THE FINAL CONVERING: AN IMMORTAL HEART ASUNDER – CHAPTER TWO PREVIEW

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

 

1

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.

 

2

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.

 

3

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.

 

4

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.

 

5

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.

The Final Converging: An Immortal Heart Asunder – Preview Chapter One

As promised in my previous post, I would like to present the first chapter excerpt from my forthcoming horror offering…The Final Converging: An Immortal Heart Asunder. The Chapter is aptly entitled…The End Begins…and will be the first of three preview chapters that I will post ahead of the actual novel release, which if all goes well, is scheduled for December 1st of this year.

Immortal represents my final foray into the horror genre. As mentioned previously, it comes some eighteen years after the release of The Converging: Closures in Blood. I have always felt that the ending of that particular novel is the best ending I have ever penned and it was my sincere intention to never delve back into the Converging world once the last word of Closures had been committed to paper. Time has a way of making a mockery of our best intentions and the creative urge is something that I still find indecipherable…even after all of these years. Despite my desire to resist, the urge to write this final, definitive tale churned away, gaining flesh and bone as the years passed.

In the end, The Final Converging: An Immortal Heart Asunder can be likened to a child that was never planned for…and perhaps unwanted…but for whom I’ve developed an unconditional and unequivocal love. It is far and away the most personal and intimate novel I’ve ever written and the experience of writing it was very often like gouging thumbs into a festering wound, but I have come to think of it as my personal Ophelia. Irrespective of how it may be received by those who have enjoyed its three predecessors, I am immensely pleased with the end result which (I believe) is rife with tragic beauty.

 

So, without further preamble…The End Begins

Chapter One: The End Begins

 

What is the nature of the pernicious force that tears the immortal heart asunder?

Does it find its source in the disillusionment that accompanies its ever-receding proximity to the innocence of birth?

Perhaps it is best attributed to the gradual, but steady erosion of its humanity…driven by obduracy, apathy or bitterness…and all other dark emotions that conspire to vitiate the immortal spirit.

Or does it come with the dismaying realization that everything that once defined it…that it has cherished and held sacred…has gone to dust, leaving it displaced and lost, like a drifting ship on an endless ocean…invisible and forgotten?

Whatever the cause, the immortal heart is torn asunder with the terrible discovery that the once-coveted commodity of eternal life is, in fact, an unending curse. What follows is one such soul’s moment of terrible insight.

 

1

     The first thing that struck her was the palpable thickness in the air as she raced through the darkened corridors…taking random turns as she went. Somewhere in the distance she could hear the sounds of close pursuit…gaining with every passing second. She ran through corridors of marble and alabaster, beneath high vaulted ceilings. As she fled, she would occasionally glance upward and see that night had fallen over the world beyond this mysterious place. Luminous slivers of silver moonlight tumbled through the regularly-spaced skylights, casting the long hallways in shades of deep blue and argent.

Down one dimly lit hall after the next, she fled in the face of her unseen pursuers and though her flight was motivated by an exigent need to escape, she did not flee in blind terror. Eternally composed by nature, she had managed to stave off the grasping claws of open panic even though she found herself in a strange and ominous place…pursued by unseen predators.

     ‘How did I come to be here…is this a dream?’ she wondered as she nimbly negotiated a tight corner that led to a spiral staircase. She could produce no answer to either question and in the end, both queries were irrelevant. Only staying ahead of those who chased her mattered. ‘At least until I reach the end.’

She began to ascend the staircase, moving effortlessly up the twisting stairs two risers at a time. The marble was cool beneath her bare feet as was the air, which seemed to rush through her long blond hair as if she was fleeing along the length of a wind-swept tunnel.

A howl, primal and rife with an insatiable hunger, tore the silence, echoing up along what now appeared to be a vertical shaft. That hunger spoke of a desperation that bordered on lunacy…a powerful compulsion to rend and tear and ravage.

     ‘But are you fleeing from this unseen predator…or running towards something…specific?’ The question materialized in her conscious thoughts of its own accord, but again she could produce no meaningful answer. Other sounds resonated up from below…a discordant babble of raw emotions that ranged from exuberant exclamations of joy to piteous wails of sorrow and pain. Intermingled with these strident cries there came the furtive slithering that reminded her of something reptilian moving quickly in the shadows. That unsettling whisper was accompanied by a shambling sound that seemed to pique a long forgotten memory…one that was not necessarily pleasant and which inspired her to quicken her pace.

Finally, she reached the top of the spiral staircase and paused briefly to catch her breath. She chanced a brief glance over the wood capped, wrought iron railing and was shocked to find that the spiral vanished into infinity. Yet as she gazed down…wide-eyed and bemused…a thick red mist began to coalesce somewhere far beneath her present position. It began to rise in a twisting, roiling column that reminded her of pain and malice. There was a dull refulgent quality to this converging cloud that struck the woman as vaguely sinister. ‘You can’t allow yourself to get caught in that thing. You have to reach the end before you’re engulfed. Move!’

With no small exertion of will, she tore herself away from the menacing spectacle and resumed her flight, ascending until she found herself standing at the head of a long hallway that stretched into the distance. A central runner carpet…blood red with gold piping…had been laid in the middle of the wide hallway, while along both walls, open doorways spilled muted yellow light into the purple gloom. Before setting off, she glanced up to find that the world beyond this incredible edifice had changed…shifted to another location…if such a thing was possible. Snow blew across the thick glass of the skylights in sheets, but the howl of the raging wind was a muffled thing that reached her ears like a barely perceptible whisper heard from a great distance.

