In episode 18 of In The Flesh, it quickly becomes clear that even Alonso’s fortress is not safe from invasion. Michael is forced to share a part of his past he’d rather forget, and dreamtime with Talia uncovers a secret of which Susan has no memory — a terrifying secret written in her own words.
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
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IN THE FLESH Chapter 18
I came back to myself sitting on the floor in Talia’s arms, she whispering softly to me, words I didn’t recognize from some language that sounded Eastern European. She didn’t try to stop me as I pushed myself to my feet. No one did. In fact no one moved. They all just watched as I sleep-walked my way to my bag, unzipped it and pulled out my computer case. ‘I bought this the next day,’ I said, emptying out its contents onto the sailor’s trunk at the foot of the bed. ‘After it all happened.’ Around me no one spoke. I had the very distinct feeling they were all holding their breath. ‘I needed a place. Someplace secure.’ I reached down into the side pouch of the neoprene lining, fumbling and fingering until I found the tiny flap of soft cloth Velcroed tightly to a pocket that was nearly impossible to detect unless you knew where to look. I’d found it by accident while we were shopping for belts and bags in the local Saturday market. The case was black with bright red roses strewn across it as though the wind had just blown a bouquet through an open door.
‘Looks like an old lady’s handbag,’ Talia remarked.
‘That’s exactly what Annie said.’ There was a sharp ripping of Velcro in the otherwise silent room, and I felt my way into the pocket, felt my way to the cool, smooth plastic of the flash drive still there, still secret, even from me, until a few minutes ago.
There was a collective inhaling of breath when I pulled it free from its hiding place and flipped open my computer. As the screen flashed and the soft light competed with the bedside lamp in the receding night, everyone drew around me in a tight circle as though I were about to impart a secret. In truth, that’s exactly what I was about to do, and more than a little bit of it was still a secret to me as well.
‘You don’t have to do this,’ came a voice next to my ear, and I found myself embraced, caressed, tenderly fondled. I breathed deeply, breathed in the scent of roses, and suddenly Michael’s love bite on my breast burned like fire. I yelped and jumped back fumbling the flash drive, which Magda caught deftly then shoved it into the USB port. As it clicked into place, all the air went out of my lungs as though someone had suddenly punched me in the gut. The room swam before my eyes.
‘What is it? What’s wrong?’ Michael said, sliding his arms around me to keep me on my feet. The others stepped back as though they half expected me to burst into flame. For a second I wasn’t so sure myself. ‘I think Talia might be right.’ I managed. ‘Does anyone else smell roses?’
‘There are no roses growing in High View,’ Reese said. ‘The soil’s too rocky and it’s too cold.’
‘What do you mean, I might be right?’ Talia pushed her way in close, her blue eyes wide, looking at me once again as though I had two-heads.
‘I mean …’ I turned to Magda. ‘This guardian, does he do possessions, you know like demons, that kind of possession.’ Even as I said it, a sense of disappointment tightened my chest as though I had let Him down, as though I had deeply wounded him by my act of betrayal.
‘In a way, yes.’ It was Michael who answered. ‘When I was with him, he was desperate to know what it was like to have flesh. As a non-corporeal entity, his interactions with the physical world are limited. Oh he can affect mortals in devastating ways.’ He shrugged. ‘Angels too, I found out. But the physical aspect of him that corporeal beings think they experienced is only his fabrication to elicit the response in them he can’t have himself. He wants to know what if feels like to walk, to eat, to sleep, to … make love. The thing is, the more he affects a mortal, the less desire they have to interact with the physical world, and the more their desire to remain in his presence only. That leaves him constantly in need of new lovers, for lack of a better word.’
‘Bloody hell,’ Talia whispered. I could see that the succubus now shivered nearly as hard as I did, even still wrapped in the blanket, as she was.
I …’ Michael swallowed hard, and his chest rose and fell as though he’d just been out for a morning run. ‘I let him inside me a few times when we were … making love, when he wanted to know what it felt like, what I felt. He would then … use my body as his own. At first it was such an incredible rush of power. I’d never known my body was capable of feeling such things.’ He closed his eyes in a struggle for control, or perhaps only because it made sharing such an intimate detail of his life in such a public way a little easier. When he continued, he kept them closed. ‘In the end, the Guardian stopped asking for my permission. He … he came into me whenever he wanted, and when he was there … well sometimes I didn’t even know he’d entered. Then he started taking lovers, other lovers, using me with them.’ He fist clenched and opened and I could see the half moon depressions where his nails had bit into his palm. He gave a quick glance around the room, and color rose to his cheeks. ‘You see, being an angel, I was strong enough to be his vessel, where no human would be.’
As he spoke, I felt a tightening in my chest, an aching sensation just below the breastbone. ‘But I am human,’ I managed the words as calmly as my near-state of panic would allow. ‘Surely He knows I’m not a suitable vessel.’
