Second Sight - A “Trapper” detective story
Some people use alcohol to numb their senses, I use it to enhance mine.
I was born without the ability to feel emotions but as a child I quickly found out that a few sips from my father’s secret liquor stash levelled up my physical senses to the point where it seemed as though I had a sixth sense.
My mother calls it ‘second sight.’ My father calls it a curse. He would know.
I take another swallow of the amber liquid I keep concealed inside an old fashioned flask. No one uses them anymore, but I enjoy the feel of the slim metal container tucked inside my jacket pocket. I suck in my cheeks as the liquid burns my throat. It’s homemade liquor like my father used to make, but stronger. I cough and my eyes water but it’s still not enough.
”Dammit,” I mutter and twist off the Instant Sight Identification lens from my eye. Without the lens, we can’t physically see anything. No one can. And only the privileged, rich or those born to protect are given the option to purchase the ISI lens. But even blind I can feel him… rippling along my skin like the barest whisper against my neck or—
”Hey, Trap?” Dana touches my shoulder from behind and I jump.
I turn around and reattach my lens. My partner’s dark expressionless face shines slightly in the light of the moon, but I still feel the hint of a smile she’s hidden behind her stark professionalism.
So I’m not broken.
”Got anything?” She asks. I shake my head. The warmth of the alcohol has already dimmed. I want— no, need — another sip but I rake my shaky hand through my hair instead.
”He’s close. I feel him.“ I feel him like he’s a part of me. But I don‘t tell her that.
“I just can’t get any other read on him. And this damn thing—” I shake my ISI like I’m trying to dislodge a pebble in my shoe. The lens rattles in its frame attached to my eye socket, making my eyes water.
“—cost our department fourteen million to invest in.” She finishes my sentence with a wry smile.
I shrug. “Well, I think it hinders more than it helps.” I turn and watch our team with their ISI lenses focusing and refocusing as they walk in circles around the latest victim. She looks no more than 20. 25 at the most. She’s victim number fifty, but the Lens says she’s Jilly. She was found fully clothed but without shoes, curled in a fetal position on the asphalt outside an old fashioned ice cream shop. No blood. No sign of any struggle. And according to the ISI lens, no trace of any DNA. Anywhere.
”How do you know it’s a ‘him?’” Dana’s tone is curious. Quiet. I’ve learned how to read her through her vocal inflections since her face rarely betrays anything. Or maybe it’s just because I can’t tell. She doesn’t know about my disability but I know she suspects something. Her persistent questions make my brain ache but she’s my partner so I tolerate her more than I tolerate most.
”Just a feeling,” I tell her, but I know my answer won’t satisfy for long.
”Jacob Trapper,” she grips my forearm so hard I actually wince. ”Come with me.” She’s suddenly dragging my 6’3” frame behind her. I could pull out of her grasp or plant my feet but her insistence is pulsing along the arm she’s holding.
She’s on to something.
I follow her 20 feet or so down an alley away from our team. She finally stops beside a dumpster; the old fashioned metal kind with a hinged lid. The smell of rust and rot is heavy here, but it’s an old smell. Decades old. No one has used this dumpster in a long time. But someone was here. Recently.
My scalp prickles like it always does before I notice something.
“What is it, Trapper?” Dana lets go of me but keeps close. Her perfume nearly obfuscates the scent I‘m trying to lean into. I wag my head back and forth, like a bloodhound picking up a scent trail. I’m aware of how strange I look, I saw myself on someone’s ISI lens playback once, but I don’t care. Something smells familiar. No, not something. Someone.
I look down at Dana. In the darkness of the alley her face is almost completely hidden. The pit in my stomach grows and my mouth is cottony as my mind grapples with the identity of the killer. His form drifts in and out of my mind. An apparition.
”You need another drink?” Dana’s whispered question slams into me. She knows. Of course she knows. Even though my homemade liquor is crafted without its traditional telltale scent, she knows. She presses something cool and hard into my hand. It’s not the canteen from my jacket pocket, it’s much smaller like a vial.
“It’s over 90% proof,” she whispers. “Go ahead. It might help.”
I pop the top and down the contents in a second, scrunching my eyes against the acrid burn.
And then I see it. Or rather, I see him. The killer. The one we’ve been chasing for years. The murderer no one has been able to track, trace or even identify. Until now.
He’s evaded every detective and every Instant Sight Identification Lens because he’s like me. He doesn’t need one. He’s old school. Even choosing to leave his victims in locations like this old ice cream shop… places that look like they’ve been pulled from history books.
And just like that, the old scent of his aftershave washes into my mental focus, pulled up from my memories and pushed into the present where I can smell it right now. It co-mingles with Dana’s flowery scent and I suddenly feel ill. I’ve never fainted before in my life, but I think I might right now.
I manage a single word before everything goes dark.
Readying was the night you had the time for me.
Changed my mind about this morning
And I didn’t expect you to.
Always have been there for the last one and
Believing in a blessing.
Running out to my house now.
Crying for you.
Dying for a new song.
I just can’t believe
that you didn’t know how I feel.
Isolon (Chapter 1)
I only scavenge at the Hole after dark. I take no risks, not with my baby brother waiting for me.
