Monday, July 16, 2012

Chapter 16

James took the room key and headed straight for the stairs. He had a bottle of whiskey in his duffle bag and he was dying to pop it open. Just as he reached the staircase a man stepped in front of him to block his way.

“Good evening friend” the man extended his hand, “My name is Malachi.”

“I don’t give a good god damn who you are and I ani’t your friend.” James spat in a deep Southern drawl. He attempted to move around but Malachi stepped in his way again.

“Your itchin’ for an ass whipping boy” James dropped his duffle bag to the floor and started rolling up his sleeves.

“Well I see that polite conversation is lost on you so I will get right down to business.” Malachi replied stiffly, “You are looking for someone and I know where to find her.”

“I’m listening” James nodded.

“Yes I thought you might be interested” Malachi smiled. “So why don’t we go up to your room and have a drink of that fine whiskey hidden in your duffle and have ourselves a little chat shall we?” 

James thought it over a mere second before he nodded. Why the hell not he reasoned. If this guy was yanking his chain he would beat him to a pulp, relieve from bent up frustrations. And if he really did know something then it was well worth sharing his whiskey.

Malachi’s lips parted in a wide smile as he moved aside to let James lead the way.


Audrey’s eyes fluttered slowly open. As her vision cleared she saw the library around her. She had been moved to the settee where she now lay. She pushed herself up to a sitting position and rubbed her head. A large lump had formed on the left side of her head where she hit the stone floor.

“Ah she wakes.” Nicholas stood by the fireplace, one arm resting on the mantle. “I shall have Max pack your things. I shall grant you safe passage back to the village. If you ever venture to return here or tell anyone of this place, I will kill you.” His tone was devoid of any emotion, he might have been giving her driving directions.

“My things …what …” Audrey fought to clear the clouds in her head. “I am leaving? Why? I thought …”

Nicholas turned his head to regard her in cold contempt. “Do you think me a fool? I welcomed you into my home, I provided for your every need.” His voice rose as did his fury. “You have fed me one lie after another since you arrived! Nothing you have told me is true save your name and it is only a half-truth!”

“Nicholas please …” Audrey pleaded, her cheeks burned hot under his vicious gaze.

Nicholas moved to snatch the newspaper off the table “This man hunts you and you have led him to my door!” Nicholas threw the paper at her.

“I …didn’t know …” Audrey began.

“Another lie!” Nicholas raged on. “You knew he would come for you! You knew!”

“I am sorry” Audrey said softly. She lowered her head, unable to look at him. “What was I suppose to say? I did not expect …”

“To live.” Nicholas finished for her, his tone softening. “But still he would have followed you here. You do not understand what is at stake.”

Heavy silence fell between them. Nicholas went back to the fireplace. He poured himself another glass of wine from a decanter on the mantle. He twirled the red liquid in his glass but did not drink.

“I … do not want to leave.” Audrey’s voice was little more than a whisper.

“Is it fear of this man that ties you here?” Nicholas turned his head to look at her.

“I do fear him” Audrey nodded. She gathered her courage and met his gaze. “But that is not why I want to stay.”

“Finally” A wide grin plays across Nicholas’s lips, “The Lady speaks the truth.” 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chapter 15

Audrey had been in the library all afternoon. She combed through the volumes, too overwhelmed to choose something at first. There were so many books, of all ages, and on every subject imaginable. She did not know if Heaven really existed or what it was like but she thought if it did, this was close.

She had finally selected several books and retired herself to an overstuffed chair. The hours passed without her noticing. Outside the sun had slipped from the horizon. Audrey put down the book she was reading and stretched. Her legs were stiff from being folded beneath her and her back ached. She got up from the chair and walked around the room working out the stiffness.

She wondered where Nicholas was. How did he fill his days, for she had never seen him before the evening?

Audrey’s steps brought her to Nicholas’s desk. His chair was pushed neatly under the desk. She pulled out the chair, admiring the upholstery. It was molded by his form, the plush fabric probably held his scent. She knew it was silly but she could not resist sinking down into the chair. Blushing, she leaned over to smell the fabric wrapped around the wooden arm.  

Smiling like a school girl Audrey leaned back in the chair. Her eyes floated about the room and again she wondered where Nicholas was. Would she see him tonight at all? Why was Audrey still here? Audrey knew she had nowhere else to go, but why was Nicholas allowing her to stay and for how long? And the questions still remained, who was Nicholas really. What was he?

