It’s Friday and time for Episode 25 of In The Flesh, in which Michael discovers he’s made a very big, very costly mistake.
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, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24.
In The Flesh Chapter 25
“What the hell do you mean Annie’s gone?” I said, practically catapulting from the sofa. “She can’t be gone.”
“I’m sorry,” Cook addressed Alonso rather than me. “I brought her tea, and I was surprised to see she wasn’t in her bed. I had hoped perhaps she was improving. But she must have hidden behind the door. She hit me with the candlestick.” He touched his bleeding head once more as though he couldn’t quite believe it had happened. “When I came back to myself, she was gone. I can’t have been out for more than a few seconds.”
I turned on Magda. “You said your rock magic would keep her asleep, out of harms way, you said.”
“Clearly I was mistaken.” She didn’t seem to be the least bit rattled by the fact my crazy, half-starved friend was wandering around somewhere at High View.
Alonso was on his feet and through the door almost before I realized he’d moved. He called over his
shoulder as he headed down the hall, ‘I’ve got the whole place monitored with cameras so I can enjoy the property in daytime and protect my perimeters. The control room is just down the hall. If she’s outside we should be able to find her.” We all scrambled to follow.
I fell into step beside Magda. “I’ll never forgive you if something happens to her.”
She raised an eyebrow from behind the dark glasses. “The responsibility for your friend’s desperate situation does not lay at my feet, little girl, in case you’ve forgotten.”
If she had gut-punched me, I would have felt the impact no more. Michael moved next to me, clearly overhearing the exchange and slid an arm around my shoulder, but I jerked away. “The blame may lay at my feet, but it was rather convenient for the little act of thievery you two were planning at Chapel House, wasn’t it?”
Now it was Michael who had the freshly gut-punched look.
I shoved past both of them and fell into step next to Talia, who offered me a sympathetic nod. “Alonso always tells me that when comrades are reduced to placing blame, then the enemy has already won.” Seemed it was the day for gut-punches.
We all crowded into a room not much bigger than a closet, which was crammed with monitors and keyboards. Alonso sat down in a captain’s chair and began systematically pulling up the cameras around the property, all of which had the capability of zoom and, in some places, the places where the property was most vulnerable; there were multiple cameras for multiple angles.
“Nothing so far,” he said. “The mist is making it difficult to see anything. I’ve checked the vehicles in the drive and those in the garages, but none are missing. I would assume it’s her plan to go back to Chapel House. In her weakened condition, if she tries to go on foot or hitchhike, it would have to be almost entirely under the Guardian’s power. The woman is little more than a skeleton.”
“He could do that,” I said. “When she attacked me, I couldn’t believe how strong she was.”
“But that was more fear of losing him than it was any aid of his,” Magda said. “The ability to get back to him from here, I would think, would depend entirely on his strength.”
“And on him wanting her back,” Michael added, eyes locked on me rather than on the monitors which, so far had revealed nothing but a very soggy red squirrel, hunkering down in a fir tree to avoid the rain, otherwise the place was deserted. Alonso had sent the builders away when Magda and team had arrived, not wanting to put them in any danger or raise any suspicions.
It was then that it hit me with such import that I grabbed onto the back of Alonso’s chair to keep my knees from buckling. “He doesn’t want her back. He’s deserted her totally, and she has to know that by now. And if she knows it …” As the implications hit home like a an exploding bomb I raced for the door, in a burst of adrenaline, yelling back at Michael, “The tower, where your room is, does it lead to the roof?”
“Fuck!” That was all the answer I needed.