A maniacal cackle of laughter ripped out of the gloom from somewhere beneath her…fraught with expectant glee. In her moment of distraction, she had unwittingly permitted her pursuer to gain ground. Cursing her foolishness, she began to sprint down the corridor, driven by a renewed sense of exigency.

The doorways along each wall were offset and as she passed each, her gaze was involuntarily drawn to the carnival house scenes being played out within the starkly lit rooms. Discordant, flickering images accosted her frazzled senses then; snatches and broken fragments of conversation which impacted upon her memories with the force of psychic artillery shells.

“This is the hall of memory…where the defining moments of your life are laid out in chronological order. You have been brought here to traverse the arc of your life and discover the final destination that you must reach…should you wish for your life to be granted lasting meaning,” a ubiquitous voice declared suddenly, drawing a startled cry from the running woman.

In the first room on her left, she caught a flashing glimpse of a young man sitting on a bench beside a beautiful teenage girl, who appeared distraught and on the verge of tears.

“Until I can make something of myself, I’ll never feel worthy of you. This is my one chance,” the solemn-faced boy told the girl, who abruptly covered her eyes. Then she was past the doorway, though the brief sliver of memory had roused an acute pain in her heart.

The first doorway on her right showed a slightly older version of the same girl…a young woman now…folding clothes into a litter of cardboard boxes. Her lovely face was wooden and her eyes were red-rimmed and as she folded the final article of clothing into the last box, a single horrible thought repeated incessantly in her grief-stricken mind, ‘I’m completely alone.’

Again, this alien thought descended upon her with an inexplicable intensity…a poignant intimacy that she could not fathom. ‘This is the hall of memories,’ the disembodied voice had declared gravely and perhaps that was true, but despite the emotions they stirred within her…they were not her memories.

Yet, as she raced along the impossibly long corridor, she experienced a constant stream of intensely emotional vignettes that struck her as eerily familiar, though she was absolutely certain that the angelic blond woman, who dominated each, was a total stranger.

Further along, she came to a door through which wafted a disturbing red mist, very much like the cloud that had risen in the stairwell. She shook her head in negation, even as she drew parallel with the opening. In a voice made tremulous with terror, she moaned, “I don’t want to see this…don’t want to remember this, please!”

Despite this vehement entreaty, she found that she was unable to glance away because this was a place of recollection that simply would not be denied by acute terror or prevailing delusion. She was here by design and had been brought to this fantastical place for a very specific purpose and she would not be afforded the luxury of avoidance.

A woman stood at the center of this particular room, surrounded by a corona of vermillion light. Hers was a beauty of stunning proportions, though there was an imperious slant to both her cheekbones and her eyes that lent the statuesque woman a sinister and cruel aspect. Of all the memories, this was the most intense…the most visceral…because this terrifying creature had played a pivotal role in her life.

“Ah, now you begin to see,” the ubiquitous voice boomed again, drawing a confused frown from the fleeing woman.

Moving beyond this door, she heard the raven-haired beauty laugh and call out, “You and I are one…bound by the dagger and emotional bonds that can never be torn asunder.”

Through the doorway on her right, she caught a fleeting glimpse of the flash of a dagger, followed by an incisive flare of argent agony in her chest. That pain relented to a state that could only be described as transcendent. Every sensation seemed infinitely sharper and every sense augmented to a preternatural acuity that no normal human could ever hope to experience. Along this next segment of the hallway, the rooms flew by at a frenetic blur, yet despite this dizzying burst of speed, each room’s revelation flashed through her thoughts with astounding clarity. While she experienced this disconcerting rush of memories…often shockingly graphic and disturbingly violent…both she and the woman whose memories she was sharing felt an odd sense of disassociation.

     ‘It’s almost as if she had lived this segment of her life vicariously,’ the fleeing woman marveled. There followed another flash of the blade and that sense of being once-removed abruptly vanished…like the fall of an invisible hammer.

With this enhanced perception she sped by a progression of rooms, suffused by a new sense of exigency as if this mysterious woman was desperately seeking something…cherished…and in grave and imminent danger. Many of these images were disjointed fragments that nonetheless left her feeling as if a calamity of apocalyptic proportion had been averted…by the scantest of margins. Against impossible odds this woman…with whom she shared an intense, but undefined affinity…had persevered and emerged into a period of pure contentment for the first time in her troubled and often tragic existence.

Through the next series of doorways there came the languid flow of sepia-colored remembrances…very much like those that filled most normal lives. The beautiful blond felt the sharp sting of death and the pervasive gnaw of loneliness and through it all she endured with an admirable dignity and grace that spoke of a rare and genuine nobility of spirit.

A piercing howl tore her from the reverie into which she had fallen and as she glanced back over her shoulder, the fleeing woman was horrified to discover that her pursuers had closed the distance. Her nostrils flared in response to the acrid, cloying stench of sulfur that now belched from the cloud in noxious waves. Several creatures exploded out of the roiling mass, scrabbling along the carpeted corridor at astonishing speeds despite their hunched and distorted postures. Their elongated limbs reminded the woman of wooden spindles and were covered by black and red leathery flesh teeming with repulsive masses of suppurating boils that constantly erupted, spewing clouds of thick yellow pus. They ran hunched over like sick twisted things that had been stricken by some form of wasting disease and yet they moved with an uncanny ease and agility that spoke of a dark and terrible vitality. Most disturbing of all were their bulging yellow eyes that were bisected by jagged red slashes and the curving incisors that were clearly conceived for the rending of flesh and the pulverizing of bone. They emitted a high, mewling sound as they came on…so piercing and loud that it forced the woman to cover her ears as she ran.