Audrey’s began to pout, her gaze falling down at the desk. She saw something then she had not noticed. Neatly placed in the middle of the desk lay a leather bound book, its cover held no inscription of any kind.

“A Journal?” Audrey questioned the empty room. “I shouldn’t, it wouldn’t be right …” She was already opening the cover.

She found it more than a journal. From the first entry it seemed to be some sort of memoir, a chronicle of his life. Without the slightest of provocation Audrey began reading …

How does one catalogue a life that has spanned centuries? And more importantly, why would one do so if there is no one left to care? I am alone here.

Perchance it is some human coil that remains inside me. For has it not often been a human need to chronicles one’s life before they meet their end?

Or perhaps I possess some need to revisit the events in my life which have brought me to my inevitable fate. Even now, when all is nearly done, there remains so much I do not understand. I suppose lingering questions matter little now. I have made my choice and shall meet my destiny with bravery and honor.

I have lived longer than any deserve. I have watched time as it passes into history. I have witnessed senseless wars and the rise and fall of countless kingdoms. I have seen both great beauty and the grotesque. I have tried to live my life with honor and failed miserably. I have experienced loss, torment, pain, and death. And I have dealt pain and death to others. But I have also loved, and I have been loved. It is a love that brought warmth to my solitude and chased away the shadows of despair. And now it has brought me to my end.

                                                            Sir Nicholas Rochester
                                                            August 11, 2011

Audrey slammed the book shut with a loud snap. She was not ready to understand what those words had meant. “A life that has spanned centuries” … “I have dealt pain and death” …what did that mean? What could it mean?

“Ahem.” Nicholas cleared his throat. Audrey looked up to find him standing in the doorway, a news paper folder under one arm.

“Hello Sir Nicholas” Audrey smiled and quickly stood and moved away from his desk. Despite her efforts to appear otherwise she knew her guilt was written all over her face. “Thank you for the beautiful clothes, you really shouldn’t have.”

Nicholas took a seat in an armchair and opened his paper. It was a copy of the New York Times. “I could not very well leave you to wander my home in the same soiled garments and one shoe. It is quite unseemly.”

“Well thank you anyway” Audrey caught herself wringing her hands and quickly stopped. “And for the use of the library.”

“Max will be bringing dinner soon.” Nicholas said from behind the paper.

Audrey nodded uncomfortably as if Nicholas could see her through the pages of news print. Audrey took her previous seat and picked up a book and pretended to read.
Not a word passed between them. When Max finally entered to break the monotony Audrey felt like hugging the big man.

Max made up the small table at which Audrey and Nicholas had dined before. The table was covered with a linen cloth and placed with china plates but nothing like the previous grandeur she was shown. But the food was every much as divine. There were fresh fruits and crème, cheeses and artesian breads. At the table’s center lay an herb encrusted turkey, stuffed with glazed garden vegetables.

Max pulled out a chair for Audrey. She was seated alone at the table; Nicholas had not stirred from his reading. Max poured two goblets of wine then retreated from the room.

Audrey did not want to offend her host so she remained sitting with her hands in her lap, waiting for him to join her. She did not realize how hungry she was until the inviting aromas were laid before her. Her stomach rumbled.

 “Please, help yourself.” Nicholas folded the paper and stood up. He joined her at the table, laying the news paper beside his empty plate.

“Are you not hungry?” Audrey had already filled her plate.

Nicholas waved a hand, and took a sip of wine, “I was reading the most interesting article just now. It does amaze me how fickle Lady Justice can be. I often like to read the American news papers you see. I have a particular affection for the New York Times. I have been following one story in particular recently… and being from California was isn’t?” Nicholas paused to flash Audrey a charming smile. “Yes well you may not be privy to this case but it is quite the sensation. It seems a man has been on trial for murder and the kidnapping of several young girls. Apparently he has kept these women for years undetected. Can you imagine?”

Audrey lay her fork down with a shaking hand, “No, no I can’t”

“Well it seems the prosecution’s star witness, the oldest of the victims recovered I believe, disappeared before taking the stand. Though it seems it mattered little. This article indicates the police have somehow managed to mishandle the investigation which has led to this man’s release. ”

The blood had rushed from Audrey’s face.

“Are you quite all right my dear? Perhaps you have eaten too fast?” Nicholas smiled. “Perhaps you would like to read the article yourself.” Nicholas had folded the paper to ensure the man’s photo was fully exposed. He laid the paper beside her plate. “His name is Roberts, James Roberts.”