I took the stairs out of the basement two at a time with him right behind me. He passed me as we
sprinted through the hall on the main floor but then ran into one of the maids with a tray full of dirty dishes from our tea. He spun her around and barely managed to right her before both tray and maid could do a swan dive on the hard stone floor as I sped past the little pas de deux, barely missing being clotheslined by a flailing arm. The steps up the tower were narrow and winding, and I reached the ancient wooden door to the parapet a split second before he did. It was standing wide open, and the view beyond stopped me in my tracks, stopped my breath, stopped my heart. Michael had done the same, coming to a screeching halt right behind me. The tower of High View was shrouded in a light mist. The roof of it was barely big enough in diameter for a tall man to stretch out across. It was surrounded by a stone battlement that was clearly built for decoration, high enough to lean against, but not high enough to be defensive and, there on the far side, Annie was just stepping up onto the top of it. The rain, which had become a downpour plastered her borrowed nightdress to her body and rendered it transparent. She truly did look skeletal beneath it. Her foot slipped, and I screamed, but the wind and rain carried my voice away from her and she thankfully didn’t hear me, as she righted herself.
Before I could run to her, Michael threw an arm around my waist and pulled me tight against his body. “Let her go. It’ll be so much easier for us if you do.” I was suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of roses, and yet when I turned, there was no one behind me but Michael. Fingers of ice climbed my spine and I felt as if the world were tilting beneath my feet as he offered me an unnatural grimace of a smile and a jerk of his shoulders. “After all, that is what we planned from the very beginning, isn’t it my darling. She was only ever a substitute, a stop-gap, as it were, until we could be together.”
“Michael?” I stumbled out onto the parapet and fell backward on the wet stone but before I could scramble to my feet, he grabbed me by the arm and jerked me upright with bruising strength and uncharacteristic awkwardness, the smile on his face stretched too far, his eyes opened too wide and his breath came in labored, syncopated rasps.
“Yes, of course, Michael is here, just as you see, my darling. But as you can also see,” he gave a spastic laugh, “he’s not in control right now.” The smell of roses was suddenly so strong that I felt as though I were drowning in them.
“How?” I managed, the wind blowing my breath back into my mouth. I tried to pull away but his hand circled my wrist like a manacle that was too tight.
If it were possible, he smiled even wider, and then with his free hand, he groped my left breast so tightly
that I gasped, but it wasn’t until his thumb slid over Michael’s mark that I screamed in pain, more pain than I had ever felt in my life. The smell of roses was subsumed in the stench of burning garbage, and I would have fallen if he hadn’t held me there, hand around my wrist, stretching me upward as though I were weightless until my toes barely touched the ground. Almost before it happened, the pain passed and with it the stink, leaving me dazed and wondering if it had happened at all. “Remember, Michael allowed me use of this flesh, this lovely angel flesh of his. A very long time ago, it was, but time is of little relevance to one such as myself, and his mark on your flesh is my way back into his.” The spastic laugh came hot and heavy against my face. “Oh the poor lad was wrong in his assumption that by fucking what is mine, by marring it so, that he could keep it from me. Even more importantly, my darling, he was wrong in assuming that I didn’t pleasure your body that night when you returned to release me from the crypt, that I would not reward you for your gift to me by making love to you when we both wanted it – needed it so desperately. Oh yes indeed, he was very wrong. I had you that night, my darling. I had you over and over again with you begging me for more each time. You wore my mark deep in your very soul long before Michael’s feeble attempt to take what isn’t his.” He leaned in and kissed me with the awkwardness of an adolescent boy. “And then, I took the memory from you because I needed you able to function, able to do what had to be done until I sent for you. Michael’s marking you as he did was an extra gift. The lad didn’t realize, but in doing so, he gave me the gift of enfleshment.” He chuckled softly, more naturally, and I smelled roses again. “I think perhaps now it is time for me to give you those memories back, my darling, so you’ll stop fighting me, so you’ll understand your place is by my side, and now, so is Michael’s.”
Before he could bestow upon me memories I knew I was better off without, he was interrupted by a cry that sounded like an excited child, and we both turned to find that Annie was no longer standing on the battlement, but she was standing next to us, eyes fever bright, the broad smile she wore belying her ill condition. “You came for me, my darling. I knew you would.” She took in the way he held my wrist and the way I struggled and her smile broadened still further. She practically buzzed with excitement. “And you’ll give her what she deserves, just like you promised?”
“Oh, I will indeed give her what I’ve promised, Annie, but sadly that promise doesn’t involve you.”