Tonight, the Hole is quiet when I arrive. Only two other Sweepers have dirty, canvas bags slung over their shoulders and are picking through rubbish in search of a tin of creamed corn or string beans. The air is ripe with rotting fruit and mouldy cheese—promises of a good haul—which is why it should be busier here. My taut muscles scream that something’s wrong, but the thought of facing my starving brother in the morning forces me on.
I readjust my filthy, knit cap, make sure my hair is tucked in, then stick an aluminium micro light between my teeth. Sweeping used to twist my guts with anxiety, and while it’s still not something I look forward to, after two years I’m at least proficient. And hey, I’m still alive.
I bend over and dig into the freshest-looking trash pile. A plug-in lamp, complete with an intact bulb, I shove aside in favor of a flashlight missing its glass. You can never have enough of these coveted, battery-operated lights in Isolon. Electricity is a past luxury. The trick is to find enough usable batteries to trade and keep.
Two dented cans of peas and a mystery jar of something orange I shove in my bag then take two steps to the left to begin again. Every few seconds I stop and glance around; a self-protection habit I learned the hard way.
The humid, night air coats my skin and has what I call ‘air-disturbance.’ New, pungent smells that mean Avalon—the sky city directly above us—had dumped their refuse earlier in the day which makes evenings like this the best for sweeping before everything becomes picked over or rotten. But few venture out at night to sweep because it could cost you your life. For me and others like me, sweeping with less competition means I have a better chance at finding the unopened tins of food that sympathetic Avalonites threw into the trash for us down here.
A few feet to my right I spot the fuzzy brown ear of a stuffed animal with both its eyes intact. In less than a minute I unearth it, shake it free of most of the dirt and crap sticking to it, and push it in my bag for Lake. Maybe he’ll give up his tattered old bear.
Nearby, the two other Sweepers are joined by someone else. I can tell who it is by the limp and intimidating voice. It’s Slate. I don’t like him.
Slate isn’t technically a Sweeper, although I suppose he gets his food and supplies from the Hole too. He’s the leader of the Nights, an underground community who think it’s their business to protect the Hole from the rest of Isolon. Despite my apprehension, I focus on scavenging for at least one more meal and something to trade before I let myself go home to my little brother. I thumb the scar above my right eyebrow, then put my head down and keep picking. If you mind your own business at the Hole you’re more likely to go home with all your limbs attached.
Sounds of an argument erupt from the little group, which isn’t uncommon at the Hole, but I can tell they aren’t arguing about food or grunge to trade. I catch the words ‘contest’ and ‘Avalon’ and I know they’re talking about the competition Avalon puts on every five years where the prize is a new life in the beautiful sky city. But then I hear the word ‘culling,’ and I almost run home. I dig faster and unearth a plate with a small chip I can trade. Another tin of veggies or two and I can be on my way.
I’m toeing the dirt off something metallic, when I notice an eerie silence. In a fraction of a second, I drop my bag, grab the dagger I keep strapped to my thigh and swing around. Slate’s hair shines silvery in the beam of my micro light.
“Well, who do we have here.” He picks his way through the rubble with more grace than a spider, and I marvel at his silence, especially with a bad leg.
My jaw aches from holding the micro light in my mouth but I keep the beam trained on him, knowing he’s unable to see me. If only I had been more aware. I’d stupidly allowed my attention to wander, a mistake I almost paid for with my life once before.
“What’s your name, boy?” Slate shields his eyes and squints. I keep my eyes on his other hand, the one twitching at his side like he might grab a weapon any second. “Shadows got your tongue?” He steps closer but I wave my dagger at him. I know how to use it, even if I still want to hurl at the sight of blood.
My eyes flick from his twitchy hand to his feet. The shift of his weight from his bad leg to his good one is slight but I see it, and brace myself. Quick as a silverfish, his arm swings up. His solid forearm hits my wrist in an attempt to knock the dagger out of my hand. But my grip is iron. With my other hand, I grab a two inch blade from its sheath on my wrist and slash downwards. I feel the blade connect with soft tissue. He cries out and stumbles back. I grab my bag and run. No one cuts Slate and lives.
After several minutes of panicked running, weaving between crumbling apartment buildings and jumping over broken fences, I duck into an alley. I sheath my blades, cut the light, then pull off my cap and let my hair loose. No one expects a girl to be sweeping, especially at night when the Shadows are out stalking their next victims. But it’s not the Shadows I fear, it’s the Cullers. Population control cops who arrive in Isolon every morning and return to Avalon before dark when they’ve filled their quota. They’re the reason my little brother Lake and I are surviving alone.
I exit the alley and keep my pace at a brisk walk, eager to make it home before Slate discovers who I really am.
A bright light blinds me and I squint so hard my eyes water. Even though I can’t see his expression, I hear him make a rude sound.
“You’re a girl?”
“What do you want, Slate.” I hope Lake is in the house and has locked the door like I taught him.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You asked me what I want. I want you.” His voice is deep which makes him sound menacing, but it’s his height that’s more intimidating. I’m barely 5’3” and he towers over me.
“Too bad, I don’t want you.” I don’t want to turn my back on him, so I take a step away, still holding my dagger out.