Audrey glanced at the photo briefly. Her eyes slipped back in their sockets as she slid from the chair and crumbled to the floor. 

Chapter 14

Malachi was seated at a table well away from the room’s few other patrons. The common room of the inn was not spacious, but quaint in an old world way. The walls were made of stone and wood, their surfaces dotted with old paintings in tarnished gilded frames. Wooden chairs and tables were splayed out in front of a massive stone hearth. The check in desk was carved of a deep cherry wood. Wood racks for holding glasses stood empty above the desk giving a hint of the building’s former use. The bedchambers up stairs all held the same timeless and charming quality of the common room. But Malachi appreciated none of it.

Each time the door opened Malachi glanced up, and each time he became more irritable. He despised having to rely on humans. They were hapless, pathetic creatures. But unfortunately they were a necessity.  There were certain tasks that had to be performed during daylight hours, and that of course was not a possibility for his kind.

The bell over the door chimed as a young man stepped through. His eyes met Malachi’s and he quickly joined him at his table.

“I hope your news is good?” Malachi glared at the kid, he thought his name was Jack, or Jake. He did not remember or care.

Jake was around eighteen, and had been on the streets since he was sixteen. His shoulder length dark hair hung in greasy clumps. The lifeless tresses framed a face that was pasty and riddled with pock marks. He wore faded jeans, a black t-shirt, and an army green jacket. All of his clothing was worse for wear and smelled of sweat and stale cigarettes. Jake sighed and swallowed hard. “There is something out there for sure man.” Another customer looked their way. Malachi cringed and uttered a hiss. Jake lowered his voice before going on. “There are powerful wards on that place man; we’re talking old fuckin’ magick.”

Malachi sneered, “Tell me something I do not know.” Since following the girl to the “haunted forest” neither he nor any other of his kind had been able to get even close enough to touch the stone gate. They could get as far as the edge of the road and then it was like an invisible wall blocked their path. They had no better luck trying to access the forest from above. “Is there a way to break through?”

“Yeah … hell yeah” Jake nodded, “All spells can be broken. You just have to know how.  I am on it man.”

Jake rambled on but Malachi was no longer listening. He had heard all the human had to offer at the moment. Malachi was instead watching a man who had just entered the inn. The man approached the check in desk, shifting from foot to foot in discomfort and impatience.

The man looked anxiously around the room then focused his attention on a painting hanging behind the check in desk. He had no interest in the painting but it was something to focus on as he forced his mind to calm. The painting was yellowed with age. It was apparently a family portrait; a father and mother and two young boys were posed in a perfectly manicured garden, a castle loomed behind them in the distance. The family wore a style of dress he was too uneducated to recognize as the sixteenth century. The mother was seated, her husband stood behind her. The two boys stood on either side of their mother. The boys could not have looked more different. One, presumably the eldest was already well built for his age. His skinned was tanned from the sun. His head was crowned by a shock of red hair, matching his mother’s. The other boy was slight of build and much too pale. His hair was raven black, his eyes a deep green.

“That is the Rochester family.”  Reginald, the inn’s proprietor, had arrived at the desk. They founded this village; all of this land and much more was once a part of their summer estate. The Lady Rochester and her younger son in particular spent a great deal of time here. Their castle has long been lost but … “

“I care about this shit why?” The man scowled. Malachi who was listening perfectly from across the room took note the man was American.

“Forgive me” Reginald’s English dignity kept him from showing his distaste for the man’s rudeness.  “Are you being served Sir?”

“This girl …” the man shoved a worn photo in Reginald’s face. “Have you seen her?”

Reginald looked at the photo, remembering the woman immediately. “I am afraid not Sir.” He lied.

The man locked Reginald in a scrutinizing gaze for a few moments then slammed a credit card on the counter. “I need a room.”

Malachi watched as the proprietor checked the man in and slipped him a room key. Malachi had no need to see the photo to know he and the stranger had been following the same woman. Malachi’s interest in the woman was only a means to an end, to help him discover what lay beyond that stone gate. Malachi wondered what this man’s connection to the woman was and how Malachi could use it to further his own interests.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chapter 13

 She stands on the battlements of a great castle. Below her, as far as the eye can see everything has been reduced to smoldering ash. Thick black smoke swirls around her choking her. The air that rips at her billowing skirts is hot. Her throat and lungs are seared with every breath.

