Short story: Madness

She wore her madness as lightly as the pale beams of the autumnal moon. What chance did I have? I had no defenses against her. I was a lowly mortal and she some heavenly creature, or forsaken demon from some unfathomable hell. All I knew was she was an otherworldly being, and I was besotted, feeding off her madness, sating some unquenchable thirst, some unknown longing in my soul.

I had lived a life devoid of passion, a life not worth living. I married an unimaginative woman whose only goal was to push out children with assembly line efficiency. One child, a second, and then a third. We started working on our fourth, our sex life as monotonous as our lives. No euphoric release, no joyous climax, only a feeble thrust, a perfunctory kiss, and an almost impotent issue. How we managed even one child, I’ll never know.

This was my life, and I lived it without complaint. I didn’t know better. I didn’t know about the thrill of schoolboy crushes, of the devastation of an unrequited love. I didn’t know that there was more to the human condition than blindly accepting your fate. I didn’t know I had had a choice. I spurned risk for the safety of a certain, easy life.

I wouldn’t know anything until I came home and found her in our bed with another man. Theirs was no feeble attempt of lovemaking. It was raw, it was passionate, it was intense. I could hear her scream as I stepped out from the car. I could smell them as I opened the door, my children listening in. Then again, maybe they were his.

I crossed the threshold into our room, and he looked frightened, but my bride looked back unabashed at being discovered. I sensed she relished making me into a cuckold, impotent and ineffectual, emasculating me so utterly. I confess I didn’t care too much. I didn’t love her. I never did. I left slightly aroused at the sight of such wild and carefree passion. That it was my wife made it even more exciting.

That was my first taste of madness. I left my house almost immediately, listening to the strains of the headboard hitting the wall percussively, listening to my wife moan excitedly, wondering what bastard her brood belonged to. I knew they couldn’t be mine. I was relieved. They didn’t care that I left.

I drove to the nearest bar, a strip club a few miles from the double-wide I had recently called home. I’d return later for my belongings. At the moment I needed to clear my head. I needed something for something had been roused in me, some latent potency that yearned for release. I had considered going back and forcing myself on my wife, maybe trying to join in, I didn’t know. I had no experience in the matter. I needed to sit and consider my options.

I walked into the bar, and it was still early. The afternoon shift was still there, the B and C squad. They were overweight, with visible stretch marks and cesarean scars. Their breasts drooped too much, or a few were too large and too perfect maybe for so ragged a troop of dancers.

Then I saw Diamond walk onto stage, and this beast in my chest roared with approval. Like the others, she was past her prime, pushing forty if not older, but she was feral on stage. A few men paid for her attention, but not enough. I could tell she demanded more in her younger days. Why she hadn’t quit yet, I didn’t know, but I was grateful.

She saw me and winked, but I sat rigid, not knowing what to do. I had never been to a regular bar, much less a strip club. A few of the house regulars laughed at me, a few yelling taunts at me and one gloated happily, but Diamond could sense my desire. She knew I needed her, perhaps before I knew it myself.

She walked off stage and a few minutes later returned and sat beside me, wearing a thin negligee. “I’ll have a drink, if you’re buying,” she winked. I nodded to the bartender who poured her a shot of something and handed it to her. “Salud,” she grinned.

“Cheers,” I stammered, holding up the bottle of beer I was nursing.

“Never seen you here before, Jacob, is that right?”

“How do you know my name?” I asked, shocked that she could possibly know me.

“Did you finally walk in on your wife?” She cocked her head, a sad smile on her aging face.

“You – you know about that?”

“Sugar, we all know. Your wife’s been fucking anyone and everyone for years. Hell, we all been placing bets as to when you would find out. Shit head over there,” she pointed to the guy with the gloating look about him, “just won the bet. Pity. You’re a good looking guy. What’s wrong? Does the plumbing not work?”