“Cut it out, Stone. I’ve seen what you can do with that blade. And with your fists.” He switches the light off and I hear him shifting his feet. I don’t like that I suddenly can’t see him and I blink until the spots in my eyes disappear.
He runs a hand down the side of his face. I know he has a scar there because I gave it to him two years ago. Three days after my parents were culled, Lake and I ran out of food and I was forced to leave my brother with Summer for the first time so I could scavenge at the Hole. Slate was there with a group of Nights, and we both went after the same jar of beets. He grabbed my arm and I was so scared I went for my blade. I didn’t really know how to use it, I just instinctively slashed the air with it. When it made contact with some fleshy part of him, he knocked me to the ground. Two of his guys jumped on me and I went home bruised and bleeding. I’d managed to keep my knit cap on though, which is why Slate is surprised to see me now without it.
I sense, more than see, that he’s not going to fight me so I drop my hand to my side, still clutching the dagger. Just in case.
“Join the Nights. We could use someone like you.”
“No, thanks.” I start to walk away but he steps in front of me. There’s a large, dark stain on his left sleeve. It’s spreading. It must be where I cut him.
“Avalon’s competition is coming up again. You could win it, Stone.”
“I don’t care.” I try to side-step him, but he blocks me. Heat rises to my face and my free hand curls into a fist. “Move.”
I see something move in the shadows over Slate’s shoulder. Someone’s near my house. And judging by their height, it isn’t Lake.
I shove Slate. He’s immovable. His hand flashes out and grabs my wrist. All I can think of is what happened last time he grabbed me like this. I glance at my house again. There’s more than one shadow moving toward the door now.
I try to shake my arm free of Slate to go after whoever is at my house, but Slate somehow spins me around. My back slams against his chest. My dagger is knocked from my hand and clatters in the gravel. Slate’s hand covers my mouth, crushing my lips against my teeth. He smells of dirt, oil and sweat.
“Shut up,” he hisses in my ear. Moist heat from his breath makes me shiver. Tension hums in me like a live wire. “Listen, Stone. Chasing after you tonight hurt my pride. Especially since you cut me. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need you, so just shut up and listen. ’Kay?”
I nod and the pressure on my mouth lessens but he keeps his hand there.
“The Nights voted on who should be the one to win Avalon’s shit contest. And it was unanimous. They picked you, Stone. We need you to win. Then, once you’re in Avalon, you’re going to kill the Commander.”
He lets go of me then, and I spin around, spit near his boot, then wipe my mouth on my sleeve. “Is there something wrong with your head? No way I’m doing that!” Behind him, the clouds shift and moonlight throws an eerie light on my house. Whoever was there has gone. At least, I don’t see anyone moving around anymore.
“If you don’t, then you can kiss your brother goodbye.”
In a flash, I slip my wrist knife out of its sheath and press it against Slate’s throat. “Do. Not. Threaten. Me.”
“Hey,” he says quietly, and the apple in his throat bobs beneath my blade. “It’s not me who’s threatening you. It’s Avalon. I hear they’re looking for you. Maybe you’re the next to be culled.”
I go still. I don’t even breathe when I hear that word.
I arrive at Summer’s house; a simple one storey structure that used to have flower gardens and a wooden porch-swing on the front verandah. Or so Summer told me. All I care is that it has a roof and four walls. It’s in better condition than my own house, with its one usable room and thin sheets of plastic where the windows used to be.
I rap my knuckles three times in quick succession on Summer’s door to signal that it’s me and that I’m alone. I hear a deadbolt sliding, then the rattling of some chains before the door opens three inches and one of Summer’s rheumy brown eyes peers out.
“Hurry,” I hiss and, in a flash, Summer yanks open the door then tugs me inside. While she’s busy securing the door again, I glance around for my brother and see him curled up on a stained mattress. His mop of dark hair and thin shoulders protrude from a bright blue, knit blanket.
“How long has he been asleep?”
“Since you dropped him off.” Summer rubs a knuckle in one eye and yawns. Her long grey hair is braided and hangs over one shoulder. She’s wearing her standard ratty pink housecoat over a thin cotton nightgown. Her feet are bare and I glance away from her twisted-up toes.
“You don’t have to go home you know. Just stay here and let him sleep.” She says this all the time and I always decline, preferring to go back to the house Lake and I have lived in since I can remember. She knows the real reason why I can’t leave our house, but we never talk about it.
“I’m not putting a target on your back by staying here.” I cross the tiny room and gather Lake into my arms. He wakes long enough to wrap his arms around my neck. He’s warm and smells a bit like raspberry jam.
“Oh pish posh” Summer says. “What can the Shadows possibly want with an old woman like me? They don’t know you come here.”
“I think I was followed tonight.” This brings a reaction from Summer, however slight. She frowns and sucks her teeth.
“Not by the Shadows though.”
“Cullers then? That’s highly unlikely at this hour—”
Summer mutters something, then grabs Old Bear from the mattress and tucks him under Lake’s arm. The familiar scent of our house—musty wood—wafts up from its shaggy fur and I briefly think maybe the new bear in my bag isn’t such a good idea. Lake will never part with the stuffed toy he’s had since he was a baby. It’s the only thing he has left from our mom and dad.
