Fierce Enchantments by Janine Ashbless
Inspired by my love of M R James – and by a bunch of like-minded friends – I started writing ghost stories years before I wrote any erotica. The very first story I wrote (Wah!) was about a man who murders his wife by throwing her into the sea. She doesn’t stay there. This is how it ends, as he gets into bed with – he thinks – his lover:
After a few days of being unoccupied the air here in the master bedroom was, he thought, a bit stale. Tomorrow he would see to that, but it wouldn’t matter while they slept.
He blew out the candle. Darkness thickened around him.
“Goodnight, love, he said softly, as he pulled back the coverlet. Then Richard climbed into bed with a woman in whose hair was the smell of the sea.
From the start, it now occurs to me, I was combining Bed and “Boo!”
When my erotica career kicked off, I made sure to include at least one ghost story in every one of my collections. From Cruel Enchantment (2000) comes Montague’s Last Ride (See what I did there?), in which a very icky revenant is summoned from his tomb by the power of lust:
“My poor Lord Montague,” she murmured, “lying there all alone in a cold bed. No warm body to hold you close. I’ll bet that never happened to you when you were alive.”
Then she discovered that, standing, her mons was directly on a level with the top of the tomb slab. Where she stood now the corner of the stone pressed into her groin, and she could rub her swollen, needy sex against its cold thrust.
Dark Enchantment (2009) includes two ghost stories among all the gods, monsters and other scary mythological creature. Pique Dame is about a ghost who haunts a theatre and possesses two opera singers:
What if he comes back? I asked myself. Would he stand and watch, delighted, or would he pull up the back of my skirt and wrench down my knickers and stuff me hard from behind with his eager cock, just as I deserved?
Reflected behind me, in the shadow behind the costume rack, two eyes glinted. A dark figure stirred.
Whilst Cold Hands, Warm Heart is about a night in a haunted house that goes incredibly wrong for the two upstanding Edwardian gentlemen who dare it:
Directly at my shoulder, barefoot in the pool, stood a young woman. She had not been there a moment before; she was there when I turned. My heart nearly flew out of my mouth. She wasn’t looking at me; she was staring up at Morgan, her eyes wide and unblinking. She was soaking wet. That was what you noticed about her first of all: she wore a sleeveless white linen shift of some sort and it was so sodden that it clung to her body and had turned half transparent on her pale skin. Her long dark hair was plastered to her shoulders.
This autumn Fierce Enchantments (Sweetmeats Press) is being published and I’ve included stories about a zombie apocalypse, a group of traumatized vampire-hunters, Shakespeare’s Tempest, a Russian water-demon … and At Usher’s Well, a Scottish-set tale of three brothers who come home after being lost at sea for weeks:
‘Meg, stay here and serve at table. Bring them anything from the kitchen that they choose. My sons are to have all they desire, tonight.’ She turns away and walks off down the hall, leaving me alone with the dead men.
There’s a long, unpleasant silence. I know there’s no point in offering them food. The three men watch me from eyes filled with the grave’s darkness.
‘So Meg,’ says Rory quietly, pushing out his chair. ‘Will you sit on my lap, for old times’ sake?’
His thighs are as broad as ever, though his slowly drying clothes are stained with salt. I remember his playful embraces and the rasp of his hairy skin, rough as bark, against mine. I shake my head. ‘I think not, Master Rory. Your lap has grown cold since last I knew you.’
He doesn’t react, except with the slightest inclination of his chin. He doesn’t even blink. Not one of them has blinked since they arrived, I’m suddenly sure.
I fold my hands before me, determined to wait it out. The platters of wasted food steam.
‘Pretty Maggie,’ says Allan, with something approaching expression in his voice and—to my horror—a movement of his grey and bloodless lips that approximates a grin, ‘will you play at bob-apple between my thighs once more, for old times’ sake?’
Oh how well I remember the fever-heat of his lithe body beneath mine, and the unaccustomed narrowness of his bucking hips, and the urgency of his thrusts.
‘I will not, Master Allan,’ I answer him. ‘That’s a fruit that does not keep well in salt water.’
Finlay presses his hands to the table and bows his head, and then lifts it to look at me directly. ‘Will you kiss me, my Margaret?’ he asks, his voice as stripped and thin and strange as sea-worn driftwood. ‘For auld lang syne?’
Oh Lord, help me.
His kisses had always made me blush, unaccountably. They’d been nothing like his brother’s straightforward pecks, but instead gentle, lingering creatures of breath and warmth, caresses bestowed on my mouth and throat that seemed to have no other purpose than their own pleasure. They’d made me feel almost uncomfortable. I feel a tear escape and run down my cheek, which I don’t doubt is as pale as theirs.