“Excuse me?” I stammered again, shocked as she racked her nails down my neck. I gasped as I had never felt such a thing. My nerves screamed and I tensed, not out of fear but out of desire. “Look at you,” she smiled approvingly as she glanced to my crotch. I covered myself clumsily, not wanting her to see my arousal, but ran her nails under my chin and forced me to look at her. “Sugar, it’s okay. You’ve never been properly introduced to a woman, have you?”

“I’ve been with my wife,” I said lamely.

“That bitch ain’t anything but an easy lay,” she laughed, then looked apologetically at my wounded pride. “No offense, but everyone in here has had a go. Even a couple of us girls, but not me. My baby sister went to school with her, and she was just as trashy then. You were just the poor sap she chose to take care of her while she fooled around behind your back.”

“Am I a joke?” I cried, ashamed as my eyes watered.

“Depends,” Diamond replied.

“On what?”

“On what you do now. Do you accept defeat or do you pay her back.”

“Pay her back? How?”

She took my hand and led me to a room in the back. She closed the door and pushed me roughly into the chair. Without warning she pulled off her top and took off her panties and then she danced for me. I shook with fear, but more with anticipation. It was not a sensation I had ever felt, and she knew it.

“Relax, Sugar,” she smiled. “This one’s on the house. You’re a good guy, a hard working guy. She didn’t deserve a man like you. You didn’t deserve a bitch like her.” She leaned in, her breasts pressed against my chest, she whispered into my ear, “Let me help you. I’ll show you what a real woman can do.”

“Uh – okay?”

And she danced for me, and the sight was more erotic and intoxicating than I could ever have imagined. It was sensual in a way that my wife never could have managed. My wife, not yet thirty, never looked as desirable as Diamond. There was something animalistic in the way she moved, a predator toying with her prey before the kill, and I longed to be devoured.

Before anything could happen a sudden knock on the door stopped everything cold. “That’s it for this now. If you want another, you’ll have to pay, but I’ll cut you a break, Sugar. Oh, and by the way, I get off in thirty minutes. I never tell clients when I’m getting off. Meet me at the diner off of 127 if you want to continue this.”

She didn’t say another word but strode out the door. Some guy held the door open for me as I walked out. He gave me an almost imperceptible nod and a wink and I paid for our drinks and left. Thirty minutes later, I waited at the diner Diamond had told me and sipped a cup of weak coffee. She walked in, looking remarkably normal. The cheap makeup was gone, as was the negligee. She looked like a suburban soccer mom wearing capris and a tank top. Only the feral look in her eyes remained.

“I’m glad you’re here. I hope that means you’re ready to embrace the madness.”

“The madness?”

“Sugar, there’s more in you than what you’ve been led to believe. Come on. Let’s go to my place, and I’ll show you wonders your wife never could have imagined. We’ll dance on the grave of your marriage, resurrect your tattered manhood, and I’ll make you a proper man. That’s if you think you can handle me. What do you say?”

I felt as though I were making a pact with the devil. Then again, maybe she was my guardian angel sent to save me from despair. I didn’t know, but I took her proffered hand and she led me out. The next hours of my life were spent in a tangle of limbs, of sensations I had never felt, and a passion that had eclipsed everything I had ever felt.

And her madness fueled the newly kindled fire in my soul, and I became her devoted and willing slave. And when my wife’s eyes came to fall upon me again, she realized her folly. I was everything she had ever wanted, but she had squandered it on a series of cheap flings. Diamond had made me into a proper man. I could never go back to being in an unfeeling life, devoid of everything that made things worthwhile. I had embraced her madness, bathed in her light, and shunned the darkness in which I dwelt for a lifetime.

But nevermore.


Short Stories

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Previous story – The raging storm

Short story: The raging storm

He sat stoically as he read her text. He couldn’t fall to pieces in public. He had clients to deal with, coworkers to work with. No, his private hell would have to wait. He’d have plenty of time to fall apart when he got home. All the time in the world. Maybe all of eternity to piece himself together.