My back and shoulder muscles are screaming from the weight of both Lake and my bag. I dip my head at Summer who moves to the door and starts the process of unlocking it all over again.
“Don’t let Slate get to you,” Summer whispers as I slide out through the door.
“He nearly killed me!”
Summer shrugs. “That was years ago, Stixx. And to be fair, he didn’t know you’re a girl.”
“He wouldn’t care. He probably—” I stop because Lake’s big blue eyes are wide open and he’s staring up at me. I don’t want to freak him out with this kind of talk so I say instead, “Summer, in my bag, there’s a jar of carrots for you.”
Summer fishes the jar out of my bag then pats my arm. “Peaches.”
“They’re peaches, not carrots.”
“Okay.” I hoist Lake up higher and turn to walk down her broken sidewalk to the rear alley that runs between her place and mine. “Say goodbye, Lake.”
“Goodbye Lake!” He says and grins, which makes Summer chuckle.
“Straight home now.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say then call over my shoulder, “don’t eat all those peaches at once if you don’t want the runs!”
I walk away but hear her mutter “pish posh” before she shuts the door.
I put Lake down once we reach the alley, and he runs ahead to our house. I see him reach our weather-beaten door, his small frame just a shadow in the ghostly moonlight.
Just before I reach my yard I hear the gravel crunch behind me. For the second time tonight, I whirl around, dagger in hand, and see Slate.
The Why’s of Writing Dark
I write dark stories. Why? Writing, for me, is about vulnerability and discovery. I give my characters 'mortality.' I make them vulnerable. They have secrets--things they don't want anyone to see. Then, slowly, I hurt them. On the inside. Until, finally, what they've believed about themselves is revealed. And always, it's a lie.
You see, I don't write to help readers escape. I write because I too am a reader, and I read because I want to see how others (even characters) navigate real life. It's in the stories that we learn about ourselves. And we don't just learn the truth about human frailty, we discover how even the weakest can overcome. Just a thought. XO
Lucien inhaled the earthy scent of fallen leaves mingled with the tartness of ripened apples and massaged his back muscles. He was about to return to his afternoon chores when Miss Julie sashayed toward him, her perfume cloud trailing.
He sighed. He couldn’t afford to be distracted by her pouty lips and her advances, not with so much work still to do before winter.
“No, Miss Julie,” he said when she sidled up to him. “Can’t talk today.”
“Talk’s cheap.” She ran a red-painted nail along his stubbled cheek, tracing his childhood scar. “You know what I’m here for.”
He grabbed her wrist. “I’ll be taken out back and shot.”
“No, you won’t. Daddy’s not even home. How will he know?” She pressed herself against him.
He swallowed and weakened his grip on her wrist. He shouldn’t even entertain the idea of touching Miss Julie. The heat of her hand pressing on the small of his back made beads of sweat roll from his hairline. His shirt clung to him.
“Just one kiss. I promise, no one will know. Who would believe it anyway? The yard boy kissing the Baron’s daughter…”
“No.” He released her, then grabbed his shovel and turned back to his chore. “You shouldn’t mess with someone in a different class. People will talk.”
“Nonsense.” She found a stump to sit on and hiked her skirts up, revealing a thigh. “This is my private garden. There’s no one around.” She plucked at the lace on her dress, but he saw her watching him beneath her lashes. “I could order you and you’d have to obey.”
He drove the shovel into the soil and leaned on it, looking at her openly. “That’s evil, Miss Julie.” He didn’t like the way she looked at him. Like he was an iced cake and she was starved for sugar.
He forced his mind back to his work even though he could feel her eyes on him still. She swung her feet against the stump. Thump. Thump. Just like his pulse. Could she see his heart leaping through his shirt?
“How deep of a hole do you need for planting vegetables, anyway?”
“It’s not for vegetables. Mrs. Porter’s canary died.”
Julie got off her stump and peered into the hole. “Canary? How big is it?”
Lucian shook his head. “I’m not burying the canary, I’m burying the cat that ate the canary. Mrs. Porter scared it into the broom closet. Trouble is, she forgot about it and it ate rat poison.”
“It was just a barn cat.” Lucian lifted a small bundle wrapped in burlap from a wheelbarrow and dropped it in the hole.
“All God’s creatures deserve some good in life,” she said in a measured tone.
Lucian shovelled dirt onto the shroud. “See, that’s the trouble with you, Miss Julie. You got it in that head of yours that everything’s equal.” He stopped to wipe the sweat from his upper lip, but spoke to the ground like he always did. Like he was taught to. “Some things aren’t meant to be mixed, and it’s best if you don’t interfere with that.”
“Your daddy teach you that?”
Lucian tapped the mound with the back of the shovel harder than necessary, then tossed the shovel into the wheelbarrow and unrolled his sleeves.
“I’ll be seeing you, Miss Julie.” He tipped his hat to her and pushed the barrow into the garden shed.
“Indeed. Good day, Lucian.”
Lucian thoughts flitted from his chores to Miss Julie and back again for the rest of the day. What did she want with him? He plunged his hands into his washing bowl in his private quarters and splashed tepid water on his face. Miss Julie was a temptress—no, that sounded wrong. She was wild and careless. He used to love that about her.
