Every story much eventually come to a conclusion, just as every endeavor, humble or grand, will run its course and recede into memory. I wrote the first volume of The Converging thirty or so years ago and as I set out to do so, I had no clear vision of how the tale would finally be resolved…or the profound impact its two main characters…Elizabeth Simpson and Cynara Saravic…would have upon me, both as a writer…and a person. When I penned the final sentence of Closures in Bloodand as was her nature, Elizabeth Simpson set out upon the path of light…I recall sitting back with a measure of satisfaction, rather smug in the certainty that I had written the perfect ending to this horror trilogy.

One thing I have come to learn in these decades of writing is that the creative process is a sly and often incomprehensible process…with an often inscrutable mind of its own. It is not necessarily amicable to or concerned with the writer’s intentions or prejudices, but works inexorably toward its own design. I finished Closures in Blood in early 1996 and it was my sincere belief that Elizabeth and Cynara’s epic tale had been told. I had left them both with a future that, while ambiguous, held forth the prospect of happiness…as a recompense for the horror that Elizabeth in particular had endured through the nearly forty year period encompassed in the novels of the trilogy.

In the intervening years, a formative notion kept niggling at my subconscious, growing more insistent and fully realized with each passing year. Elizabeth and Cynara’s tale had yet to reach the denouement it was destined to have. It was just after Christmas day in 2013 that I finally succumbed to the inevitable and began writing what is most definitely an emphatic end to this fate-crossed pair’s dark, tragic and somehow beautiful story. I can say without equivocation that the end result was the most challenging, emotionally taxing and personal novels I’ve written thus far. I have come to view Elizabeth as a noble and dignified character, who has endured every heart-ache…every instant of despair…with grace that has never faltered in the face of expedience or tragedy.

An Immortal Heart Asunder is first and foremost a dark horror tale, woven into its bleak tapestry are elements of tragedy, beauty and the complex, often exquisite and bewildering beauty of human existence. Along with providing an ample dose of the elements that one would expect from the genre, the novel explores themes of estrangement, regret and prevailing sadness that can often characterize the emotional topography of those approaching the end of their lives. The novel’s plot unfurls along two parallel but distinct threads, connected by one common element, that come together in its final few chapters with cataclysmic effect for all involved. Thematically, the novel deals with subjects that are…disconcerting; child abuse, child slavery and exploitation and pedophilia. Those who recall Cassandra Jasic and the harrowing tale of her childhood will grasp the genesis of this uncomfortable direction. The tortured Cassandra plays a pivotal role in seeing Elizabeth and Cynara to end of their epic tale.

I can say that writing within the parameters of these particular themes was very much like negotiating a live mine field and left me feeling exhausted and…unsettled. I’ve always believed that a story tells itself and the writer merely scribes the words and so I let instinct lead me where it would through this maze. In the end, what I believe I’ve created is a dark tragedy that is not without its beautiful moments for all of its prevailing horror.

In the years following the final moment of Closures in Blood, Elizabeth Simpson finds herself living a life of quiet and contented solitude near the village of Petalidi on the Messenian Gulf. Hers is a solitary existence…a sepia-toned exile in which her only companions are the memories of those she’s lost. In the mid-21st century, privacy is a fleeting commodity and Elizabeth soon attracts the attention of an aging, ruthless marauder who is desperate to avoid the one eventuality his enormous wealth cannot forestall. Using the family that Elizabeth has never met as the currency of coercion, this dying pirate maneuvers the immortal into a position from which there seems no prospect for escape. Meanwhile, in the City of London, an apparent vigilante is systematically and savagely slaughtering Caucasian men, who come from every strata of society…with no apparent connection between the victims other than the rather generic fact that they are white and male. Realizing that her existence poses a threat to everything that she has loved…or might ever love, Elizabeth turns to the one true constant in her life to extract her from the clever snare in which she’s become entrapped, yet as these two plot threads inevitably intermingle, Elizabeth comes to see that there may be only one viable forward path…

The conclusion of Immortal Heart Asunder brings the Converging tales to an emphatic end…perhaps the ending it was destined to have from the first word of book one. Elizabeth and Cynara’s ultimately tragic and beautiful story has been told and with its conclusion so ends my desire to write further stories in the horror genre. Characters of long-running series often take on a life of their own for those who have created them and I can say without reservation that I will miss working with Elizabeth…and trying to glean the subtle nuances of her serene and noble nature. Unlike Islena Doraux (the complicated and often unlikable protagonist of the Journey series), Elizabeth has been a joy to work with…a character whose nature was firmly resolved and easy to decipher in any given circumstance. The final sentences of the novel may intimate that there is yet another tale to be told in the Converging universe, but Elizabeth and Cynara are the heart of this series and as their story has reached its end, whatever proceeds from this moment is in the hands of the fans who have read and enjoyed this dark series of tales…


Every good story, irrespective of the genre, is always a tale of human interaction…in all of its infinite complexities and variations. This last preview…before the novel’s release in December…really lays a good deal of the foundation for the novel’s dark atmosphere and deals with themes that transcend the horror genre and touch upon many of the prevalent emotional currents that characterize all lives as we age and begin that painful process of reconciling with the inevitability of our own end. This chapter delves into many of the dark themes that will power the infernal engine of The Final Converging: An Immortal Heart Asunder…

Without further preamble….


Chapter Three: Jagged Pieces of an ill-fitting Puzzle



The room was steeped in near perfect silence…its totality broken only by the hypnotic ticking of the antique grandfather clock that stood in one corner. Contayza Simpson sat alone in a dove gray wingback staring through the living room window that looked out over the quiet street. The street was deserted on this mid-afternoon weekday in this affluent Boston neighborhood where Contayza had lived the last forty-eight years of her life. As was the case with increasing frequency of late, Contayza passed her day in solitude…alone with the metronomic ticking of her beloved clock and eighty years of memories for company.

Even at eighty-two, Contayza was still a vibrant and attractive woman and though she labored mightily to maintain a sharp mind and a healthy body, she found herself slipping into long periods of wistful reminiscences more and more of late…losing herself in an aria of ghostly whispers from a lost life.

This is what it is to be old, Contayza,‘ she told herself with uncharacteristic melancholy. ‘You’ve come to that point in your life where the future holds very little attraction and the past offers a refuge from the bitter truths that come with old age.’

Contayza shook her head in rueful exasperation, loathing these maudlin musings that colored everything in the sepia tones of an old photograph, while eschewing the joy of being alive to enjoy each new day.

‘Ah, but what a glorious life you’ve lived Contayza…more wonder and drama than most people experience in a thousand banal lifetimes. How can you not help but be drawn back through the river of years to the days of soaring elation and yes, sinking despair. These moments…so vivid…so visceral…they embodied what it meant to truly be alive. They are all gone now…leaving you with naught but faded echoes of the passion with which you once lived your life.’

Again, Contayza frowned as her gaze swept the lavishly appointed interior of the large house of which she had long been the sole occupant. It would be a gross misrepresentation to say that her life was empty. After all, she was seemingly blessed with her beloved daughter, Imirya…who had been the pride and joy of her union with Nathaniel. At the age of fifty-five, Imirya Simpson was perhaps the most renown neurosurgeon in the United States…a giving, devoted woman, who at times shamed Contayza with a compassionate sensibility that her mother had never developed.

And then there was Rebecca…the granddaughter who at twenty years old bore an uncanny resemblance to the young woman who had waged war with the minions of a dying communist regime nearly sixty years ago. Contayza conjured the image of her granddaughter’s exquisite face and a smile broke over her own visage like a rising sun…though this smile held a hungry, feral aspect of which she was unaware. Rebecca had been named after the descendant who had lived her life in the service of the reviled monster…Cynara Saravic and like Contayza, Rebecca possessed a rare and powerful gift that had long run through the Prowzi bloodline…though the power remained dormant in the young girl…much to Contayza’s eternal consternation.

Contayza shifted her gaze to a delicate crystal vase that presently perched on an equally fragile display table. Contayza inclined her chin slightly and the vase abruptly leapt into the air and began to spin like a frenetic gyroscope. With a petulant flick of a slender wrist…and a slight flexing her telekinetic muscles…she sent the vase flying across the room, where it shattered against the wall, showering the ceramic tiles with a thousand glittering shards.

The passage of time had done nothing to diminish her power and Contayza had gleaned that young Rebecca possessed enough power to make her own appear inconsequential by comparison. ‘If only Imirya was not so damnably obstinate on the matter.’

Contayza’s increasing exasperation with her daughter’s damnable obduracy was a symptom of the festering bitterness that had long ago soured their relationship. That resentment found its root cause in the subject of Rebecca and her heritage, the two women had been locked in a decade old dispute that had threatened to inflict irreparable damage on what was otherwise a loving relationship. Even now, the thought that Imirya adamantly refused to allow Contayza to apprise the girl of the gift she possessed roused Contayza’s ire. To deny one’s heritage…to willingly eschew the gift this heritage bestowed…Contayza regarded these as unconscionable acts of betrayal of her own lineage. Still, Imirya…a woman firmly rooted in the shallow soil of science and reason…had expressly forbidden her mother to speak to Rebecca of the talent that resided…quiescent and waiting…within the girl’s mind. To Imirya’s inflexible way of thinking, the old ways were a needless anachronism that had no place in the twenty-first century.