She had been his saving grace, his last hope at finding love. While he seemed uncaring, he was in fact an unrepentant romantic. He was the type to cry at the movies, to be moved whenever he saw a beautiful sunset. He appreciated art, and music, and he felt keen and deeply. He was a passionate man, a man of strong emotions. Often those emotions were like a tide, drowning the weak with it, leaving him alone on the banks of the shore.

But Toni was not like other women. She matched his passion. Their love was a tempest at sea, waves crashing upon the other, winds howling, the fury of the rain destroying everything in its path, but always they remained at the end, their lovemaking the more satisfying. No one doubted that they belonged together.

They had lived together for several years, planned on getting married some fine day, though neither was eager to disrupt the status quo. Nothing was amiss that morning when he went to work, nothing until he read the text.

“I’ll be gone by the time you get home.”

No explanation, no warning, it was just over. He tried several time in vain to text her, to call her, but her phone had been shut off. Calls to her mother we also ignored. All her friends claimed that they had no idea what was going on. He had been cut off, left in the dark. The storm had been replaced with a dangerous calm. He feared what the silence portended.

He went through the motions, and no one knew that something was amiss, except for a few that actually knew him. He went through the day, dealt with his clients expertly and professionally. He knew how to control the raging storm within. It would consume him at nightfall, but for now he had work to do.

Somehow he managed to survive the day. Already he could feel the veneer peeling back. He needed to be strong just a little longer. His goodbye to his coworkers was a little more curt than usual, his smile seemingly forced, but they were all professionals. They gave him his space. They knew he would come back in the morning, and whatever issue was bothering him would be dealt with.

But he had no plans on returning. Not tomorrow, not ever again. He drove to the nearest liquor store, bought a bottle of their most expensive whiskey, and drove home. He opened the bottle as soon as he shut off the car and downed as much as he could handle. Already the tears began falling, the first signs that presaged the impending storm.

He took a few more swigs, and stumbled out of the car. He could not handle his liquor, which was why he rarely drank. He was all about controlling his emotions, but he intended to lose control. He had no need of restraint. The full force of his fury would be unleashed.

He walked to their bedroom, ignoring everything else. In the room, her clothes were strewn about, as though she wanted to make a hasty exit and couldn’t decide what to take. That more than anything, even more than the one solitary line defeated him. She was obsessive about keeping her spaces clean. She had no intention of returning, of that he was certain.

He stumbled down the hall to his office and fell onto the sofa and continued to drink. Already a quarter of the amber liquid was gone. He drank some more and broke down, racked in rolling waves of sobs that seemed unyielding, so utterly despondent that he didn’t hear the alert notifying him that Toni was messaging him.

He drank until he could feel nothing, or maybe until he felt so much that he became numb to it all. He tried to stand, stumbled a bit and fell face first, grazing the side of the end table with the side of his face. He briefly registered the throbbing pain, but he pulled himself up, crawled to the safe, and managed to enter the combination on his forth attempt.

Once inside, he opened a small locker, the one where he kept his gun, and pulled it out. He laughed because he had always kept the gun loaded in spite of Toni’s protestations. Had he had needed to load it, it would have defeated him in his present state, but all he had to do was to release the safety, put the gun into his mouth, and press the trigger….

 

When Toni returned the next morning, worried as to why he hadn’t called her after her last text, she raced into the house. Her father was doing okay after his heart attack. Fortunately it was a minor thing, not requiring open heart surgery. He’d have to undergo a procedure soon to open up a couple of blockages, but he would be okay.

She walked into the office to drop off a couple of packages that were left on the front door when she saw his legs from behind the desk, and the walls behind him splattered with his blood and Toni screamed.

It took the investigators only minutes to deduce what had happened. He had only gotten the last line of Toni’s message, the one telling him of her father’s emergency, and that she needed to race the three hours to where he lived, that she we would be back as soon as she could, but that she would be gone by the time he got home.

And he never read her last message, telling him that her father was okay, and that the worst was over. “I love you,” she wrote him the last message, the one he would never see, “and I’ll see you in the morning.”


