It’s that time of the week again! Time for the next instalment of In The Flesh. In episode 20 of In The Flesh, Susan visits a friend and plots a dangerous path to save Annie.
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:
In The Flesh Chapter 20
We had all needed a little break from the reading, and after Michael stormed out of the room, Magda had set aside the computer and suggested we take some time. Everyone was strung out and on edge, especially at the idea that somehow the Guardian had managed to breach the defenses of a paranoid vampire and his dangerous entourage. It didn’t help that, thanks to the reading, they were all clearly laying the blame at my feet. Magda said the last thing we needed was to tackle the rest of what I’d written in a less than calm state. Seriously? Did the woman really think any of us were going to be calm again until this situation was resolved? I certainly wasn’t likely to find a few minutes respite anywhere near enough of a distraction to calm my frayed nerves. But then, other than Michael, I was the only one who really understood just what we were up against and how badly He could make us want Him before we even realize He had touched us.
It seemed to me that a little break was the perfect time for me to check in on Annie, whom I had not seen since our strange arrival at High View. But when I had asked again to see her, Magda had insisted that I wait. ‘Seeing her like she is now will only make matters more difficult,’ she explained. ‘You’re connected to her. She’s another way the Guardian can get to you, can get to both of you, and through you everyone else here at High View. In fact, it’s not even wise to keep the two of you under the same roof, but it was the only choice I had at the time. I’ve taken every precaution I can, but that means the only way I can keep the Guardian away from her and keep her unaware of your presence or that she’s no longer with him, is to keep her … asleep.’
When I asked how she had managed that, she said it was very old magic. Though how could that surprise me, when I was in the home of a vampire who had a succubus for a confidante, and I was in said vampire’s ruined palatial estate with an angel who was out of sorts because of what I’d written while under the influence of some entity similar to a demon? Before I could argue with her about seeing Annie, Magda promptly reminded me that my best friend had come at me with a butcher knife.
The woman hadn’t waited for my response. I was quite clearly dismissed. She had left the room only minutes after Michael. For a moment we all sat staring at each other, then Alonso once again assumed his role as gracious host and sent for fresh coffee and pastries while everyone took a short breather. I was no more able to sit still and make pleasant conversation than Michael or Magda had been, so I had excused myself hoping to take a quick shower. I’d been wandering down a half-restored passageway trying to find my way back to my room when Cook saw me and assumed I was looking for Annie. It turned out her room was at the opposite end of the corridor and Cook had only just been there.
Once Cook disappeared down the hallway with an untouched tray from Annie’s room and, after checking both directions to make sure no one was watching, I knocked softly and let myself in. It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkened space and, at my first sight of her lying there in the bed, frail and unmoving, I was sure she was dead. I rushed to her side and grabbed up her icy hand, fisted around one of the rungs on the brass headboard. But the moment I touched her, she grabbed onto me with reflexes surprisingly fast and a grip terrifyingly strong. I half expected her to pull a butcher knife from under the duvet and come after me again. But then she moaned softly, completely undisturbed by my startled yelp, and her hand went limp in mine. Within a heartbeat she had relaxed and settled back into the thick bedding as though nothing at all had happened, the rise and fall of her chest returning to the slow, even breathing of deep sleep.
Her skin was waxen and grey, her face, even in repose, ravaged with the exhaustion the Guardian’s heavy demands had wrought upon her. In spite of the shock of seeing her so, I fought back my jealousy of the attention He had lavished on her, unable to keep my thoughts from straying to what He must have done to her, what they must have done together, how He must have pleasured her. Even as the unwelcome thoughts filled my head, I hated myself for them, but I hated her more for having Him all this time while I didn’t.