He dried his face on an old towel and pushed his hair back with his hands. He spied his reflection in a propped up bit of broken mirror, and ran a finger along his scar. Just like Miss Julie did earlier.
The click of his door closing made him spin around.
“We’re alone.” Miss Julie leaned against the door, a secretive smile on her face. Lucian forced his eyes to remain on hers, while he mentally assessed the bodice of her deep red gown, so tight it forced her bosoms up. Pale, ripe fruit fringed with scarlet lace.
He swallowed hard. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Miss Julie flicked her wrist. “You’re in your head way too much, Lucian. You need a little fun in your life. Loosen up a bit.” She charged forward, pale green eyes glinting. He backed up into his washing table. The water pitcher toppled and crashed to floor. Lucian’s stomach sunk into his boots. The whole household would be wondering what he was up to.
But Miss Julie just laughed, a slender hand pressed to her throat. “What are you afraid of? I told you, no one’s here. Mrs. Porter left early, something about Mr. Porter feeling poorly, and Daddy still hasn’t come home.”
Lucian glanced at the pottery shards scattered around his feet and when he looked up again, Miss Julie descended on him. With deftness, she undid his shirt buttons, her cool hands raising goosebumps on his fevered skin. Her rose scent gave him vertigo.
“No, Miss Julie.”
Her hands pulled his shirt down until it hung around his waist, his wrists trapped by the tight, fabric cuffs. He’d gone shirtless plenty of times when he worked outside, but never in Miss Julie’s presence. His muscles stiffened with a toxic mix of confusion and desire.
“Don’t tell me you don’t like this, Lucian.” She touched his scar again. “Remember?”
He turned away. He didn’t want to remember. That was then.
Miss Julie wove her fingers into his hair at the back of his head and pulled him to her. “Look at me.”
Her whisper stilled his heart. He lifted his eyes to hers.
“You loved me once,” she said. Both her hands went to his chest, pinning him against the table.
He willed his heart to stop hammering. “We were kids, Miss Julie. We didn’t know any better.”
“You kissed me.”
“You kissed me. I… I let you.”
“You must’ve liked it, because you kissed me back.”
He looked at her downturned mouth, seductive defiance. His blood thickened in his veins. “I was afraid, Miss Julie.”
She stepped back. “Of what.”
Lucian held her eyes. “Of you.”
Miss Julie smirked, then whirled around and strode to the door. She left with swishing skirts and slammed the door. Lucian heaved a great breath and pulled his shirt over his shoulders—without bothering to button it—then knelt to pick up the broken pieces of his water pitcher.
He laid in bed that night with an arm over his eyes. His thoughts were riotous, filled with images of Miss Julie that he forced away. The warm, autumn breeze that came in from his open window carried a hint of rose.
He rolled over and froze.
Illuminated by the moonlight, Miss Julie stood an arms length away in a white nightdress, her hair long and loose to her waist. He grabbed for the sheets he’d kicked to the bottom and yanked them over his bare torso.
She raised a finger to her lips then walked to his window and pulled it shut. Her hair billowed around her shoulders as she came to him and he wondered stupidly how many times she had brushed it tonight.
She slid in next to him and curled up on her side, facing him like they did this all the time. His mouth went dry. She looked like a little girl with her eyes closed, a small smile on her lips. Her hair tickled his chest and her feet, when they found his, were cold. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked at her.
Laying like this she appeared innocent. The rust-gold waves of hair that spilled across the slender curve of her shoulder, and the way she tucked one hand under her chin. He watched her until the clouds rolled past the window and sliced the moonlight into silvery splinters of light.
“Remember when I used to sneak into your room like this after the accident?” The warmth of her breath woke something up. A memory long dormant.
“And I would hold you while you cried.”
“Do you think of her?” Miss Julie’s eyes popped open, and in the half light, she looked like an apparition. Two black holes where eyes should be. But he felt her looking at him, waiting for his answer.
The air went out of him and he sunk into his pillow and closed his eyes. “I try not to, Miss Julie. But sometimes…” He touched his cheek, remembering. “Sometimes I can’t help it.” His eyes burned and his chest ached. Embarrassed to be fighting back tears with the Mistress of the house in his bed.
The sheets moved and he felt Miss Julie’s hand rest on his chest. “I never told you this, but after…after your sister’s accident it was your father who cut the tree down.”
Lucian shivered in spite of the heat. He turned his head to her. “But your father told me he took care of it.”
Her hand flattened on his chest, stilling his heart and stuttering his breath.
“Daddy did take care of it, in a way. He gave your father the honour of cutting down the tree that killed his daughter.” Her hand fisted and his heart bumped beneath it. “That’s how he said it.”
Lucian pushed her hand gently off him as he turned onto his side. Eye to eye, nose to nose, mouth to mouth. Inches apart, they breathed each other’s air until slowly Lucian’s pulse returned to normal.
“The Baron’s a good man,” he said into the darkness. He didn’t expect a reply, thinking Miss Julie had fallen asleep and he might have to take a chance on being seen when he carried her back to her room.
“Yes, he is. But you never thanked me.” Her whisper raised the hair on his arms. “After all these years you never once thanked me.”
“For not telling Daddy what really happened that day.”