Slowly, inexorably…these abominations were gaining upon her and she understood that her suffering would be horrible beyond words if they were to catch her before she reached the end of this corridor. Though there was no logical reason to assume that she would find safe haven at the end of the corridor, the woman embraced the notion as an unassailable article of faith.

“Your life is not all that stands to be lost, should you not reach the end of this corridor. In truth, it is the least consequential thing at stake in this black drama in which you have become embroiled!” the bombastic voice informed her urgently.

Gritting her teeth and thrusting the horrors from her mind, she turned her face forward and began to pump her arms and legs like an Olympic sprinter. Ahead of her, still discouragingly distant, two arched doors had materialized at the end of the corridor. They stood twice the height of an average man and were embellished with delicate gold filigree insets. The runner knew instinctively that…whatever it was she had been brought here to see…it was found on the other side of these imposing wooden doors.

A massive tremor shook the entire structure then, reverberating through both the stone and the runner’s viscera with frightening power. She was abruptly pitched to the carpeted floor, but rose on unsteady legs as a series of powerful aftershocks assailed the building with a cannonading rumble. She glanced up anxiously to see that huge cracks had opened in the walls and ceiling of this surreal structure. The concussive force of the upheaval shattered skylights all along the length of the corridor, sending jagged shards of glass raining down, while cold air and sheets of snow followed in their wake.

“What’s happening?” She cried even as she resumed her frantic sprint for the doors.

“The beast that rules over this place has begun to stir. When it comes awake this place will be obliterated and the crucial lesson contained within will be lost…to you. You must reach the end before that happens…in the name of all you love…run!” the keeper of the Byzantine Dreamscape implored and the runner complied without hesitation.

Behind her, the feral, hungry howls of her pursuers had changed to cries of abject terror and negation. Glancing over her shoulders, she discerned the source of their fear. The structure behind her was crumbling like a sand castle before the incoming tide. She experienced a surge of elation as two of the shambling horrors were swallowed up when the floor beneath their feet disintegrated in a cloud of white dust. Beyond the walls, she caught a brief glimpse of rugged black mountains over which argent bolts of lightning flashed through heavy curtain of snow…painting the world in shades of the apocalypse.

Correctly deducing that her time was short, the woman unleashed one final apprehension-fuelled burst for the uncertain sanctuary of the room beyond the beckoning doors. As she raced by the final open doorways, she noticed that all of the rooms were steeped in darkness. As if divining her thoughts, the keeper explained, “Herein are the events that will shape the future…a future that has yet to be determined. In truth, their precise shape is unimportant, as all paths lead to the ending beyond these doors.”

This esoteric rambling meant very little to the fleeing woman, but there was no mistaking the sincere urgency with which it had been given. Still, she found herself suddenly fearful of the abstract intimation of whatever terrible destiny that might be concealed behind these doors. In a flash of crystalline prescience, it occurred to the suddenly hesitant woman that to pass through them would be to commit to something from which there would be no turning away.

As though gleaning her sudden ambivalence, the roiling cloud spoke for the first time, its high, insectile voice grating and desperate. “It lies! Everything you see is a deliberate distortion intended to deceive you…meant to entice you along a false path. You must not open those doors…let yourself go and consign yourself to the void!”

Beneath the grotesque resonance, she could discern a vague familiarity to the voice…as if she had heard if a thousand times before, though she could conjure neither a face nor a name to go with that disconcerting certainty. It suddenly occurred to her that she had missed something critically important in the detail of this macabre scenario in which she now found herself…and with this disconcerting realization came the unnerving certainty that she was being…misled.

As if in response to this unsettling insight, another titanic upheaval rocked the entire structure and suddenly the ground beneath her feet was riddled with cracks and began to crumble away to the void…a ribbon of molten fire far below her. Panic seized her then and she surged forward while the entire world appeared to disintegrate around her.

The ground gave way directly beneath her feet, but she managed to launch herself into the air. Reaching out, she pulled the large pewter handles in one miraculous, fluid motion. There was one horrible instant when it seemed inevitable that she would simply plummet into the void, but then the massive doors swung inward, carrying her over the threshold. She was unceremoniously thrown to the carpet some ten feet from the door sill, landing in a tangled sprawl of limbs.  She twisted around and gazed, bleary-eyed and dazed, back through the open doorway, a soundless cry of shock escaping her twisted lips as she was afforded her final glimpse of the maelstrom through which she had made her desperate run. The roiling, malevolent cloud was gone. In its place was a churning mass of bodies, all caught in a wild gyre that turned and twisted them like rag dolls. These unfortunate figures were all quite human and as their eyes found hers…so achingly familiar…every eye seemed to convey the same message of bitter resignation and profound sorrow.

As the doors swung shut with an ear-shattering plaintive whine of rusted hinges, a single word issued from the dying world beyond, fraught with unimaginable despair…Elizabeth!

 2

     The massive doors slammed shut with an emphatic bang, effectively cutting off the harrowing sounds of the world beyond struggling through its death throes. She closed her eyes and drew several long, deliberate breaths to regain her equilibrium. When she felt that she was prepared to confront whatever new and macabre situation into which she’d been thrust, she opened her eyes and surveyed her new environment. Gazing about, she was both perplexed and disappointed by what she saw. The room itself was circular and rose in geometrically precise steps to form a dome, the pinnacle of which resembled a fisheye lens as if designed so that a deity might observe the room’s interior from on high.

Standing on legs that trembled unsteadily, the woman was disconcerted to discover that she was now completely naked, her golden skin glowing beneath the harsh glare of intense white light that had no discernible source. Now her honey-blond hair hung in a thick cable between her full breasts and she could feel the whisper of a gentle breeze caress every recess of her exposed flesh. Feeling both abashed and vulnerable, she pressed herself against the wall and surveyed the room.