‘The girl is of an age where you need no longer adhere to her mother’s coddling wishes, Contayza,’ she told herself, but understood that…should she elect to ignore her daughter’s explicit wishes on the subject…Contayza could well end up permanently alienating Imirya. ‘Could I really endure an estrangement…give up my own child to propagate old ways that seem to have no real place in this world…a world that I can barely understand. What would Rebecca truly gain by being apprised of the power that resides in the sealed vault of her mind?’

“It is her birthright, damn it!” Contayza spat truculently and that was inarguably true. Rebecca had every right to be informed of her heritage and the power that had been bequeathed to her. If she decided to forego its use…well that was a decision that was entirely within her right to make…but she should not be deprived of the chance to even decide for herself.

Cursing in frustration, Contayza rose from her chair and strode briskly over to the window. Despite her advancing age, her spine was ramrod straight and her shoulders were square…as if she was immune to the ravages of old age. That was a delusion, of course…time would come to claim her, but for now, it was a barely perceptible thing that circled the periphery of her awareness…like a storm on the distant horizon.

Take the girl home, Tayza. On the old soil, her power might awaken of its own accord and Imirya could not reasonably hold you accountable,’ the voice of her defiant spirit advised, evoking a particularly bitter grin. It had been five years since she had last stepped foot on Romanian soil. The last trip to the land of her birth had left Contayza feeling despondent and sorrowful. Decades of enduring poverty had robbed the country of what little spirit had remained after the loathsome communist swine had fallen from power. Contayza could glean that the fundamental vitality had been leeched from the collective soul of the people who lived in the once proud land of forests and mountains. The Roma in particular had struck her as a sad and broken people who had lost their affinity with the majestic land, which in turn seemed to have lost much of its luster and glory as if it too had been drained of its vitality.

An image…stark and depressing for all of its clarity…came to her then. It had been a warm August day some five years past and Contayza had stood with her hands wrapped in a the chain link fence that delineated what had once been the Saravic estate on the outskirts of poor, dismal Chevru. The house had the abandoned appearance of a soulless corpse…awaiting interment. It had been here that Rebecca Prowzi had endured decades of torment under the Baroness Saravic’s evil fist and it had been here that Contayza had waged her grim battle with the same vile demon on the night Cynara had slaughtered Jimmy Simms. Jimmy Simms had been the only man that Contayza had truly ever loved, though she would rather have died than confess that to another living soul…especially Imirya, who had adored her father above all things.

The recollection of that final climactic battle had burned in Contayza’s mind with the magnitude of an exploding sun…every terrible detail rendered in excruciatingly vivid colors and hues. Yet, standing before that long abandoned mansion, Contayza could divine not the slightest echo of the momentous events that had occurred on this blood drenched patch of land. Even her memories had seemed oddly washed out and listless…as if she had experienced them vicariously…or imagined them entirely.

Feeling virtually diminished by the experience, Contayza had literally fled her homeland…vowing steadfastly never to return. Instead, she returned to the sedentary life of the retired widow…who passed the time engaged in charity work and evening bridge games with other retired teachers all whiling away the hours until the earth reclaimed them. Now, Contayza thought that that she should perhaps consider reneging on that vow and bringing Rebecca to Romania…purportedly on a bonding trip with her gifted granddaughter. This consuming need seemed to find its origins in a deep-seated desire to leave behind some manner of legacy…a genuine purpose with which to spend whatever days remained to her. She doubted that her incisive daughter would be deceived by this shallow pretext, but there was little that Imirya could do to actually prevent it, should Rebecca agree to go.

When did I become such an incorrigible sentimental…locked in this cavernous house with memories and wistful regrets,’ Contayza wondered. That single interrogative evoked memories of her deceased husband, Nathaniel. Contayza was surprised and bemused by how seldom she conjured the memory of the man with whom she had shared the majority of her life. Though his picture still sat on her night stand, it had sunk to the level of a scarcely noticed fixture…faded greenery from another time that was irretrievably lost. She had loved Nathaniel…in her own way, but the man she had loved had died on dreadful night in the rainy quagmire called Seattle when the world had tottered on the crumbling edge of the apocalypse. The man who had returned with her from the cataclysmic night was a pale facsimile of the Nathaniel Simpson she had married and though she had still loved him after a fashion, Contayza understood implicitly that the integral part of him had followed that hateful bitch into the grave. The Nathaniel whom she had laid to rest twelve years ago was a sad and dispirited man who had lived much of his life with a quiet regret from which nothing could rescue him. In his defense, he had loved Contayza and Imirya unremittingly, but the loss of his mother had left him with a void that nothing else in his life had been able to fill.

The last few years of their lives together had been characterized by extended periods of silence in which she had often forgotten that he was present in the room. She recalled the afternoon that Nathaniel had died. They had been sitting together in this very room…she had been reading a book while he had been staring through the front window in the absent fashion that had become his habit. Some prescient instinct tickled her mind then and she had glanced up at Nathaniel. A tumble of bright sunlight spilled through the window, framing him in golden effulgence and for the briefest instant…Nathaniel Simpson appeared just as he had before that vile witch had returned to throw a pall over his life. His hair was a lustrous gold and his eyes were the clearest blue of warms waters and Contayza had felt her heart leap in her chest at the sight of this beautiful apparition.

Then a cloud had scudded across the sun and that delightful illusion had been shattered…leaving behind the weary shadow, staring out over the empty streets as though in search of whatever spark of vitality he’d lost. Contayza had sighed longingly and went back to her novel. Minutes later, Nathaniel had stirred from his reverie, rose on stiff legs and came to stand behind her chair. Bending forward, he had placed a lingering kiss on the top of her head and declared softly, “I’m feeling a bit tired, Tayza…I think I’ll go up for a nap.”

She recalled vividly how he had then bent forward and kissed the top of her head one final time, inhaling the scent of her hair as he used to do long years before. Her only response to this nostalgic gesture had been an absent, inarticulate murmur. She continued to read her novel as he had straightened and shuffled away. In the prevailing silence, the heavy trudge of his footsteps as he climbed to the second floor seemed unusually loud.

On the rare occasions when Contayza Prowzi opened herself to the unpleasant process of honest introspection, she would invariably be drawn back to that single moment and wonder why she had been incapable of properly acknowledging his gesture of affection…much less returning it. This would inevitably lead to contemplation of how often she might have withheld her affection over the last two decades of their marriage and the cumulative toll this absent denial might have taken on the man who loved her without reservation.

Such self-illuminating exercises were contrary to Contayza’s forward-focused nature and thus she indulged them infrequently.

It had been some hours later before Contayza realized that Nathaniel had not come back down even though it was close to dinner. She remembered distinctly that what she had felt then had been nothing more than curiosity as she had moved to the foot of the stairs and called, “Nathaniel, I’ll be starting supper…are you coming down?”

When he did not reply, her brow had furrowed and she mounted the stairs…thinking that he had fallen into a heavy slumber. That impression was dispelled the instant she had opened the door to their bedroom. Nathaniel was lying curled on his side, clutching a pillow to his chest. Her glance shifted to his slippers, which sat neatly beside the bed and she knew unequivocally that they would no longer be necessary.

Upon Nathaniel’s face there lingered the ghost of a smile and his blue eyes were open and staring into a realm that she could not see. Even now, she wondered what it had been that he had gazed upon in his last moments and whether he had found a measure of contentment in the final moments before his solitary death.

She languished for a moment longer, but did not venture over to the bed. Instead, she had left the room and descended to the main floor where she commenced the process of becoming a widow. Only once in the days immediately following Nathaniel’s death had she cried. She had been standing in the graveyard with Imirya, just after the conclusion of the grave side service, and the immensity of her devastated daughter’s grief had finally shattered her reserve. She had sobbed unabashedly then, but in retrospect, Contayza realized that she had been crying more for her daughter’s loss than for her own.

She came back to herself with an audible gasp, shocked to find that she was standing in the doorway to their bedroom with absolutely no recollection of having climbed the stairs. She was further bemused when she dragged the heel of her palm across her eyes to find that it came away wet with tears. Shaking her head in consternation, she muttered, “You crazy old woman…why are you exhuming these pointless memories?”

The question had been disingenuously posed as Contayza Prowzi was perfectly cognizant of what had motivated this uncomfortable trip through her tumultuous past. Of late, she had been plagued by odd, discordant dreams that came nightly, despite their ludicrous improbability. The two distinctly separate images manifested themselves in her mind’s eye, though she found the notion that these individuals could ever be linked insufferably abhorrent. The faces of beautiful, free-spirited Rebecca and the loathsome countenance of Elizabeth Simpson chased each other through her nocturnal dreamscape like hounds playfully nipping at each other’s tail. The idea was absurd of course…the hateful bitch was fifty years in her well-deserved grave and could pose no threat to precious Rebecca.

Yet, despite the inarguable logic of this, the dream of intermingling was relentless in assailing her nightly. She was contemplating this annoying puzzle, when she first heard it…like the snippet of a childhood lullaby that she would have thought long forgotten. Her heart abruptly seized in her chest at the memory this melody evoked and for a brief instant, she feared that it might not restart, but then she drew in a deep, quivering breath.

The lilting strain came again and this set her into motion…understanding that this was not the echo of a memory, but a sound originating in the tangible world…the mundane here and now.

She stumbled down the stairs, fortunate to retain her balance in her present state of distraction and as she entered the living room, the forlorn melody of a recorder was louder than ever. With her heart thundering precipitously in her chest, Contayza threw back the sheer and peered out into the street.

