Chapter 10 Choices and Connections
(Links to the rest of the interview at the bottom of the post)
The Guardian was silent, lost in thought. I waited, holding my breath, for the part of the story I knew changed everything, changed the lives of all those involved and so many more besides, including my own. I was just about to be very rude and prompt him, like a child waiting for the ending to a bedtime story, when he released a long, unnecessary breath and spoke.
“There are pivotal moments, K D, moments to which we can look back with the understanding that but for what at the time, might have seemed the most logical of choices, we could have changed everything by simply making a different choice, or perhaps no choice at all.”
“You’re speaking of the choice Susan made?” I asked tentatively.
“Of course I’m not speaking of the choice Susan made.” There was an edge of irritation in his voice that made the fine hair along the back of my neck bristle. “Have I not already said, Susan had no choice? This much you must understand if you’re to ever comprehend the story I’m telling you. Susan had no choice, no more than Annie did nor any of those who came before her, no more than Michael himself did, and he an angel fully clothed in the grace of his god. You see, my power has always been to be the maker of choices. Or viewed in a different way, the remover of choices. Yes, that perhaps is a better description of who I am, of what I’ve done.
“When Susan came to me that night in the crypt at Chapel House, she could have done nothing else. Her arrival was fated to her from the very moment she set foot on the premises. What I didn’t then understand, and certainly she didn’t until much later, was how she would free me. For you see when she arrived at the crypt, she brought her laptop. I thought at the time it was a strange thing to have done, though it truly didn’t matter. She seated herself on the floor, with her back against the wall. Her poor body shook as though she were a blade of grass caught up in a storm. I drank in her terror and her determination as she wrote, fingers trembling over the keyboard, and I read her words.
The narrative unfolding before me was a wonder I could have scarcely imagined. You see, there was no magical key, no hocus pocus she was obliged to speak, no potion or incantation that would set me free. My jailor had been very thorough in securing my bonds. But what my dear Susan did was a thing Magda Gardener – oh she went by a different name back then – could not have imagined when she imprisoned me. Susan simply wrote the opening of the rusted narrow gate that blocked off the lower, more treacherous, passage at the back of the crypt. She wrote herself into that narrative making herself both figuratively and literally my liberator. I lingered close to her, my excitement rising, with the realization of who she was, of what she was. Oh, of course I was not physically bound behind that gate. Such a thing could have never held me, but Susan had, in her magic, used the opening of that gate in her tale as the method of my release. You see, hers was the power of the written word, a power she could not yet completely comprehend.”
Here the Guardian paused only briefly. I was startled to discover he was breathing heavily, as though the excitement of the tale he told might overcome him. I quickly reminded myself that he didn’t need breath, that once again I was assigning to him human characteristics. Then with a tremor up my spine as I realized the assigning to him of human traits was the very trap all of his lovers, his victims, had fallen into. That brought with it the realization that he was suddenly much closer to me, and I felt his presence moving over my skin like fingers caressing.
“Stop it,” I managed, my own breathing suddenly accelerated nearly to hyperventilation. “Please stop it.”
His withdrawal was so sudden that I felt as though my skin were being ripped off. The groan which he offered was one of pain, not one of arousal. Once again his image became visible. He turned his back on me and walked to the edge of the beck, then sat down abruptly, cupping his head in his hands.
My own feelings were a roil of confusion, arousal, sadness and fear. I waited, struggling to catch my breath quietly, unobtrusively. But when he didn’t return his attention to me, I gathered my courage and asked in a very small voice, “Do you want me to leave?” His response was abrupt, startling.
“Susan said later that what I did to her, what I did to all of them was … rape,” he spoke the word as though it were bitter on his tongue, and my insides clenched tight at its speaking and all it conjured in my head. It disturbed me deeply to realize that not long ago, I might have agreed with her, and now I was no longer sure. But what he said next made me even more uncomfortable. “It was, you know? The way I took her, the way I took them all. What else could it have been?”
“Isn’t that a … human response?” I couldn’t keep my voice from quivering as I spoke. “I mean, to think of it, of what you did, as … that?”
“Of course it’s a human response, for you see, Susan, at her very core is still human. Even that horrible creature, Desiree Fielding, is still human in her deeper nature. The succubus, some of Magda Gardener’s other more exotic minions, even Magda herself, though they have never been human, they … attach themselves to humans, to humanity, because … I suppose because they feel a need for connection they would not now otherwise have, as far removed from their original context as they are.”
“Is that … is that what’s happening to you?”
His laugh was so bitter I hardly recognized it as such. “I have not … attached myself to humans. It seems I’ve been attached to them by Susan’s fatal act, by what was, in earnest, her only true choice in this whole tale I tell. You must understand, being prisoner was not my choice, and while I have endeavored to make the best of the situation in which I now find myself, I would not have chosen it. For what you cannot see, what you cannot begin to understand, my dear little scribe, is that I battle every day against my nature. I battle every day to find a way to balance the love I bear Susan, Michael, and now Reese and his vampire against what I would do to them, to those they love, if I were at liberty.”
This time the slight chuckle was more bemused. “There, you see, K D, I am now assigning to myself the very human traits I have warned you not to.” Another slight chuckle with a shake of his head and he continued. “Susan has given me more liberty than she must, in some cases far more than that with which she is comfortable. I find, however, that it is less the liberty I crave than it is those connections of which we speak, the intercourse with other beings, even that horrible succubus.”
My own laugh was a burst of relief as much as anything. “I’ll be sure to tell her
that when she brings me back.”
“Please to. I delight so in irritating her.”
Once again we were silent. It was not a comfortable silence. I knew what was to come, and I knew that the Guardian would not gloss anything over for my own protection. I suppose a part of me hoped he would do what so many of the more conservative storytellers did and “close the bedroom door,” so to speak. Susan told her story with open, honest candor, and I’m not ashamed to admit, I found myself drawn to the Guardian, fatal though any attraction to him would be. But I knew only too well, that he lived for, in fact he fed upon that attraction, that sexual act, and I doubted he would spare me anything.
“Do you wish me to?” He asked. I jumped at the realization he was once again closer to me than an embrace, close enough to read my thoughts. “Do you wish me to spare you the details, KD?”
I shoved up from the chair, which I found myself once again inexplicably sitting in and stumbled to the edge of the beck, hoping for a bit of breathing room, or perhaps hoping he would take the choice out of my hands. But he moved away. I wanted to berate him for once again invading my thoughts, but I doubted he’d really had to in order to understand the emotions racing through me, the fear, the desire, the loathing of what I knew I could not help but feel in this voyeuristic act I was about to commit. I took a deep breath, which unlike him, I very much needed, and then I took another and looked out onto the beautiful Cumbrian night, which was no more real than the chair I’d just been sitting in. “I’m here to record your story. Isn’t that what a scribe does? You tell it as you need to, and I’ll write it.” I had an overwhelming urge to turn and face him, but he took away that possibility by moving behind me, close behind me, and resting his hands on my shoulders.
“Then I will not be gentle, KD.” I felt his breath against my ear. “I will be as painfully honest as I must. If I had not believed you capable of hearing my tale, capable of recording it in an unbiased way, I would not have asked you here into what I know is a very compromising situation. But you’re trembling. For that I’m sorry. I’ll give you a moment.”
From a long way off, I could hear Talia and Reese arguing, an argument in which my name figured frequently.
I took yet another deep breath and opened my eyes. “I’m ready,” I said, and the voices receded.
The Guardian guided me back to the chair and said softly, once again close to my ear. “Then I will begin.”
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