The wedding dress she wears is streaked with blood and soot. She watches in strange fascination as the gown catches fire. The flames eat ferociously at the delicate satin and lace. She swallows hard, tears weaving tracks down her soot covered face. It is not fear she feels, but profound sadness.

Arms held out wide, her whole body wreathed in flames, she plunges from the battements as if she were a phoenix taking flight.  

Audrey gasped, her eyes opened wide. She sat up in bed, clutching the bed linen tightly to her breast. The dream was so vivid, so real it placed her mind in a strange state between the dream world she had left and the reality she had woken to. She found herself shaken and afraid, but also strangely curious. She had not dreamt in years or at least had not remembered any dreams if she had them. She thought she read somewhere that everyone dreamed whether they thought they did or not. Whether that be true or not, why now after all these years would she wake from a dream so intense. She could not help but think it meant something.

“Yeah it means you are just freaked out from last night.” She spoke to the empty room in an attempt to be her own voice of reason. Her mind tried to replay the previous night’s events but she pushed the thoughts away. She knew on some level it was impossible to rationally explain how Nicholas had managed to save her. So her sanity, seeking its own self preservation, found it easier to dismiss it. All that mattered was she had been wrong about wanting to die, and she was lucky to have figured that out before it was too late.

 “It was just a stupid dream.” Audrey sighed, rubbing sleep from her eyes. She swung her legs over the side of the bed. It was then she noticed several boxes and shopping bags piled upon the settee. Audrey unconsciously pulled the bed cover tightly to her naked body. Someone had entered her room while she slept. Was it Max? Or was it Nicholas? She blushed in shame realizing the thought of Nicholas entering her bed chamber thrilled her.

Audrey, wrapping the bed linens around her, slipped from the bed. She lowered to her knees in front of the settee. A folded white card lay on top of the pile of boxes. With tingling fingers she unfolded to reveal a note written in Sir Nicholas’s flowing elegant hand.

I regret to inform you that when you did not return to your lodgings your belongings were destroyed. I have taken the liberty of settling your debt with the proprietor and I have endeavored to compensate you for the loss of your possessions.


Sir Nicholas Rochester

Audrey shook her head and laid the note aside. It’s cold tone did little to fend off her sense of unease. “How …” It was a small village, finding out where she was staying would not be difficult she reasoned. But why not just ask? And why was he concerned with where she was staying? “He was just being kind … probably sending for my things.”

Shaking off her unease she reached for the first package. Audrey carefully untied the ribbon securing the box closed. She laid it aside thinking it would look lovely in her hair if Nicholas asked her to dine with him again. She removed the box lid and pushed aside a layer of thin tissue to reveal a silk robe and matching negligee. The garments were a deep rich blue and their style simple and elegant. A smile danced across her face, she had never owned anything so beautiful.

Audrey opened each box one by one and inside each she found a garment lovelier than the last. She found sundresses in shades of pale blues, yellows, and greens. There were several pairs of jeans and blouses of every color. Inside the shopping bags she found under garments in delicate silks and lace. There were also boxes of shoes; boots, elegant heels, sneakers, and several pairs of sandals. Sandals were her favorite.

Audrey looked at all the beautiful garments lying around her; she could barely decide what to wear first. Everything was perfect, as if she had picked them out herself. She grabbed a pair of jeans and a forest green peasant top and carried them into the bath chamber to wash and dress.

Audrey, clean and refreshed, modeled her new clothes in the full length mirror. They fit perfectly.

A knock on the bed chamber door rouses her attention.  She opened the door to reveal Max, burdened with a silver tray. “Your breakfast Madam” he walked past her into the room and laid the tray on the desk.  Max turned around and scanned the pile of empty boxes and bags “I do hope you everything to your liking?”

“They are perfect … Nicholas is really too kind …” Audrey lowered her gaze shyly.

“Indeed” Max sniffed. “He has also granted you permission to use his library as you like. He is under the impression you would enjoy his book collection.”

“I would love it!” Audrey tried to contain a squeal of excitement. “Where is he, I wish to thank him for the clothes, for everything.”

When Audrey moved towards the door Max stepped in front of her. “I must remind you not to wander this castle alone. My Lord is a busy man and you shall not venture to disturb him. If he desires your company he shall send for you.”  Max’s tone was commanding, but fear played behind his eyes.
“Max, what is he?” Dread slithered up her spine, but Audrey forced herself to stand firm.