“What is this place and why have I been brought here?” She cried in a voice made shrill with exasperation. “And where are my clothes?”

“This is the Chamber of Augury. Its purpose is to reveal your one possible future or more precisely…the ideal culmination of the possible futures which now lie open to you.” The mysterious speaker’s tone became sly. “As for why you are naked…as you entered this world, so too shall you leave. Open your eyes to what stands before you!”

And so she did…actually looking closely at the room’s Spartan contents for the first time. She shook her head again…that sense of puzzlement and disappointment returning. After her harrowing flight and the apocalyptic disintegration of the dreamscape over which she had fled, it was only natural to assume that this chamber would hold some wondrous epiphany or perhaps some great and terrible adversary to be overcome in one final epic battle for the ages. Instead, she found herself faced with something that…while intriguing…was nonetheless decidedly anticlimactic. If there was some arcane meaning to be had in this odd display, it simply eluded her.

“Open your eyes, woman!” The ubiquitous voice insisted, displaying impatience for the first time. “See what stands before you and consider its meaning within the context of all you witnessed on the path that carried you here…to this frozen moment of culmination.”

She muttered in frustration, but complied, considering the enigmatic display as the final piece of a complex puzzle. The center portion of the circular chamber had been cordoned off by a series red velvet intertwined ropes, which were affixed to a series of brass stanchions, very much like the antiquated barriers that one would expect to see in an old fashion bank…or museum. The latter was a more appropriate reference, considering what was held within the cordoned off enclosure.

     ‘I’ve seen this particular piece before…or one very much like it,’ she mused as her intense gaze swept over the sculpture of two beautiful women which dominated the center of the chamber. Abruptly, a celestial spotlight blazed into life, its harsh white glare bringing every subtle detail of the piece into vivid focus.

The enhanced clarity seemed to jar her memory and the image of Auguste Rodin’s Eternal Idol resolved in her mind’s eye.

The piece of art before her exuded a powerful sense of eroticism and had captured the two women in a pose that made the observer feel like a voyeur intruding upon the most intimate of moments. The two kneeling women faced each other, their exquisite bodies captured in breathtaking postures of feminine splendor. The woman facing her leaned back on her haunches, with her one slender arm hanging limply at her side, while the other slumped forward with her face nestled in the crook of the other woman’s long neck and her left hand laid along the facing woman’s curving hip.

Beyond the compelling sensuality of the sculpture, the woman could sense an intense intimacy born of a nuanced passion that these two women must certainly have shared. She began to circle the sculpture, attempting to examine it from every angle…every perspective…for some clue as to what it was intended to represent. On the opposite side from her original perspective, she saw that each woman’s other hand clutched the other’s hip with white-knuckled intensity and the piece of art suddenly assumed as element of epic tragedy. She was not witnessing two lovers basking in the after-glow of wild passion as she had first imagined. Instead, she was gazing upon two women who had been eternally captured in the shared intimacy of death…the entrancing art of mutual immolation.

She could feel tears pooling at the corners of her eyes as she made her way back to her original position and studied the face of the first beauty, mesmerized by the eyes that seemed to stare into infinity and beyond. The corners of her full mouth were turned up in what might have been a smile of contentment as if she had found the peace she had sought in this desperate act.

“Everything beautiful must eventually perish, crumble to dust and be scoured from the world by the remorseless winds of time. For all of our beauty, you and I will be no different.” These words, delivered with such serenity and acceptance, washed over her like a warm breeze, but after a brief moment, she recognized the voice and uttered a gasp of dawning horror, even as a single drop of blood blossomed on the sculptures left breast and another on the back of the sculpted figure facing away from her.

“She’s me…that woman is me…the woman in the rooms, whose life I watched flash by…it was me, wasn’t it?” She demanded on the verge of hysteria now. To her consternation, the narrator of this nightmare had gone stubbornly silent, but her affirmation came as rivulets of crimson began to run down the two figures in steady streams and collect on the floor in shockingly vivid pools.

She screamed as an acute pain lanced her heart and she gazed down to find a silver dagger protruding from her full left breast. As her knees folded slowly and she collapsed onto her side, one final question followed her into the darkness…who was the other woman with whom she had shared her dramatic final moment?

 

3

     Elizabeth came awake with a start and a small gasp as she pressed her right palm to her left breast in an involuntary reaction to the last moments of her nightmare. ‘But was it a nightmare…or something else…something more sinister?’

She drew a ragged breath and sat up, her full breasts rising and falling as the midnight blue satin sheets pooled in her lap. Immortals did not dream…at least, not in the sense that humans did with their random and often nonsensical spattering of cobbled images plucked from the subconscious mind with no apparent rhyme or reason. On the rare occasions an immortal did dream, it was always in a very specific, though sometimes abstract context…fraught with purpose.

And very often those dreams are presages to imminent trouble,’ she reminded herself and shivered, despite the sultry warmth of the summer night. The last time she had experienced a dream that intense…so terrifyingly lucid…had been over fifty years ago, when she had been plagued by a series of vivid nightmares in which David had been in danger…his life threatened by flames. The mere recollection of those ominous dreams and the period of horrible darkness it had spawned, threatened to unleash a torrent of painful memories and so she pushed them from her thoughts with considerable effort. Like her beloved son, Nathaniel, she thought about David only rarely…bringing out the memory of the life they had shared sparingly…as if she feared that they would lose their luster if she was to summon them forth too frequently.

