Not only is it Friday, but it’s Friday the 13th and time for Episode 26 of In The Flesh, in which Susan has tea with a vampire, while Magda and Michael plan.
In the Flesh is very dark paranormal erotica. When Susan Innes comes to visit her friend, Annie Rivers, in Chapel House, the deconsecrated church that Annie is renovating into a home, she discovers her outgoing friend changed, reclusive, secretive, and completely enthralled by a mysterious lover, whose presence is always felt, but never seen, a lover whom she claims is god. As her holiday turns into a nightmare, Susan must come to grips with the fact that her friend’s lover is neither imaginary nor is he human, and even worse, he’s turned his wandering eye on Susan, and he won’t be denied his prize. If Susan is to fight an inhuman stalker intent on having her as his own, she’ll need a little inhuman help.
To read the story in its entirety up to this point, follow these links to Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25.
In the Flesh Chapter 26
“Annie, no! Annie don’t do it! Annie, please! Annie!” I screamed her name to be heard above the howl of
the wind. The fine hairs on the back of my neck prickled with terror that Michael’s invaded body would reach out and grab me and pull me back, or worse yet, race ahead of me and take the decision completely out of Annie’s fragile hands. It was only a few steps to get to her. I should have been able to reach her in three quick strides, but it might as well have been a million miles. I swear, the distance between us stretched and elongated to an impossible space. It was Him. He was doing it! I knew He was. Even as it was happening, I knew it wasn’t real, but no matter how hard I struggled to reach her, it was like being caught in a nightmare, one of those in which the harder you run, the slower you move and the farther you have to go. It was as though everything had switched into slow motion, my begging and screaming being blown back in my face, a mindless cacophony of desperate sound. And the agonizing moment she stood in the wind teetering on the edge of the battlement stretched and elongated with my tortured efforts to reach her. And then for the briefest of seconds, the wind died down, just a tiny bit, and she turned and looked at me and in her eyes, for a tiny moment, I saw my friend still there, still inside the ravaged body. I saw recognition in her eyes. “Annie! Dear god, Annie, hang on!”
But then the wind rose again and swirled around us like an evil thing intent on tormenting us, which was a very real possibility. “Susan?” I heard nothing, but saw her lips mouth my name as she reached out her hand toward me, and it was the very effort to save herself, that off-balanced her.” She screamed and teetered on the edge. We both screamed and I dived toward her with both arms flung outward, reaching, stretching as far as I could and beyond, her fingertips just brushing mine, with me raging into the wind, “no! You bring her back! She’s not yours! You fucking bring her back!” But I wasn’t fast enough. How could I not have been fast enough?” For a thousand years, no! For a million years I watched her topple slowly, endlessly off the battlement as though that instant, that instant of my own helplessness, of my own horrible guilt, that instant lived and breathed in a suspension of eternity, all of which I had to dwell on what might have been if I were only just an instant, just a fraction of an instant faster.
Then suddenly, the breath was knocked out of my lungs by a force like a freight train that hit me from behind, and I was pushed back hard toward the open door as a blur flew past me and disappeared over the battlement. I tumbled backward and hit my head against the stones hard enough to rattle my teeth and jar my brain. For a second I lay stunned, pinpoints of light flashing behind my eyes, hearing nothing but a loud ringing in my ears, and then I heard people scrambling up the stairs. Magda was at my side one minute, then at the battlement the next, Reese moved with her. At first I could make no sense of what was happening, and then a large hand reached over the stones and caught hold of Reese’s wrist and suddenly both Reese and Magda were pulling and straining and leaning so far over the battlement that I feared they’d go over too. Still half-stunned, I looked around for Michael, who was nowhere to be found. It was Talia, who offered me a hand and helped me to my feet, but her attention was on what was happening at the battlement. “Did you get her?” she called into the wind.
And then Reese, grunting and straining, reaching so far over the battlement that my heart stopped. Then it started again, it started to race like a wild thing the instant I realized it was Michael who he heaved up onto the battlement Michael holding on for dear life with one arm while, with the other he handed the sobbing, trembling Annie into Reese’s care. “Take her, and get her out of her,” Michael’s voice carried on the wind. “I’m not safe.”
Reese hefted my friend into his arms and gave me a reassuring smile before he hurried toward the open door as Michael collapsed on the wet stone, drenched and shaking and gasping for air.
“Jesus, Michael what did you do?” I said, rushing to his side. “When I didn’t see you. I thought you’d jumped too.”