“He is the Lord of this castle; he is one who is as dear to me if he were my own son.”

“You know what I mean Max, he is not human is he?” Audrey captured his eyes with hers.

Max sighed, “He has suffered much in his life, so much that no one can begrudge him for seeking solitude. He has his faults like any other, thought he tries to better himself. He re-lives the pain of his past every day, yet he remains generous and caring. In his heart he has great love and compassion. I would say that makes him very human.”

Max moved towards the door then lingered in its frame, “If you require anything else Madam please do not hesitate to ask.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chapter 12 cont

Ernie ran a shaky hand through his greasy orange-red hair. His eyes darted around the small used book shop although not one customer had passed through the door in three hours. Once again he reached under the counter and pulled out the book. The yellowed pages were bound in leather that was once dark as a winter night. Now the aged leather was scarred and molted with patches of greenish mildew. Barely discernable was an embossed title in Latin De Damnatus, Book of the Damned.  He threw the book back under the counter as if it had bitten him. Each time he touched its binding the feelings of dread that came over him were stronger. He wished they would hurry and pick the damn thing up.

Ernie wondered how the hell he had gotten into this mess in the first place. His shop was a hole in the wall set in a building that probably should have been condemned years ago. The neighborhood did not get much worse in New York and most other businesses had gone bankrupt or simply got tired of being robbed and gave up. Ernie never had a problem with either. Any would be bandit had only to walk in and take a quick look to know it was not worth his time. Ernie’s Discount Books was a cramped maze of overstuffed shelves threatening to collapse. Even the floor in many places was stacked high with musty old books long forgotten. The shop always smelled of mold, mildew, decay, and whatever cheap takeout Ernie happen to being eating that day.  Ernie himself was no more inviting. He was tall and sickly thin. His hair hung limp around a face that was pale save for the scattered freckles and pimples.

However Ernie’s Discount Books was a treasure trove for those who adored old books and did not mind digging through the volumes. But it was not these patrons that had kept his business afloat. It was Ernie’s little known talent for getting his hands on very rare items. It was a talent he kept well guarded for various reasons. He did not always come by these items by honorable means.

So as he stood behind his littered counter waiting for his new clients to arrive he wondered how the hell they knew to come to him in the first place. Why him?

“Damn fucking vampires” he muttered to himself.

The little bell over the door jingled and Ernie nearly jumped out of his skin. But it was only the cute blonde that worked over at Charlie’s Dinner. She came in about once a week looking for tacky romance novels which Ernie priced a quarter a piece just for her.

The blonde, he thought her name was Jill, or maybe Jane, smiled at Ernie as she passed the counter heading up an aisle.

“Shit, not now.” Ernie cringed. Jill or Jane would be just the sort to earn unwanted attention from his new clients. That sort of attention was not good for your health.

Ernie franticly shuffled through the books littering the counter. Paperbacks flew through the air to land where they may as he searched. “Yes!” he held two paperbacks up in victory. Jill or Jane looked up from the volume she had been appraising to look at him strangely.

“Um a …” Ernie cleared his throat nervously; “These two just came in, I know you like this stuff so I set them aside for you” he lied. It was the only way he could think to get her out of there fast.

“Yeah?” Jill or Jane smiled and moved to the counter. “I will take them and this one” she laid the book on the counter she had been looking at. “That was very kind of you” she fished three quarters out of her waitress apron.

“Yeah um no problem.” Ernie shoved the books in a crinkled paper bag and handed them over.

“Thanks again” Jill or Jane smiled and headed towards the door. As she reached the door, two men shoved their way inside. They were both tall, well built and well dressed. One was handsome in a dark way while the other wore is blonde tresses in long wavy locks. The blonde looked Jill or Jane up and down. His grin reminded Ernie of a hungry hyena. The dark man signaled to his companion and Jill or Jane pushed passed them and out the door.

Ernie sighed in relief as she disappeared out into the night. A loud click echoed through the shop as the blonde turned the deadbolt and swung the Open sign to Closed.

With shaking hands Ernie placed De Damnatus on the counter.  

Chapter 12

Though the journey took mere seconds, her decent seemed to be in slow motion to all her senses. She was acutely aware of the whistling wind in her ears and the breeze against her skin. Her eyes stung with salty tears. The sour taste of fear filled her mouth.

