It’s Friday and time for episode 28 of In The flesh. When Susan can’t accept the plan that Magda and Michael have come up with to recapture the Guardian, she comes up with a plan of her own, but as time runs out, and the Guardian thwarts their every move, can any plan actually work?
There are only four more episodes of In The Flesh left, so be sure to mark your calendars for the next four Fridays, and hold on to your hats because things are about to get wild.
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:
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 Part 26, Part 27.
In The Flesh Chapter 28
No answer was necessary, I knew the truth of the plan, and Talia didn’t bother to respond.
“I have to stop her! I have to stop her from murdering Michael!”
I didn’t make it to my feet before she pulled me down hard enough to jar the breath out of me and held my arm in a vice grip I was sure would leave bruises. “Sit down, stupid woman! Didn’t you hear anything she said? She doesn’t want to do this. Do you think she would ever, ever consider such a thing if there were another alternative?”
“But she’s Medusa! She’s fucking Medusa!”
“I fucking know who she is,” Talia said. “And so does everyone else in this household. “She’s the woman who saved us all from our worst nightmares. She’s the woman who does what she has to in order to protect her own, and sometimes that calls for sacrifice.”
“But it’s not her sacrifice, is it?” I said. “It’s Michael’s sacrifice.”
“Don’t you think she would gladly give herself in his place if she could? She’d do anything for Michael. They’ve been together for a long time, longer than either of us has been alive, but the Guardian has left her no choice and even if she were to refuse it, Michael won’t. For your sake, Michael won’t.”
“Then let it be me! Let me be the sacrifice. Surely a stupid Scribe can’t possibly worth the value of an angel, and it’s my fault. This is all my fault!”
“It can’t be you, little girl.” She released my arm and let me get up this time. “You can’t hold him long enough to let Magda do what she has to. You can’t hold him long enough to distract him.”
“How do you know?” I paced the carpet, eyeing the door wondering if I could make a break for it, though not at all sure how to get to Magda’s bothy if I did.
“I don’t know,” Talia said. “But as for your value, yes a Scribe is worth more than an angel. Much more. Haven’t you read there are myriad angels? They’re three for a pound at Sainsbury.”
When I glared at her she backpedalled. “All right, the ones who leave heaven are few and far between, but that still doesn’t matter. A Scribe is rarer by far, and a real one, one that could do what you did, is a precious thing. None of us has ever met one before, and neither has Magda.” She raised a hand before I could interrupt. “But even that wouldn’t matter to her if there was another way. Michael has been her friend and companion for a very long time. She does this for two reasons. Michael will have it no other way, first of all. And secondly, there is no other way, and your Annie’s life is not the only life at stake.”
Talia folded her arms across her chest and looked me up and down. “Possibly, but Michael would never allow you to make that sacrifice. Besides such a thing is a waste of a Scribe’s powers really.”
“I don’t understand.”
She stood and moved in front of me, blocking my path and, for a second, I thought she was going to kiss me again. Instead she held me in a hard blue gaze. “You’re a Scribe. You wrote him free. You wrote the Guardian free. Oh it’s true that he deceived you into doing it, but at the end of the day you were the one who wrote the script, Susan.” The proof is downstairs on your computer.” She nodded toward the door.
I stepped back and nearly fell onto the bed. Suddenly there didn’t seem to be enough oxygen in the room. My heart felt as though it had gone into free fall. “Wait a minute,” my words came out thin and raspy.
“Are you trying to tell me that I really could … write him back into his prison?”
Before she could answer, there was a soft knock on the door, and we both jumped. Alonso stuck his head in looking like someone had just run over his dog. We stepped apart and turned to face him, but vampires don’t miss much or at least this one didn’t. He glanced at me and then at Talia and simply said, “You told her.”
“She needed to know,” Talia replied holding his gaze defiantly.
“Yes, she did,” came the unexpected response. “I was coming to tell her myself, and then …” His voice drifted off and his gaze moved toward the window behind me where the shutters were still tightly drawn from his last little run-in with daylight. He forced his gaze back to his familiar. “It’s just as well you did.”
“You’re going to Magda.” Talia said as though she were already certain of what Alonso would do. But then, she was his familiar and his friend and they’d been together long enough that they probably both read each other pretty well.
“I am, yes. I’ll try and present an alternative plan.”
“Do you have one?” But even I could see by his expression that he didn’t.
“I am known for, what is the saying, pulling things out of my arse at the last minute. We shall hope that my arse will provide. Otherwise …” His voice drifted off for a second time, and then he forced a smile. “Otherwise I shall petition for a little more time, then perhaps we can find another solution, though I’m not hopeful.”