The cry that escaped her lips was part terror and part incredulity. Standing on the otherwise deserted street, directly in front of her home, was a man dressed in traveling clothes from another era. His wide-brimmed hat was pulled down over his eyes, obscuring his face, but she required only one glance at the scuffed wooden recorder and the canvas bag that was slung over the man’s shoulder to know exactly who was standing before her house…like a specter arisen from her tumultuous past.

“Gregory?” She whispered and was startled when the man abruptly stopped playing and lifted his gaze…staring directly at the spot where she cowered. He raised a hand and waved a gesture of greeting as if encountering an old friend after a protracted absence.

“Greetings sister…it has certainly been a space of years since last we met,” he declared in his rich, gregarious tone. “I must say that it would appear as if the years have been kind to you, sister…but then again, very often the facades we erect are shockingly thin and fragile.”

“Why are you here…what could you possibly want with me after so many years?” She demanded through clenched jaws that belied the trepidation his sudden appearance evoked…though the possible answer filled her with an atavistic dread.

“I have come as a friend, sister…a friend who once tried to see you through a period of intense darkness. There is a storm coming sister…though I would suspect that you were certain you had seen an end to the storms in your life. If it is any consolation, you can be assured that this will be the last. I would advise you to prepare yourself…to make peace with the restive ghosts that plague your shadowed soul. Perhaps then, Contayza Prowzi…daughter of the gypsy wind…you may find the forgiveness and contentment you so desperately crave, but fear to acknowledge.”

“I…I don’t understand!” Contayza sputtered truculently. “What storm…why now, after so many years?”

Beneath the golden sunlight of day, this reluctant creature of the night offered her the sad, wistful smile she remembered from their first encounter. “The answer to your query can be found in your restless dream, sister.” He fell silent and peered along the street with a yearning expression on his rugged face. “We will not meet again, sister, but I will offer a fervent wish that you find the happiness which you have been denied through so much of your life. May the enduring spirit of your people sustain you through what is to come.”

With this, Gregory lifted the recorder…his one true companion…to his lips and began to play as he slowly drifted away.

Contayza Prowzi continued to stare into the deserted street long after the final strains of his timeless melody had faded to silence.



“So you’ve exhausted every venue?”

“We have,” Doctor Andrew Mcammon confirmed, his pinched expression conveying how expensive this concession of defeat had proven to be. “My team has explored every option and has pushed the science right to the very edge of ethical medicine…frankly, we’ve strayed well over that boundary in the past six months. Even the DNA modification and recombination therapy has yielded no meaningful results…despite the astounding degree of success we experienced in the two sets of trials. We’ve made enormous strides in the field of genetic modification in the last three decades…including DNA regeneration through artificial modifier strands, but this field is still in its relative infancy and it may be some years before we can actually completely regenerate crumbling DNA structure…and even then, it will still remain a branch of the field with very intransigent limits. Nature is intent on not allowing us to efface the finite limits of the life cycle. I can’t begin to tell you how thoroughly defeated and sorry I am to be making this concession of defeat.”

Sir Ian Barrows acknowledged this earnest apology with an absent nod. In truth, he had expected as much when Mcammon had embarked upon this last round of highly experimental (and blatantly unsanctioned) treatment…undertaken in strictest secrecy at the Barrows Institute for Genetic Research. The man standing beside Barrows hospital bed and delivering this dismal news had won three Nobel prizes for his work on DNA modification and restoration therapy over the last thirty years. Doctor Andrew Mcammon was regarded as the father of anti-aging bio-genetics, but even this intrepid scientific visionary had met his match in one hundred and sixteen year old Sir Ian Barrows.

“What is your realistic estimate of the time I have remaining, Andrew,” Sir Ian inquired in a voice that quavered with weariness. The voice, like the body from which it had issued, was beyond simply old…it was decrepit in the extreme…reminding Mcammon of the sound wind might make as it blew through the remains of a desiccating corpse. The skin that covered Barrows’ gaunt face was gray-tinged and hideously wrinkled. There was a smell that wafted from the old man’s wasted body that evoked impressions of ancient tombs. It required all of Mcammon’s well-practiced discipline not to flee in screaming horror from the gruesome parody of a human being now lying before him.

“The biggest problem we’re facing is your body’s refusal to accept any further implants or organ re-spawning bio-pods. To put it in basic laymen’s terms…your basic genetic material is simply worn out and is now rejecting nearly every attempt to either repair or enhance it. Even rudimentary transplant procedures will no longer work because your body seems determined to reject every new implant.” Mcammon paused for a brief moment so that Barrows could absorb what he had just been told…the declaration of the approaching end for a man to whom the very notion of death seemed to be intolerably abrasive. “The most realistic prediction I can offer is that…with the tricks I still have up my sleeve and your willingness to forego any further experimental therapy…which is merely taxing on your body and has no hope of success…I think you can expect to see the age of one hundred and seventeen, but nothing beyond that.”

Sir Ian absorbed this dire forecast with a wheezing grunt that segued into a harsh coughing fit that lasted for several minutes. When it finally subsided, Barrows was left feeling extremely tired and haggard. Only his expressive gray eyes showed the slightest hint of lingering vitality. They burned in the hollows of his skull like flaming torches…proof that the mind trapped within the rapidly deteriorating vessel of flesh was still keen. “What is your opinion on the matter of sentient relocation…to your mind is it in any way credible?”

Mcammon scowled, regarding the controversial field of science as a fool’s endeavor…a hot bed for charlatans looking to swindle millions of research pounds from desperate wealthy patrons. Still, one would have to be a reckless fool to utter such an uncompromisingly harsh opinion in front of Sir Ian Barrows…a man who did not suffer impertinence lightly. Choosing his words carefully, Mcammon offered, “It might seem odd that I…of all people…would be a skeptic, but the notion of implanting a living consciousness into an artificial intelligence receptacle simply isn’t plausible. Everything has tangible limits, Sir Ian…and borders that cannot be contravened. A conscious mind requires an organic brain to provide it with a physical residence…because consciousness is an extension of the organic vessel…the two are inextricably linked. Sentient relocation is the stuff of science fiction, Sir Ian…and that is what it will remain.”

The room descended into a charged silence as Ian Barrows pondered the grim ramifications of what he had just been told…a devastating pronouncement that his end was rapidly approaching despite his every effort to forestall its arrival. At last, he shifted his unsettling regard to Mcammon and remarked in a hoarse whisper, “Thank you Andrew…for everything you’ve done on my behalf over these last forty years. I’ve made provisions to insure that both the institute and its star researcher are lavishly provided for. You spoke of finite boundaries…but I believe the day will come, old friend, when you will find ways to knock down barriers even you believed were insurmountable.”

Profoundly touched by Sir Ian’s unexpected and effusive praise, Mcammon faltered to find the appropriate condolences. “Thank you Sir Ian…I wish there was some way of giving you more time…giving me more time. I’ll never lose sight of the fact that everything I have and all that I’ve accomplished was due in large part to your patronage and generosity.”

Barrows waved this off with a weak gesture of his piteous thin left hand. “Think nothing of it, Andrew…I’ve lived a long and robust life. Giving back is an obligation for the privilege. Now, if I can impose upon you to make the necessary arrangements…I will be returning to Warrington house in Mayfair as soon as you’ve done so.”

Doctor Mcammon greeted this disclosure with undisguised alarm. “I would strongly advise against that, Sir Ian. As I’ve mentioned, I still have a full spectrum of tools to make the last months of your life as comfortable as possible, but you must remain in the facility to insure that you receive treatment in a timely fashion.”

With tremendous effort, Barrows reached out and touched Mcammon’s right hand and again the doctor marshaled all of his mettle not to flinch beneath that repulsive touch. “Don’t concern yourself old friend. Warrington house is better equipped than most hospitals in London and I really have a great deal of work to do. As wealthy as I may be, time is at a dearth and I can’t afford to squander anymore here. Now make the arrangements and let me have a word with Cedric if you would be so kind.”

Barrows then offered Mcammon a hideous facsimile of a grin that exposed black, cankerous gums.

Mcammon frowned and spared a brief glance at the glacial visage of Cedric Drury, who never failed to evoke an intense shiver of disquiet in the doctor’s heart. Drury’s unlined face was devoid of expression and his eyes reminded Mcammon of a dead carp. The doctor nodded absently and fled the room, suddenly and unaccountably relieved to be out of the presence of these two daunting men.

When they were at last alone, Barrows turned his daunting death gaze on Drury who very likely would not have blinked if confronted by Satan himself. Drury had been Sir Ian’s personal assistant for the past thirty years, but in the final accounting, Cedric Drury would have more accurately been described as a living vessel of Barrow’s inexorable will. During those long decades, Drury had performed deeds on Barrows’ behalf that strayed well beyond the pale of ethical human conduct…and he had done so without question or reservation. Drury was neither surprised, nor outraged when Sir Ian issued his next instruction. “Failure is never an acceptable outcome, Cedric…especially when that failure can be tolled in the billions of pounds I’ve committed to this facility. In the not too distant future, the good Doctor is going to meet with a most unfortunate accident…and this facility…his legacy…is going to burn. See to the arrangements and I’ll give you the word when I would have them implemented.”

Drury acknowledged this with a slight nod as if Barrows had simply asked him to make some mundane business arrangement. Barrows lapsed into a contemplative silence, his burning eyes narrowing into speculative slits as he considered his next course of action. Mcammon…the traitorous bastard that he was…had just pronounced what was effectively a death sentence on the richest man in Europe. Ian Barrows, however, was not a man to readily accept the imposition of external realities, when his was the will and means to forge his own. Perhaps the limits of conventional science had been reached, but rather than resign himself to the inevitable death that came to all human beings, Ian Barrows merely turned his focus on the unconventional…the eclectic.