Instead, she turned her attention to the perplexing dream she had just experienced, trying to unravel the abstruse message it had been intended to convey. Throwing back the covers, she rose and maneuvered her way through the darkness of her bedroom, aided by her preternatural night vision…just another of the many advantages of being immortal.

     ‘A demon, Elizabeth…but of course, that’s a label that offends your delicate sensibilities,’ a familiar voice chastised her disdainfully. Like the others, this particular voice belonged to another memory she would rather not entertain, but for entirely different reasons.

“I was never a demon…not in the true sense of the concept!” She whispered in a dulcet tone that was a trifle defensive. Technically, that was true. When she had been turned that long ago night in Semelar, something unforeseen and unprecedented had disrupted the ritual. Hard as it was for Elizabeth to credit, she had been a soul of pure and unassailable virtue and the dark ritual had merely imprisoned Elizabeth in her own transmogrified flesh. She had watched helplessly as the entity that had usurped her body committed unspeakable acts of evil…a vicarious witness to crimes that…somehow…had left her soul unscarred. This pathetic state of existence might have continued indefinitely had Cynara not committed the monumental error of underestimating the power of her love for Nathaniel…her long suffering son.

It was impossible for her to reflect on that dreadful night in Chevru without rousing a snake pit of intensely painful emotions and memories that she had labored so long and hard to repress. To save Nathaniel and reclaim her body and soul, she had been forced to face Cynara in deadly confrontation that she had been wholly unsuited to win. Elizabeth frowned, still perplexed more than a half century later, when she recalled how Cynara had willingly given up her life so that she could live. As a consequence of that incomprehensible act of self-sacrifice, Elizabeth had become history’s first true immortal. Elizabeth was neither a demon nor an angel, but rather an unprecedented entity…occupying the spaces between these eternally adversarial extremes.

That envied state had not proven to be without its intense and troublesome complications. Loathed as an abomination by both heaven and hell, Elizabeth had been hunted by disparate groups of zealots…all intent on seeing her obliterated. Again, only a totally unexpected intervention had spared her from annihilation. During that bleak and frightening period, she had been incessantly plagued by two recurring nightmares that reminded her very much of the one from which she had just emerged. There had been an aspect of augury to both of those dreams…her intervention in the suicide of Karnalla Mansley and the imminent death of her beloved David at the hands of a fire demon. She had badly misconstrued the former…a misinterpretation that had led to the rebirth of Cynara Saravic…but fortunately had been able to prevent the second…if only by the narrowest of margins.

After she had emerged from the apocalyptic nightmare in Seattle, Elizabeth had entered a period of tranquility that had proven to be the happiest of her life. Living with David in the solitude of Cynara’s villa, she had finally found the life of contentment and quiet intimacy that she had always craved. She had endured the forced separation from Nathaniel stoically, deriving a measure of comfort from the knowledge that he would be free to live out the remainder of his life without fear of reprisals from Cynara’s former masters. For three decades, Elizabeth had basked in a life that was as close to perfect as the flawed world would permit.

And then had come the inevitable moments of parting…the uncoupling of the moorings that had tethered her to the mortal life she had once lived. First David had died and some twelve years later, she had watched in isolated grief while her beloved son…the beautiful stranger, whom she had known only fleetingly, had been lowered into the cold embrace of the ground.

The recollection fell upon her with its full and terrible weight then, flailing her with the poignant clarity of the memory and she could feel tears pooling at the corners of her limpid blue eyes. Unlike mortals, whose memories dimmed with the passage of time…like old sepia photographs…an immortal’s memories were preserved in all of their perfect glory. This could be a blessing or a curse. Remembrance of his death would be eternally painful…never fading with the passage of time, but so too, the sweetness of the few moments they had shared would never lose their ability to send her spirit soaring.

After Nathaniel’s death, she had tottered on the edge of the abyss…confronted by a hollow life, devoid of any meaningful purpose. His ghost had appeared to her then and implored her to set out on the path of light…in search of the world’s inherent beauty and her own inner peace. Over the course of the five years immediately following Nath’s death, Elizabeth had traversed the globe, searching for that one special requiem. And oh what wonders she had witnessed…the last vestiges of natural beauty, still clinging tenaciously to life in the face of the inexorable march of technology and the sheer, overwhelming vitality of mankind. After years of living this nomadic existence…a beautiful vagabond who allowed the wind to blow her where it would…she had begun to yearn for permanence and a sense of place.

Life leads us in never ending circles,’ she thought wistfully as she threw back the covers and slid out of bed with her customary languid grace…like a great golden cat. ‘When I was a young woman, all that I dreamt of was a stable, comfortable life…a tranquil environment where I could thrive and find genuine contentment. After nearly sixty years of fluctuating between euphoric highs and sinking lows, I’ve come to cherish exactly the same thing.’

Elizabeth shuddered then and hugged her bare shoulders, despite the sultriness of the Grecian night. It had been her personal experience that a life of quiet solitude was the one dispensation that the world seemed the most reluctant to grant. Despite her unprecedented nature…or perhaps because of it…Elizabeth was no exception.

Eventually, she had sated that wanderlust and had turned her efforts to the search for a home where she could begin what she had come to regard as her life of serene exile. During the course of her travels, Elizabeth had encountered both men and women who had been attracted to her poise and exceptional beauty, but she had gently, but firmly rebuffed their overtures…knowing that entanglements…however attractive…could prove deadly to anyone unfortunate enough to become a fixture in her world. Though she refused to surrender to paranoia, Elizabeth was always watchful for the narrow-eyed gaze of speculative scrutiny or the glance that lingered longer than even her beauty would justify. The miracle in Seattle had granted her a reprieve, but she would be foolish to think that she had been forgotten. Alexandria’s clever ruse had given her a new chance at life and she was determined not to squander that gift by being…conspicuous.

