In the Flesh is a dark and sexy story that has had several incarnations in its shorter form, but never quite worked because it needed space to grow. I couldn’t think of a better place for it to grow. In the Flesh is a blend of paranormal erotica and almost, but not quite … okay, quite possibly … horror. What I’m sharing with you, this version, is an expanding work in progress. You get it just shortly after I write it, and as far as what happens next, well … we’ll see.
I hope you enjoy it!
In The Flesh: Part 4
I woke up with a jerk that made my neck pop. I was lying naked curled around the pillow in the middle of the mattress in the make-shift guest room. The tight space that had been heavy and humid last night was now freezing cold and I was shivering. I gulped oxygen as though I hadn’t breathed all night. Then a wave of relief washed over me. I sobbed out loud. “It was only a dream! It wasn’t real. Dear God it wasn’t real!” My throat felt like I’d been eating ground glass and my head ached. Everything ached. Only a dream! Thank God! Thank heaven! Thank fuck! Thank everything! In the grey morning light that bathed the windowless excuse for a room, I crawled off the mattress and shoved my way into yesterday’s cloths, thrown carelessly across my travel bag when I’d come to bed last night. Then I frantically began to pack. Dream or not, I was out of here as soon as I could extricate myself – politely or otherwise — from Annie. I wasn’t her keeper. I couldn’t make her do what she didn’t want to. I’d call her mother. That’s what I’d do! I had her mother’s number somewhere. I’d call her to take charge, then I’d hope for the best. From a safe distance.
“I told you to stay away! I told you I didn’t want you here. Do I have to call the cops?”
I threw open the bathroom door and raced down the hall to the makeshift kitchen where the noise was coming from. Annie stood at the door, robe wrapped carelessly around her, holding a butcher knife in one hand and her phone in the other, shaking both at a dark haired man in faded jeans and an Elvis Lives, t-shirt. For some reason the man looked familiar, but then again, how many of Annie’s lovers had pined for her and tried to get back in her good graces after she dissed them. More than a few of them had come to me for advice on how to win Annie’s heart. Jesus! The woman couldn’t be happy with a made-up stalker, she had to have a real one too!
“What the hell’s going on here?” I roared, the pent-up helplessness from last night giving way to anger. ‘You heard her. Get out!’ I yelled at the man. But to my surprise, instead of coming to my side, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with me like she always had, Annie turned the knife on me.
“And you! You little whore! I was afraid this would happen, Susan, I tried to tell him. I begged him not to bring you here, but he said to trust him, to trust you. But how could I trust you? How could I trust anyone with him?”
She gave me a hard shove toward the door, her fragile body belying her strength, and I found myself stumbling over the threshold, shoved up against the man at the door, who caught me to keep me from falling. “Get out! Get the hell out, both of you. And don’t come back.” Then she slammed the door in our faces.
“Annie! Annie wait! We need to –” The smell of burning garbage was suddenly so overwhelming that I gagged and choked for breath. The dark haired man grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away from the door and out into the courtyard. With both of us coughing and choking, eyes streaming from smoke we couldn’t see, he half marched, half dragged me through the wrought iron gate and out into the alley behind Chapel House. There, he pulled open the door of a small lorry and tried to shove me inside.
“Let go of me! Let go!” I squirmed free and nearly fell on my arse as he released his grip and another wave of burning rubbish nearly overwhelmed me. “Who the bloody hell are you?’
“I’m the fucking builder! Or at least I was. Now get into the damned truck and lets get out of here before we both suffocate.”
I did as he said, barely getting the door closed before he revved the engine, shoved the truck into gear and pulled out onto the street, the horrible smell receding in our wake. Neither of us said anything until he pulled into a Little Chef off the motorway. He was around the truck and opening the door for me before I could engage with what had happened in the – what was it – just twenty minutes I’d been awake this morning?
He offered me his hand, and I blinked, horrified to discover that I was blinking back tears. “I don’t have any money. I don’t have anything.” I managed. “It’s all back in Chapel House. Even my phone”
“I know.” He settled me onto my feet then reached behind the seat and pulled out a battered leather jacket settling it around my shoulders, bathing me in the comforting scent of wood smoke, ozone and clean male sweat. It was only then that I realized I was shivering. “It’s on the house.” He shut the door and I noticed for the first time the logo printed in bold white against the dark green of the truck, Weller Building.
“Michael Weller,” he said opening the door and nodding to a booth in the corner. “And I take it you’re Susan.”