‘He’s not actually possessing you,’ Magda said. ‘Not the way he did Michael anyway. He’s attached himself to you like … well for lack of a better word, like a parasite.’
‘Christ! That makes me feel a whole lot better.’ The tightness in my chest made it difficult to breathe, and seeing Michael struggling with his memories of having the Guardian inside him only made it worse. I could do nothing more than stand there stupidly shaking my head and rubbing my chest, which hurt like it had in my childhood back when asthma was a regular part of my daily life. But I had outgrown that a long time ago and hadn’t had so much as a sniffle until recently.
Magda patted Michael’s shoulder gently, then perched on the sailor’s chest next to my computer. ‘You’re a writer, Susan. I’m assuming that also means that you read a lot.’
‘Of course I do.’
‘And romance? Do you ever read romance?’
‘Read it and write it as well,’ I answered. ‘What’s your point?’
‘Don’t tell me you’ve never had the hero of a story so posses you that you couldn’t stop thinking about him, even dreaming about him long after you’d finished the novel?’ Before I could do more than nod, she continued. ‘And in your own writings, aren’t here times when your own stories so posses you that they become more real than the world you live in?’
‘Jesus,’ I whispered, the pressure on my chest now felt like an elephant was doing a tap dance across my sternum with my heart providing a rapid staccato drumbeat. ‘That’s exactly what I was doing that night, the night I wrote that.’ I nodded to the words on the screen. ‘I remember now. It was just a story idea, something that came into my mind down in the crypt when I saw the rusty bars over the tunnel entrance at the back. I mean what writer wouldn’t find something like that intriguing, fodder for story?’ I looked around the room seeking understanding. Michael took my hand and gave it a squeeze encouraging me to continue. ‘I was in the middle of a major project at the time, so what I wrote that night was fast and furious, just to get the ideas down so I wouldn’t lose them. I do that all the time. I planned to come back to it later. I thought it would be a great story. But then it all suddenly felt so real. While I was writing it, I mean. I could swear it all actually happened, and for a writer that’s an exciting thing, because of course it’s all just my imagination, isn’t it? At least that’s what I told myself, and why would I believe anything else? It’s always been true before. But then…’
‘Then what,’ Magda asked.
‘Then I totally forgot all about it. Even when I bought the computer bag, even when I tucked the memory stick away, I forgot it almost as it was happening. How could I forget it? I never forget a story idea, no matter how lame it might be. How could I have forgotten something like this?’ I shivered, and Michael slipped his arm around me.
‘You forgot because the Guardian didn’t want you to remember. That’s how you forgot,’ Magda said.
‘I never meant to hurt anyone.’ I glanced around the room, all eyes were locked on me. ‘What am I going to do?’
‘You’re going to do exactly as I say, just like Michael did. And if you do that, I’ll get you and your friend through this, and it’ll be okay. I promise.’ Before I could ask how she could make such a promise, before I could ask who the hell she was that she could even be so presumptuous, Magda took me into her arms, and for a second the pressure in my chest constricted like a fist. I think I might have passed out, maybe from the shock of her embrace, maybe from His unwanted presence. I don’t know. Whatever happened, the scent of roses dissipated and when she released me, I could breathe easily again. She noted my surprise and her full lips quirked in a smile. ‘The Guardian doesn’t like me. He won’t hang around for my embrace.’ Before I could question what she meant by that, she nodded to the computer screen, and I turned to see the words I’d written about my first encounter with Him.
I wasn’t alone in the dark.
To my surprise and embarrassment, Magda began to read them out loud.
‘Wait!’ I reached for the flash drive, but in a move that was so fast I missed it completely; she grabbed my hand and shoved it away. I gasped and stepped back, the feel of her touch prickling like static electricity over my skin. ‘Please don’t. Please read that in front of everyone,’ I said, rubbing my hand where she had touched me. It’s …’
‘It’s personal, yes I know.’
‘What do you want her to do,’ Talia spoke up, ‘print out copies so we can all read it and have a little private wank session?’
Alonso shot her a look that would have stripped paint. She only shrugged, but before I could do anything more than blush with the mortification I felt, Magda spoke up.
‘If you want to have a wank, Talia, don’t let me stop you, but you’ll do it in front of all of us. Alonso and I might be immune to an attack from the Guardian, but no one else in this room is, including you. That means I read it out loud in Alonso’s house with both of us present in the room.’
Talia said nothing more. In the charged space, there was a shuffling of feet and a lowering of eyes as though no one was really comfortable with this little arrangement, but then no one was about to argue either. It seemed that everyone would defer to Magda. I gathered she was the only one who had a plan, or at least I hoped she did.
Michael gave my hand another reassuring squeeze. I pulled a deep breath, braced myself, and Magda began to read.