I recalled my dream with the Succubus, if that’s what it was; my secret planning with the Guardian for Him to take Annie as His lover until I could return and take my place next to Him. He had promised me that by His side was where I belonged, and I had believed Him without even the tiniest doubt. And then he had taken the memory of that night from me to keep our secret, He said. He promised all of what we shared that night would come back to me once we were together, but for now, it was best I didn’t remember. That would make it easier for me to function without Him until I could join Him forever. That was what He told me, and I believed Him without question. Dear God, could I have really betrayed my friend to such a fate? But even as I recalled that night, that experience, our scheming, I burned with jealousy at the plan He instigated, the plan He said would ultimately be best for the two of us, would ultimately guarantee we would be together. Annie meant nothing to Him, He had promised me, but He would do what He had to, whatever it took for us to be together. Perhaps He took those memories from me because He know I couldn’t have endured the jealousy, I would have driven myself insane thinking about her taking my place with Him, her naked on her mattress next to the altar inviting Him in again and again, and Him taking her over and over, instead of me. It should have been me. I should have stayed. I remember thinking that just before He took my memories.
And when He took them, in the taking, He had touched me, and His touch had been like a promise, one so sweet and so ecstatic that the very anticipation of its fulfillment was only a step away from orgasm, only a heartbeat away from pleasure I could barely imagine.
Then shame rushed back on me like a tidal wave followed in short order by denial. How could I have done this – any of this — to my best friend? Surely it couldn’t have been me. Surely it had only been a bad dream, just as I had been hoping all this time. She was the one with the demon lover after all, not me. She was the one who had come after me with a butcher knife. She was the one who caused all this pain and horror… surely she was.
Carefully, as though I feared waking her, or perhaps that my touch would hurt her, I settled onto the edge of the bed next to her still holding her hand, lightly stroking the back of it with my thumb. ‘Annie, I don’t know what to do,’ I whispered. ‘I’m so, so sorry that I dragged you into this mess. I … You have to believe me, I’d never have hurt you deliberately. I didn’t know. I swear to you, didn’t know. Perhaps I should go back to Chapel House.’
The words were out of my mouth almost of their own volition and, to my horror, I found myself rationalizing my need to return to the place, and to Him. After all, it was the only way I could save Annie, right? I could surely convince Him to let her go, to guarantee her safety in exchange for me. ‘If I go back, Annie, and you stay here with Magda and Michael and … well there’s just so much magic in this house. I think if anyone could make you better, Magda Gardener could. There’s something about her. I don’t know what it is, but she could make you better. I know she could.’
It seemed the most logical thing in the world to me, as I spoke. I would go back. I would be the
sacrifice to save Annie. And Michael too, right? He still had a hold on Michael, but it was me He wanted. I knew that it was. I had always known that, hadn’t I? I was the only one who could be to Him what He needed. All the others he’d ever been with down through the ages, all the lovers he had ever taken, all of them had only been His deep longing, His timeless search to find me. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was of the truth of it. The excitement at the thought of returning to Him grew tight and full beneath my breastbone, and in the dark places at the back of my mind, I was already planning my escape from High View and back to Him. It wouldn’t be easy sneaking away at night, not from a Vampire’s lair, but I felt certain in myself that He would help me, whether I fled to him in broad daylight or in the darkness of night. He would protect me from them and aid my escape. And then once I was safe away, safely back with Him, I would send word of my sacrifice and all would be well. I knew it would. He would free Annie and Michael and we would be together, just like He’d always wanted, like we’d both always wanted.
‘Oh, Annie,’ I said, squeezing her hand, ‘It’s the right thing to do. It just has to be. I mean what else can I do?’ I raised her hand to my lips and kissed it fervently. ‘I just … I just want you to be okay, Annie. I just want you to be okay that’s all I want. That’s all I ever wanted.’
‘It’s not all you want.’
I nearly jumped out of my skin as I turned to find Michael leaning against the frame of the door, hair sparkling with droplets of the light rain that has started outside during the reading of the account of my little encounter. I had no idea how long he’d been standing there, but as I shook myself back to reality, I knew it had probably been long enough for him to understand exactly what was going on. Long enough to realize the dangerous precipice upon which I now teetered.