“I want Beyarov here this afternoon…and Cedric, should he inquire as to why he is being pried away from his collection of expensive toys…tell him that I need him to save my life,” Barrows disclosed and this cryptic remark drew a rare frown from the undeviatingly inscrutable Drury.



Suceava, Romania: “I love my children…you must understand that!” Mikaela Trescu declared vehemently as she wept and wrang her thin, scarred hands in her lap. Her gaunt face was the very portrait of living misery and carried with it the indelible scars of the thirtytwo years she had lived like a roadmap through the ugly terrain of human torment.

“Of course you do…of that I have absolutely no doubt. I am certainly not here to judge you, Mikaela…only to help you through this dark time…to guide you toward making the best decisions …for both you and your children,” Simona Bayonescu assured the distraught mother in a voice that was rife with commiseration and concern.

“If there was any other way, I would not have come…you must know that…it’s just that I…I…” Mikaela’s vehemence faltered and she resumed her study of her scarred hands, which reminded Simona of pallid spiders. The plump, matronly older woman furtively studied the mother as she waged her pitiable battle between hopeless addiction and crushing guilt. She need only one glance into that sallow, skeletal face, with its fevered brown eyes, to understand the woman’s motivations perfectly…just as she could predict with unequivocal certainty that Mikaela Trescu would be dead in a state pauper’s grave within six months. She had witnessed an unending parade of such women wind their way through the doors of this adoption agency over the past fifteen years; enough to recognize someone caught in the two inescapable snares of penury and addiction.

There were occasions…though mercifully few…when Simona would contemplate the true nature of the transaction that was being executed in this squat, nondescript building on the outskirts of this moldering city. She would wonder whether women…such as the woeful Mikaela Trescu…might reconsider their actions had they been aware of what awaited the children they had come to surrender. From her position of trenchant cynicism, Simona was clearly skeptical. Desperation had effaced the last vestiges of humanity from these wretched creatures’ souls and they wanted only to be free of obligation which they could, in all truth, never meet.

Still, this tragic farce was an elaborate charade in which adherence to the prescribed roles must be rigidly observed and so Simona reached across the desk and gently squeezed Mikaela’s frail right forearm. “These times are cruel Mikaela and they force so many into impossible and agonizing situations. Who has the right to judge you…if they have not walked in your shoes…have not seen their own children go hungry day after day? If they have not looked on helplessly while their precious babies sicken and deteriorate with not a helping hand to be extended, how can they condemn your action? We both know that a mother must do what is best for her children and that is why you have come…because you love your son and daughter and you would see them granted the chance at a life that you’ve never had. Is this not so, Mikaela?”

“You speak the truth, Simona Bayonescu,” the wretched creature declared solemnly…as if the ferocity of this hollow declaration could somehow lend it credence. “A mother must do what she thinks is best for her children!”

Simona offered the woman a warm smile and sat back in her chair, its ancient wooden frame creaking wearily under her considerable bulk. She produced a flawless forgery of the standard government form and laid it on the pitted blotter before the younger woman and then placed a pen beside the form with the requisite gravitas, knowing that the document would find its way into the teeth of a shredder the instant the woman left the office. With a reassuring, motherly grin, Simona offered the final well-practiced enticement, “This is the first step in providing your son and daughter with that future, Mikaela…a step that only a woman who genuinely loved her children would ever have the courage to take.”

To her credit, Mikaela…who had been without her fix for the last seventy-two hours…dithered for several minutes, before finally snatching up the pen and scrawling her name across the designated consent line. She threw the pen down as if it was something vile…which, when one considered the heinous evil it had been employed to enact, it was. With the signing of the document, the last flickering spark of vitality was extinguished in Mikaela’s dull brown eyes. This too Simona had witnessed on occasions too numerous to account. With this last uncoupling of any ties to normalcy or responsibility, there went the final resolve to do anything other than self-destruct. Seeing the pall of despondent resignation that now hung over this broken woman, Simona revised her estimate…Mikaela Trescu would be dead by the onset of winter.

The woman sat back in her chair and intoned morosely, “What will happen now?”

Simona conjured her most compassionate smile, nuanced with just the right degree of solemnity. “Today you will go home and spend the afternoon and evening with your children and show them all of the love you can and try to emboss their faces in your memory. If there is a particular place they love to go, take them there and simply bask in their company, Mikaela. Tomorrow, you will bring them to the agency along with their clothing…and a keepsake so they might always remember their mother and how she loved them very much. They will be taken to the central orphanage in Bucharest and I promise that it will not be long after that they can begin their new life.”

Simona’s flawlessly delivered speech had the desired effect…the proper blend of emotions that seldom failed to reduce the mother to tears. Mikaela buried her thin face in her callused hands and began to weep. Simona rose and came around the desk where she bent and drew the shattered wretch of a human being into a hug, though there was something repulsive about the woman’s gaunt frame that reminded the older woman of a bundle of dry sticks. “Come now Mikaela, you must be strong for the sake of your children. Dry your tears and find solace in the certainty that your sacrifice will insure that these two beautiful children will find the happiness they both deserve. Draw your strength from that knowledge.”

“They won’t be separated…Gregori is frightened and lost without Emilia’s comforting presence?” the mother inquired, clearly horrified by the prospect that her two children…the only things that her life had yielded of any appreciable worth…might be torn apart by a decision which she understood was ruthlessly selfish.

“As per your wishes, they will be placed together. I have already contacted the central agency in Bucharest and they have assured me that there is a long list of prospective parents who are extremely interested in adopting siblings.” Simona then dangled what she knew would be the ultimate carrot for a woman whose perspective of the world was based on total ignorance. “The majority of those parents are Americans.”

“America!” Mikaela echoed fiercely as though giving voice to an incantation to ward against all evil. Finally, she drew a deep and tremulous breath and pushed herself heavily to her feet. Simona tracked her shambling movements as she made her way to the door and the dreary summer afternoon beyond. In a rare moment of sentimentality, Simona wondered if the beleaguered creature had ever experienced a genuine moment of happiness. Mikaela paused at the door and shifted her gaze back to Simona and in her red-rimmed watery eyes there capered something sly and furtive…the ugly addiction that craved fulfillment. “Will my payment be ready?”

“You will be provided with your chip card upon turning the children over to our custody,” Simona said, scarcely able to repress the bleak sigh that the dismal truth of this charade always evoked. Mikaela glared back at the older woman for a moment, her face contorted into a discordant expression of shame and defiance.

Then she was gone.

Simona closed her eyes and for a brief moment, she could feel the full, crushing weight of her cumulative ignominy drop upon her shriveled conscience like the collapse of a mountain. She was alarmed to discover that only the sound of the rear door opening prevented her from bursting into tears.

“Executed with your customary aplomb, Simona,” a heavily-accented voice declared with just the slightest suggestion of condescension. Simona shivered and peered up into the inscrutable eyes of Peytor Estrovitch whose angular face appeared to have been chiseled out of granite by a sculptor who was patently unsuited for his art. In Estrovich’s daunting presence, Simona long ago decided that stoicism was the best policy, so she accepted this sardonic compliment with a slight nod. The man radiated menace and the potential for brutal violence like no other living being that she had ever encountered, but even this was not what filled Simona Bayonescu’s inured heart with atavistic dread.

The mere recollection made her want to cry out and flee the room in terror, but she could not purge it from her thoughts however badly she wanted to. Whenever the Russian cast his baleful gaze over the pictures of what he referred to as the collateral, his brown eyes would flare a brilliant red that conjured vivid images of peering down into the pits of hell. That was utterly ridiculous or course, but her mind had been unable to repudiate what her eyes insisted was the unembellished truth and now Simona had become convinced that her employer was a monster in the truest sense of the word.

She was grateful that his back was turned to her as he snatched up the two photographs of Gregori and Emilia Trescu. After a brief consideration, Estrovitch rendered his dreadful judgment. “The girl is fetching in her own crude way…we will send her to England.”

Simona fetched a silent sigh of relief which quickly curdled to horror when the monster disclosed the boy’s fate. “It’s appalling how repugnant these inbred whelps can be. This one can serve only one possible purpose…arrange to have him transported to Chelyabinsk.”

He then slammed the photographs down on the desk and left the office as though the entire affair held no further interest for him. Simona’s gaze was drawn involuntarily to the photographs. The first showed a pretty eleven year old…who would spend what life remained to her in the rapidly burgeoning world of sex slavery in Western Europe. As repugnant and cruel as that fate would prove to be, it was compassionate in comparison to the unspeakably abysmal future that awaited the boy. Simona’s gaze locked on those light brown eyes and then slid to the mottled and misshapen face of unfortunate Gregori Trescu…who could have easily been spared this marring deformity by rudimentary medical treatment.

He was destined for a secret warehouse facility in Chelyabinsk…where humanity’s forgotten and unwanted children were kept alive in cages as fodder for the thriving illegal organ harvesting trade.

Despite the impregnability of the vault in which Simona Bayonescu had sequestered her heart, the old woman began to weep.



The release of this novel is still some months off, but as promised…what  follows is a preview of the second chapter of this final segment of Elizabeth and Cynara’s epic tale. An Immortal Heart Asunder evolves along to parallel, but distinct plot threads…each populated with its own set of characters…that flow through the novel like deep and dark rivers. These distinct threads intertwine over the course of the last few chapters…to cataclysmic effect.