Before I could throw my arms around him, he stopped me with a raised palm. “I should have. I would have if it hadn’t been for Annie. Stay back. I told you, I’m not safe.” Then he turned to Magda. “Get her away from me. Now.”
“Michael, what are you doing? We’ll figure this out. It’ll be okay. He’s not in you now. I can feel He’s not,” I tried to fight Magda, but her grip on my arms was like iron as she turned me toward the door. “Michael,” I called over my shoulder, straining against her hold, “Don’t push me away. Michael, I can help.”
He pulled himself to his feet with an effort that looked as though it hurt him and, for a moment that was all too brief his gaze locked on me. “I’m sorry, Susan. I’m so, so sorry.” Then he turned his back and hunched against the battlement, shoulders rising and falling as though each breath were a desperate effort.
“What’s he going to do? What the hell is he going to do?” I fought for all I was worth, but Talia flanked me on the other side and the two women maneuvered me to the stairs. “It’ll be all right,” Talia said, but there was very little conviction in her voice. Inside she slammed the stair door behind us effectively shutting Michael on the roof. Alonso was waiting just beyond the daylight. He took me in his arms and bodily carried me, kicking and screaming down the stairs as Magda turned back to the battlement.
At the bottom of the stairs, Alonso pushed me up against the wall, pressing one forearm across my shoulders just above my breasts so I couldn’t move. With the other he took my chin in his hands and forced me to meet his gaze. “Susan, he’s not going to jump. Magda would never let him do that, and it’s hardly his way. Calm down.” The sheer force of him, prickled over my skin like electricity, and I relaxed. When he was sure I was calm enough to hear what he had to say, he smoothed the rain soaked hair out of my face and spoke. “Michael’s right. He’s not safe, as you just saw, as we all just saw, it isn’t safe for you to be with him right now, not until Magda figures out what to do.” He gave the succubus a nod and she disappeared down the hall. “Talia will bring you some dry clothes, and then she’ll stay with you until Magda can sort things out.”
“I’m not any safer than he is,” I said, fighting back a sob.
He wiped an escaped tear with the tip of a cool thumb. “Then I shall stay with you. Not that I’m exactly safe either, but I’m probably your best bet at the moment.”
Once I had changed into a dry, if rather oversized, track suit, Talia informed me that Annie was safely back in her bed, this time with stronger magic to protect her. Though I had little confidence in any form of magic after all that had happened, I still held he stone heart that Magda had made for me in a suicide grip every second that I was alone. Alonso dismissed the succubus and led me back to his study. There, he pointed me to a roll-top desk in one corner where my Mac sat. “My good sister was a writer, and a fine one, indeed.” He chuckled softly, “Of course that was long before the days of computers, but I know a writer’s mind. I know that sometimes the only way to make sense out of the chaos is to write it down, and if you are a Scribe, as Magda says, then it’s even more true for you.”
“Thank you,” I managed, as he pulled out the chair for me and settled me at the desk.
“Not at all, my darling girl. We all work out our demons in different ways.”
Right on time, Cook delivered tea and homemade shortbread.
“Allow me,” Alonso said, pouring the tea into a porcelain cup from a matching tea service that I suspected would have brought a fortune on Antique Road Show. As he did so, he inhaling deeply. “Though I can no longer enjoy a good cup of freshly brewed tea myself, I may still take pleasure in the scent, in the warmth and in the sharing of the experience with those who can enjoy.” He offered me a steaming cup.
I sipped and felt the heat curl down deep in my belly, where everything had turned to ice from the incident on the battlement. “What about your demons, Alonso?” I asked, as he settled onto the sofa with a battered copy of Marcus Aralias’s Meditations. “I’m sorry, I know it’s none of my business. I guess I just needed to know that I’m not the only one doing battle, though clearly you haven’t failed so miserably in you efforts as I have.”
“Oh I’ve done more than my share of failing miserably, darling girl.” He laid down the book and stroked his chin. “In the old days, anything that stood between me and what I wanted, I simply drank its blood, then killed it.” He offered a little chuckle when I shuddered. “That obviously didn’t work too well in the end, and I had to find a way to live with who I am, what I’ve done, and what I must do to survive. Talia has been a friend and companion to me for a very long time, and her help in sorting my dreams, in offering me solace has been invaluable. Of course now Reese is the delight of my heart, and wise far beyond his years. But in truth,” he shifted on the sofa and held me in a dark gaze, “it was Magda Gardener who saved me from my worst demon, and that was none other than me and my own self loathing.”