In the second half of the twenty-first century, privacy was a rare and precious commodity and scrutiny was an omnipresent aspect of modern life. It became her obsession to find a place that was as far from the prying eye as could be found and her search eventually led her to Greece and the ancient, tiny fishing village of Petalidi on the Messenian Gulf. From the first instant that Elizabeth had strolled through the ancient streets, she had been mesmerized by the antiquated village, falling in love with the old world charm of the sun-baked buildings and cobbled streets that had existed since the days of Alexander and the glory of Greece’s golden age. She recalled the sense of surrealism that she had experienced as she’d strolled down the streets and made her way to the picturesque harbor. Somehow, Petalidi had held the invasive march of technology at bay and one could still feel the odd, disorienting sensation of having stepped back in time as they wandered through the narrow streets.

She could hear the clamorous din of a thousand generations’ worth of voices as she sat in the shade of the harbor walls and watched the gentle surf break over sands that were the purest white. It required only one visit to this idyllic requiem to decide that it would be in Petalidi that she would write the next chapter of her immortal life…quietly witnessing the slow march of time with only her cherished memories and her shadow for company.

In the hills, just five kilometers north of the village, Elizabeth had discovered a small villa that had been allowed to fall into disrepair. Its relative solitude and breath-taking view of the gulf were simply magnificent and she had fallen in love with the property as quickly as she had come to love the nearby village. She had devoted the next two years of her life to the task of making both the villa and the town her home. The first had been a comparatively simple matter, given the extent of her fortune, while the second had proven somewhat more…delicate. Even more than a half century after the cataclysmic events of Seattle, anonymity remained one of Elizabeth’s primary concerns…and greatest fears, if she was being entirely candid. It became necessary to strike a delicate balance with the villagers, who quickly became aware of the striking blond beauty, who had come to live near their remote coastal paradise. Understanding that she would only pique their curiosity further if she remained aloof, Elizabeth had immersed herself in local life and while the people embraced her, she made it clear that she was a woman who placed an immeasurable value on her privacy…a desire which, to her eternal relief, they had come to respect.

On the few occasions when a tourists might inquire about the mysterious beauty who lived in the secluded villa, their inquiries would be met with a stony silence that made it exceedingly evident that such questions were unwelcome by the villagers.

Over the next decade, Elizabeth Simpson…now Lizbet Asari…lived the quintessential life of contented solitude. Alone with her precious memories and her beloved books, she would fill the empty spaces with long walks along the beach or hikes in the rolling hills that surrounded the village. If she missed intimacy and human interaction, she managed to keep that longing carefully compartmentalized…even from herself.

When the villagers spoke to each other of the woman, whom they had come to call their golden goddess (a moniker that would have evoked a particularly bitter memory for Elizabeth), it was in terms of sadness and quiet pity. That such an exquisite creature would deliberately cloister herself in the old villa was simply incomprehensible and her mysterious life soon assumed the element of a classic romantic tragedy.

Yet, when Elizabeth floated through the narrow streets of Petalidi, she seemed to exude only radiant beauty and inner peace…as if there was nothing lacking in her life of isolation…a life that on the surface at least, seemed so sterile.

All of this aspect of noble tragedy is so…unnecessary, not to mention very theatrical, isn’t it, darling Elizabeth?’ the familiar voice snorted with undisguised contempt. Somehow, that bitter-sweet familiar voice had become the voice of her internal critic…her self-conceived vociferous detractor, who was merciless in her castigation of Elizabeth’s every flaw, however small or incidental. ‘You’ve relegated yourself to a state of self-imposed exile from life because of your prized possession…that exquisite face of yours. Is that really what this grand exercise in self-sacrifice all boils down to…an inability to repress your vanity?’

     “It’s just not that simple!” Elizabeth grumbled and her voice held an uncharacteristic plaintive edge that only the memory of Cynara Saravic could evoke.

     ‘Oh but it is!’ The voice persisted, seemingly unrelenting in its desire to foment turmoil in Elizabeth’s otherwise placid mind. ‘From my jaded perspective, it couldn’t be any simpler actually. Change your appearance and begin a new life, free of any realistic concern that your past will come back to haunt you…that is all that’s required. You would rather make this grand sacrifice than make the one accommodation that would give you the opportunity to start living again…to enjoy this gift you’ve been granted. This isn’t an act of nobility, Elizabeth…whatever you might think. It’s just pathetic exercise in vanity.’   

Elizabeth drew a deep, tremulous breath and strode to the end of her bedroom. Barefoot and dressed only in a jade green satin slip, she threw open the French doors and plunged out onto the balcony that overlooked the Messenian Gulf. She leaned on the ornately scrolled railing and peered out over the shimmering waters of the gulf that resembled a rolling field of black satin beneath the full moon. The white sands of the beach had assumed a beguiling iridescent quality that seemed somehow tailored to grave philosophical musings that always seemed to come only in the depth of a sleepless night such as this one was proving to be.

Sighing, Elizabeth turned that same argent light of introspection on what she regarded as her fundamentally satisfying life.

There was an irrefutable measure of truth in the contention that she could change her life of self-imposed isolation by altering her outward physical appearance…just as Cynara had done by donning the countenance of Karnalla Mansley. This done, she would be free to take up a new life without fear that she would be remembered.