This second preview chapter is entitled: The Blackest Addiction. It delves into a particularly dark realm that many will find uncomfortable…if not abhorrent. Be that as it may, it is a writer’s charge not to shy away from the controversial and the uncomfortable. Those who recall the unfortunate Cassandra Jasic, Elizabeth’s tragically fractured traveling companion from Closures in Blood, will divine the origins of this particular plot thread. While traversing over the darkest territory a writer can follow, this thread is the critical plot line that will set Elizabeth and Cynara’s eventual fate in stone.

Writers must be eternally wary of one particular pitfall when laboring at their craft…being too clever. I feel that, with The Blackest Addiction, I may have set out to write a bill of goods upon which it was simply impossible to deliver in light of the subject being presented. Thomas Greavy, it seems from the few who have previewed the material, can only be perceived in one unflinching way. Thus, my original intent and what I’ve ultimately written have quickly parted ways in this novels. Such are the inherent perils of creative writing, but being an intuitive writer, my instincts tell me that this is the way the story must be told…and so it shall remain…

With out further preamble…The Blackest Addiction…

Chapter Two: The Blackest Addiction



The only sounds to be heard in the darkened room were the barely audible whisper of the air purification system and the ragged breathing of the room’s sole occupant. Thomas Greavy sat before the screen of his Virtua system, mesmerized by the ineffably beautiful images that floated before his transfixed eyes…rendered with impossibly vivid three-dimensional, high definition perfection. They were so real…so angelic and hypnotic cloaked as they were in their mantle of unsullied innocence…that Thomas was literally drooling with the desire to reach out and run his fingertips over the taut flesh…young bodies that had yet to be tainted by the ugly prevailing realities of life in the mid twenty-first century.

As badly as he wanted to touch…to consume and ravage…the images on his screen, Thomas understood that they were virtual images, for all of their perfection…images of children conjured especially for his titillation. Greavy’s perverse black addiction had warped his reason and occluded his understanding that these graphic depictions were simply snippets offered by the purveyors of this heinous evil for the purpose of drawing him ever deeper into the mire of his vile affliction.

The images…like the shadow box that conveyed them…were merely a promise or an invitation to venture deeper into a black labyrinth from which there could be no extrication.

So Thomas watched the beautiful cherubs drift across his screen…all arranged in stylized postures of artful eroticism that masked the wretched ugliness and corruption that had inspired them. When the compulsion to reach out and touch that which could not yet be attained became more than he could endure, Thomas instead let his hand stray to his groin. Soon, his breathing came in fevered gasps and his hand became a frenzied blur on his rigid penis. He exploded to the scintillating image of a blond girl whose limpid blue eyes and pale skin reminded him of a delicate porcelain doll…innocence embodied.

Thomas closed his eyes and bowed his head, suffused by the intense rush of black shame that always followed release. As degrading as these shameful sentiments might be, they still lacked the efficacy to prevent him from returning to the black promise contained within the shadow box. In truth, the compulsion to delve into its forbidden waters was becoming increasingly difficult to resist and he found himself locked in this office with alarming frequency of late.

With his galloping heart thundering in his ears, Thomas opened his eyes and his gaze strayed automatically to the decidedly nondescript device that sat next to his Virtua console. The box reminded Greavy of a piece of polished anthracite…its only adornment being a flashing blue ray light that transmitted its illicit contents to his artificial intelligence console.

Smash it…put it on the floor and grind it to shards beneath your heel. It’s the only way to pull yourself out of the fetid sewer into which you’ve fallen…the only slim chance you have of being saved!’  A still rational part of his mind offered this desperate entreaty; the logical part that had made him one of the most successful commercial and corporate lawyers in England…helping him to accrue millions of pounds in personal wealth in the service of those who tolled their worth in the billions. Despite the prudence of this course of action, Thomas’ affliction was inculcated into the very fabric of his being…like a demon that is impervious to exorcism. He could no more give up the shadow box than he could divest himself of the perverse compulsions that had inspired him to acquire it to begin with.

As he considered the small, square device…with its flashing blue light that brought to mind images of a rapidly blinking eye…a frown of perplexity came over his face. He tried to recall the first occasion when he had learned of its existence, though the recollection was partially concealed within a haze that resisted his every effort to penetrate. He had been sitting at his console here in his home office…perusing innocuous images of children at play…when his screen had abruptly gone black. Initially, he had thought that the Virtua had malfunctioned, but then something had appeared on the screen…something wondrous beyond the faculty of words to articulate. He recalled that he been overwhelmed by what he had witnessed…hypnotized and set aflame by the very thing that had always plagued him. Now, however, his private obsession played across the screen not like something filthy and despicable, but as an expression of genuine love…something indescribably beautiful and sacred. He could be free to indulge the desires that he had struggled his entire life to conceal and repress…all thanks to this mysterious box that had floated on the console’s screen like the very keys to paradise.

Thomas remembered that his initial reaction to this unsolicited invitation had been extreme distress…as if someone had divined his most closely guarded inner secret. Terrified, Thomas had managed to resist the enticement and had redoubled his efforts to keep his unhealthy attractions tightly leashed. Yet, like all of those who labor beneath the burden of this terrible affliction, Greavy soon found himself being drawn back to the seductive promise that this shadow box held forth like a moth being drawn toward the flames of its own destructive obsession.

A week later, Thomas found himself sitting in a Soho cafe on a drizzling afternoon. The man sitting across from him spoke with a slight Eastern European accent, which Thomas could not quite identify, and wore a perpetual half smile that never quite touched his eyes. He neither offered his name, nor asked Thomas to provide his…for which Greavy was genuinely grateful…though something about the man’s mannerisms intimated that he knew everything about Thomas…every sordid detail of the growing infirmity that was ravaging his soul.

The most unsettling aspect of this assignation was that Thomas could recall absolutely nothing of how it had been arranged or what precisely it was that this furtive transaction was offering. He suspected that the particulars had been conveyed during that odd intrusion on his Virtua console, but if so, they had somehow been scoured from his memory. Still, a connection had been made and now he found himself sitting across from this vaguely sinister, albeit nondescript fellow, wondering just what it was that had compelled him to come to this seedy part of London…a district that he normally avoided like the plague.

The sense of being led…of being traduced assailed him like a maddening itch.

Slowly, the man slid a rather mundane black box across the scarred wooden table with the gravitas of one conveying the key to the king’s treasury. Thomas eyed the seemingly inconsequential device questioningly and then shifted his gaze back to the man, who was regarding him with the ghost of a smile playing at his thin lips. “What sits before you has been named the shadow box…a rather cryptic moniker for what is, in truth, the gateway to your hidden desires…a means to fully indulge the repressed proclivities of your dark passion.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Thomas had protested and though his precise British tone had been indignant, his heart had begun to pound in his chest.

The man offered Thomas a knowing smile and remarked, “Come now Mr. Greavy…there is no need to be disingenuous. I know exactly why you’ve come…even if you are not entirely certain. To me you are…what is the quaint western phrase…an open book?”

Thomas attempted to speak, but his mouth closed with an audible plop. He was within close proximity to open panic then and he could feel perspiration beginning to form on his brow. Unexpectedly, the man reached across the table and squeezed his forearm in reassurance. Initially, Thomas stiffened, but was suddenly suffused by a placating warmth that seemed to reduce all of his concerns to mundane and foolish trivialities. “There is no need for anxiety, Thomas. We are both men of the world who have come to this juncture of our own accord…partners in a transaction that will, I can assure you, prove mutually beneficial.”

He released Greavy’s arm and sat back, nodding encouragingly at the black box. “This device contains a blueprint for the complete indulgence of those desires that you have struggled so desperately to repress since you were of an age to recognize them for what they were. It is also an impregnable fortress to ward those desires from those who would judge and condemn you for having proclivities that are simply part of your nature. That rather inconspicuous-looking device will guide you toward the ultimate expression of those long-held fantasies while insuring that you will never be held accountable for feelings and actions over which you genuinely have no control.”

“I’m still not entirely sure I know what you mean,” Thomas murmured, unable to drag his entranced gaze from the shadow box which seemed to be calling to him like a silent siren’s song.

The stranger smiled and waved his right hand dismissively. “Do not concern yourself with minutiae, Thomas. The shadow box will disclose its full potential over time and if you allow it to guide you to a point where you are fully ready to accept your true nature, you and I will come together again. For now, take it to your sanctuary…the place where you have begun to explore these nascent feelings…and allow it to demonstrate its wondrous potential.”

“What do you want…in exchange?” Thomas had demanded and though he had attempted to affect a peevish tone, his voice had rung fearful to his own ears. Thomas suspected that he would become hopelessly shackled by whatever arrangement he might make with this obscurely terrifying man.

“There is no need to discuss remuneration now, Mr. Greavy. Once you have had the opportunity to explore the rich tapestry contained within, you can decide what remuneration would be sufficient. Should you decide that the promise it offers is not to your eclectic taste, you may merely dispose of the shadow box and this entire matter will be forgotten. Seldom in life does one come upon the good fortune to realize their dreams with absolutely no risk or complication…how could you possibly eschew that one rare opportunity?”

There was an aspect of the Carney pitchman to this last facile bit of salesmanship and Thomas could hear the rational part of his mind imploring him to assiduously reject this stranger’s temptation. In the end, he had succumbed to the urging of his dark affliction, just as the man sitting across from him (who was not truly a man at all) knew he inevitably must. For men such as Thomas Greavy, the irresistible craving eventually surmounted the most dogged resistance with a trenchant need that would not be denied.