“I don’t want to die!” a defiant voice screamed in her head. The voice was her own but not like she had ever heard it before.

The air rushed from her lungs as she landed. She had expected great pain, her body and bones to be shattered. She only felt numb. It took several moments for her brain to register the reality of her situation. She was lying on her back. It was not the solid ground on which she landed; she was suspended above the ground, supported by strong arms. Audrey opened her eyes and could see the moon shining high above her. She also could see a pair of emerald green eyes looking down at her, intently just inches from her own.

How she had come to be in her host’s arms she could not fathom nor even tried. She threw her tiny arms around his neck burying her face is his raven hair. Audrey wept like a child.
Nicholas stood stoically, waiting for her to finish. Audrey finally raised her tear stained face to look at him. “How …”

Nicholas’s only response was to unceremoniously dump her from his arms and on to her feet.

 “You saved me … how, you were just …” Audrey looked to the balcony above.

“Still want to die?”  Nicholas’s lips parted in a cynical smile.

Audrey suddenly felt as if she had woken from a long dream. She saw things so much more clearly. “No.” she replied in a soft but sure voice.

“Well then, now that that matter is resolved shall we return to the castle?” Nicholas’s mood was once again light and charming.

“What are you?” Goosebumps prickled Audrey’s skin.

Nicholas threw back his head in a thundering laugh. “I am many things my lady.”  He offered her his arm. “Come, the hour grows late, I must take my rest.” He looked up into the night sky as he spoke. The ebony darkness had turned to a deep rich blue promising the sun’s return.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chapter 11

Audrey stiffened, tears pooled in her eyes as her life flashed through her mind.

“Strawberry?” Nicholas slid the bowl toward her as he read every image that passed through Audrey’s mind. “Come now Dorothy dear, there is no need for tears. The Great and Powerful OZ has every intention of granting your request.” Nicholas laughed, the sound chilled Audrey’s blood. 
“You …” Audrey’s voice threatened to fail but she managed a small croak. “You are …”

“Evil? A Monster?” Nicholas offered her a Cheshire cat grin. “That my dear is a matter of opinion. You know nothing about me, nor what I have endured in my life and you would be so quick to judge me so? Tisk Tisk. After all I have given you the benefit of the doubt and welcomed you into my home, would you not offer me the same courtesy?”

Nicholas stood up and filled both of their glasses. He offered one to Audrey with a slender hand. His other hand he held out to her. “Please, join me on the balcony wont you? It is a clear evening and the moonlight is simply enchanting. And there is a lovely view of the garden below.”
“Your garden lay in ruins, I saw so myself earlier.” Audrey managed in a voice that sounded much too small to her ears.

Nicholas laughed, once again playing the part of the charming host. “I assure you my garden is as it always has been. Come I will show you.”

Audrey rose from her chair with reluctance. She took the offered wine glass but declined his hand.

Nicholas only continued to smile, not in the least offended. Audrey knew he found the whole situation, her fear, to be most amusing. On one level this infuriated her. But on another level, though it made her feel uneasy it also left her intrigued.

Nicholas led them across the room, throwing open two large French doors. The sheer, airy draperies billowed in the evening breeze. He stepped out on to the balcony breathing in the night air with relish. Audrey joined him at the stone railing. The beautiful garden spanned as far as the eye could see, but it was the moonlight that held Nicholas captivated.

“Your garden?” Audrey sucked in her breath in surprise. “It … it is alive again.”

“It  has never been otherwise.” He returned flatly, not bothering to look at her.

Audrey did not understand, was she truly that turned around previously? Had she become that lost? But she decided not to pursue the subject, yet. Nicholas’s demeanor had changed once again. Audrey found his new mood to be dismal, melancholy. Audrey fidgeted with her wine glass feeling awkward in the silence.

“It it a weak, pathetic mind that cannot be idle in silence and maintain a state of grace.” Nicholas scolded her, his eyes still fixed upon the moon. “Do you always fidget so? It is quite unseemly.”

 Audrey opened her mouth to form some apology but Nicholas waved a hand at her in annoyance. Then he locked his green eyes upon her. “Tell me why someone so young would wish to throw away the gift of life?”

“I …” Audrey’s mind grasped for a lie but she replied with all honesty. “I want to be free.” There was no reason to try to lie anymore and telling the truth lifted a great weight from her soul.  Audrey felt like the little girl she once was, sitting in the confessional bearing her sins to Father Hartley.  “I want to be free” She said again, more confident.