Lucian swallowed. “My sister got stuck climbing that damned tree and I went to help her. I don’t know how the branch broke. I…” He rubbed his scar.
“Yes, but do you remember why Millie climbed the tree in the first place? She was looking for you. I know how you loved to climb up high enough to see the entire estate.” Her fingers drew lazy circles on his chest. “I told Daddy you were busy in the garden and didn’t notice she had wandered off.”
Lucian curled his fingers into the sheets. “Miss Julie—”
“I never told him you were with me. That we were kissing behind the garden shed.”
“Please. Miss Julie, I think you need to—”
“I never breathed a word of it. I saved your life. Now you owe me, Lucian.” She moved and pressed the length of herself against him.
Heat exploded in him. The betrayal of his body so strong that he did the only thing he could. He shoved her away from him. Hard. “Miss Julie. We can’t do this. Please.”
“Don’t you understand? I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
“You’ll get me killed.”
“I could’ve told Daddy the truth, but I didn’t. For you.” Miss Julie sat up. Her volume increased and panic erupted in him. The Baron must be home by now. If he heard his daughter’s voice coming from the hired help’s room…
Lucian sat up and grabbed Miss Julie’s shoulders. “What do you want from me?” His whisper sounded harsh. Miss Julie’s shoulders quivered beneath his hands. Her soft sob pulled his heart. He moved his hands until he found her face. He stroked her cheek, wiping her tears with his thumb then, without thinking, he pulled her to him. She wrapped her arms around him and he felt her heart fluttering like a frightened sparrow in a cage beneath her thin cotton nightdress.
“Kiss me, Lucian,” she whispered.
Her vulnerabilty moved him. He shouldn’t, but he kissed the top of her head, the scent of her full and heady. He moved her hair to one shoulder and kissed her neck. Feathery kisses that trailed up to her jaw, each one growing more fervent. When he found her lips, they parted in anticipation. Kissing Julie, the woman, was different than kissing Julie, the girl. This Julie moved against him in ways that she shouldn’t. This Julie’s breasts felt full and round against his chest every time she breathed.
“Go,” he whispered. Urgency clipped the word.
He sighed and prepared to pick her up and carry her, but the sheets were suddenly flung off and a wad of warm, rose-scented, fabric landed in his lap.
“What are you doing? Put your nightdress back on!”
“You can’t order me around, Lucian.”
He threw the night shirt in her direction and scrambled to the foot of the bed, in an attempt to avoid touching her nakedness. He suffered a bruise to his shin before finding the door.
“Out, now!” He hissed, one hand on the doorknob. In a moment he heard rustling, then the sound of her padding toward him. He opened the door and the light from the hall revealed her fury as she sailed past him, her bunched up night dress held to her naked chest.
He didn’t sleep. He opened his window and let the night air wash the scent of impropriety from his room, then laid on his bed and watched the shadows dance on the wall until morning.
“Good heavens, you look a mess!” Mrs. Porter clutched her throat when Lucian entered the kitchen in the morning. “Here. Sit. I’ll get you some eggs and toast. And strong coffee.” She pulled out a chair, forced him to sit, and fussed over him.
After a few bites Lucian pushed his plate away and sat holding his head.
Mrs. Porter sat beside him. “Mr. Brightly wants you to shine the Baron’s boots before he gets home. He has an outing this afternoon, but I think we should find someone else to do it. You haven’t even shaved.”
Lucian lifted his head. “The Baron isn’t home yet?”
The cook turned her soft face with its deep-set raisin eyes to his. “Not yet.” She patted his arm. “But something tells me, whatever happened last night had to do with that daughter of his.” Her pats turned into a sharp pinch. He yelped and yanked his arm away, then rubbed the sore spot.
“You better not have touched her, Lucian. You know it’ll cost you your life if any of the high-born’s find out.”
He shook his head, even as a flush went through him. “I told her no, but she kept on about it.” He brushed at some toast crumbs. “I kissed her.”
Mrs. Porter sighed loud enough to rattle china. “Before the clock strikes eight, you’d better be washed, shaved and back down here shining the Baron’s boots.” She stood and collected the dishes. “Mark my words, that girl will get what’s coming to her. She’s been trying to get you killed from the first day you and your father came to work here.”
Lucian’s mouth dried out. “What? Why?”
Mrs. Porter filled the sink, then put the dishes in before she turned around. “The heart always wants what it can’t have. And if she can’t have you, then perhaps she thinks no one should.”
“It’s not Miss Julie’s fault though. Not entirely. I gave in.” Lucian rubbed his forehead and frowned. Mrs. Porter finished washing the dishes then dried her hands on a towel. She turned to him. Her solemn face made Lucian’s skin prickle.
“You mind what you’re ’fessing up to, boy.” She pointed a finger at him. “That girl goes after what she wants. And if she doesn’t get it…well, let’s just say that barn cat didn’t find itself accidentally wandering into the parlor where the canary was.”
Lucian pushed back his chair, his chest heaving. “You don’t mean…but why? She loved that bird.”
Mrs. Porter tossed her dish towel on the table and smoothed Lucian’s hair like a mother would her child. “That canary wouldn’t sing for Miss Julie no more, Lucian. Now, go on and get yourself cleaned up before the Baron comes home. I’ll take care of everything. You’ll see.”