“That would be me.” Once we were seated, he handed me a menu, but I slid it back across the table to him. “I just want coffee.”
As I shoved the menu in his direction, he grabbed my wrist and held tight. “Listen to me, Susan,” He glanced around to make sure we were alone. There was only one other couple in the café this early on a Sunday morning and they were clear across the room. “You have to eat.” He leaned over the table, and for the first time I noticed the bright blue of his eyes — how they contrasted with his dark hair and sun-bronzed skin, and the dark stubble on his chin and square jaw that made him look edgy, just up out of bed. His eyes were startling in their intensity, like some artist had created a face that was more intriguing than it was handsome, but had added, as an afterthought, a stroke of something hypnotic, something beautiful and raw, almost frightening, and yet, the man had been my savior. From what? From a bad dream? From a friend who was slowly going off her rocker? “Listen to me,” he said again, dragging my attention back to his words with a tight squeeze of my wrist. “He starves is lovers. As he grows stronger, they grow weaker, and the more attention he pays to them, the less interested they are in food or drink or …” His voice drifted off and he looked out the window at the sparrows flitting in a sorry looking berberis that had been a lack-luster attempt at landscaping when the place was built. “The less interest they have in anything really.” Then he looked back at me and I was startled all over again by his eyes. “He becomes their world, and once he’s drained them dry and moves on to someone else, they … they have no reason for living.”
With a shiver I remembered the knife in Annie’s hand.
“Are you ready to order, Michael?” I jumped at the sound of the waitress’ bird-like voice.
He glanced up and offered a smile to the chunky middle-aged woman with newly manicured nails, then he returned his gaze to me. “Two full English, Izzy, and keep the coffee coming.” For a second, I feared I’d throw up, as I watched the woman’s blood red nails grip the pen, take the order on the pad. I closed my eyes and grabbed onto the table trying to make sense of everything.
When the waitress left and I was sure I wasn’t going to disgrace myself in the Little Chef, I spoke between my teeth. “You make it sound like he’s real.”
The waitress brought coffee and water. Michael asked her about her kids, both now off in Uni, and I wondered how he could make pleasant conversation under the circumstances. When she left, he waited until I’d had a sip of coffee, all the while holding me in his startling blue gaze. “Oh he’s real alright, and you know it as well as I do. How long have you been at Chapel House,” he asked, looking me over like he was a doctor and I was a patient with some unspecified ailment.
“I got there Friday evening. I’m on holiday. I was surprised that Annie invited me. She’s always so busy, but she said she had some time off, and wouldn’t it be great to catch up. And then, when I got there …”
“Strange things started happening.”
“An understatement,” I grunted. “She says he’s god.” My face burned with embarrassment at saying such a ridiculous thing, but Michael didn’t laugh. “He’s not a ghost is he?” I asked as an afterthought, only then letting the weight of the statement sink in, the fact that I was talking about my friend’s imaginary lover as though he were real. And what was worse, my opinion was being validated by a man who seemed completely lucid and of more than average intelligence.
“He’s no ghost, but he’s not god either.”
I took a gulp of my coffee and burnt my tongue, aware of Michael’s blue gaze. “Susan,” he took my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze that really didn’t reassure me at all. “Susan, have you … have you dreamed since you’ve been at Chapel House?” Michael nodded to my right bicep, where the jacket, way too big for me, had slid off my shoulder to reveal four oval bruises the color of overly ripe plums. I slid out of the jacket and shifted in the seat for a better look. They could have almost past for the inked finger prints the police take when they book someone.
Bile rose to my throat. I swallowed hard and turned to examine the other arm, finding similar marks. “It was a dream. It was just a dream. It had to be.” I hadn’t noticed when I woke up in the gloomy grey of the windowless room, wouldn’t have thought to look, when all I wanted to do was just get the hell out of Chapel House as quickly as possible. But the experience in the bath, the smell of roses, the constant feeling of being watched, being touched, what I’d seen last night with Annie splayed on the altar. And then … what had happened after. It couldn’t be real. None of it could be real. And yet the bruises were there, and it was no mystery what had caused them.
The waitress chose that moment to bring the food, but I don’t remember much after that. My brain chose that moment to rebel, because none of this could be real. It was all a bad dream, and I was still back in my own bed in my own flat having the worst nightmare ever. Had to be! Absolutely couldn’t be anything else! I remember shoving my way out of the booth and running for the door desperate for air, desperate for the return of sanity, desperate to get away … far, far away. Mostly I remember being desperate to wake up.