‘The taste of your clay-cold lips would be awfy strong now, Master Finlay,’ I say. My voice is hoarse, but I try to speak gently. ‘It would do me terrible harm, I fear.’
He doesn’t reply, but his expression holds me. I don’t know what to read in his still, harrowed face. It seems to me that there is pain there behind the mask of cold flesh: an ache that cries for respite. But whether it is the fires of Hell or the gnawing cold of the sea that torments him, I cannot tell.
I want to stroke back his damp locks. I want to see peace in those troubled eyes.
‘I’ll go fetch more wine,’ I mumble, though they have done no more than touch their full cups to their closed lips until now. But I cannot bear this. I have to get away. My insides are knotting under my ribs.
I get as far as the passage to the kitchen before my Mistress blocks my way. ‘Meg!’ she cries forlornly. ‘Their bedchambers are damp and drear—the rain has entered and ruined the linen. I didn’t know!’
‘Wheesht now,’ I say, daring to place my hand upon her arm. ‘It’s the weather; it’s not your fault.’
‘I wish them to sleep in my own great bed tonight. It’s warm and dry. We will make shift elsewhere tonight.’ Her voice, so weak and plaintive, becomes suddenly stronger as she pulls away and looks me in the face. There is something in her eyes—something that burns, that hurts, and that frightens me far more than the darkness in the open, watchful eyes of the dead brothers. ‘Go pile the fire in my room high, Meg. Don’t stint with the wood. I want them to be warm.’
No, I want to say. But she is my Mistress, and she is so alone, and love has broken her heart and her mind. I bite my lip and I nod. And I go out to the woodpile.
Up the dark stairs with the log-basket on my back I go, as I have done a thousand times. But not like this night. When you lay a corpse out for a vigil you normally keep the room cold, for obvious reasons. But not tonight.
On my knees in the split ashes, I build up the fire, coaxing the flames with my breath until they roar. The blaze scorches my pale cheeks. My insides are in turmoil. I don’t know what to feel. I am torn between horror and exultation at this dreadful miracle. I am torn between pity and a wicked, secretive pleasure I will not confess to anyone until my dying day: the joy of looking upon a face thought lost forever, a face longed-for and hotly desired. I am outraged that God has let them walk again—and yet, in my deepest core, sick with gratitude.
I am so afraid.
But not just of the dead.
Then I hear their feet, heavy and measured, upon the stair, and my heart nearly climbs out of my throat and bolts across the room. What do I do? I cast about myself in panic. I don’t want to be cornered here in their bedchamber. But to go to the top of the stairs as they ascend—to see those corpse-faces looking up at me through the darkness, while they tramp slowly toward me—that I cannot bear. There’s no other way out, only a door to the tiny garderobe. I might go hide in there all night, crouched over the draughty, stinking hole. Would I be safe in there? I’m as sure as I can be that they have no need for such facilities.
Ach—I have dithered too long. Their tread is at the door. My heartbeat punches me in the entrails, over and over and over.
The door creaks and falls back with a slam.
I look up. I have to. All pretence is over.
The dead men stand, all three of them, beyond the foot of the bed. Finlay is a little to the fore, his brothers to either side. There is no sign of my Mistress; perhaps she kissed them goodnight downstairs. They are still as posts, still as earth: no breath, no flicker of an eyelid.
* * * * *
I love writing spooky. Have a very happy Hallowe’en season!
Cover Blurb for “Fierce Enchantments”
Inside the covers of this, Janine Ashbless’ third collection of erotic short stories, you will find delight and terror and lust – and perhaps even unexpected tenderness.
The wayward daughter of Shakespeare’s sorcerer Prospero; a runaway slave who becomes king only for as long as he can stay awake; a servant girl whose three dead lovers return for one last tryst; vampire-hunters haunted to the point of madness by what they have been through; warriors in a desperate future war for the survival of humankind – and one very dangerous frog prince – all appear in this collection of erotic stories that will take you to the edge and then pull you over into the glittering darkness beyond.
Weaving worlds of fantasy, Janine Ashbless draws from fairy stories, history, myth and the darkest depths of her imagination to bring you tales of passion and desire that will enchant, shock and dazzle you.
Buy-links for Fierce Enchantments:
Janine Ashbless is a writer of fantasy erotica and steamy romantic adventure – and that’s “fantasy” in the sense of swords ‘n’ sandals, contemporary paranormal, fairytale, and stories based on mythology and folklore. She likes to write about magic and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human.
Janine has been seeing her books in print ever since 2000, and her novels and single-author collections now run into double figures. She’s also had numerous short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora’s Cave among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology Geek Love.
Her work has been described as: “hardcore and literate” (Madeline Moore) and “vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love.” (Portia Da Costa)