     ‘And yet you continue to wallow here…why?’ she inquired and as she examined her reasons, she produced two justifications that were, in essence, flip sides of the same sad coin. She held up her right hand with the palm facing her and with a rudimentary exertion of will, her palm transformed into a mirror hat reflected her blue-eyed visage in all of its splendor. It was more than simple vanity that made her reluctant to relinquish the face she had worn when last she was mortal. This face was her only tangible link to her past life and identity…everything that she had ever held precious…and lost. To give up this face was akin to turning her back on her very life…renouncing Elizabeth Simpson and everything that woman had been. She had eschewed her name, her home and every association with what little family was left to her…all to insure that they could remain safe. This face was the last thing that David had gazed upon and the last image that Nathaniel had carried with him through his life after he had thought she was dead. She vowed that she would never willingly surrender, convinced that to do so would constitute an unconscionable betrayal of the two men she had loved so dearly.

     ‘All right, perhaps not vanity then…but something even worse…cowardice!’ Cynara’s voice intoned pointedly. ‘If you really want to indulge in this soul-searching exercise, then dispense with the facile bullshit and confront the truth. You’re hiding in this beautiful, gilded cage because you’re afraid to live again.’

Elizabeth grimaced, but could conjure no meaningful denial because her internal tormentor had cut directly to the heart of her greatest fear. The very thought of going out into the world with the intention of re-immersing herself in everyday life and all of its trappings…an enduring love, a family and friends to populate her life…filled her with an atavistic dread. Even if she could ignore her every misgiving and commit herself to another living being with all of the passion with which she had loved David…there was no escaping the salient reality that would govern any relationship that she would enter. Two terrible moments of reckoning would inevitably come…like inexorable shadows that would fall across the brightest of lives. She would remain young…immune to the merciless ravages of time…while her newfound love would wither and inevitably, inexorably fade.

Eventually, she would find herself back at that precise and ineffably terrible juncture she’d experienced in that Boston graveyard twelve years ago…with everything she cherished gone to the cold embrace of the earth…leaving her utterly and unbearably alone yet again.

Elizabeth was sufficiently self-aware to realize that she could not survive a reprise of that excruciating moment…much less an unending string of such agonizing junctures. The prospect was simply too cruel to even contemplate and she was far better off passing eternity as an unseen witness on the fringes of life.

Such a fragile and delicate bloom you’ve become,’ Cynara remarked mordantly, though Elizabeth thought she could discern a note of keen affection in that sardonic reproof. Much to her relief, her internal tormentor relented and fell silent, leaving her free to ponder the ramifications of her disquieting dream.

Her first impression of the dream was that it had been possessed of an oddly discordant character. Initially, it had seemed as if she had been fleeing from the darkest aspects of her past…desperately racing toward the future. The roiling, ugly cloud appeared to represent the malignancy that Cynara had visited upon her life and the vile ties that had bound her to the dark lady’s master. The rooms had captured the critical junctures of her life in vivid and poignant clarity and as they crumbled away behind her, Elizabeth could not help but think that this had been meant to signify that there could be no returning to the life she had lost after Nathaniel’s death. The prospect of normalcy had vanished like a fleeting specter before a surging gale.

That the future had been concealed behind closed doors was frankly rather cliché, but that sense of banality had been dispelled by the voice’s vehement insistence that the future held within was the one true resolution to her life…the only tenable path forward that could bestow meaning on all that Elizabeth had experienced.

Yet, perplexingly, as the dream world had collapsed around her, the entire ambiance of the moment had reversed courses. When she had been on the verge of opening that final door…thus divulging the supposed best of all futures lying open to her, it suddenly appeared as though the voices of the past were desperately admonishing her against succumbing to the black enticement held within. They had seemed intent on forestalling her entry, thus implying that she had been somehow deceived and that the future contained within was inimical…and lethally so.

What she had discovered within the chamber seemed to validate that impression in disturbingly succinct terms. As Elizabeth conjured the startlingly precise recollection of the statue, her heart began to beat quickly and her breathing came in short, ragged gasps, forcing her to lean upon the railing merely to stay upright. There was nothing obscure in the symbolism of that beautifully rendered statue…the stark image had all of the subtlety of a sledge hammer. Two perfectly rendered women, kneeling naked and face to face. There had been no light in the eyes of her own perfect visage, but there had been something so enticing…so viscerally compelling in the slight smile that played at the corners of her generous mouth.

The message had been explicitly clear…only in death would she find genuine contentment.

And then there was the matter of the woman, with whom she had been immortalized…frozen in an intimate posture of shared self-immolation. There was something undeniably erotic about the way the woman’s slack face had been nestled into the crook of Elizabeth’s neck…or the way that her left hand rested lightly on Elizabeth’s flaring hip. In response, she could feel her heartbeat begin to quicken, though now it was not motivated by apprehension, but rather by a decidedly morbid lust.

Shaking her head in open bemusement, she scolded herself, ‘you really have been cloistered from the world for far too long if this is the kind of image that can get your pulse racing.’

Irrespective of this morbid oddity, there was no denying that she found this depiction of a shared meeting of the willingly-embraced end to be acutely arousing.

     ‘Who is she…how did our lives become so deeply entwined that she would agree to end them this way…and what would compel us to do so?’ She wondered absently.

Have you really grown so inconceivably obtuse…or do you despise me so much that you would rather delude yourself by playing the dullard than conjure my memory?’ The voice of Cynara Saravic demanded irritably. ‘This dream of yours can have but one meaning…fate is not quite done with us yet. You and I will come together again…though perhaps this time there will be a definitive end to our story.’

Elizabeth long fingers floated to her mouth of their own volition, though not in time to stifle the cry of negation that welled up from deep in her throat.