“Does anyone ever call her Medusa anymore?” I asked fighting a rise of bitterness in my throat at the thought of what was about to happen.
“Not in a very long time,” Alonso said, “and such a pity that the stories and lies about her have tainted such a noble name. Her name means to protect, to rule over. . Did you know that, my darling girl?”
“I … didn’t. No.”
“And she is truly worthy of that name,” he said stepping in so close to me that I could feel the breath he didn’t need against my cheek. “She paid a terrible price to be free of that past, and it’s no hardship for those of us who know her story to honour her with whatever name she chooses for herself. In truth, our parents give us names they choose, names that suit them, but only we can know our real identities.”
For a moment, we all stood in silence and then he squared his shoulders to the task at hand. “I’ll leave you in charge of our little Scribe, Talia. I have asked that her laptop be brought up for her in case she should choose to chronicle the events.” Then he leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. “Don’t borrow trouble, my darling girl. The day is not yet lost and we must stay in the moment allotted to us.” He brushed my hair away from my cheek, then turned and left just as the maid arrived with my Mac.
Talia took it from her and placed it on the makeshift desk, then she settled in the middle of the bed cross-legged, almost as though she were about to meditate. For a long moment, we both looked at the laptop as though it were about to explode, then I moved cautiously and sat down in front of it. Then I stood up and paced. “I don’t know how to do this, Talia. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“Well I sure as hell don’t know,” came the reply that was only just this side of indifferent, though I’d learned never to take Talia at face value. “Shall I have cook bring some coffee? Tea? Whisky?”
I shook my head and kept pacing, and she kept watching from the bed. “What you did to me,” I nodded to the carpet on which she had pulled me down. “I was there. It was me, at first with Michael and then watching him and Magda together after. I was there. It was so real I could reach out and touch what was around me.”
“It’s my little specialty,” she said, looking down at her nails, which I noticed were short, but well manicured. “One of my specialties.”
“It was real. Completely real.”
“Of course it was real,” she said. “You were seeing that I wanted you to see, exactly what I wanted you to see.” She shrugged. “Michael I like. I respect the angel, I always have. What he asked of me, I wouldn’t have done for most people. It’s …” I was surprised to see a blush crawl up her cheeks. “Well for me and for the person I’m with it’s very sexual, but if he had been someone I hated, or simply someone I wished to feed upon, I could have just as easily turned it all back on him. I could have just as easily given him night terrors, made him think that he had actually killed Annie on the roof, or even made him think that he wasn’t even on the premises when it happened, that he was in Manchester with a chick he’d picked up at a club fucking her brains out.”
She shrugged. “I’m a succubus. I don’t expect you to understand what drives me anymore than I understand what draws you to that laptop to play with words for hours at a time. But there are some things that exhaust me, some things that drain me rather than energize me, and being a messenger for someone else is one of those things. That’s why I try to avoid it if possible.”
“So you were exhausted after giving me Michael’s message.”
“Not so much. His was a message of love. Those are easier, and the other, what I saw, well it was mine to give.”
I paced a little more and like clockwork, Cook, or this time one of Cook’s assistants — I figure Cook was taking a little break after feeding Alonso — brought a tray with sandwiches and fruit and a pot of tea. The succubus poured, I sipped, had a bite of a smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich and then settled into the chair in front of the laptop. I was barely aware that I’d been writing, that there were words appearing in the open document until Talia leaned over my shoulder.
“Bloody hell,” she whispered. “You do know what you just wrote?” I nodded and waved her away with a shrug of my shoulder. I knew exactly what I wrote and the goose bumps riding up my spine were evidence. She paced and I wrote. By the time she’d come back to read over my shoulder the third time, I had begun to notice a strange buzzing in my head, not unpleasant, like the sounds insects make on a hot summer day and, a little more unpleasant, was the feeling that I had slipped slightly out of sync with the world around me, that wherever I was, no one else could go. With a little start, I realized that I’d had that same feeling the night I’d written about the Guardian in the study at Annie’s flat.
“Your insane,” Talia said. She had stopped pacing and I had no idea how long she’d stood behind me, reading over my shoulder as I wrote.
“Takes one to know one,” I said and kept writing as fast as I could, breathing as though the speed of my writing was such that I had gone into oxygen deficit, while my heart raced with each word.
She didn’t bother replying, but now she was reading out loud. “Shut up,” I said. “I need quiet.”
She did for a few minutes, and then she cursed loud enough in my ear that I glared at her through the reflection of the computer.
“That’s about the stupidest question ever,” I replied and kept writing.
“She would never let you, Magda, and certainly Michael wouldn’t.”