Thomas had snatched up the box and stuffed it into his stylish overcoat. He cast the man a final ambivalent nod and fled the cafe like an errant child who has stolen a sweet roll from his mother’s kitchen.



It was a measure of Thomas’ discipline…or perhaps his deeply ingrained fear…that he had managed to leave the shadow box in the bottom drawer of the desk in his home office for the better part of a month. He was ferociously determined not to heed the incessant call it seemed to emit, correctly gleaning that, once he started down that particular path, there would be no turning back.

Thomas had first become cognizant of his proclivity when he was a student in law school. The only son of a wealthy industrial developer, Thomas had been blessed with both good looks and intellect…though he would later come to suspect that the god of genetics had a cruel way of balancing out such dispensations. Tall and athletic, with a handsome face that was dominated by striking blue eyes, Thomas was never at a dearth for beautiful young ladies to help him pass his idle time. Yet, despite the constant attention of some of the most attractive young socialites that London had to offer, young Thomas would find himself walking by primary schools in Knightsbridge or Mayfair, staring at the playing girls in the way a pirate might look upon an unattended cache of gold bullion.

Only when he noticed a school yard monitor scrutinizing him suspiciously, did he realize that he had been standing in the shadows, watching the third grade children play for the better part of an hour. Averting his face, which had flushed to a deep scarlet, Thomas had hurried away and had never went anywhere within the vicinity of that particular school again.

The urge that had driven him to skulking in the shadows of innocence, however, was not so easily banished and Thomas Greavy was forced to confront and acknowledge a terrible truth…he was a pedophile…or at the very least, had the potential for that awful affliction in the fabric of his privileged being.

Consumed by a nearly unbearable sense of shame, Thomas had nonetheless set about constructing an elaborate facade of normalcy, while waging a trying and incessant internal war to keep his demon tightly leashed. Upon completing his education, Thomas had employed his easy, gregarious manner and his social pedigree to open doors into the best legal firm in London. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, he had parlayed this into a career that could have been compared to a rapidly rising sun. By the age of forty-two, Thomas Greavy had what was for all appearances the perfect life. At the age of thirty, he had married the eerily beautiful Isobel Murray, actually stealing this coveted beauty away from a minor member of the Royal Family…a feat that only raised his esteem in the eyes of his peers. Their union had yielded two beautiful daughters…Penelope and Muraday, ages ten and eight respectively.

It had been in these two living jewels that Thomas had been faced with his darkest challenge. Even at their young ages, the girls were already showing the same promise of their mother’s exquisite, refined beauty. There were times when he would find himself watching the girls as they played or concentrated on their piano lessons and the nascent stirrings of his demon would suffuse him with the darkest thoughts a father could entertain. They filled him with shame and self-loathing…but they persisted, leaving Thomas Greavy feeling ineffably vile. Desperate, Thomas had turned to his exquisite wife to dampen these abhorrent incestuous desires. Isobel was the very quintessence of a refined, prim English beauty, but behind closed doors she gave herself to Thomas with very few reservations…privately delighted that her husband seemed almost frantic to indulge in the pleasures of her nubile body with an appetite that was insatiable.

Never once in their years of marriage, did it occur to the loving Isobel that Thomas’ unbridled carnal passion was inspired by a need to quell a lust of a far more insidious nature.

Penelope and Muraday were Thomas Greavy’s greatest source of happiness…and also the living potential for his cataclysmic undoing…living dichotomies that would inevitably lead the tortured Greavy to his brutal demise.



Thomas’ war might have continued indefinitely had it not been for the coming of the shadow box and the beguiling seduction it held. As he had explored the device, Greavy had been drawn deeper into the thrall of his black addiction…pondering things that he had managed to keep sequestered in the deepest recesses of his troubled soul since first discovering his inherent flaw. As the man in Soho had foretold, there had come the inevitable offer…a means to transform black desire into action…without the slightest possibility of being held accountable for any consequences. Greavy possessed enough intellectual pragmatism to discern that these offers of indulgence without consequences must invariably prove false. Still, the corrupting power of his addiction was such that it occluded all reason.

It was at this wicked juncture that Thomas presently found himself on this dark and drizzly London night. He shifted his gaze from the Virtua screen to the office’s single window, beyond which darkness held court over his exclusive Knightsbridge neighborhood. The throbbing in his temples was a maddeningly distracting thing that made all well-considered thought virtually impossible.

He glanced at the shadow box and was suddenly consumed by a black hatred for the unassuming little device…a fury so intense that he felt certain he would smash the box to dust. Instead, he reached out and caressed its cool, polished surface the way a lover might lay hands upon the object of their adoration.

There followed a subtle metallic click and a small panel slid open on the box and a circular button arose from the device’s interior. Thomas cried out and started to rise, but then his eyes were involuntarily jerked back to the screen of his Virtua console. What he saw there caused him to gasp. She was there…in all of her unsullied majesty…the blue-eyed, blond cherub who now haunted his dreams and circled incessantly around the periphery of his conscious thoughts.

To his astonishment, she began to speak…addressing him directly…filling his soul with both argent lust and paralyzing trepidation.

“We finally meet, Thomas…I was so hoping that we eventually would.” Her child’s voice was so melodic and caressed his ear with the sweetest intonation…exactly as he had imagined it would in all his fevered dreams. “Do you know my name?”

There was a coy, teasing edge to this simple query that struck Thomas as most unchild-like, but he was far too beguiled to give this disparity any meaningful consideration. In a dreamy, distant voice, he murmured, “Persephone!”

“Yes…Persephone…if you would wish it so…I can be your Persephone,” the porcelain vision suggested with a distinct note of gleeful anticipation. “You need only press that button and those long-hidden desires will be yours…I will be yours for as long as you would have me…and no one need ever know.”

Thomas could feel his index finger gravitating toward the button of its own accord…so powerful was his primal need to see this virtual fantasy be made into living, breathing flesh. He glanced back toward Persephone, whose limpid blue eyes seemed to be charting the progress of his hand with unrestrained eagerness. With a monumental exertion of will, he pulled his hand back and stood up, sending his chair careening across the room.

A sorrowful shade appeared to slip across Persephone’s lovely faced, but when she spoke, her tone was one of reassurance. “It’s okay Thomas…don’t fret. When you finally make an accommodation with the truth of who you are…I will be here…waiting for you. Bye-bye for now.”

The cherubic image abruptly vanished from his screen and the button retracted back into the shadow box with a barely audible whisper…like a withdrawn promise.

Thomas regarded the device for a long moment…with his blood thundering in his temples and his penis lying along his thigh like a throbbing piece of iron. ‘It’s inevitable you know…you will press the button…either that or the day will come when Penelope or Muraday will become your Persephone.’

Now Thomas could not suppress the groan of negation that escaped his lips, but once he had given thought to his darkest fear…the demon could not be called to heel. He stowed the shadow box in its locked drawer…now secured by a thumb-print encrypted lock…and fled the office. The upper hall was immersed in darkness and he stumbled along the runner carpet, before pausing briefly before the door to Muraday’s bedroom. Opening the door, he peered in to find the night light casting a subdued yellow glow over the sleeping face of his beautiful daughter…and to his horror, the black urge began to pulse in his soul like a pernicious cancer that cannot be cut out.

In the terrible moment of epiphany, Thomas Greavy knew that his conscience had spoken the unequivocal and unavoidable truth.

He closed the door as quietly as possible and leaned his forehead against the polished oak, unable to prevent the falls of tears that were ultimately as meaningless as they were ineffective in quelling the dark fire that inspired them. Inevitably, his black addiction would be served and if so, was it not better to see it sated through the shadow box rather than on the product of his own flesh?

There was an aspect of practical consideration that roused a dread chill in Greavy’s heart and suddenly he found himself needing to get out of the opulent flat and into the open air. He hurried down to the main floor and paused outside of the door to Isobel’s reading room, but he did not go in…fearing that his roiling thoughts would be laid bare on his face. “Dear, I’ve come down with a monster of a headache and I’m going to take a short walk…maybe the cool air will take the edge off.”

“Be sure to take an umbrella, Thomas…I’ll wait up and maybe we can have a cup of tea when you come back,” she called distractedly…engrossed in another of her beloved Victorian era mystery novels.

Thomas drew a quivering breath, wishing desperately that he could find contentment in the arms of this extraordinary woman who had given herself to him so unreservedly.

Taking a rain repellant jacket from the closet and eschewing the umbrella, Thomas Greavy set out on what would prove to be the final walk of his tortured life.



The streets of Knightsbridge were virtually deserted on this blustery September night. It was nearly eleven o’clock and the swirling winds and cool drizzle had resulted in sparsely occupied streets. Thomas walked along the darkened streets only peripherally aware of both the inimical weather and the dearth of traffic. In his preoccupation with the intensifying war raging within his beleaguered mind, Thomas also failed to notice the shadow that had slipped out of concealment and was now trailing after him with lethal intent.

Three blocks west of his flat, Thomas cut across the rain-soaked street with the intention of meandering along the winding trails of the green space that dominated a huge swathe of the affluent neighborhood. He gave no thought to his personal safety because this section of the city was perhaps the safest in London…if not all of Europe by the mid twenty-first century standards. A web of cameras now covered the city like a blanket and was especially dense in the more affluent neighborhoods, where the wealthy had vociferously demanded that their security needs be met. This omnipresent eye…along with cutting edge AI identification technology was a powerful deterrent to all but the utterly deranged and so Thomas never even considered that he might be in jeopardy as he approached the main gates leading into the path.