“Never!” she rasped, but in her vehemence, Elizabeth could not mistake the resonating note of uncertainty. That emphatic rejection of the notion issued in sharp counterpoint to the rich, disdainful sounds of Cynara’s sardonic laughter. Still, the particular avenue was a route over which Elizabeth was determined never again to traverse. When they had parted ways in that abandoned factory, in the moments before she had confronted Gregor Ingram’s army of religious zealots, Elizabeth had vowed that it would be their final parting. This oath was not motivated by any festering animosity toward Cynara. On the contrary, Elizabeth had promised herself that she would never stand in the dark lady’s daunting presence because she would do nothing to jeopardize Cynara’s wellbeing. She had helped the dark lady throw off the satanic yoke and her presence would only pose a grave risk to Cynara’s hard won freedom.

Ah my lovely ingénue…fate has its way of making a mockery of our best intentions and necessity turns our most solemn oaths into hollow lies,’ Cynara intoned with the slightest hint of sorrow adding a melancholy nuance to her voice. ‘Believe what you will and cling to this illusory life as long as you are able, my fragile dove…but I would strongly recommend that you sharpen your claws and fangs because the remorseless winds of change are about to blow through your life. When they do…you will come back to me…and I will be waiting.’

Elizabeth began to give voice to a strident denial, but the words seemed to die on her lips…as if her subconscious was fully cognizant of their meaninglessness. She shuddered and leaning on the rail, bowed her head and closed her eyes until she could achieve some level of mastery over her roiling emotions.

The soft strains of derisive laughter seemed to reach her ears then, coming from somewhere nearby. Her preternatural gaze swept the length of silver beach and at first she was unable to locate the source of the derisive laughter. ‘Over here woman…look and mark me well because you and I are on a collision course as sure as the sun will soon rise over this empty delusion of yours.’

Elizabeth’s regard was drawn to a spot some two hundred yards along the beach and now a figure did seem to coalesce out of the velvet shadows…a silhouette standing forth from the nuanced layers of darkness. Her immortal’s augmented visual acuity brought the figure into sharp focus and she could clearly see that he was gazing steadily at her as she stood on the balcony. The weight of his gaze upon her scantily-clad flesh was palpable and vaguely repulsive…like the groping hand of a lecher and it required all of her composure not to bolt back inside. As if illuminated by an unseen light, the figure’s face suddenly stood prominently forth and now Elizabeth did utter an audible gasp.

The man watching her had flesh that was pasty white…a sickly pallor that reminded Elizabeth of curdled milk. Yet the shock of vital, black hair and the burning eyes seemed to gainsay this impression of infirmity. In that piercing regard, Elizabeth could discern a profound avarice…an insatiable hunger that would be neither sated nor deterred without drastic measures. There could be little mistaking that she was the focus of that insatiable need, though she had never set eyes upon this abhorrent face before.

You have what he needs, Elizabeth,’ Cynara intoned gravely. ‘He will not be deterred by reason or threat of violence…And this is why you will soon need me, as loath as you might be to admit it.’

The prediction came to Elizabeth as a barely perceptible whisper, so intently was she focused on the man on the beach and his aura of vague menace. As she watched him, her eyes began to turn the iridescent orange that always signified the onset of extreme rage.

“What do you want?” She roared and her strident voice rolled over the beach like apocalyptic thunder.

The figure greeted this hostile query with another spate of derisive laughter. “You’ll know soon enough….though there is only one thing that a whore like you would possess that would be of value to anyone else.”

There followed another infuriating outburst of contemptuous laughter and then the figure simply blinked out of view like a malevolent apparition.

Elizabeth’s anger drained away like water through a sewer grate and she reeled back into the false sanctuary of her bedroom, where she sagged onto the edge of the bed. She sat with her head bowed and her hands wrung tightly between her knees, inhaling deeply in an effort to calm her frenzied nerves.

As disconcerting as the sudden appearance of this nemesis was, it was the final image…caught in a brief flash the moment prior to his disappearance…that filled Elizabeth Simpson’s intrepid heart with an atavistic dread. In the instant before he had vanished like a dark promise, the man’s eyes had glowed an unearthly, demonic red!

 

Upcoming Signing Events and The Final Converging

After a six year hiatus, I will be doing a book signing event at the Public Library in my home town of Timmins. It’s been about six year since my last series of signings and it will be rather interesting to meet and talk to some of the local fans of my work. For an Indie author, a book signing event has a dynamic that is radically different from a traditional author and you never can truly anticipate what you might encounter when meeting with readers…many of whom may only be vaguely familiar with your material. The following is a sample of the material taken from the event’s promo poster…

The Timmins Public Library

 Presents

 An afternoon Book signing event with Timmins author

 GEORGE STRAATMAN

 Friday, February 6th 2015 from 12:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m.

librarypromo2

     I’ve never been a particularly large fan of posting pictures of myself, but I made a rare exception for this event and yes, I did flash my most radiant grin for this photograph!

     Onto other business…The Final Converging: An Immortal Hear Asunder…is presently in the tech review stages, while my graphics guru, Steven Efondo, is currently laboring away to create the cover image I’ve requested. As I thought that such a grim horror offering would be a delightful way to kick off the Christmas Season, it is my intention to release this last horror novel on December the 1st of this year. As a prelude to the novel’s release, I’ve decided to post the first three chapters of the tale…one chapter every third month, beginning with the first chapter, the aptly titled: The End Begins. This first chapter will appear on this website on April 1st. It will be followed by Chapter Two: The Blackest Addiction (July 1st) and Chapter Three: Jagged Pieces of an Ill-fitting Puzzle (October 1st). I think that these opening three chapters set the foundation for a dark and often heart-wrenching novel that will bring the series to an emphatic end and should provide readers with an inkling of what I anticipate to be my final horror offering.

 

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