She looked from him to me and back again. The smile slipped from her face. She shifted from foot to foot. “I … don’t understand.”
“Annie! Annie, he’s going to hurt you. You have to get out of here before –” I caught my breath in a cry of pain as he pressed his thumb against Michael’s mark. Annie’s response was to laugh and clap her hands like a delighted child.
“Stop laughing, stupid woman!” Both Annie and I jumped, startled by the power of his voice even above the rage of the storm. “She is my beloved, I have sent for her. Do you not know? It’s not your place to laugh at my chosen.”
And just like that Annie was trembling all over, once again feeling the effects of the weather and the cold and the last few months of her ordeal. “But what about me?” Her lower lip trembled and she wrung her hands. I glanced desperately back at the stairs. Where the fuck was everyone? What was taking them so long to get to us? They had to know where we were. They had to!
“My darling, you already know the answer to that question.” He nodded back to the battlement. “You’ve served me well with your flesh, my dear Annie, and for that I shall never forget you, but your job has always been to prepare the way. How could you have ever doubted that? Surely you understood this when I had you send for the Scribe.”
She studied me for a long moment as though seeing me for the first time, and then the anguish on her face disappeared, and she came forward, pulled his hand away from my breast and kissed it, a thing, which he allowed her to do like some beneficent king. The moment he removed his hand from Michael’s mark, I could breathe again. I could think clearly again.
“Run along now, Annie, darling,” he said, giving her a little shooing motion, he might have given a favourite pet who was making a nuisance of itself. “Now your job is finished. Time for you to rest. Leave us to our lives together and free my beloved from her concerns for you.”
The wind howled around us and the mist thinned enough that I could see the battlement and the woods beyond. Perhaps he was right. It was inevitable. Even Magda said so. And at the end of the day, if Magda’s magic couldn’t heal Annie, than really, what could? What was left to her but to be sent away to some asylum where she would be drugged and tied to a bed to drool and piss herself until she wasted away pining for the lover who would never return for her. It was a kindness really. It was best to remember the way she was, the way she had been when she was whole, when she was my best friend. Though really, what did any of those memories matter now?
I watched as, on trembling legs, she fumbled her way onto the battlement, all the while He spoke softly to me, reassuring me, telling me that it was for the best, teasing me with little flashes of memory, of moments in the crypt, of the instant He first entered me, when I suddenly felt the entire world, every molecule of it, every breath of it. He teased me with little glimpses of Him nursing at my breasts with the innocent discovery of a child and, yet at the same time, with the passion of a lover powerful enough to set the tangled garden on fire and the whole city along with it. In an instant I saw the eternity we’d spent together that night. The heat of the body He’d not possess took me to heights of ecstasy I could never have imagined and, I, not unlike Annie, had come to those heights of my own free will, only to throw myself off into the abyss that would have terrified me had not He been there to catch me, had not He been there to kiss me everywhere, to enter me again and again, spilling the ocean of Himself into the tiny space that was my flesh, and spreading me over its surface until there was nothing left of me but a thin, transparent skin, permeable only to Him. I hadn’t known I could come like that. I hadn’t known I could be so opened, that I could contain so much and still long for more. Dear god, how could I ever, ever walk away from Him? What difference did the death of one person mean in comparison to being with Him?
What difference did the death of everyone who lived in High View, in Penrith, in Manchester, in all of Britain matter in comparison to being the one He chose to love?
“And Michael will stay with us too, my love,” He was saying, as I watched Annie trembling and struggling and pushing her way up to stand on the very edge of the battlement, toes curled over rain slicked stone. “His flesh, his angel flesh, will be mine, will be yours, and we will be together, united as I’ve always wanted.”
A gust of wind whirled around us and something cold and wet thumped me in the chest. With a startled gasp, I reached up and felt Magda’s heart-shaped stone warming to my touch, and without thinking, I curled my icy fingers around it for warmth.
There was a gasp, a curse, the sharp smell of burning garbage and suddenly I was free, running toward the battlement screaming Annie’s name at the top of my lungs.