He had taken but three steps into the tree-lined, cobble path, when he was confronted by a sight so improbable that he stopped dead in his tracks with his mouth hanging agape in the steady drizzle. Less than twenty yards from where he stood, a small girl was bouncing a shiny red ball against one of the low stone walls that delineated the walk at intervals.

Utterly flabbergasted, Thomas quickly looked over his shoulder and then swept his gaze around the park, most of which was obscured by thick curtains of darkness. Greavy’s initial reaction to the improbable spectacle of finding a small girl…alone and vulnerable…in a public park at this late hour, was one of parental indignation. The notion that responsible parents would allow such a thing was incomprehensible. True, this was Knightsbridge and one of the safest neighborhoods in England…but this was a small and vulnerable child…a temptation for the filth that infested every part of city…Knightsbridge included.

Filth like you, Thomas?’ A sly voice inquired from the shadowy morass where his addiction lived and thrived. ‘One man’s monumental act of negligence…is another man’s unexpected opportunity.’

Thomas shook his head in emphatic negation and whispered fiercely, “Never like this…I’d never sink so low!”

Really…is that why you can hardly watch your own daughters while they sleep anymore? Can you deny that you experience those nascent stirrings of ugliness every time you do?’ the voice persisted with ruthless mirth.

Before Thomas could offer a caustic rejoinder in his own defense, the girl abruptly stopped bouncing the ball and turned to face him. In the odd distortion of the moment, it seemed as if a celestial spotlight had focused its clarifying light on the spot where she stood. The girl was blessed with the face of an angel. Her large, luminous blue eyes shone with an innocence that only the very young could project and her beautiful face was framed by a mass of spiral curls that fell past her shoulders in a tumble of red fire. She offered Thomas a radiant smile and waved…a child-like gesture of delight that rendered the transfixed Greavy immobile. “Hello…Thomas. Would you like to play with me?”

Slowly, she extended her slender right arm with the shiny red ball perched on her open palm as if offering the most precious of delicacies. Thomas was only distantly aware of the low moan that escaped his lips…a discordant sound that was part denial and part smoldering hunger.

She laughed again and suddenly spun about, skipping along the cobbled path that led deeper into the green space’s interior.

“Come Thomas…if you want to play…follow me…catch me…and we can play whatever game you want!” she called over her retreating shoulder and giggled in that intoxicating way that rendered all logic meaningless.

Thomas stood in the drizzle for a long time, literally trembling with the desire to follow, while trying to heed the cautionary plea of the more composed aspect of his conflicted soul. ‘For the love of your family, go home man. You have to know that something is drastically wrong here…how could she possibly know your name?’

Greavy blinked as rivulets of rain ran down his face unnoticed. This was indeed the salient question that defined the improbability of the situation into which he had unwittingly blundered. The girl could no more know his name than she could be here…in this city green space near midnight on rainy a September week night. His every instinct was exhorting him to heed the advice and flee this park and return home and as desperately as he wanted to do this, Thomas Greavy implicitly grasped that he had reached a critical juncture from which there could be no turning away. If he returned to his wife and children, Thomas was certain that his black addiction would continue to grow like a rampant cancer until the last of his resistance had been surmounted. Then he would fall under the thrall of the shadow box and its insidious promise…or he would ultimately commit an unspeakable act that was far more damning.

Yet, if he could find this girl and lead her back to her family…unmolested and unharmed…Thomas suddenly felt certain that he would be able to permanently shrug off the grasping clutches of the evil compulsion that had haunted him since he was a young man.

Even as he succumbed to this facile, disingenuous logic, Thomas never considered that it had been proffered by the very malignancy that had tormented him all these years. He set off after the red-haired girl, fervently believing that he might actually be able to conquer his personal demons if he could just see her to safety…a symbolic refutation of the black disease that had plagued him since his youth.

She led him on a convoluted chase through the park, stopping at intervals to bounce her red ball against the low stone wall…only to set off again when Thomas came within close proximity of being able to reach out and touch her. Growing frustrated, Thomas ran his right hand through his now thoroughly soaked hair and called, “Little girl, stop now. Why are you alone so late at night? What is your name?”

She did a graceful pirouette and exclaimed, “My name is Cassandra…I’m here because you want me to be, Thomas.”

With this rather cryptic response delivered, she was off again, skipping into the darkness…though now she strayed from the illuminated path for the first time, heading off into the dark center of the green space.

‘Don’t go in there Thomas…turn and run…now!’ The voice of reason entreated, though now there was a clear chime of apprehension in its tone.

“Don’t be ridiculous…get a grip on yourself man,” he chastised himself. There was nothing to fear in this park…certainly not a mischievous eight year old girl. If the grim truth be laid bare…he was the most dangerous predator currently stalking this upscale Knightsbridge piece of artificial nature.

Thomas Greavy was about to discover just how woefully incorrect this particular assessment would prove to be.



Thomas plunged into the darkness, unmindful of the way that the sodden grass sucked at his expensive Italian loafers. The inadequate light made it nearly impossible to see, but he could hear the lilting peel of her laughter coming from somewhere in the inky darkness up ahead. His internal monitor would not desist in its attempts to dissuade him, growing more frantic with every step he took. ‘She’s leading you, Thomas. Surely your infirmity hasn’t warped your judgment to a point where you are incapable of discerning something that is so glaringly obvious? Something is using your disease to entice you here…you’ve got to see that!’

Thomas stopped abruptly as if the dire implications of that last notion had finally torn him from his fevered trance. His fingers dug painfully into his thighs and his lips twisted in a perplexed frown. Suddenly, he could not recall exactly what it was that had drawn him into the green space in the first place. In a tremulous voice that he scarcely recognized to be his own, he called tentatively, “Cassandra?”

“I’m here, Thomas…waiting by the fountain. Come and join me and we can play whatever game you want,” Cassandra promised and though the voice was very much that of a young child, the subtle intimations spoke directly to the monster that resided in the darkest corner of Thomas Greavy’s diseased heart. He started forward again and suddenly a curtain of light seemed to coalesce out of the very air, shimmering through the trees less than forty meters from where he stood. With his breath coming in ragged gasps and his pulse throbbing painfully, he hurried toward the light and emerged into the circular heart of the green space. A bronze statue of some long forgotten war hero…from a long forgotten colonial war…towered above the bowl of the fountain around which were arrayed several ornate wooden and wrought iron benches. The girl was standing with her back to Thomas…peering intently into the cascading water, which appeared to glitter like tumbling diamonds beneath the harsh glare of the circling halogen lights.

Thomas hesitated on the periphery of the well-lit circle, glancing nervously up at the ring of motion sensitive cameras that sat atop scrolled columns, spaced at even intervals along the edges of the common. Those cameras, Thomas knew, had been installed as a deterrent against exactly the type of evil a twisted part of his soul was presently contemplating.

As he vacillated in the shadows, a strident electric hiss tore through the central common and each camera erupted in a brilliant shower of argent sparks, effectively blinding the unseen giant that kept vigilant watch over this part of the old London.

“Come and play Thomas,” Cassandra encouraged and now her voice had assumed a dreamy quality that made Greavy shiver violently. “There’s something floating just beneath the surface of the water…it’s so beautiful. Won’t you come and see it with me…the mean people can’t see us now…and I do so want to be your special friend.”

There was an irresistible imperative in the plea that would not be denied and Thomas felt his legs propelling him forward of their own volition while the blackness surged through his veins like a wildfire during the tinderbox heat of summer. He extended his right hand with no clear understanding of his own intention and still the embodiment of his every perverse desire did not turn to greet his fevered approach.

His quivering hand fell upon her small shoulder and he was immediately assailed by an intense jolt of electricity as if he had clutched an exposed electric wire in the rain. When he was again able to open his eyes, Thomas found himself confronted not by a young and pristine child, but by a woman who was several inches taller than he was. Like Cassandra, her red hair fell past her shoulders in a tumble of spiral curls and her face was the epitome of feminine perfection. Yet it was her deep blue eyes that held Thomas’ gaze and caused his heart to palpitate wildly in his broad chest. In their infinite depths, Thomas could discern not the slightest hint of humanity…only an unaccountable glacial hatred that turned his blood to ice water in his veins.

“Not exactly what you were hoping for, Thomas?” she inquired in a rich, smoky voice that was rife with disdain.

Thomas attempted to speak, but his throat had constricted painfully and all that escaped his lips was a wheezing gasp. He began to turn away, but her right hand shot out with the speed of a striking cobra and clutched his throat like a steel vice. “I take it that you’re not quite pleased with this particular manifestation of Cassandra…is that not so, Thomas? I don’t appeal to your particular taste?”

Thomas attempted to dislodge her arm, but despite pulling frantically at her slender wrist, she held him fast, regarding his futile efforts with a disdainful smirk that did not touch her horrible eyes. Finally, she released him and he stumbled away, gasping and clutching his throat which had been abraded by her grasping fingers.

He stood upright and in a voice made shrill with burgeoning terror, demanded, “Who are you…what is happening?”

“Who I am is of little consequence and as for your other question…you, Thomas, have arrived at your moment of reckoning…as all foul creatures of your ilk inevitably must.”

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about…where is the girl…Cassandra?”

The blow that struck him was delivered with rapier precision and with the force of a mallet. In the next instant, Thomas found himself lying flat on his back and peering dazedly up into the intensifying rain. His fingers played gingerly over his shattered right cheekbone and he could feel warm blood flowing freely from his broken nose.

“Don’t ever speak that name again…it’s an obscenity rolling off your odious tongue,” the woman growled menacingly.