“In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not asking their permission.” I kept writing, still faster, and she leaned over me so closely that I had to elbow her away to keep her from fogging the monitor with her breath, and still I wrote on. I wrote on to the end. I couldn’t stop. The words kept coming from some wellspring I didn’t know existed and yet I knew it had always been there. I wrote until I forgot to breathe. I wrote until I believe my heart forgot how to beat. I wrote until my mind saw pictures of what I wrote, and not words, as though it were already happening this very second right in front of me, and I felt it all unfold in the space just behind my breastbone, even as it terrified me, even as it refused to be unwritten.
By the time I was finished the buzzing in my head sounded like a swarm of angry hornets, and everything beyond the words on the monitor had become nothing more than an unfocused blur of light and color. My whole body ached as though the feat had been a physical one, as though I had endured a beating for every word I wrote.
Even Talia’s voice had become nothing more than a series of disjointed sounds with no meaning. “You need to stop. You need to stop now. Susan, you have to stop!”
It was Alonso’s hand on my shoulder firm and solid, the reflection of his face in the monitor that brought me back with a gasp. My hands fell away from the keyboard, and I would have toppled off the chair if Alonso hadn’t caught me and carried me to the bed. He held a water glass to my lips and forced a few bites of chicken salad sandwich between my lips before the world around me came fully back into focus.
I was surprised to find both the vampire and his succubus leaning over me, her hand resting on his shoulder. “Are you all right my darling girl?” he asked. His eyes were dark, his pupils dilated.
I ignored the question. “They wouldn’t listen, would they?”
He shook his head. “Sadly there was nothing to listen to, and the truth is the longer they put off the inevitable the more we risk the Guardian invading again, and who knows what havoc he might wreak the second time around. I am truly sorry, my dear little Scribe.”
“You need to see this,” she spoke quietly next to his ear and nodded at the Mac still open to the document I’d been working on. “The Scribe’s been busy.”
Alonso leaned in and kissed my forehead. “I shall look, Talia, but you must see that she eats and has something to drink. Whatever she has done has clearly been taxing upon her person.”
Alonso settled in at the computer and scrolled back up to the beginning of the document. I was halfway through my second sandwich when I heard him catch his breath, and he shot a glance around at me and then at Talia. She only gave him a raised eyebrow and handed me a cup of tepid tea, which I took gratefully.
For the next few moments I had little time to spare as Talia all but force-fed me everything that was left on the tray Cook’s assistant had delivered and I ravenously did my best to accommodate, like she was a mother bird and I her nestling. But I couldn’t keep from noticing the way Alonso sat on the edge of the chair, the way he leaned forward, the way the tension had risen in his shoulders.
When I could stand it no longer, and really there was nothing left for Talia to shove in my gob, I pushed up off the bed and moved to his side. “Well?” Clearly he was done reading, but he only sat now staring at the monitor, at the words, and I knew exactly what he was looking at. “It can work, Alonso. Don’t you think it can work?”
For a long moment, he didn’t speak. Then he took a deep breath and looked up at me. “There’ll be … consequences, consequences you can’t possibly foresee.”
“I know that. I’m willing to take that chance.”
He looked at Talia, and whatever it was that passed between them was way more than a conversation, though I could neither see nor hear. She only gave him a slight nod of her head. Then he stood so quickly that the chair went over backward and I yelped, for a brief moment reminded again that the man I had come to respect, the man who had given me shelter was, after all, a vampire. Once again my skin was pocked with goose bumps, and my heart raced as though it were being chased by something deadly. In truth, it was being held by something deadly, or I was, at least, as he grabbed me to keep me from falling, and settled me on the trunk at the foot of the bed, where he knelt in front of me looking up into my eyes, my hands, now nearly as cold as his, held tightly next to his chest. “It can work, this plan of yours, my darling girl, as you know very well it can. Though there are always variables one can’t know until the
moment of execution, but it can work.”
“Then you’ll help me, both of you?” I already knew that Talia would. In spite of her constant attestations to my lack of sanity, I could feel her excitement as she lingered over my and read.
“If I help you,” he said, holding my hands against the place where his heart would have beat if he lived, “if we do this, then you must know, there’ll be no turning back.”
“I know.” I braced my feet hard against the floor to keep my knees from shaking. Christ, I really would like at least a little bit of dignity at moments like this, but I found myself fighting back tears, as he pulled me into his arms and held me to stop the shaking. There had been no turning back for a very long time now, I thought, as I bury my face in his shoulder and clenching my eyes shut so tightly that I saw sparks of light. It had just taken me this damn long to figure it out.