“I see.” Nicholas was clearly unimpressed. “Apparently this freedom is not so important to you or you would carry out the deed yourself and not burden me with your demise.”

“I … I tried.” Audrey shook her head.

“You are the worst kind of coward!” Nicholas sneered. “What self-important, foolish problems do you face that would convince you that death is your only option?”
Audrey’s hand moved unconsciously to her stomach and traced the scar that hid beneath the silk gown. Her mind played a series of scenes, years of bruises and broken bones. She once again felt the cold steal of shackles around her wrists and ankles. Familiar feelings of hopelessness, fear, and her own worthlessness washed over her. Her throat became dry and began to constrict. Her breath came in shallow gasps. Nicholas was right, she was a coward.

Nicholas continued to glare at her in contempt. “I have seen innocent men and woman lose their heads merely to protect another’s politics. I have seen men dying on the battlefield crying out to their Gods to spare their lives. I have seen men lost at sea by Mother Nature’s fury.” His voice was rolling thunder, flecks of spittle flung from his lips unnoticed as he raged. “I have seen children murdered while their parents watched helplessly before meeting their own end. I have seen whole villages burned to the ground, innocents slaughtered down to every man, woman, and child. I saw the Red Death wipe out three fourth of the population across this continent. There are not many who know as well as I do how very precious life is! And you would come to me to end your miserable existence? Because you are too weak and pathetic to perform the deed yourself? You sicken me!”

Audrey opened her mouth to speak but then clenched her jaw shut. Her eyes narrowed in defiance. She lived most of her short life a prisoner to another man’s sadistic pleasure. Starved, drugged, and repeatedly raped, she had survived unbelievable torture and abuse. And though it was the greatest pain of all, she endured the loss of the only child she would ever have. She had lived through it all and escaped her fate. No, Nicholas was wrong. She was no coward.

“You … you...” Audrey struggled to find a word that would properly convey her anger and growing hatred for the man before her.  The best she could manage was, “You …you ass!”

Nicholas laughed clearly amused. “Oh my, you do realize that is the least insulting of that which I have ever been referred.”

“There are no words to describe what you are ….” Audrey replied through gritted teeth.

“I am growing quite bored with this” Nicholas rolled his eyes but he was watching her with interest now.

In response Audrey set her wine glass down and climbed up onto the stone railing. She struggled with her balance for a mere second then stood steady, her gaze turned up above to the moon.

Nicholas’s lips parted into a smile, his voice calm and soothing. “And there you are my dear, on the precipice of life and death. If it is freedom you seek, what form would you have it take?”

Audrey willed her mind to clear as tears streamed down her cheeks. Then one by one she allowed visions of her past to present themselves to her.

She sees herself as s small child, one of six in a close Catholic family. Then she sees herself a friendless and awkward girl in her old Catholic school uniform. Next she is a teenager, on her sweet sixteen. But instead of sneaking a first kiss at her birthday party she finds herself at her parent’s funeral. The years flash by, touching on the few boyfriends she had, all drunks, abusive. Then she sees herself walking down a lonely stretch of highway. A cars stops to offer her a ride. She knows better than to accept, but the rain is so cold. She forces her mind to skip ahead; she is pregnant and scared but so very happy. The last image she is shown is of herself very pregnant, shackled to the bed. There is blood, so much blood. She passes out from the pain as they slice into her abdomen, performing a crude c-section. She remembers when she woke three days later being told the child was dead. She is almost sure it was a lie.

Audrey watched all of these images with a strange calm, as if it were someone else’s life and not her own. She saw things so clearly now. It was not only the pain of the past that plagued her, she could perhaps learn to deal with that. But she had lived so long a captive she did not know how to live any other way. And he would be coming for her. He swore it; he would find her and kill her. Perhaps he had already found her, several times in the village she felt she was being watched, even followed. Audrey shuttered, death at his hands was one she did not relish. It was better to do it this way.

Audrey took a long deep breath and looked down at the garden below. The moment had arrived, all she had to do was take one step and she would be free. She had the courage to do it now. Just one step.

Nicholas had been watching Audrey’s inner debate in silent, rapt attention. He now made a small unnoticeable gesture with his hand. The wind rustled through the trees as it rose. The gust reached the balcony, toppling Audrey from her perch. She pitched forward over the railing, her screams following her towards the ground below.