Short Stories

Next story –
Previous story – Secrets

Short story: Secrets

Molly sat stunned by the revelation. She had known there was something not quite right between her and the man she had planned on marrying. Was she still planning on marrying him, or would she call it off and take the chance on finding someone new?

Across from her sat Steven, his hands clasped together, his elbows resting on his knees as he leaned forward, more to support himself than to be nearer to her. His hands shook slightly, but the worst was over for him. He had purged his greatest secret. All he could do now was wait.

Was he a he? Molly glanced at Steven. A she? An it? It was all too confusing. What was it that was creating this gender confusion? Was it something in the air? In the water? In the food? Was it the chemicals that industry and government was purported to be pumping into the populace? Or was it simply a matter of time, of the community believing it was time to stop living in the shadows.

She didn’t know. She didn’t care. Molly never thought of herself as a homophobe. She had many gay and lesbian friends. Her own brother was bi, though he wasn’t exactly out to everyone. Even she had dabbled with women a couple of times in college. She didn’t see anything wrong with it. It was a simple matter of wanting an experience, one she was happy to have had the opportunity to take advantage of.

This, however, was something completely different. She had been to the drag shows. She had been friendly, if not really friends, with a few drag queens. They were different, a group of men mimicking women for the entertainment of an audience.

Was that what Steven was? She didn’t know. Steven claimed it wasn’t. It wasn’t a fetish or some other cheap sexual thrill. “I’m supposed to be a woman,” he said unsteadily, terrified of sharing his secret. “I can’t in good conscience allow us to get married with this hanging over us. I won’t do that to you. To us.”

“Does that mean you’re planning on having a sex change?” Molly asked, not wanting to know the answer, but needing to know it as well.

“I don’t really know,” Steven shrugged. “I mean I haven’t dressed up in ages. I don’t want to be some creepy guy in a dress,” he tried in vain to joke. He cleared his throat. “I just know that I’m miserable and depressed, and my therapist believes it’s related to me being transgender. Whether or not I transition is still kind of in the air, but….”

“But you’re preparing me for it, just in case?”

Steven nodded.

Molly stood up and walked away, stopping short of leaving the room. She didn’t know what to do. Should she stay? Should she cut her losses and walk away? Though they have been dating for almost two years, their engagement is only a few weeks old. They hadn’t even begun planning for the wedding. Now she knew the wedding would have to be put on hold for now, at least until she knew what she was dealing with.

“I never wanted this,” Steven said quietly. “I never did. “That’s why I never dated anyone. I didn’t want to be put in this position. I didn’t want to put anyone through it.”

“So why did you ask me out?” Molly cried. “Why me?”

“You asked me, if you remember,” Steven smiled. “I resisted for months.”

“And I refused to take no for an answer,” she chuckled darkly. “I never knew enough to just let things go. Where does this leave us?”

“It leaves us with a decision, I guess,” Steven smiled sadly. “Either we stay together, or we break up. Either we accept that I may become a woman, or rather that I accept that I am a woman, or refuse and watch me become more and more depressed. I mean, I’ve been close to just ending things several times.”

“Do you mean breaking up with me or…?”

“I mean killing myself. It’s exhausting to live a lie, and my life has been a lie since I was old enough to learn to act my part. I’m kind of done pretending. I’m done playing the part of Steve.”

“Does she – do you have a name?”

“I’ve always been partial to Victoria,” Steven admitted.

“I would have thought you would have choses Stephanie,” Molly teased.

“I never liked the name,” Steven confessed. “I want a clean break from this identity, a new start.”

“It sounds like you have already made up your mind.”

“No, but I guess I’m leaning towards a decision.”

“And that’s why we’re here.”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t make any promises,” Molly sighed. “I wanted a family. How does that affect your, well, your swimmers?”

“Already ahead of you. I have an appointment at the sperm bank next week, just in case.”

“You’re doing this, aren’t you.”