“But not without a price,” I said, tasting bitterness at the back of my throat.
He shrugged. “Everything has a price, my darling girl. It’s up to each of us to decide if it’s a price worth paying and, in my case, it’s not a price that I have ever regretted.” His chuckle was almost a purr. “Of course the woman can be a bloody nuisance at times, but I can overlook that. If she needs me, I’ll be there, and she knows it and she’s quick to return the favor.”
We sat in silence for a moment, both lost in our thoughts, me wondering how it was that, though everyone feared Magda Gardener and no one was ever particularly happy when she showed up on their doorstep, everyone always willing did for her whatever she asked of them, and they seemed to do it out of respect for her rather than fear. “May I ask you a question?” My voice sounded overly loud in the quiet room.
“Magda says it’s because you’re a vampire that the Guardian can’t get to you?”
He nodded. “He must feed on the living just as I must, so I am of no use to him.”
“And what about Reese, why haven’t you turned him into a vampire? Aren’t you afraid the Guardian might take him?”
“Oh I’ll bring Reese over if he wishes it one day. But only if I’m certain that he wishes it. There’s no undoing the deed once it’s done, and the price is a very high one, indeed, never to see the light of day, never to taste the pleasure of a good cup of tea, always to feel the insatiable hunger for blood. Always to live in fear that you might be found out, and worst of all the fear that you might hurt or even destroy the ones you love. It isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, and Reese knows this well. But you see, Reese sups regularly from my heart’s blood, and he is the lover of a vampire, my familiar. He is … polluted, if you will. Oh the Guardian could still take him, but only as a last resort.”
“And Talia? She drinks from you.”
“She’s also less vulnerable because she’s under my protection. Everyone who works in my household is … I suppose you could say … tainted by my blood. The Guardian would find that very distasteful, and of no interest as long as he has his mind set on you. Nonetheless Magda is wise to do all she can to protect what’s mine. You see, what’s mine is also hers.”
“So in a way you’re her familiar.”
At this, he laughed out loud, “I suppose you could say that. Though I’ve never quite though of it that way, and I’m sure she would no more approve of that parallel than would your angel.
The mention of Michael made my throat tight and the room blurred as my eyes misted. “Michael! Dear god, what he’s been through.” I laid my hand against his mark, which still stung as though I had abraded the skin somehow. “How can this be happening to him again?”
Alonso was instantly at my side offering a pristine handkerchief from his pocket. “I don’t know, my darling girl, but I do know that Magda defeated the Guardian before and brought Michael safely away from him.”
“And I released the bastard to torture him again.”
Alonso knelt in front of me and lifted my chin so I was forced to look into his bright eyes, which instantly made the world seem slightly askew before it righted itself again. “Do not you think for one moment that this is your fault. You were deceived. You were deceived!” He took my face in his hand so I couldn’t look away. “You know your heart, Susan. You must trust what you know. You’re a Scribe, for God sake! You know your own soul better than any mortal can, and I’ve been around long enough to be a very good judge of character. It’s in the nature of the Guardian to deceive. It’s what he does, and it’s in the nature of a Scribe to reveal the hidden and release it into the world, to unlock secrets. He knew that as you never could, and he took advantage. The laying of blame is always easier than facing the truth, my darling girl, and there are times when one needs an unbiased eye to lay the blame where it properly belongs. I shall be that for you, Susan Innes, if you’ll allow me the honor. I shall tell you without bias that you are not to blame for the release of the Guardian into the world. The blame for all that he’s done, all that he has ever done lays squarely at his miserable feet, and no one else’s. You must believe me in this if you or any of those you love, are to survive, and if there is to be any chance of returning this monster to his prison.”
Before I could respond, the door to the study swung open and Talia came in followed by Reese,
and not far behind him Magda. Michael brought up the rear.
“Michael! Thank God! Are you all right?” When I tried to go to him, he glanced at Alonso and shook his
head. Alonso nodded his understanding and gently but firmly settled me back at the desk.
For a second Michael stood as though he wasn’t certain what to do next. Whatever it was that crossed his face in the split second before he regained control of his emotions both terrified me and broke my heart. Feeling me tense, the vampire’s grip tightened gently around my wrist. For a second longer, Michaels stood at the door. Then he squared his shoulders took a deep breath and pulled it shut behind him moving to take a chair on the far side of the room carefully avoiding my gaze.
“We need to talk,” Magda settled in the big wing backed chair near the fireplace. “Clearly the Guardian has forced our hand, and it’s time to end this before more damage can be done.”