’t be? But I mean: Really, totally pissed-off mad. Possibly for the first time in my life. Not just frustrated or angry. Absolutely, seeing red, so steamed 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, Dude. That’s just whack. 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 as 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 the neurotoxins in my paralytic venom cause permanent, irreparable damage.”
La petite mort:
In French it is called 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. 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…I mean, it wouldn’t…huh…nothin’ 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 parasitic 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 hashmarks 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…
Rise of a new day:
There’s nothing left of me. Nothing but a shriveled up old husk. Just a stain 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. A vessel for holy water—the primordial seas, and the rites of passage.
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 requires 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. And 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, 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 eons past
to hold you once more
oh, to feel your heartbeat
and whisper your name
and I read from our book
all the secrets we shared
when still love was young
and whisper your name
Julian Lee, October 22, 2019
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