“Probably, but I’m not a hundred percent. Not yet.”

“I’m with you,” Molly walked back and fell onto the couch next to Steven. “I’m here, and I’ll support you regardless. I can’t promise I’ll want to get married, but, I’ll be here.”

“Thank you.” Steven relaxed. “That’s more than I expected.

“It’s the least I can do,” Molly shrugged.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean you stood with me when I had my health scare last year.”

“I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

“Maybe not, but we’ll just have to see where this goes.”


Short Stories

Next story – The raging storm
Previous story – The price of love

Short Story: The price of love

Love is stupid. Yeah, I said it. Maybe love makes people stupid, or at least makes sane people do stupid things. Maybe it’s part of it, or all of it, or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. I used to know, just like everyone’s an expert until you’re mired in something and you realize just how little you know. I just don’t know.

Right now she’s clinging to life on the barest of threads. The doctors say she’ll go at any moment, but they’ve been saying that for almost a week. Experts my ass! It hurts to see her like this, a woman in the prime of her life. She should be living her life, but the irony is that if she were, she wouldn’t be here with me. Like I said, love makes people stupid, me included.

I was never the kind of guy girls noticed. Sure they were nice to me, smiled at me, became my friend. I was, as I later learned, non-threatening. I was safe, the kind of guy they could trust, the guy they could talk to because I was understanding, and kind. I was the kind of nice they all claimed they wanted, but in reality didn’t. I soon came to believe that nice was code for loser.

Then I met Carly. Carly was like the rest of them, except she gave me something no one had ever given me: a chance. We started dating my sophomore year of college. She had broken up with her boyfriend, a star on the basketball team. He was the typical douche athlete, and all the women wanted him, and he obliged, never mind that he had a girlfriend.

So she dumped him and soon started dating me. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but I was just a rebound, worse still that she used me to make him jealous. Losing out to a guy like me made him crazy jealous, and I was too blind to see it. She soon dumped me and took him back. I was devastated.

Carly, just so you know, was, in those days, a beauty. The years and her illness have ravaged her, but beneath her withered and pained expression lingers the ghost of her former glory. She was blond, with hazel eyes, pale skin, and the cutest freckles on her nose. She had a magnetic personality, and she could make friends with anyone, even a recluse like me. She drew people to her, a flame pulling in another moth to become her next victim.

She was my first girlfriend, my first grown-up girlfriend, I should say. I had a few summer flings in camp growing up. Hold hands, an awkward peck on the lips, that sort of thing. I lost my virginity with her, fell madly in love with her, and it tore me to shreds being dumped the way she did me. I was just a cog in her plan to win back her dream boy.

I fell to pieces. No one knew it by seeing me. I was so straitlaced that no one would ever have seen my inner turmoil, not that anyone was close enough to have known. I was for all intents and purposes, friendless. I suffered alone. I just turned my attention to my studies to cope.

But I had become obsessed with her, but I just accepted it. What could I do? Even I, for all my naivette, understood that I had no chance to win her back. I could admit defeat and walk away with some vestiges of dignity, or I could pine for some woman who had made a fool of me.

Funny thing is that dating her had made me seem more interesting to some other woman. I began to date. I found a serious girlfriend my junior year, and we dated for almost two years, up until a week before graduation. I found myself as I broadened my horizons, and I found some confidence as I came into my own. I had become a man.

But I never got over Carly.

She would come around every so often, this damned woman. Every time she dumped a guy, or they dumped her, she would come by. I broke off a few relationships because of her, including that serious girlfriend, someone with whom I could have married. I know because she had been hinting at it for months. I loved her in a way, but she wasn’t Carly. She couldn’t compete with her, and she never knew she was competing with her. I did her wrong. I did to her what Carly had done to me, and I regret it.

Carly knew that I was obsessed with her, and she took advantage of it. She used me to boost her ego when she was feeling down. She used me to get over her failed relationships. I was nothing more than a plaything to occupy her time until some more suitable asshole stole her attention.