At half past seven Lucian returned to the kitchen and spread an old cloth on the floor in an alcove by the back door, assembled his brushes and tins of polish then began shining the Baron’s boots. Mrs. Porter flitted about the kitchen humming to herself.
A strong rose scent wafted to Lucian and he snapped his head up to see Miss Julie stumble into the room. She wore a night dress torn across one shoulder, exposing the top of a breast, and her hair stood out from her head in torrent of angry snarls. Her swollen, red eyes and blotchy face gave testament to a horrific night. But it was the bruises that had Lucian’s shivering where he hunkered over her father’s boots, his stomach rippling and convulsing. Her pale shoulders and throat were painted in purpling swirls, the size of a man’s fingers.
“Good Lord!” Mrs. Porter pulled out a chair the same way she’d done for Lucian and helped Miss Julie lower herself into it. She produced a damp cloth and pressed it to the young woman’s face and neck. “Now tell me what happened, child.”
Miss Julie’s hands fluttered around her face as she attempted to rearrange her hair. Her eyes flitted in Lucian’s direction. “It’s too awful to say, Mrs. Porter. But I pity the man that did this to me. My daddy will take him out back and slit his throat!” She dissolved into tears and flung her head into her folded arms on the table.
Mrs. Porter raised her eyebrows at Lucian and he stared back at her, slaw-jawed, heart galloping. This couldn’t be happening. He hadn’t touched Miss Julie like that.
“There now, dear. I’ll get you a stiff drink to calm your nerves and you can tell me what happened.”
With her hands wrapped around the glass of two fingers of a dark amber liquid, Miss Julie told a story in explicit detail of a man raping and sodomizing her. Every so often her eyes would fill and she would look right at Lucian, her message to him so keen--so cunning--he felt as though she’d ripped his heart out.
His hands moved in slow circles on the Baron’s boots while he swallowed his gorge again and again.
The clock in the hall struck eight and Lucian’s blood drained. How fitting that he had spent his last few moments stroking and shining the high, black boots that would kick in his face then smashing his windpipe.
Miss Julie’s tale grew more sordid with every passing minute. Her face flushed with the drink and the decanter sat nearly empty in front of her. Mrs. Porter patted her arm and mumbled there there a few times, before announcing she would take care of it.
She pulled out a chair, sat her rotund body down, and gathered yesterday’s mail to her ample bosom.
“And then he lifted my skirts, and his dirty hands touched my thighs. I shrieked! I hollered! I told him no, a thousand times, no! But he did it anyway. I kicked him and scratched him!”
Mrs. Porter slit an envelope with a paring knife. She nodded and said soothing things and slit open another envelope.
Lucian watched with horrible fascination as Mrs. Porter opened every envelope with that knife, but didn’t read any letter. She merely stacked everything in a neat pile, then slid the knife closer to Miss Julie.
Loud footsteps sounded in the front hall. Lucian dropped the polish. Miss Julie groaned, a hand to her throat in a final flourish. Mrs. Porter slid the knife closer.
“I would think it would be easy to spot that man that did this to you, Miss.” Mrs. Porter’s lowered voice raised the hair on the back of Lucian’s neck.
The footsteps came closer.
Miss Julie turned and looked at the cook, her eyes wide and shiny. “Do you think so?”
“Oh yes. It’s a good thing you put up such a fuss fighting for your life. The man will have cuts and bruises everywhere, probably looks as beat up as you do, Miss Julie.” She grabbed the younger woman’s wrist. “I’ll bet you even have his skin underneath your fingernails still. I think if you take that knife there and scrape under your nails gently, you’ll find it.”
Miss Julie’s eyes flickered to Lucian then back to the cook. “Well, I…” She picked up the knife.
A figure darkened the doorway. “What the hell is going on in here?” The Baron stepped into the kitchen and the sight of him gutted Lucian. He pulled in a breath so sharp his lungs touched his spine. The Baron’s double-breasted suit coat had torn at the sleeve, his dark hair disheveled, his face unshaven and scored with red lines.
Lucian stood, the boots clunked to the floor. Mrs. Porter pushed back her chair, stood, and pressed her hands to her mouth.
Miss Julie screamed.
A blazing inferno roared up Lucian’s shins, his thighs and settled deep in his belly. The scenes that Miss Julie had described about her attacker flared in Lucian’s mind. He ran across the room and tackled the Baron, the older man’s hulking frame fell with a tooth-jarring thud.
“Over my dead body will you ever touch Miss Julie again!” Lucian’s fist found the Baron’s nose and crushed it. Blood spurted the front of Lucian’s fresh white shirt and sprayed his face. The Baron groaned and held his arms up to block the blows. Lucian’s vision blurred until all he saw was Julie’s attacker. When the Baron became still, he slid off the man and sat huffing on the floor, staring at his bloodied knuckles.
“Good Lord Almighty! Did you kill him?” Mrs. Porter rushed to the Baron with her ridiculous dish towel and checked his pulse. Her sigh brought a rush of relief to Lucian that turned his body to water. He glanced at Miss Julie who stood staring, the knife still in her hand.