In a garbled voice, Thomas moaned, “Why are you doing this to me?”

His tormentor did not respond. Instead, she reached down and seized the back of his coat, before roughly hauling the much heavier man to his feet and dragging him over to the fountain. Moving her mouth closer to his left ear, she intoned, “It isn’t what you’ve done, Thomas…as much as what you are and given time…what you will become as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. You and I both know what lurks beneath this erudite British exterior, Thomas…let us throw back the veil and have a brutally candid look.”

With this, she plunged his head under the water and held him there, despite his panicked effort to break free of her grasp. In the frazzled confines of his mind, her voice boomed like apocalyptic thunder. “Open your eyes and see what you really are…see the face of your sick obsession and your disgustingly twisted soul.”

And so Thomas Greavy complied and what he saw threatened to break his tenuous grip on sanity for here he found himself confronted by the monster that lived in the pit from which his sickness had found its origin. Gone was the ruggedly handsome British aristocrat, supplanted by a balding, pot-bellied man with watery eyes and thin, petulant lips that were always slick with spittle. Two small eyes leered from above a hawkish nose and in those eyes there radiated a mindless hunger that could never be satiated. The man’s body was twisted and deformed until it resembled something constructed from spite and malice and Thomas knew this was the personification of his black affliction…the way he would actually appear to those who would fall victim to its monstrous evil. With this image indelibly emblazoned in his mind, Thomas found himself being jerked out of the water and tossed to the grass some ten meters from the lip of the fountain.

“And so you see Thomas, I know precisely what you are and denial would only insult my intelligence…something that would be a grievous error should you be so foolish as to cling to this pointless charade of innocence,” she intoned evenly, though her luminous blue eyes made it explicitly clear that the penalty would be agonizing beyond all comprehension.

Thomas rose to his feet and turning quickly, began to sprint in the direction from which he had come. Glancing over his shoulder, he was relieved to see that she had made no move to pursue him, but that relief quickly curdled to emasculating dread when he turned his head only to discover that she was standing directly in front of him.

Colliding with the statuesque red-head was very much like running head long into a brick wall and Thomas again found himself lying on the wet grass, clutching his injured chest and gasping for breath. In the next instant, he found himself being dragged across the grass by invisible hands that then lifted him to his feet and slammed him against a tree hard enough to lacerate his scalp. His arms were drawn back around the trunk of the tree and Thomas cried out in agony as the tendons and ligatures in his shoulders were stretched until he was certain that his arms would be torn from their sockets. Three bands of orange effulgence materialized to secure him to the tree and soon the acrid stench of burning clothing filled his nostrils.

In the terrible moment of fear, Thomas Greavy knew, unequivocally, that he would not leave this green space alive…that his affliction had led to his undoing…just as he always had known it would.

She approached him slowly, crossing one long leg in front of the other as if relishing his moment of abjection…as if deriving ineffable pleasure from his primal fear. “You see Thomas…that is the true countenance of a man who follows a little girl into a darkened park on a rainy night. It is the twisted ugly visage of a man who masturbates while watching eight year old girls behind locked doors. It is the insufferably repugnant image of a man who visualizes his two daughters when he is making love to his beautiful wife!”

By the time the woman had finished her diatribe of condemnation, she was shrieking and her blue eyes were now blazing red that evoked images of glowing coals. Thomas’ body jerked with every accusation and he finally wailed, “Stop…please enough! I never wanted this…never…I’ve fought my whole life to keep it hidden…to keep it repressed.”

The woman’s eyes reverted to their former shade of beguiling blue and she tenderly laid her palm along his fractured cheekbone…gazing in fascination as his tears of shame pooled against the side of her hand. Sympathetically, she murmured, “I believe you Thomas.”

There followed an incisive pain as something penetrated the fabric of his mind and began to rummage through the muck and mire of his most tightly guarded secrets. As a horrified Greavy peered around in incredulity, ghostly images of his virtual fantasies began to coalesce out of the very night air. They began to circle slowly around the pair, but the superficial veneer of artificial eroticism had been savagely stripped away to reveal the deplorable cost of their exploitation. Their child’s eyes were dead and their faces were contorted portraits of living misery, eloquently conveying the extent of the degradation they had been forced to endure. The moan of loathing and anguish that escaped Thomas’ bloody lips was a visceral thing that could not be feigned.

“Here are the true faces of those who pay the price for your filthy addiction, Thomas. Theirs is a suffering that can only be assuaged in death because their innocence has been sullied beyond any hope of reclamation.” Thomas listened as each word flayed his tormented soul and then came the two hovering images that tore his heart asunder. Penelope and Muraday drifted by and in their formerly expressive and lovely eyes remained not even the slightest vestige of vitality as if their spirit had been extinguished by a violation too immense to be articulated…or endured.

Thomas lifted his ravaged gaze to the woman and moaned, “I would never do that to them …never! I…I love them more than I can begin to explain.”

“Again Thomas…I believe you, but the beast that is inextricably intertwined with your essence is a malevolent entity of its own mind…and it is powerful beyond your sensibilities to fully grasp. Inevitably…inexorably…it will surmount your grim resistance and usurp control of your flesh and when it does…one of these children will pay the ultimate price.”

Thomas was frantically shaking his head now…though the harsh light of acceptance had flickered to life in his tortured eyes. “I don’t want this thing in me.” He met her awful gaze and adjured, “Can’t you help me…can’t you cut it out…get this demon out of me.”

The woman, who Thomas correctly deduced was not really a woman and who had deliberately enticed him into this ignoble end, regarded him with something that might well have been remorse. She leaned closer, until her full lips brushed his wet hair. He could feel her sweet breath tickling the hollow of his ear and shuddered. “You are a rare creature, Thomas Greavy…a man who seems wholly undeserving of the cruel fate that has been imposed upon you.”

She drew back and regarded the terrified lawyer thoughtfully and in her luminous blue eyes Thomas thought he could detect the germination of a notion…one that might well spare his life. “If I could somehow excise this pernicious disease, Thomas…as you say, cut it from you like a cancer.” She pursed her lips as though in intense contemplation and then mused, “But where is the root source of your disease, Thomas? That really is the salient question.”

Stepping back a pace, she extended her long right arm with her palm open. As a thoroughly mesmerized Greavy gazed on…first in puzzlement and then dawning horror…a jade-handled dagger with a wicked curving blade materialized in the woman’s finely-boned fingers. She considered the dagger and her beautiful countenance reflected clearly on its deadly surface. Even in the extremity of his terror, Thomas could not mistake the profound note of melancholy that underscored her words as she revealed, “The girl…Cassandra…was indeed how I appeared as a child, before monsters of your stripe scoured her soul…her innocence…from existence. They were far more loathsome than you would ever be…even if your disease was allowed to run its abhorrent course. I would let you live, but first I must cut that core from your flesh…to purify you.”

Grasping her awful intent, Thomas began to whimper, frantically trying to break free of his restraints. His tormentor oriented the tip of the blade toward Thomas and began to move it in an indolent circular motion as though beset by indecision. “Now where would this filthy parasite reside…here perhaps?”

She pointed the tip at his groin and now Thomas began to babble for mercy. With a precise slashing gesture, the blade tore easily through fabric and the tender flesh beneath. Thomas’s plea for mercy became a silver-throated wail of agony as blood, shockingly red, covered the front of his trousers and his severed member lay on the grass like a dead slug.

“Then again…maybe it’s here…deep in the pit of your guts…along with the other muck and mire.” A forward thrust of the wicked blade parted the muscles of his abdominal wall with the ease of a hot knife passing through butter and his intestines spilled from the massive rent in a repulsive, steaming wave.

“Or could it be that your heart has become a requiem for your perversion?” She then thrust her hand into his chest and her powerful fingers passed through flesh and bone as if it was spectral. When those fingers clutched his floundering heart, Greavy attempted to scream, but all that escaped his lips was a wheezing hiss…along with a trickle of blood and phlegm. Peering directly into his dying eyes, Cassandra offered Thomas a hideous parody of a smile and then closed her fist about his heart like the snap of a bear trap. Deep red blood exploded from his mouth like a geyser and the light in his eyes abruptly guttered and was extinguished. The explosion of blood did not spatter Thomas’ murderer, but rather passed through her and sullied the grass in a three meter fan.

In a voice that resonated with madness and cruelty beyond all understanding, the creature that had once been a beautiful young girl named Cassandra Jasic growled, “Or does it hide in the deepest corner of your twisted mind…like a poisonous, bloated spider…biding its time in the shadow.”

She thrust her fingers into Thomas Greavy’s lank hair and pulling his head back, removed it from his body in three swift, powerful strokes. Dismissing the ghastly headless corpse from her mind, she carried the severed head across the common and threw it into the fountain as though discarding something ineffably repugnant.

She then began to stroll in the direction of the exit on the far side of the green space. In the moments before she had snuffed this latest twisted bit of excrement from existence, Cassandra Jasic had gleaned intimations of a new and ominous manifestation of this timeless disease. She found herself feeling decidedly perplexed by the image she had dragged from Thomas’ tortured mind. The black box certainly seemed innocuous…but Greavy had regarded it as the ultimate purveyor of every black fantasy…a corrupting agent that would only incite these monsters to more heinous acts of evil…stoking their perversion like a diabolical fire.

“The shadow box,” Cassandra whispered and the ghost of a smile took shape on her exquisite face. Until now, her quest had been random…extirpating weeds that she would encounter by chance. Now, however, she had found something upon which to focus her attention…and her infinite rage.

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