It went on like this for a couple of years, until the year we became 27. Almost everyone we knew was getting married, having children, settling down. Carly decided it was time to grow up and get with the agenda and get married, so she did, to a guy named Kurt. Just like that, I was cast aside for the last time.

By then I had grown used to it. I was tired of it and it came as a relief. Yes it hurt, and yes I cried, but I was also glad that I could gleam some measure of closure. This cruel game had come to an end, and I could finally move on.

I met a girl, dated, and we became engaged. Everything was going great, until Carly came into the picture to ruin my life one last time. My engagement fell apart, mainly because of Carly, but also because my fiancee was cheating on me with one of my friends, something Carly was all too happy to point out.

Carly’s marriage had fallen apart because her husband wanted a family, and she couldn’t conceive. It was impossible. Uterean cancer had taken her chance of having a family, and with it her hope for the life she had wanted.

The cancer was in remission, she told me, but I think she knew something that she didn’t let on, that the cancer would return, which it did a couple of years later. In the meantime, we rekindled our relationship, and this time it stuck. Carly had become domesticated. Gone was the wild girl I had fallen in love with. Her love was subdued, tamed, and I think it was because she knew she was dying soon.

We got married as soon as the ink from her divorce had dried. At thirty-one I had my dream woman, but I could sense that it was not going to last. Her fire had been extinguished, and she no longer felt the need to lead me on. I knew she was using me again, and because I was so in love with her, I let her, and I let her to this day.

She came back not because she loved me, but because I loved her. She knew no one would take her. Carly was damaged goods. Those are her words, by the way, not mine. She didn’t want to die, and though the doctors had told her that her cancer was gone, she felt that they were wrong.

After four years of marriage, the cancer came back. This time there was nothing to be done. It had spread to her lungs, her kidneys, her brain. It was attacking her, killing her slowly, and no chemotherapy, no radiation, could save her.

Now, a week before our fifth anniversary, she lays in our bed, a hospice worker coming in daily to check up on her, and a nurse does as well. She didn’t want to die alone and she knew I would take her back.

I hate myself for letting her do this to me, but I am powerless. I’ve come to believe that I don’t really love her. I think I’m obsessed with her as the woman I couldn’t hold on to, Now that I have her, I’ve come to see that I don’t love her like I thought I did. Even so, I never walked away. I’m a nice guy after all. I ended up with the girl, though not in the way I might have wanted, but I have her. Til death do us part. I just wish I hadn’t had to find a way to give her cancer to make her come back to me. I wish I didn’t need to kill her to keep her from leaving me again.

She’ll never know that my work with cancer was never to find a cure, but to learn to manipulate it, to weaponize it. She’ll never know, and soon, she’ll never know anything again.

Love is stupid? Maybe, but love turned me into a monster, and I’ll never be nice again.

 


Short Stories

Next story – Secrets
Previous story – Porcelain

 

Short Story: Porcelain

“I’m getting wet!” The sound of the little boy’s whining set the Enzo Bousquet on edge. Why he agreed to look after the little brats, he didn’t know. Well, he mused as he opened his umbrella to shelter the boy, he knew quite well. The family’s fortune was in decline. Tastes in fashion were changing, and though his father was once renowned for his skill in dressing the elites in the city, fashion left him behind. The rich moved on to more fashionable tailors, while his father was left scrounging for business. Once, when Enzo was a child, his father commanded a hefty fee for his work. Now, well Enzo was reduced to babysitting.

“Under here, boy,” Enzo commanded with a strained smile. The girl followed her brother, but Enzo didn’t notice. She was a peculiar child, especially for a girl. She didn’t say much, but Enzo suspected there was more to her than just a shy disposition. She had a knowing look to her. She noticed everything, which made him feel uneasy.

“I thought you were taking us to the theater,” the boy growled. “Mama told us you were taking us to the theater.”