She came to Lucian and used a corner of her night dress to wipe Lucian’s face then she kissed him. A slow kiss that Lucian could not return. Confusion numbed him. What just happened?
Miss Julie held the knife out. “Lucien, we can be together.”
“What?” His skin prickled. The rich, salty tang of blood made him cough and gag. The smell of the Baron’s injuries thickened the air and turned Lucian’s stomach.
Miss Julie knelt next to Lucian. “Just take this,” she whispered and pushed the knife into his hands, “finish him off and we can be together.”
“I don’t understand…” Lucian pushed the knife away.
“He didn’t touch her!” Mrs. Porter stood, her face crimson, anger narrowing her raisin eyes. “The Baron didn’t do anything to his daughter! He just happened to fit in with her plan is all. Isn’t that right, Miss Julie?”
The cook grabbed the young woman’s arm and pulled at her.
“What are you on about, old woman? Get off me!” Miss Julie slapped at Mrs. Porter’s hands. Lucian stared at the two women struggling. Miss Julie dropped the knife. Lucian sprang for it, but his addled mind slowed his movements. Miss Julie snatched the knife and pushed Lucian aside. With a downward thrust she plunged the paring knife into her father’s chest.
The clock chimed in the parlor.
Mrs. Porter collapsed.
Lucian cried out, “what have you done?”
Miss Julie released the knife. It stood straight up from the Baron’s chest like he was a piece of fruit. Or a vegetable.
A burble escaped from the Baron’s open mouth.
Miss Julie wrapped both hands around the handle of the knife again, wiggling it like she was wanted to take it out.
“Stop! For the love of God, please stop!” Lucian reached for her.
Footsteps thundered down the hall to the kitchen. “Mrs. Porter! Has the Baron called the police yet? There’s been an accident down the lane. The Baron stopped to help, but the injured man…he lost his mind! Clawing and screaming. Won’t let anyone help… what the devil…” Lucian’s father stopped short at the sight in the kitchen entry.
Lucian swallowed bile. He shook his head.
Lucian’s father looked at his son who had a fistful of Miss Julie’s nightshirt, and he looked at the Baron who gurgled on the floor, then at Mrs. Porter who came to and sat up. She dabbed her face with the bloodied dish towel leaving crimson streaks on her cheeks.
Finally, Lucian’s father looked at Miss Julie, her hands still on the knife sticking out of her father.
“Julie,” he said in a calm voice that made Lucian shiver, “you shouldn’t interfere with those of a different class. Light doesn’t mix with darkness, because good will always triumph over evil.”
Lucien’s father motioned for Lucien to check the Baron’s pulse. Satisfied that the good man was still alive, Lucien called the police.
They say you’re only as old as you feel so I guess that makes me twenty something.
Really, I’m more than double that. I have 3 grown kids and 4 grandkids.
I recently quit my job to become a full time writer. This scares me.
I’m scared to fail...
I’m scared to succeed...
I’m scared no one will read my stuff...
I’m scared they will...
I’m an introvert until you get me talking, then...haha. You were warned.
I love Prose. Cuz here I’m halfway normal :)
Shadow and Shayde Part 2
Link to Part 1: https://theprose.com/post/238246/shadow-and-shayde-part-1
Weariness draws me into the sheets. I turn to blow out the lantern and startle. The girl is sitting up in her cot; dark eyes accusing, threatening, hating. But, of course, I can’t really see her eyes in the half-light, I just feel them.
I swallow hard and watch her shadow creep up the wall, then spread across the floor toward me. If I blink it’ll be on top of me.
My fingers curl into my sheets.
“I said my name’s not Rose and his name’s not Boo.”
“Alrighty. And my name’s Aphrodite.” It’s meant to be a joke—one she wouldn’t understand—but my attempt at humor does nothing to alleviate the hard knot in my stomach. Of all the children in all the years, I had to take this one?
Rescue, I tell myself and swallow the acid pill of panic that tastes bitter on my tongue.
“Go to sleep,” I command her. I release the sheets, my fists sweaty and stiff, then swing my legs into bed. The lantern can burn all night.
In the morning, she’s gone. Her rumpled bedsheets are still warm when I run my hands over them. I know she’s gone back to him. Back to my dead brother. My twin, my best friend. The one who’s haunted me ever since I accidentally knocked over the lantern and burned our shared bedroom to the ground when we were children.
Rose’s dark eyes look back at me as I stand before the mirror and brush my dark hair. When the past catches up with you it’s better to face it, so I stare at my reflection. Hating the dark eyes so like his. So like my brother’s. I frown and stick out my tongue before putting down my brush and turning away from the mirror. Away from the shadow of my former self.
When I turn around he’s there, but this time I don’t use the name I made up for him. This time I face my guilt. I embrace the pain, for it’s the only way into the future.
“Shayde!” I call for him as he slinks across my wall and over my floor when the sun rises in my window.
“I’m sorry!” He’s heard it before but it doesn’t stop him from haunting me. Taunting me every time the light and the darkness collides.
“Shadow?” A child calls to me from my bedroom doorway. “I’m hungry.”
I nod, and step across the threshold to embrace another day. Maybe the next child—next year on Rescue Day—will be the one who assuages my guilt; who fills the cavernous void my brother left in my chest.
And it must be filled.