“And so I shall, young Rene” Enzo replied through gritted teeth, “but first we must get you settled in. You will be staying with me until your parents return from London. I have one room for each of you. You will find your lodging satisfactory.”

“Humph!” The boy stomped down the street, making sure to jump into every puddle, clearly enjoying the annoyance he was causing his temporary caretaker. The girl followed behind, almost a shadow to the man. She said nothing, did nothing, except clutch a porcelain doll with hollow eyes. The chill morning did nothing to dampen her spirits. She didn’t complain. There seemed to be no emotions from the girl.

“Come!” Enzo commanded the boy, who turned with a look of annoyance, but obeyed nonetheless. “First, we will put your things away, then have a quick bite to eat. Then we shall go to the theater. I have a friend who will act in the production this afternoon. He really is a sight to behold.”

“You have a friend who’s an actor?” Rene scoffed, thinking the association a bad recommendation on his caretaker’s reputation. He made a mental note to tell that to his father, that this man associates with the dregs of society.

“I consider many people to be my friend,” Enzo replied, knowing what the younger was thinking. In my line of work, I deal with many people, from the lowly servants to those in the highest echelons of power. What do I care so long as they can pay for my services?”

“And what is it that you do?” Rene asked in his sniveling tone.

“I do what I must,” he responded. “A jack of all trades, I suppose. My father was a tailor, formerly a soldier in the war. My mother came from nobility, though her family fell on hard times, and she took to tutoring the children of the president, until she married my father. I learned from the best, though I apprenticed with none. I joined the army, became a sous-lieutenant before an injury left me unable to continue. I’ve acted, cooked, become a banker. I worked for your father for a time, years before you were born. As much as there can be friendship between us, I consider him such.”

“I think you’re a buffoon,” Rene scorned. “A sad little clown without a circus. You’re almost as useless as a woman. Worse than that thing following us.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say,” the girl spoke up. “Useless as a woman? You’re the one who’s useless. What a terrible thing to say to our friend.”

“Thank you,” Enzo said, startled at her quiet defense. Until now, he was unsure if she could even speak. She only murmured unintelligibly at the doll, stroking its silk hair. That she should speak up defiantly against her brother struck him as ominous, though he couldn’t figure out why.

“Oh, letting little girls defend you now? You’re pathetic.”

“In here,” Enzo ignored the jibe, instead opening an ornate iron door. The dwelling was small, at least to what the children were accustomed to. Rene looked around and sneered, but Mathilde looked around dreamily, her eyes alight with excitement and expectation.

“This place is smaller than our servant’s quarters.” Rene spat maliciously. “I demand you take us somewhere better. Take us home.”

“You’re father left you in my care,” Enzo sighed, regretting that he agreed to watch the brats for what amounted to nearly a years wage. “You are to remain here for the next two months, or until your parent’s return from London.”

“This place is wonderful,” Mathilde mused in a singsong tone. “Isn’t it Celia?”

“Celia?” Enzo asked

“That stupid doll,” Rene growled. “Give me that!” He made to tear the doll out of his sister’s arms, but Mathilde parried his attempt with a swipe of her arm. Rene tried again, but this time Mathilde grabbed her brother’s arm, twisted it, and shoved him into the wall. “Let go of me!”

“Not until you apologize to Celia,” Mathilde informed her brother harshly. “I won’t tolerate that kind of disrespect, and neither will Celia.”

Enzo looked on, unsure of whether he should intervene, but the look on the girl’s face had morphed into something else. She no longer looked like the innocent little girl that had walked quietly behind him. Her face looked bestial, feral, almost demonic. Her eyes looked almost as hollow as the dolls eyes had been.

“Let go of me!” Rene said, this time pleading, his eyes tearing up. “You’re going to break my arm! Please stop!”

“Let him go,” Enzo said calmly, gently touching Mathilde on her shoulder. “And Rene, apologize.”

“I’m sorry,” Rene cried. “Please, I’m sorry!”

“That wasn’t all that hard, was it?” Mathilde gave a tinkling laugh, her face returning to normal as she released Rene. “Where’s my room, Monsieur Bousquet?”

“What? Oh, it’s up the stairs. Follow me. You too, Rene.”

Enzo climbed the flight up to the next floor. “You will sleep here, Rene,” Enzo pointed to the room on the left. “Mathilde, you will have this room here,” he pointed to the door on the right.

“Where do you sleep?” Mathilde inquired.

“At the end of the corridor,” Enzo replied, unnerved by the seemingly innocent question. “You’re things are already in your room. Change and we will leave in an hour.”

Enzo waited for the children to walk into their room before retiring to his. He sat at a small desk he had tucked away in the corner and waited. He tried to push the memory from his mind, but the look on Mathilde’s face seemed to be burned into his mind. There was something inhuman to her, and he wondered if….

He stood up and strode to a cabinet where he stashed his personal correspondences, ruffled through several folders, until he found what he was looking for, a letter from Monsieur Astier, the children’s father. He returned to his desk, sat down, and began to read.

We must depart at once, and with all due haste. Faustine is having nightmares, insisting that my sweet Mathilde is possessed by the devil. I have no use for that nonsense. Why did our fathers fight for over a century ago, to rid ourselves of the oppression of the crown and the subjugation to the papacy? No! Devils indeed!

I shall take my dear Faustine to London, to a colleague of mine who has begun to dabble with the study of the human mind. He believes he can help her. Perhaps the stresses of raising children is too much for her, or perhaps losing her father in that horrific fire last year has taken its toll. We inherited everything in his inventory, sold what could be salvaged, except for a doll that Mathilde has grown fond of. Maybe….

Enzo set the letter down, his brows furrowed in concentration. Possessed by the devil. That’s what she believed. Could it be? Could such a thing be possible? He didn’t believe in such things, but all the same, he was haunted with the belief in Mother Church, forced to take the sacraments by his overbearing mother until he was old enough to refuse to take part in that superstition.

But witnessing what he saw, what if it wasn’t superstition? What if the devil was real? Satan, Lucifer, the Morningstar? What if he was real? What if he could possess the body of mortals? What if Mathilde was being influenced by the Prince of Darkness?

He shook his head and laughed. Certainly it was a trick of the light, or else he was tired, or hungry. He had missed his morning respite in his haste to pick up the children. His mind was playing tricks on him. Perhaps he needed to see this colleague of Monsieur Astier.

There was a bloodcurdling scream out in the corridor. Enzo jumped from his chair, raced to the door, and threw it open. Rene was pinned to the wall again, his feet dangling a foot from the ground, Mathilde grabbing him with one hand by the neck. Again, her face was demonic, and a power radiated from her being, and it hit Enzo in waves, like heat from the furnace, except many times more powerful.

“What’s this?” Enzo demanded, terror clutching at his heart.

“He insulted Celia again,” Mathilde replied, her voice harsh, lower than it should be. “There shall be no forgiveness this time.”

“No! Wait!” Enzo cried, not daring to get closer, but inching forward all the same. “Please, you don’t have to do this. Let’s talk this through. Can you put him down? Will you at least look at me?”

Mathilde turned her head, and her eye sockets were empty causing Enzo to screech in terror. “Mon Dieu!”

Mathilde laughed as she threw Rene to the ground like a ragdoll, a cold, mirthless laugh. Enzo looked around, wishing he had a Crucifix or Holy Water, or anything. He caught sight of the porcelain doll on the ground, and what he saw made his heart falter for a moment.

Enzo fell back, unable to speak, mortally afraid for the first time in all his life, pleading to a God he didn’t believe in until now. Mathilde’s eyes were staring back at him from Celia’s porcelain face, pleading to him, begging to be released from her imprisonment.

“I know you’re heart’s desire, Enzo Bousquet. You fancy yourself a lady’s man? You love to bed with wives of those you call friends and patrons. Why don’t you show me what you can do!”


Short Stories

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